Travel

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.

20170507_093103

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.

CIG_IMG384

CIG_IMG382
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:

CIG_IMG190

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:

CIG_IMG308

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.

 

20170518_183844
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!

CIG_IMG047CIG_IMG060

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.

CIG_IMG017

Journey to 30

IMG_0988
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.

IMG_1915
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.

wp-image-827933708
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?

IMG_1453
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

Foodies Festival Brighton

There’s nothing like spending a Saturday afternoon eating and drinking to your heart’s content … which is exactly what I did (#CheatDay!). Luckily, the weather blessed us with clear skies to kick off the annual Foodies Festival, which will tour the rest of England, with one stop in Scotland (schedule below).

My friend and I arrived at Hove Lawns and were immediately greeted by music and a free sample of an Old Fashioned, however, she had to drive so fortunately for me, I got to drink hers as well. The abundance of food overwhelmed us in the best possible way and while we were deciding what to eat, we were handed another free shot/sample of sparkling coconut water and vodka. Yum! Then we noticed yet another vodka provider handing out free samples as well – KIN Toffee + Vodka, which was smooth and delicious! At this point we definitely needed food.

fullsizeoutput_85
Italian Mac & Cheese
fullsizeoutput_86
Vegan FroYo (Bubblegum with coconut flakes)

I ended up getting the Italian Mac & Cheese, which was slathered with basil pesto and had delicious pieces of mozzarella throughout. Oh. My. Gah. There were plenty of other vendors competing for attention providing everything from Mediterranean, Thai, Ramen, Chinese, Mexican, BBQ, cakes, artisan bread, and sooooo much more.

fullsizeoutput_88
Le Bun was a popular stop. There burgers looked like perfection.
fullsizeoutput_89
Just LOOK at the perfection of this burger! It’s what all other burgers places should aspire to be!

Also, you will not go thirsty. Various vendors provided gin, whiskey, rum and tequila. I had Honey’s Midford Cider and I also tried Ableforth’s Sloe Gin Mule and they did not disappoint. It was so nice to just soak up the sun and listen to live music with great food and great company. The Foodies Festival will be in Brighton only until Monday, May 1st, but if you happen to be traveling to the U.K. this summer, do check out if the Foodies Festival will come near you. This is an annual festival so if you miss it this year, do check it out the next! [FYI I purchased my ticket via Groupon UK. Two-for-one tickets at £17.50].

Pros: Lot’s of choices, vendors, and drinks to be had. You can even purchase a variety of foods to take with you (cakes, bread, olive oil, chili sauces, etc.) or drinks (wine, bottles of gin, whiskey, rum and tequila). The live music was also a nice touch.

Cons: There were vegetarian options available, but I wish there was more of a variety. Also, like any festival, the food was a bit pricier given we also paid for a ticket, but some say it was worth it.

CIG_IMG051
P.S. Lots of doggos were out in full force looking towards their owners with hopeful faces. “Please sir, can I have some more?”

Foodies Festival 2017 Schedule:

  1. Brighton [Hove Lawns]: 29 April – 1 May
  2. Bristol [Durdham Downs]: 12 May – 14 May
  3. Brentford [Syon Park]: 27 May – 29 May
  4. Newcastle [Exhibition Park]: 2 June – 4 June
  5. Birmingham [Canon Hills Park]: 23 June – 25 June
  6. Blackheath [Circus Field]: 7 July – 9 July
  7. Knutsford [Tatton Park]: 14 – 16 July
  8. Edinburgh [Inverleith Park]: 4 August – 6 August
  9. London [Alexandra Palace]: 26 August – 28 August
  10. Oxford [South Parks]: 1 September – 3 September

Horchateria

“Viva los churros!” is the quote that will greet you at the Horchateria Rio Luna cafe. Located in Paramount, California, Horchateria opened its doors in March 2016, and boasts a menu with traditional Mexican treats like the concha (a pan dulce found at any local panadería in Southern California), churros, agua frescas, and a variety of horchata. Horchata is traditionally a rice-based beverage with cinnamon and sugar but this cafe steps up their game by creating ice cream sandwiches with their conchas, and ice cream sundaes substituting churros for bananas. *Drools*

There are vegan options available and a variety of sweet sauces for your churros. During my outing with two other friends I ordered an horchata iced coffee and churros with a Nutella and lechera drizzle. It was decadent. It was sweet. It was gone quickly. My friends ordered concha ice cream sandwiches and one had a cajeta drizzle. The ice cream itself was horchata flavoured so expect hints of cinnamon. Overall, this cafe is a must and you should definitely make the trip out here to indulge and willingly put yourself into a sugar coma. Added bonus: souvenirs are sold including totes, dia de los muertos-styled items, concha-shaped bags, and lots of Frida decor. For a full menu, click here.

