Last Call in Dubrovnik

13 May 2017

Due to the previous night’s adventures, I overslept from all the drinking. But because I drank copious amounts of water, I did not wake up with a hangover. Take that, 30! However, I missed my chance for an early morning hike up Mount Srd, which ended up being fate since it was incredibly foggy and overcast in the morning.

Instead, I went back to Dubravka 1836 Restaurant & Cafe for breakfast and yet again battled the aggressive pigeons.

Afterward, I finally made my way to the City Walls tour which completely surround Old Town Dubrovnik. It was 150kn, which is about €20/£18. The medieval pathways are pretty narrow so if you are a slow walker make sure you step aside to let faster walkers pass …. Sort of like you’re in traffic. Also, this is a one way journey so walk up the stairs and make your way towards the Adriatic. There’s also plenty of vantage points, cafes, and rest stops if you need a break or simply want to look over the sea with a delicious smoothie in hand.
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One of the towers you’ll see along the City Walls tour is Minčeta Tower, which was the filming location for Game of Thrones’ House of the Undying in Season 2 — where Daenerys enters to find her dragons. Did I reenact a few scenes and take some photos? You bet I did! “Where are my dragons?!”

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House of the Undying in Game of Thrones, but Minčeta Tower to Dubrovnik.

After exploring the City Walls I headed to the Old Port where I caught a boat to Lokrum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Come to think of it, Old Town Dubrovnik and the walls are Heritage Sites as well. Within Lokrum, you will find a Benedictine monastery. Its gardens were also used to film Qarth scenes for GoT Season 2. I hiked around the island, dipped my toes in the Adriatic, and took a few pictures of the local wildlife. It is a gorgeous island that you can definitely plan a picnic at, especially if cruises are overrunning Dubrovnik. In fact, Robert my GoT tour guide, recommended that if a cruise comes into Dubrovnik the city will definitely be overcrowded. So, it is during this time when people should visit Lokrum.


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Also on Lokrum? A Game of Thrones Media Centre where you will find the Iron Throne!

When I left the island I went back to Barba for some lunch then, with the sky now clear, I headed to the cable cars. I went up Mount Srd and took a few lovely shots of Dubrovnik.

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View from Mount Srd

Afterward, I went back down and back into the city where I walked into a marching band walking through the main path. They stopped at Luža Square, and played, I kid you not, the Game of Thrones theme song. It was fate.

 

I then grabbed some dinner at Pizzeria Oliva and ended my night in Dubrovnik the way it started: drinking wine and D’vino.


Overall, Dubrovnik was truly amazing and I will definitely go back. I’d also like to explore more of Croatia and go on a wine tour or two. It was easy to give myself into my surroundings. I would just sit, relax and listen to the swarm of birds, the waves softly crashing on Lokrum, and even the mating calls of the peacocks. Each city during my Journey to 30 was unique and beautiful in its own right, but Dubrovnik was hands down my favourite. Also, my departure from the country was made all the more better as I witnessed an obnoxious and entitled drunk passenger get kicked off my EasyJet flight. Helpful travel tip: Don’t board a plane while completely belligerent and smelling of booze.

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Magic of Dubrovnik

11 May 2017

My final destination during my Journey to 30 was Dubrovnik. And you guys, Dubrovnik took me. I fell in love with the city as soon as I saw the view from my Airbnb (Shout out to Anesa!). I mean, there’s stairs to get everywhere: stairs to my Airbnb, stairs into the Old Town, stairs within Old Town, stairs to get out of Old Town – but having ran a marathon the previous weekend, I was ok with all the extra workouts.

I was originally drawn to Dubrovnik because I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan and HBO has been using sites in and around Dubrovnik for King’s Landing, among other Westeros and Essos locations. However, Dubrovnik is so much more than a GoT filming location, and its medieval walls were breathtaking. Like, if I were to retire tomorrow, I’d probably head to Dubrovnik….but real estate is expensive, so, wishful thinking.

