Prague

Another Czech off the bucket list: Prague.

PSA: I will be trying to include as many Prague/Czech Republic puns as possible in this post.

This was a very quick but necessary weekend trip to a dream destination of mine.  I’d love to go back in the future and hope for better weather to see more of Prague’s beauty.

Let’s start with the plane ride.  Remember the 8th ring of Dante’s hell that was our Berlin plane ride? This was the 9th level.  We flew Czech Air and I will double czech before ever booking with them again.  The take off was more shaky and had more ups and down than a roller coaster.  3 long hours later, we arrived in Prague.  There was applause because we made it in one piece.  I’m usually not a fan of clapping when landing, but it was a true miracle that we still had all the tires on the plane and the wings were still attached to the plane.

After getting all settled at our super cool hostel, we headed out to dinner and get a quick view of the city.  It was cold and foggy, so we couldn’t see much, but the forecast called for a sunny Saturday morning-we were happy.  We called it an early night to rest up for a full day of tourism.

We were Prague Super-Tourists.  3 different tours in one day.  We started out with a walking tour of the city, then a Prague Castle tour, and ended the day with a beer tour.  We had the cutest and best tour guide for the first two tours-Andrea was a real Czechoslovakian, equal parts of her family are from Czech Republic and Slovakia! How cool!! It was so interesting to hear her stories about communist life and changing times.  April and I lucked out with sunny skies to start the day with the walking tour, but by the end, the clouds rolled in and our feet were cold.  After lunch we took the second tour to the Prague Castle.  This was interesting because I was expecting a castle, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It’s like a little village of different buildings, cathedrals, and museums. I suggest czeching out the history on your own time because like the views we saw, I’m still a little foggy on the history.  Everything is very intertwined with the Hapsburg Dynasty that I learned about in Vienna.  I have some good reading material for the future.

After a long day out in the cold, we headed inside 3 different bars to try 3 different beers.  We had a really fun group of 10 people and 1 loser tour guide.  Our 3 hour tour turned into all night out at a nightclub with bottle service.  When in Prague!!  It was the most random group of study abroad girls, German-Americans, and a Romanian, but it was a night I’ll remember forever!

Two days wasn’t nearly enough time in the city and I’d love to do another combo-trip with Vienna and Budapest in the future.

 

Super German Weekend

This is going to be a narrative post and I’ll share more about history and information in following posts. Story time with G, here we go.
Once upon a time, Gabrielle and her friend found April found $35 plane tickets to Berlin. They didn’t realize how earlier they would have to get up for that super cheap flight that took off at 6:20am. Don’t worry be happy.
The journey begins Friday at 4:30am when we hailed a cab on the streets of Madrid. We chose to swallow the outrageous $30 flat rate to the airport because it allowed us to sleep for an extra hour. Airport arrival is smooth and fast, up until boarding. Some genius put two gates right next to each other with boarding times within 10 minutes of one another. We got in our respective line and glared at people who “cut” us in line because they were looking for the other line. Finally they sent an airline representative to walk up and down the lines reading the destinations aloud because some people refuse to read signs and simply ask for help.
We surprisingly all board on time and leave at our designated time. And then began Dante’s ninth ring of inferno. It started with a group of Spanish punks who were spread out throughout the plane but were all traveling together. One girl was seated next to April and I in the window seat. She expressed great concern about her fear of flying to her friend in the seat in front. The girl in front was freaking out because somewhere between scanning her boarding pass and boarding the plane, she lost her Spanish ID. Hope she knows German, because she’s not getting back into Spain without that card!  April and I looked at each other with concerning looks. Then the girl besides us is trying to have full and complete conversations with her friend across the aisle. Now it wouldn’t be a problem if she was also in the aisle seat, but she was in the window seat and had to shout across April and I to talk to her amigo. We did the deep Spanish sigh multiple times until she realized how rude she was being. All meanwhile a baby is crying—wailing for an entire 3hour plane ride. I understand traveling with young kids and I really don’t have a problem with it, but I think there was something seriously bothering this child. Don’t forget the kids behind us kicking our seats and putting their feet in the gap where our arm rest is. April and I couldn’t wait until we could get out of this nightmare.
We run out of the plane at 9:20am and run through the outside terminals to catch a 9:44 train into the city. We were trying to make an 11:00 tour in the center. I’ve never seen The Amazing Race but I’m fairly confident April and I could win. I run to ticket booth, she looks at board to find the correct platform and we make it on to the train at 9:43am. Dazed and confused we exit the train station in Berlin and power walk to the hostel. We are also thinking about entering the summer Olympics for speed power walking. Make it to the hotel and drop bags in lockers. Run to nearest underground to get to city center. We try buying tickets in the machine and some random guy comes up behind us and cancels our order on the screen. He hands us two tickets and says 10€. UMMMM? Is this a scam??!! We pay him and get on the train without even thinking. HAHAHAHAHA