 

Madrid, Te Amo!

Siestas are much needed. I know this now. Large lunches in the afternoon and tapas at night are a way of life in Madrid, or at least it was my way of life when I visited over the holidays. I ate so much during lunch that I needed a nap (didn’t take one though), and by night I wasn’t that hungry so, I ate small plates, or tapas. Totally get it now. Here are the food highlights during my stay:

Cañas y Tapas

I visited this tapas hotspot in the Sol district of Madrid where you can order a beer and get a free pre-set tapa. That’s right, free with each purchase of a drink. Talk about your 2 for 1 special! Unfortunately, I am a vegetarian but my carnivorous friends got to benefit from my meat-happy tapas. They do have vegetarian tapas, which I ordered: Verduras Fritas (fried vegetables) and Tortilla Española. Yum!

Chocolatería San Ginés

Within walking distance of Cañas y Tapas is this wonderful churro mecca. There is the sit-in café as well as a take-away shop directly across the street if you don’t want to wait for a table. The procedure: order at the register, get your receipt, find a table, provide waitress/waiter with said receipt, and patiently wait for churros with cups of chocolate. These are traditional churros, so you won’t find them sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, instead, you get plain churros with mugs of chocolate. You then dip your churro in the mug and bathe it in chocolate deliciousness.

20161227_205102
Café Irlandés

I also ordered an Irish coffee, because why not? (Café Irlandés on the menu). And woah. It was like whiskey with a hint of coffee. It was so strong that my waitress saw that I drank it all and patted me on the back for my accomplishment. Needless to say, after the beer at the tapas place and the Irish coffee here, I was a little drunk. #WorthIt

El Caldero

Along the Barrio de las Letras is this A-MAZING paella restaurant. Cards on the table: I got drunk here as well, but to be fair there was only two of us and we shared a bottle of wine, and to top it off, our waitress surprised us with aperitifs at the end of the meal. For appetizers, I ordered artichokes that were breaded, fried, and bathed in garlic. It. Was. Delectable. My friend ordered jamón ibérico, which you can compare to prosciutto. Most of the main courses are for two as the paellas are large and a waitress will serve you at the table. We ordered the vegetable paella and it was glorious! I couldn’t even finish my half. It’s also served with three different types of aioli. If you are planning a trip to Madrid, this paella place is a must.

La Casa del Abuelo

Located just outside Plaza Mayor is this tapas place established in 1906. We ordered una jarra de sangría (jug of Sangría) and patatas bravas, which is potatoes covered in a hot sauce. It was delicious and I was keeping my buzz going from visiting El Caldero earlier. Don’t judge.

Markets and Macarons

During my Christmas trip to Paris, we stayed in a super quaint Air B&B in the Latin Quarter. Lucky for us, there was a small cobbled street lined with markets and cafes within walking distance. If you find yourself near the area, please pay a visit to Rue Mouffetard.

Walking through this pedestrian only road, you’ll find bakeries, delis, a seafood market, cafes, fromageries (is that right?), and wine shops that also sell local craft beer. It was such a lovely surprise going out looking for breakfast and coming back with jam, fresh-baked bread, and cheese, which I ordered in broken French. Yummy!

Next was the battle of the macarons: Pierre Hermé v. Ladurée.

We first stopped for dessert at the Ladurée on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We opted for eating outside as the line for inside the restaurant itself was quite long. If you wanted to stop by for just macarons, the shop is also located in the restaurant itself but expect long lines for that as well. We had various cakes for dessert, which were so decadent and amazing, but a friend also ordered macarons to go. They were a delicious assortment of coffee, hazelnut, vanilla and other flavours.

On a separate day, on our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, we stopped by the nearby Pierre Hermé shop and ordered more macarons. It offered more varieties and odd flavours like foie gras. In the end, we agreed that Pierre Hermé was the better of the two. If you would like to judge for yourself which is better, you can visit both places without much of a crowd, along Rue Bonaparte, which is on the way to the Luxembourg Gardens. You will find both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé along this road. You’re welcome and happy eating!

laduree-and-pierre-herme