When I first arrived I dropped my things off and headed out into Old Town Dubrovnik, the main centre enclosed by the medieval castle walls, which was a perfect walking distance from my Airbnb. Also nearby was the bus stop for the shuttle to the airport and the entrance for the cable cars that go up Mount Srd. So my Airbnb was in an ideal location.

As I took pictures of the beautiful city I made my way to D’vino, a popular wine bar amongst tourists and locals. I loved it so much I went there my next two nights. Thank you exchange rate for the cheap price of Croatian wine! 🙂 I bought the cheese platter — usually for two but because it’s me I ordered it anyway — paired with a white wine: Antunović Graševina Premium 2010. DEE-LICIOUS! #DLiciousDVino™

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D’vino’s Cheesy Platter featuring dried figs, fresh baked bread and Croatian cheeses. Yummy!

I walked around the city a little more and made my way to a restaurant (the cheese platter for 2 was just an appetiser). I ate at Dubravka 1836 Restaurant & Cafe and had a fantastic view of the Adriatic. Also I walked into the place with ice cream in hand because I’m an adult and I decided to have dessert before dinner. Seriously though, great views!

I walked around a little more, and yes, it felt like I was walking through King’s Landing, then I headed back to my Airbnb as I would have an early start the next morning for my GoT walking tour! Woo-hoo!

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“That’s what I do. I drink and I know things.” – Tyrion Lannister, Season 6

Vienna: Day 3

10 May 2017

So fun fact: I had to bring work with me during my Journey to 30 holiday because my PhD supervisor scheduled a Skype sesh for this morning. However, after a really productive meeting, I headed straight to Schönbrunn Palace!


I purchased my ticket online so I just had to scan the barcode on my phone to gain entrance. Beforehand, I had a quick lunch at the Residenz Café Restaurant. Delicious coffee and even more delicious pastries! I had a spinach and goat cheese strudel, which was perfectly flaky. Yummy! The café also offers private Strudel shows in the Imperial Bakery.

After my lunch I headed inside the Palace where, unfortunately, photography is not allowed even if you’re not using flash. *Sad Face* …. So I switched from my Canon to Phone again for a clandestine operation. Shhh, don’t tell them. #SnitchesGetStitches.

Then I headed to the absolutely beautiful gardens. If I was part of the Imperial family I’d be in the gardens all the time, chillin’ and drinking champagne while playing human chess à la Mel Brooks’ History of the World. Obviously joking, but I would definitely love to lounge in the gardens with a good book.

I then made my way to Gloriette, a lovely belvedere with a vantage point of the Palace and the surrounding neighbourhood.

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After my Schönbrunn Palace visit, I made my way to Naschmarkt, basically the Borough Market of Vienna. I was overwhelmed by the shops and stalls available and the amount of food to choose from. I decided to eat at Neni and basked in the sunlight with a glass of white wine.

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I headed back to my Airbnb to get ready for my night out at Porgy & Bess, Vienna’s popular jazz club where I snagged a front row table to watch Enrico Rava and Geri Allen. This place is cash-only so make sure to bring those Euros if you book a table here. After my jazz and wine I was definitely feeling the need for sleep. This was also my last night in Vienna and I had a fabulous three days! I definitely need to go back to Austria though to visit Salzburg. Until next time, Austria!

Vienna: Day 1

8 May 2017

The second location I visited during my Journey to 30 was Vienna, Austria! Mostly because the train ticket from Prague to Vienna was under 25. #Bargain

I walked to my Airbnb from the train station and met with one of my hosts (Shout out to Ivan and Neva!). Ivan was really helpful and provided me with a map, and info about public transport and cool places to visit. He even suggested I visit a nearby tobacco shop to purchase a public transport ticket – which I did. I’ve noticed several tourist-y websites that suggest purchasing a “Vienna Card,” which will provide discounts around the city, and can be used as your transport ticket, but I overheard another tourist who said it sucked. His words, not mine. Having said that, I got by just fine purchasing a €16 week pass for all transport (bus, tram, metro), and using my uni discount everywhere. Worth it!