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At exactly 10:50am we find the tour group and join them. The guide tells us we have 10minutes to grab some snacks or water because there is no food where we are going. Ironically there are lines that go outside the doors of every store nearby. We decide to ration out the 2/3 bottle of water we have and half empty bag of peanut m&ms. Remember we haven’t eaten since 3:45 when we woke up that morning. We head on the train with our possibly counterfeit tickets to Sachsenhausen Concentration camp for a day tour. Fun fact our tickets are actually real, we asked our guide. Some random German made an easy 10€ and we saved 25% of normal retail price! What a deal!!
Read my next post about the tour. It was something that I think everyone should see to put a real memory to something we’ve learned about since grade school.
5 hours and no snacks later we are headed back to Berlin city center with grumbling stomachs. We eat at the first cafe we see and make our way to the Christmas markets for some much needed holiday cheer. One bratwurst sandwich and mug of glüwine later, it feels like we’ve lived two full days. PS.) glüwine is gross, I tried it and there at just too many spices and flavors. But it was definitely worth the souvenir mug!! FYI the Christmas market in Chicago has nothing to see with the OG (original German)! This might rival Disney World for happiest place on earth. The Christmas spirit is alive and well in Germany, it was a magical experience.
We head back to the hostel and get some much needed sleep before another full day 2 of adventure.
Day 2, walking tour of Berlin. Again, see one of my upcoming blog posts about the sights and history of this amazing city. Back to story time. April and I booked cheap tickets to Berlin and cheap tickets out of Cologne. We thought a cross country train ride would be a cool adventure. We also forgot that it gets dark around 4:30pm so we took a 4 hour cross country train in the dark to Cologne for more Christmas markets. Cologne is on the top of Christmas market lists worldwide, we wanted to see if it was worth all the hype. But before the cheer, there was fear.
After an extremely crowded train ride to the main station, we find our designated track and wait for the train to arrive. We board the train with our sketchy online ticket that doesn’t say anything more than our start and final destination- no seat numbers, nada. We get on and find that there’s a tiny display above each seat with various stops along the journey. We ask another passenger if there are assigned seats, she says yes and April and I look at each other with concern. I peek outside the cabin to show the conductor our tickets and ask about the assigned seats. He looks at me with a mean German glare and says “These tickets are not valid. You don’t have assigned seat and will have to find an empty seat. Good luck because it’s weekend and this train is full” Tears well in my eyes and I run back into the train to tell April, suddenly the train starts to move. Well it looks like we’re going to Cologne with or without valid tickets. I find two seats with no label above them which I interpret to be “free” and we mark our territory to hope for the best. The mean German conductor passes by us, stamps our tickets and looks at the next passenger. WHAT??!!! We were both very confused but let it go, knowing that all was well and we would arrive to Cologne in 4 short hours.
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*pre German tears*

Around 10:15pm we arrive, hop on the underground to our hostel. Again very hungry, we check in quickly and ask about Christmas markets. The receptionist says everything is closed for the night. Now it must be having lived in Spain for so long that we were shocked. In Spain we would just be going out to dinner now! Oh Toto, it looks like we aren’t in Spain anymore. We head to the city center in search of any food. We find a restaurant that advertises “food served all day” go inside and sit down. The waiter comes over and takes our drink order. We start telling her what we want to eat and she says the kitchen closed 5 minutes ago. We settle for chips and olives.
Day 3 another town another walking city tour. This was some random tour that I found online and crossed my fingers it wasn’t an online joke. We arrived, walked around Cologne and ended with the enormous cathedral. I was fine only being in Cologne for about 16 hours because it was a bit of a let down after Berlin. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved it but it was a big step down from Berlin.
I arrived back in Madrid Sunday night and we all lived happily every after, ready for another crazy adventure. Sorry for the long post but it’s like a page from my travel diary to see more of how each trip goes.
Oh my gosh, how could I forget about our favorite part of Germany?! The free public transportation!!—well sort of. After buying our non-counterfeit tickets from random German man, we asked our tour guide about tickets and if there is security. There are no gates or turnstiles in the underground stations in all of Germany, they work on the “honor system”. You buy a ticket from a machine and then stamp it yourself in another machine. However there’s no checking of tickets or real enforcement to see if you actually bought a ticket. I’ll leave it up to readers’ interpretation if we actually spent €1.90 for every train to the center. (Wink wink)

Munich, Germany

I have nothing but incredible things to say about Munich. There is so much to see in and around the city that I will be heading back again to see more.