And with my public transport ticket in hand, I ventured off to experience the city. I first looked up vegetarian places to eat and Google suggested Wrenkh, which I’m glad it did because the food was delicious. Wrenkh did have meat options on the menu but it was predominantly vegetarian/vegan.

I ordered an olive tapenade, mushroom ragu, and the house white wine. Of course, I ate it all because I was starving.

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After that I snapped a few pictures of St. Stephen’s Cathedral before I headed down to the metro.

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I specifically took the metro to Prater so I could go on the Wiener Riesenrad (ferris wheel), and overlook the city. It was unfortunately raining at this point but it was still beautiful. Afterwards it was getting late and cold, so I grabbed some takeaway and I headed back to my Airbnb to get an early start the next day.

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Czech Yourself in Prague: Day 3

7 May 2017

Marathon Day!!!! Luckily, I woke up only mildly sore from the previous day’s adventures – YAY! However, I did have a stress dream about missing the start time …. I can never seem to get away from those dreams no matter how many marathons I run. Anyways, I put on my running gear and walked over to the start line, conveniently located in Old Town Square. There was music to motivate runners and I headed to my start area to drop off my bag and do some stretches before the marathon.

The marathon itself was organised around Prague so I got to see most of the city on this day. We even got to run across Charles Bridge, which is usually filled with tourists during the day. So yes, I did take the time to snap a few pictures and selfies. I finished later than I usually do since I’ve been having issues with my shin…but also because I was so inconsistent with training. I get so lazy when it comes to training. I’m pretty sure the most I ran was 8.5 miles/ 13.5 km per day. Woops.

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But I finished and got my medal! Woo-hoo! Then I did my post-marathon ritual of eating pizza and beer, one of my favourite combinations in life. I ate at the lovely Giovanni Pizzeria.

The trick to not waking up sore the next day is to keep those legs moving. So after my pizza I headed to the Old Town Hall and walked up more spiral staircases to get to the vantage point just above the Astronomical Clock. I snapped a few pictures and went out in search of dessert.

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Views from the Old Town Hall

The Czech pastry, trdelník is a common type of cake you’ll find around Prague. It’s everywhere, but I headed to a specific shop – Good Food Coffee and Bakery which sells these “chimney cakes” with more extras (Nutella, ice cream, homemade whipped cream, strawberries, etc.). I had the classic one filled with vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries. It was sooooo delicious. I was thinking about heading out on the metro to see more of Prague, but I was so exhausted. I meant to go out with a bang in Prague, but instead, I went quietly and completely full of ice cream. I’ll take it! There was still so much of Prague I wanted to see, mainly, the Strahov Monastery and Petrín Hill. I guess I’ll just have to plan a second trip! Until next time, Prague!

Czech Yourself in Prague: Day 2

Saturday, 6 May 2017

My second day in Prague was a FULL day since the next day was the marathon, and I would be leaving on Monday. Naturally, I did as much as I could on Saturday. I started by heading to Prague Castle by tram. It’s an uphill trek and visitors have to get in line for a security check. The entire estate is quite large and includes the Golden Lane, Old Royal Palace, St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica and more, all of which require a ticket. I cannot stress how great student discounts are. Technically, to get a university student discount you have to be 26 years old or under so I just made sure to ask for a student discount while showing my uni card without mentioning my age, and it worked! Assertiveness pays off!

Full adult tickets to visit all buildings are CZK 350 (£12/€14), but I got the student price at CZK 175 (£5.65/€6.50). Win! Totally worth it to visit this entire medieval estate. FYI Tickets are sold in a cafe/shop once you enter the estate.

I first walked through Golden Lane, which I can only describe as cute, quaint and colourful….that is if you didn’t enter one of the buildings which housed medieval torture devices and swords (still cool though!). These homes were originally inhabited by castle servants and other artisans.

 

Next, I went into St. George’s Basilica:

 

I then went into  St. Vitus Cathedral which was simply breathtaking. I was already in awe of it as I looked at it from the outside but the inside was simply amazing:

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I then walked up the South Tower of the Cathedral and severely underestimated the amount of steps there were leading up to the worth-it vantage point. I mean, I really should have guessed just by looking from the outside but as I ascended the spiral staircase I stopped halfway through and thought what the HELL am I doing?! I’m running a freaking marathon tomorrow!! I better not wake up sore! Alas, I was already committed and onward I went. And I’m glad I did:

Lastly, I walked through the Old Royal Palace and noticed there was a “No Photos” sign…so I took that as a friendly suggestion and switched from my Canon to my phone.

While there was much more to see, I had to cut my visit short — even though I already spent several hours at the Castle — because I had much more to see around Prague.

From Prague Castle I walked to John Lennon Wall:

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Afterward I rushed to the Staropramen Brewery where I had booked a brewery tour, which included a free beer at the end! Yay!


To end the day, I did one of my favourite things before running a marathon: Carb-o-loading!! I ate at Oliva Verde, another restaurant in the Old Town Square and had pasta and bruschetta. Yuuuummmy! I then went back to my Airbnb and did a few stretches after the full day of walking and climbing staircases and slept early to prep for Sunday, AKA: marathon day!

Czech Yourself in Prague: Day 1

Friday, 5 May 2017

The first stop in my Journey to 30 was Prague, Czech Republic. This is where I strategically planned for a marathon so I could spend the rest of my holiday relaxing, exploring new cities, and eating whatever I wanted, but let’s be real, I would have eaten anything I wanted without running a marathon as well.

First things first, it was pretty easy to get into the city, made easier by the fact that I only had a carry-on. From the airport, I took the 119 bus to Nádraží Veleslavín, where I switched to Metro A that took me into town. Sounds complex, but pretty straight forward once you’re there. Feel free to review your options from the airport here.

I stayed at an Airbnb close to Old Town Square. It was literally a 2 minute walk to the Astronomical Clock if even that, and also right next to a Sex Machines Museum. Yup, I repeat, a Sex Machines Museum. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to explore the museum but I’m assuming sex contraptions of some kind are involved. I, of course, took a few pictures of my initial arrival: Clock, market, the neighbourhood. The market sold various trinkets and food, and also, puppets because I learned that puppet-making an puppet shows are a huge thing in Prague and part of Czech culture in general.

Afterward, I went on the tram to the sports expo to pick up my running swag and bib number for the marathon. You guys, “twerking” was legitimately a planned show during the expo. I caught the tail-end of it (pun intended), but polls were involved and children were watching. No one seemed to mind.

 

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The planned “twerking” show.

I headed back to Prague 1 (the city is divided into several zones), where I went on the hunt to find something to eat. I instead, went to a bar first (lol). It was one I heard about – Anonymous Bar, inspired by the film, V for Vendetta so Guy Fawkes masks were a major theme of the bar. It was actually pretty great! Of course, the cocktails were on the pricier side but they were also priced at the Czech Koruna so they were still cheaper than cocktails you would find in London.

Both cocktails I had were under £10 each so that’s saying something. And they were both delicious! My drinks of choice were: Scarlet Rose, which consisted of gin, creme, and egg white, and the Japan, which was a plum-based drink. My fave was Scarlet Rose as it wasn’t too creamy. It was perfection, and it was yummy. Another cool factor of this bar was that after I ordered my first drink, the waiter gave me a black light which revealed hidden drinks in the menu. How cool is that?! I noticed empty boxes when I was first looked through the menu but once I showed a black light on those “empty” spaces, more cocktail items were revealed!