I had approximately 1.5 days in Munich and fully intended on jamming as much into those 30 hours as possible. I arrived Friday morning and dropped bags off at the hostel and made my way to the center. My friend, April, and I realized that we came one week too early because they were just finishing setting up all the Christmas decorations and market stands. It was still pretty to see them setting things up with lights and Christmas decorations. We are very excited for a future trip in Germany in the beginning of December where the Christmas spirit will be in full swing!! I love Christmas and I think Germany is such a magical place to see the Christmas spirit and holiday cheer.

Friday afternoon I took a free walking tour with Sandeman’s tour company. I really didn’t know this company existed but I’m really looking forward to using this tour again in the future. We went on a 3 hour walking tour of the city with a very knowledgeable guide. Small world moment: she’s from Chicago and her dad worked in Palatine!! The tour was great and I learned so much! Dad—I’m basically taking an immersion course in AP European history, I love it!

A couple of the highlights:

Funny stories that the guide told us.  Now, I’m not sure how credible these stories are.  Be warned

Peterskirche: St. Peter’s church.  An Italian girl’s skeleton was used to consecrate the church. Girls and women go to the church to pray to Miriam (98% sure that’s her name) and ask to find love. Men stand at the exit of the church and pick up girls by saying that God sent them there. HAH (pictured below)

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Frauenkirch. This church was completely destroyed after the war sans the two bell towers. According to local legend the devil appeared to the architect and proposed a deal. Make a church with no windows so the God’s light can’t come in, and the church will be built in record time (under 20 years). The architect did put windows in the church but standing at the back of the church it looks like there are no windows because the columns hide them. The devil stepped into the church and his footprint is marked in the concrete. And I found evidence of this on the internet so it must be true 🙂

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Series of beer saving Munich::

Alter Hof: Prince’s nursery. This little tower is where part of Prince Ludwig’s nursery was. The prince had a pet monkey and one day the monkey picked up the child. The monkey ran up the tower and was hanging from the roof with the young prince. How do you make the monkey come down carefully without hurting the prince and future ruler of Bavaria? Since bananas are uncommon at this time in history, the closes thing you have is beer that smells like bananas. They brought a big barrel of banana flavored beer to have the child returned to safety. Beer saves the prince of Munich.

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Munich was under Swiss control in during the 1600’s. After many years of peaceful obedience. Munich asked the Swiss to leave. Switzerland asked for a large sum of money and since Munich only could come up with a small portion of the outrageous price, they paid in liquid gold–beer. Beer saves the people of Munich.

Again, I’m not sure how reliable these stories are, but I think they really enhance some of the darker history that Munich has seen.
Hofbrau house. Duke Wilhelm didn’t like the beer that was being brewed so he commissioned a different brew that became the famous Hofbrauhaus. When the Hofbrauhaus was first built, there were no bathrooms. EW! People went out into the street to pee in the ditch in the middle of the street. They eventually changed this because people were getting upset because they lost their seat when they got up. However this change was for the worse. They installed pools below the tables so people could simultaneously get rid of the liquid they were drinking. Good luck getting that picture out of your mind! Update: they now have normal bathrooms with real plumbing.

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Other things I saw:
New Rathaus and Marienplatz:  Current town hall and town square.

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Old Rathaus.  This is where Joseph Goebbels gave the speech that is known as the prelude for Kristallnacht.

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In conclusion, I saw all Munich has to offer but there is so much to see in the surrounding areas. I would like to go back and take a day trip to both Dauchau and Neuschwanstein castle. Munich is also a great city to train to other countries in Central Europe. April and I took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria to do the Sound of Music tour. Read my next blog for the details!

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

This was on the top of my list of things to do in Budapest thanks to Rick Steves. Bathing with 500 of your neighboring tourists might not be for everyone but it was one of my favorite experiences in Europe so far. Sure it’s great to see the thousands of cathedrals in Europe, but to have an unforgettable experience is something else. It’s these kind of adventures that I look for when I book a trip.

A bit of history on the Széchenyi baths. The palace was built between 1909-1913. They drilled into the earth to access the hot springs below Budapest. The city Budapest literally means water. The baths began expansion during 1920’s to include an outdoor pool. There are now around 20 different pools of varying temperatures, both indoor and outdoor. They are now co-ed, where some of the other bath-houses in Budapest are strictly male or female only.

My tips:

  1. Book online. This will save you a lot of time in lines and you can skip all the lines and walk right in.
  2. Upgrade to a cabin instead of a locker. A cabin is your personal changing room and you keep your belongings in there. You will receive a wristband upon entry that is your electronic key to the cabin. The cabin will only open when you put your wristband next to the scanner.
  3. Bring your own towel, flip flops, and extra plastic bag for wet suit and towel. You would think this is common sense, but I saw too many people paying around 15€ for a towel rental. Save your money for a nice refreshing beer
  4. Walk around to all the different pools both inside and outside. On a chilly day, I spent a good amount of time in the indoor pools but it was refreshing to get some fresh air in the outdoor pools. They also have a sauna, but I walked in and walked right out. I don’t think humans should be able to tolerate 140°F.
  5. Treat yo self. Get a massage. They have two different levels (aroma massage or deep tissue massage) and multiple different time increments. 20 minutes in heaven! I was also able to book this and choose a time slot online before I even arrived to Budapest.

This is such a relaxing and must-do on your Budapest list. You can spend as long as you want there during the day. But no entry and re-entry, be warned. It was the perfect way to unwind from two hectic days of touring and sightseeing and prepare for a crazy few days ahead. Just relax and enjoy.

Budapest

I spent two days in Budapest and it was magical. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did. I would put Budapest on a list of top 5 places I’ve been in my lifetime. There language is uncomprehend-able and their currency is absurd with too many zeros but everything else was amazing.

Day 1 Arrival.

I arrived by train from Vienna. The train was 2.5 hours and I got my own compartment like in the Harry Potter movies for the first 1.5 hours, then a big Hungarian family joined me and kept trying to include me in a conversation that I couldn’t follow if my life depended on it. Even me directly saying, “English! I only speak English” did not deter them from me trying to learn Hungarian in 1 hour. I arrived, went to the hotel and dropped my bags off. I headed out to lunch and then went for a spa day at the thermal baths (see next post about thermal baths).

After R&R I changed again and went to the river for a boat tour. It was a little cheesy because it was only an audio guide with video but it was a good introduction to the city. Buda is on the east of the river and Pest (pronounced Pescht) is on the west side of the river. It was a little confusing because they kept going back and forth between the sides and I only had one glass of champagne! The sights of the city lit up are incredible—actually beyond words.

Day 2 Tour

I went on another bus tour and this one was a little better because we got to see both sides of the river and get some amazing pictures of each side. We saw Fisherman’s Bastion, Mattias Church, Libery Statue, Buda Royal Palace, Holy Trinity Square—all on Buda side. And Hero’s Square, Hungarian Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Chain Bridge, Grand Market, Dohány Street Synagogue—on the Pest side.

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After the bus tour, I walked back to a few of the sights on the Pest side to get a better view. I also stopped at the Shoes on the Danube Memorial which remembers the victims of WWII who were forced to line up along the river to be shot.

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Budapest is full of history and I think it’s absolutely fascinating how quickly an entire city bounced back from so much pain and suffering. We drove past a simple cross statue on a hill and the guide pointed out that when the Communists took over after WWII, there was a Stalin Statue there. It just goes to show that the “supposed” rescue after WWII still caused a lot of pain. Traveling around Europe has showed me how small of a space I occupy in this grand world. I have learned so much about perspective traveling around and seeing history for myself than I could have ever learned in a textbook.

This was definitely a quick trip because on day 3, I was back on a train to Vienna to fly back to Madrid. I would go back to Budapest in a heartbeat to explore more and learn more about this fascinating city.

The Opera in Vienna

I will openly admit that when I planned this trip, I was going to walk past the opera house, take some pics and call it a day. By researching more about my upcoming trip and stories of past experiences, (Grandma and Grandpa) I decided to make it a plan to see the opera. I mean how many people can say they’ve seen an opera at the internationally known famous Wiener Staatsoper?! (Hey German people, why is “wiener” is so many things? It just makes me giggle)

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Thanks again to Rick Steves, I read that you can buy standing room only tickets the day of the show for cheap. Let’s be honest, I am on a student budget but willing to splurge for experiences. I asked my hotel concierge about it and he just looked at me asking if I really wanted to stand for a 3 hour opera in Italian? I bit my tongue from saying, “Hey wiener-man (is that german?) I’m trying to make memories here!”

After walking around town for the day, I strolled past the opera house about two hours before the show started. Someone in a costume approached me, I put my head down and kept walking but I heard him say “opera tickets”. Yes, I know the classic tourist scams that exist and truly intended to walk past this man looking for foreigners, but I was intrigued. I asked if the tickets were for that night and he confirmed that he still had several tickets in boxes for that night’s show. And I just had to pay him in cash…hmm suspicious. He spoke very good English so I asked some hardball questions to see if this was real, like, “Are you a scam?” “How do I know these tickets are real?” “Who do you work for?”

Now writing and looking at these questions, they seem pretty simple and even the best answers still might be a scam. But after he showed me his badge that said he was part of the production, I caved and hoped for the best. Turns out that it was real and I got box tickets for €25.

Thankfully because I had intended to go to the opera, I was properly and formally dressed. But looking at some I felt completely overdressed and then at others completely underdressed. In my biography Hallmark movie, this is where a fairy godmother will appear, take me into one of the very expensive stores down the street and I will wear an elegant ball gown, meet an undercover prince, and fall hopelessly in love. Happily ever after.

The real story: I went to grab some dinner before the show and ate wiener schnitzel (seriously, again with the wiener) and treated myself to two glasses of wine. Then I used the free wifi to look up the plot of Don Pasquale to understand what I would be watching.

I really enjoyed the show and thought it was an amazing cultural experience. They had little screens so I could read what was happening as the actors were singing but since it was in Italian, I could pick up on a little bit of it. I am so happy that I wasn’t scammed and I got to cross something off my bucket list.

 

 

 

Vienna

I had very high expectations from all the wonderful things that I heard from family and friends about Vienna. I am happy to say that I can now recommend and give glowing reviews of Vienna. I was there for 2.5 days at the end of October and the weather was gorgeous. Think-changing colors on trees, chilly but not freezing, and beautiful architecture. I’ll take you through my trip.

Day 1. Arrival, Schonbrunn Palace, Opera

I arrived, went to my hotel, dropped off my luggage and hopped on the metro to Schönbrunn Palace. This is the former summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. There’s lots of history about this monarchy and I’m currently reading more about it. (I should have paid more attention in World History class or listened to my dad when he told me to take European History—Sorry Dad). Here are some random facts that I learned during the tour.

-Empress Maria Theresia didn’t have any portraits taken after she turned 30. She didn’t want to show that her 16” waist had grown.

-She also had 16 children-only 11 made it to adulthood. Marie Antoinette was one of the daughters.

-Yellow is an imperial color. Hence the color of the palace is yellow.

-Each member of royalty would have had 5 maids or servants.

-There was a bomb dropped in the grand ballroom but it didn’t explode. It just destroyed the ceiling fresco depicting war…ironic.

-Mozart played for Maria Theresia when he was 6 and supposedly jumped up on her lap and gave her a kiss. Thank goodness she still gave him a glowing review that allowed him to become famous.

After the guided tour, I headed downtown to walk around, eat dinner, and see the opera. (See next post about the Opera)

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DAY 2: BUS Tour and Walking

I had a bus tour planned with my package and it was a good quick way to see all the sights and get some background history. Also it was raining so I was happy to be warm and dry. Here are some more random facts I learned about Vienna.

-The Opera House was completely destroyed after WWII. Actually 30% of buildings in WWII were destroyed.

-Do you know why it’s called a flea market? People would line up to have monkeys pick fleas off their heads and bodies. EWW

-The origin of the Votive or Thanksgiving Church was because Franz Joseph was attempted to be assassinated but was unsuccessful. He had this church built as a thanks to God.

It stopped raining as the tour ended and I went off on foot to see the sights close up. I got to see St. Stephen’s Cathedral, The Hofburg, The Josefsplatz, The Plague Monument, Sacher Café, Anti-war and Fascism Monument, Mozarthaus, Michaelerplatz. After 7 miles of walking around, I headed back to the hotel to change. I went out for dinner and had previously booked tickets at another theater to see the Wizard of Oz.

DAY 2.5 Return to Vienna and flight back to Madrid.

This last half day was after two days in Budapest, but I booked an early train ticket back into the city and a late flight to take advantage of the vacation.

This day was beautiful and sunny so I wanted to head back to some of the spots to get more sunny and bright pictures.

I started by walking past Burg Theater, the Rathaus (town hall), and the Parliament Building. I ate lunch at a nice café where Sigmund Freud frequented. I got my last wiener schnitzel—yum. Then I just kept walking back to the main square, the cathedral, etc. I did some souvenir shopping and headed to the airport.

Thank you Vienna for showing me a taste of European fall. (We don’t get to see that many changing colors in Torrijos) And thank you for showing me the rich culture of the city and the history that is present all around. I’ll be back.

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