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After my two cocktails I went back to looking for dinner and settled on Spanish-themed restaurant, El Toro Negro, right in Old Town Square. I had a great view of the Astronomical Clock, and I was even invited to sit at a table with other travelers! Usually I keep to myself when I travel and I’m not one to initiate conversations with randos even if I hear them speak and realise they’re from the same country as myself – this has happened before (yes, I’m a bit of an introvert, but an adventurous one!). When I was invited, I thought, sure what the hell, you know? So I ended up having dinner with two individuals from Brazil, and one from Argentina, all of whom were in Prague for business. They initially invited me over because they pegged me for a Spanish-speaker and they were right! Almost as soon as I sat down I was asked, hablas espanol?

It was great though, I spoke in Spanglish as one of the Brazilians was not great with Spanish but could understand pretty well. We had dinner and I called it a night since I wanted to keep a regular schedule in the days leading up to my marathon, but not before I recorded the Astronomical Clock as it struck 11pm. Thus endeth my first day in Prague.

P.s. If you ever wanted to try absinthe, it’s EVERYWHERE in Prague.

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Journey to 30

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Near John Lennon Wall in Prague

I never actually liked the term “dirty thirty.” I felt it put a negative spin on people turning 30 when it should be a positive thing. I mean, what’s dirty about turning thirty? Waking up with a hangover maybe? Recently, I turned thirty and called it my “Journey to 30” which was much more fitting since I planned a solo trip to visit three new countries. I finally looked up the origins of “dirty thirty” and I’m now soooo happy I didn’t use it. Urban Dictionary’s definition is the following:

“The age at which single women without children realise that their biological clock is ticking. As a consequence they may lower their standards and increase their willingness to perform sexual acts as a matter of desperation in order to find a mate/sexual partner.”

So, yeah, I’m glad I didn’t use it. But it does point to a common convention across multiple societies: the pressure of being married and/or having children at a certain age. I don’t want to point fingers, but certain genders may feel this pressure more than others. Of course, there are other milestones people may feel pressured to achieve: the pressure of owning a home, the pressure having a degree, the pressure of having a well-paid job, etc. However, the reality is our own journeys may not necessarily lead us to these milestones in a cookie-cutter way, if at all. We all have our own journeys and struggles that lead us to new experiences – some good, some bad. I know I’ve come a long way. I think part of the freedom and contentedness I feel stems from the fact that I do not feel any of these pressures or competitiveness to be at a certain place in my life. I am happy with who I am and with where I am today. I am single. I am childless. I am a Ph.D. student living in the U.K. I am a 30-year-old who’s had a rich life thus far.

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Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik

Even as my Facebook feed increasingly becomes flooded with wedding and baby photos, I don’t feel that itch to go out and find a partner and have a baby. I feel that so many of us sometimes give in to those pressures and limit our own journeys to paths we are comfortable with. But you know what, it’s exciting, fun, and even a little scary to set out on new journeys. I wanted to move to a new country while having the chance to help others so I joined the Peace Corps and ended up living in a village in South Africa for 2 years. What?! I applied to grad school in the U.K. while finishing my Peace Corps service and actually got accepted! What the whaaaa?!?! And yes, I even got a corporate job working in HR for 2 years before I decided to quit and yet again go back to school to get a Ph.D. And here I am now. I didn’t place limits on myself and neither should anyone else.

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City Walls, Dubrovnik

I recently celebrated turning 30 by exploring new parts of the world and new cultures. I went to Prague, where I also completed my sixth marathon, then I headed to Vienna, and finally Dubrovnik. These cities were amazing, each with their own beautiful histories and cultures. I find peace in throwing myself into the unknown. I found peace dipping my toes in the Adriatic. I found peace eating an ice cream out of a chimney cake in Prague, I found peace feeling like a local as I used public transport in Vienna with ease, and I found peace meeting new people in all three of these gorgeous cities. My next few posts will be exactly about my Journey to 30, and this has been the most amazing birthday ever. Where will your journey lead you?

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Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna