First of all, shout out to my followers who indulged me in my #picklegate challenge! A huge thank you to The Travel Architect, as well as Divya from TravelSavingsAddict for participating. I often participate in blog sharing sites where members are supposed to THOROUGHLY read and comment on each other’s posts. I know that barely anyone actually reads mine. This is annoying because after taking the time to read the posts of others, I often receive comments on my work which show no evidence of having read my writing. “Glad you enjoyed the taco place” when I actually wrote that I hated it. To prove my point I wrote a random section which has nothing to do with anything, within this section I requested that those who saw it should comment #picklegate under my post for a shout out. The only people to clearly have read my post in its entirety are the two bloggers/followers above!
Second, sorry for the lack of posts! On April 29th I left for the hospital to deliver my 1st child and on May 1st he was born! Welcome to the world Henry Marius! We are so excited to take him on trips to anywhere and everywhere. Now that a month has passed, I’m finally getting into a routine and hopefully blogging more will be a possibility!
Without further tarrying…The Prohibition museum!
If I could travel back in time, I’d want to visit the 1920’s in the United States. Jazz, the Charleston, the Harlem Renaissance, the Cotton Club, the Lost Generation Writers, Al Capone, Speakeasies, Flappers…I’m here for all of it. I wasn’t expecting to travel back in time when I visited Savannah, Georgia, but that is nearly what happened. I visited the Prohibition Museum and engaged in a fully immersive experience on a time in our nation’s history when the purchase and manufacturing of alcohol was illegal. (A thought which shakes me to my CORE) The museum does an excellent job of displaying all of the different ways that Prohibition influenced the country, I hope you enjoy this post nearly as much as I enjoyed visiting!
The Temperance Movement was made mostly of women who criticized alcohol and the consumption thereof. These women claimed alcohol was immoral and was responsible for the destruction of the family unit, as well as the poor physical and emotional treatment of women at the hands of their drunken spouses. The movement lead to Prohibition which lasted from 1920 to 1933. While the movement may seem noble in some regards, it also pried on the fear of Americans by scapegoating new immigrants to the country. Bars were portrayed as harbors of safety for immigrants who got drunk and took money from the government and were dangerous to the public.
One woman, was particularly passionate about the Temperance Movement and Prohibition. Her name was Carrie Nation, and she was considered to be especially radical in her beliefs. Her claim to fame was attacking institutions which sold alcohol with a hatchet, normally by smashing all of the bottles behind the bar. She famously was almost always dressed in conservative all black clothing. Her husband was an alcoholic and this inspired her to become involved in the temperance movement and to such lengths. She often drew an audience by holding public lectures and called those who followed her, “Home Defenders.”
Those who worked at breweries and alcohol manufacturing plants soon found themselves out of business and unable to feed their families. Some of the most famous breweries in our country began selling ice cream, soft drinks, cheese, nearly anything to make money. Soda Fountains opened up and those who worked behind the counter tried to create zany ice cream and soda based beverages that were delicious, visually appealing, and would keep customers coming back. Soda jerks did tricks and tried to create “performance” behind the bar similar to what a bartender might do.
Some people who had lost their jobs in alcohol manufacturing decided to use Prohibition as an opportunity. These people distilled alcohol in their backyards or out in the woods and used their own recipes and equipment. Since they worked by the light of the moon, they were called Moonshiners and their products were called moonshine. Since ingredients were obviously not regulated by the government, it was not unusual for people to become sick, paralyzed, or even dead from consuming moonshine.
Prohibition also ushered in a new era of organized crime. Famous gangsters such as Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, and of course, Al Capone made their fortunes by peddling in the sale and distribution of alcohol. The field for alcohol was extremely competitive and thus there was a lot of violence and murder happening during this time. While some mobsters stayed in the shadows to safely be able to continue their operations, Al Capone enjoyed the spotlight and nearly always made himself available for photographs and press reports.
It was not unusual for common people to create their own booze within the safety of their own homes. There were tips, tools, and recipes shared all around the nation between neighbors and friends.
Doctors got away with selling booze under the guise of using it for “medicinal purposes.” The government usually did not second guess or interfere with a doctor prescribing alcohol as medicine. Thus, people began obtaining alcohol as a means for dealing with various ailments – everything from a twisted ankle to the common cold.
At the museum, facets of life in the 1920’s are pervasive, but there is a section dedicated solely to culture. You are able to see artifacts from the 1920’s such as clothing worn by people during this time. You’re able to see actual flapper outfits and try on some clothing yourself. Charleston music plays through the speakers in this part of the museum, and you can follow the footprints on the floor to learn how to do a proper Charleston!
The reward for having made it through the museum is giving the password to a mysterious man at “the door” and walking into a 1920’s speakeasy! Here you can order authentic cocktails from the 1920’s and 1930’s, and if you’re pregnant, the bartender might give you some popcorn to go with your sparkling water. There is live entertainment in the evenings, and the speakeasy also offers classes in how to make some of its cocktails.
Ghost City Tour – If you do one thing in Savannah…let it be this, particularly the “Beyond the Good and Evil” tour. This ranks up there with the top three best tours I’ve ever taken; it was the perfect amount of unsettling and comedic. For starters, I happened to be having a bad bit of anxiety and was extremely uneasy about taking this tour. Hearing about death and murder usually makes anxiety worse. After hemming and hawing about if I should cut my losses and skip the tour, I could not have been more relieved and thankful that I decided to go ahead with my original plans. Our tour guide was an Aussie, and as such, had an incredible sense of humor and a lovable and sarcastic style. We were doubled over in laughter within the first five minutes of meeting him. He was theatrical, immersive, and kept the attention of our entire group the whole tour, I had tears in my eyes too many times from laughing so hard. Our guide brought us to several sites, including the Mercer House, and explained the fascinating and intense horror-filled history of each place, but laced jokes and humor into every story. The history of one house scared me a lot, a scene where nearly every family who moved in has experienced a mysterious death in the house. I felt really unsettled by hearing the stories and it bothered me to even look at the house, I felt my anxiety coming on again. However, our guide finished the tale with a story about there actually being a nice family moving in recently, and putting up a Christmas tree in their window in December and them loving the house entirely. He joked that for the month of December, his credibility in bringing guests there to hear about the terror was not as effective. To be honest, I’m not sure how much truth there was to ANY of the stories he told, but I enjoyed every moment of this tour. The guide’s ability to work impromptu, on the spot occurrences that unexpectedly happened throughout the night into his bit as comedy was nothing short of genius. Savannah is known for its pervasive haunted history and spooky vibe, and I felt I had the best opportunity to see so much of that, and in a unique way on this tour.
Juliette Gordon Low House – From a young age, my mother knew it was her job to help me develop into a strong and independent individual and woman. Although she’s consistently horrified at my sense of humor, salty language, and running after her in the supermarket with a pouch marked “cock soup” and shouting “MOM, IT’S YOUR FAVORITE, COCK SOUP” as strangers look at her, I think she’s proud of who I am as a woman. She enrolled me at five years old into a local girl scout troop, and I have genuinely good memories of being a Girl Scout. Although it was something I only did for a few years, I feel that my experiences really helped me develop into a person I’m proud to be. I grew up an only child, and I remember screaming and crying at my first girl scout meeting because I had to sit in a different room from my mother, I had to sit with all the other girls and I was not used to making new friends. Plus, the other little girls were basic bitches, and I knew from the moment I saw them we had nothing in common. (Joking. About some of them.) On that day and from that day forward however, I learned how to interact with others, initiate conversations, to rely on myself when I need to, and to be brave. The rest of my days in Girl Scouts taught me similar lessons, and I have many happy memories of creating, exploring, and learning. I also have memories of needing to draw a scene of a jungle on Poster Board, my mom drawing the most ridiculous looking elephant in an attempt to help me out, and then making me tell me troop friends and leader that I had drawn the elephant myself, with his mighty penis looking nose. If she reads this she’s going to say it’s not true, BUT IT’S 100 PERCENT TRUE, GUYS.
Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, but I was touched during our tour. Our tour guide asked who had been a former girl scout and four women including myself raised our hands, and she announced, “Well, welcome home then.” Sobs uncontrollably. The guide was so kind, so many memories were resurrected, and the former scouts on the tour had permanent looks of nostalgia and excitement. Our tour guide required the use of canes to walk due to a physical disability, but she was so proud of the work that the organization was doing to help girls with disabilities integrate more seamlessly into the program, and her part in all of the endeavors which would help these girl scouts. Our guide was funny, thoughtful, and kind. She offered me special accommodations (such as taking the elevator) for me as I was pregnant, and for others who had difficulty with aspects of the house, such as narrow stairs. All of this served as a good reminder of the overall compassionate and inspirational spirit of the organization. It was an honor to learn about Juliette Gordon Low, and how she paved the way for so many women. She was strong minded and brave in a time when it wasn’t in vogue for women to break the mold and think independently. To learn her story by visiting this house, is to learn so much about how far women have come in society and how much we owe to the women who came before us. If you’re looking for a glimmer of happiness, hope, and history, please visit!
The Squares – If you’re from the 1960’s then a square is a bad thing. If you’re not from the 1960’s and you’re in Savannah, you know all the reasons why squares are an awesome thing. The city is divided up into very small parks, or, squares, and there are 22 squares in all. Normally, walking around a city can be exhausting and at times, un-enjoyable, especially if you are lost, or just low on energy. I can’t tell you how nice it was to have a little piece of pristine nature to sit and relax in after every few blocks or so of walking. In many parts of the world and in my own country, parks, while relaxing, can be somewhat dangerous at night. Unfortunately, some big parks in my city are the places of rape, assault, and violence once the sun sets. I felt safe hanging out in the squares at night because you can see all parts of it at all times. Due to the high variance of them, it really beautifies the city and I love the idea of nature and respite in a “bite sized” version!
Old Town Trolley – If you’ve been reading my blog, you know by now, that exercise is among my least favorite activities. Savannah was hot, and it was humid, and I was with child (as so many of the locals liked to point out.) Not all heroes are human, sometimes, they come in the form of transportation. Trolley Tours Save Lives and Preserve Morale. While the city, even by by own admission, is definitely walk-able, the trolley was a pleasant way to see the city from a different angle, as well as hear about the history of the squares and landmarks. It’s a great way to preserve energy on a hot day!
Dueling Pianos: I’ve been to a few of these around our great nation, but this one is indeed the best. I’d like to give a HUGE shout out (on this blog that only a few people read) to the insane amount of talent radiating from the professionals behind the keys! I was floored by the musical ability of the performers; songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody and Jolene were performed with perfection. Due to the drink selection being dizzying, and babies in utero allegedly not caring for alcohol, I stuck with club soda for the night, but the bar was HUGE and I’m sure, promising. If you’ve been to Dueling Pianos, what’s different about this one is that you can “send a message” with your request, and the pianist writes your message on a giant mirror behind them. If you’ve never been to Dueling Pianos, it’s where two musicians beat the shit out of each other in the middle of the stage while also running back to their pianos to churn out requested songs. It’s wrestle-mania meets symphony. You’ll love it.
Tybee Island – In being from Long Island originally, the beach has been a huge part of my life. When I travel, my roots seek out a beach wherever I may go. Tybee Island felt like home. It was a 35 minute drive from central Savannah and it’s a classic east coast beach community. We enjoyed the sea life center and seeing small, baby, turtles which will be released once they are old enough. There’s a touch tank in the center which was cool until some random older woman kept daring me to touch the things inside, I got scared and walked away. “Touch it…no really…why won’t you touch it…just touch it.” Maybe I misunderstood and she was just impersonating Harvey Weinstein for her own entertainment, and it had nothing to do with me. Really though, the center does a great job of showing their efforts to preserve the beach and the life that inhabits it. The beach itself is beautiful and vast, and there is a boardwalk where fishing and lounging in the sun takes place. Seafood and fried food are the meal to get at any of the restaurants on Tybee Island and there’s not shortage of places to eat and get hammered. I’m sure the woman who fell off her stool at the restaurant we ate in would absolutely agree. I’m inserting the phrase ‘pickle gate’ into this article for no reason whatsoever, because most people don’t even read the whole thing. They just find a few sentences and say, “Wow! I’m so glad you enjoyed ______. If you happen to find this bit of rambling, please comment and use #picklegate in your comment. I will shout you out in my next blog post. We only had a few hours here, but I’m already excited about visiting for a long weekend once our baby arrives! I love little seaside communities, and I’d imagine Tybee Island is a great place to have fun in the summer, it was even pretty popular in February!
Prohibition Museum – One of my most favorite places in this beautiful, small, city! I am a HUGE fan of the 1920’s and if you are too, or just a fan of fun times, you must check this out. I’m in the middle of doing an entire post on this place, so I’ll keep it relatively brief. This is the least boring museum you will ever visit. Whereas most museums are meant to be passive experiences, here you really are thrust into history and given ample opportunity to learn, using every sense, about such an edgy and exciting time in our past. The museum is dedicated to an unthinkable time in our nation’s history, a time when alcohol (the manufacturing, sale, and distribution of) was illegal. I feel faint just thinking about such blights on our nation’s timeline, but I’ll try to be brave and persevere. In each room there is a separate “scene” which tells you, as a visitor, about a particular aspect of the prohibition era. Of special interest were rooms entirely devoted to the crime which arose during this period (a re-creation of a shoot out by notorious Al Capone and the like), a dark room which shows how moonshine operations were run, and a temperance movement protest set-up. Each room was filled with life like wax figurines, full sized cars, and a magnitude of decor which went above and beyond in surrounding the visitor in immersive scenes. I loved it so much. I was extremely impressed with the ambiance of the museum, in both its ability to transport you back and time and its extensive collection of artifacts from the 1920’s. At the end, there is a 1920’s era speak easy where you can both indulge in the drinks of the day, as well as take lessons from a bartender! You even have to make sure you say the correct password at the door to get in. There are so many hands on opportunities, photo ops, and laughs to be had!
Forsyth Park – I’m ashamed to say that I found myself originally not caring if we saw this at all. I’ve seen parks, I’ve seen a lot of parks. Who cares if I don’t see this one? Well, I’m glad my outdoors loving husband decided that HE cared if we did. Forsyth Park is immaculately manicured and exudes old world beauty, reminding me so much of Central Park. It’s a great place to relax and take in the sun. It’s also a great place to pick up a free bible by a person who I’m sure is definitely mentally stable, or to pay $300 for a painting (albeit beautiful) created by an artist who draws inspiration from the park. The Spanish moss trees create a wonderful, romantic ambiance and it’s a fantastic spot for people watching as there is always something happening, even if it’s just pick up frisbee. Also, there were a few people filming there. If a new released film taking place in the park comes out, be on the lookout for me and all my baby weight!
Bonaventure Cemetery: One of the most beautiful cemeteries in the nation, a peaceful place that is more like an open air museum than anything else!
Not a Fan (I Did NOT Like These Things:
Southern Conversation – There wasn’t much fault that I could find with Savannah. It was one of those rare cities that I loved instantly, and by the end of our stay, loved entirely. I’m usually a fan of southern charm, but too much “let me come right up and talk to you” makes me anxious. Where I’m from, that is not the norm. If someone DOES try to talk to you deeply in New York, they are trying to sell you tickets to something or they need money. On more than one occasion in Savannah, locals (presumably, due to the molasses like accent) felt the need to ask me personal questions about my being pregnant and make comments about my weight moonlighting as concern for my health. My favorite included, asking me how far along I was (seven months at the time) and then telling me I’m lying and that I MUST be carrying twins. After I said that I WASN’T, being asked several more times if I was sure. Again, in New York this would be met with a “fuck off” if the conversation even got this far, and that’s a big if. Here, I felt people thought they were pretty much entitled to say whatever they please.
Food for Thought – Where I Ate:
The Collins Quarter – The CUTEST and most delicious stop for coffee and brunch! The menu is delicious and most importantly, they offer cocktails. CQ is Australian based and that means that the coffee is on point. Especially delicious are the spiced lavender mocha and Vietnamese ice coffee. Fun fact, I’ve never laughed harder than trying to get my husband to take a decent photo of me enjoying my coffee. Coffees can also be made decaf!
The Funky Brunch Cafe – A brightly colored, pop art, restaurant known for its creative take on breakfast. The cafe’s highlight is a griddle in the middle of each table where you are free to make your own pancakes with any toppings and in any shape that you want! Fun fact, your waitress might NOT think its wholesome to draw your pancake in the shape of a penis. While the pancakes were decent and you definitely get your money’s worth, we actually found the other breakfast items we ordered (such as sausage gravy & biscuits) to be of much better quality. The fresh squeezed orange juice is a must. Be prepared to roll out of here, the food is filling.
Leopold’s Ice Cream – If you don’t think Leopold’s has the best ice cream, your opinion on anything should never be trusted. There’s always a line out the door (don’t worry it moves quickly) and for good reason. The ice cream – for starters – is of the best quality and homemade. In particular, the rose flavored ice cream was refreshing in the heat. The shop itself feels vintage and from an older and simpler time, when kids in the south used to hang out in the sodey-pop shop giving each other hickeys and twerk by the jukebox to Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons. Be prepared to step into another world and don’t feel guilty about ordering more than once cone!
Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern – A restaurant located in a restored warehouse from the 1800’s on the bank of the charming riverside of the city. The rough wooden interior makes you feel as though a gaggle of old time-y sailors might come pouring out from behind the kitchen doors. After walking the picturesque riverside, this is a great place to come for some she crab soup and delicious seafood.
The Ordinary Pub – Confession, I’m a meticulous planner when I travel. I could completely see how this gets annoying to the people with whom I travel. I’m mostly this way when it comes to food – it irks me when I feel I’ve “wasted” one of my meals, and to avoid that- I won’t just eat anywhere. Our first night in Savannah, we arrived kind of late, and a lot of the restaurants I wanted to eat at were closed. I pouted and shrugged off every restaurant suggestion made by my husband, Arthur, until he persuaded me that we should eat at the Ordinary Pub. Corny writer’s joke…the Ordinary Pub is anything but ordinary. It’s an underground bar meets restaurant with live music and a metallic/artsy innovative decor and vibe. The place is spacious, loud, and a fun place to get the party started. It offers classic southern comfort food and dishes with a modern twist. I was looking for an old school southern dining experience, and was not willing to budge on that experience. I ate at a restaurant that was everything opposite of that – new and innovative – and felt that it was my best meal in Savannah! I couldn’t partake in diving head first into alcohol like I nearly always do, BUT, the food was off the fucking hook and they are open late! I HIGHLY recommend! Get the mac and cheese, your organs will be sorry – but your spirit will not.
Digs – Where I Stayed:
Planter’s Inn Reynolds Square – Quintessential Savannah! I’m a common New Yawka, and I truly wasn’t use to the finery of this hotel. We decided to splurge on this part of our baby-moon, and this hotel really helped us step into the feel of the city. The hotel unequivocally carried the essence of old world Southern charm, elegance, and grace. Our room was incredibly spacious and featured an adorable four poster bed. The room was so immaculately clean that I felt trashy wheeling my suitcase onto the pristine carpet! I’M NOT USED TO SUCH NICETIES IN LIFE. Every evening, after a long day of sightseeing, the hotel offers complimentary wine and cheese accompanied by a live pianist. It was the perfect touch to such a sophisticated stay, and a romantic way to unwind while the hot sun set over the city.
What I Learned: I felt the vibe of Savannah the minute we stepped out of our car. It was the low country, swampy, “born on the bayou” type of vibe that I’d always loved about the gulf, such as in places like New Orleans. It’s unmistakably southern, but in a funky, Gothic, spooky way. It’s the kind of place that charms the hell out of you in the day, and makes you a little jumpy walking around at night – not because it is dangerous, but because it’s impossible not to feel the spirits and spooks of the hundreds of years of haunted history here. Savannah holds its own in terms of identity and nearly rivals my love for New Orleans. When do I get to come back!?
Trigger warning: Feelings of self-realization and having to be honest about your intentions and abilities may occur. If the shoe fits…wear it.
I’m not interested in showing you how to “quit your 9-5” or “live your best life.” I’m a practical, independent, hard working woman from New York. Those sound like personal problems, and I stand to gain nothing from helping you out with all that. I have a family to help support, dreams of my own, and bills to pay. All of which require hard work.
I’m a story teller. I’m a teacher. I’m a writer. I have both degrees in English literature and literacy (reading and writing effectively.) There’s a lot of things I suck at, but I’m a damn good writer. It’s a talent I’ve been given praise on since as long as I can remember. I’ve been inducted into academic honor societies for it, and I’ve won contests for it. Writing essays, stories, posts, is not difficult for me at all. Articulating my ideas and being persuasive in what I say through writing is not difficult for me at all. Writing is my joy, my passion, and my talent. If writing is difficult for you, then you are not a writer.
Some days, being a teacher is the worst job. But, 85% of the time, I love my job. On any given day at my job, my role is to inspire children who have otherwise lost hope in themselves and in society. I’m immensely fulfilled knowing that I provide (hopefully) an environment where my students re-build their confidence, learn more about the world in a fun way, and at least for 40 minutes of the day, feel safe and valued. I take pride that my honest and consistent hard work allows me to contribute to my relationship financially, gives us health insurance, and allows me to make money for travel and leisure. Do I dream of running off to some island where life is simpler? Sure. But, I know that some things are more important than running off to live on some island, like making sure my family has reliable health insurance and making sure I have a life insurance plan that takes the burden off of my family should anything happen to me. It’s important that I have a pension so I don’t have to work until I’m 80 and it’s important that I have a savings in case of emergency. So, no. I don’t think I should quit my job, run off to St. Croix, and become a “digital nomad.” My blog is something I write for fun, I don’t need anyone to sponsor my trips for me, I can do it on my own, and that is something I’m proud to have achieved. ‘
My blog isn’t polished and it isn’t perfect, and I don’t care. However, I’m more than certain that if I put legitimate effort into it, stopped using salty and less than lady like language, and stopped dropping my metaphorical balls on everything I write with the force of a sledgehammer, I could make it as a “travel blogger.” However, who knows? Because it’s becoming apparent that travel blogging has less to do with one’s ability to actually write, and more to do with “how freaking adorbs” their blog page looks. There is more time spent on “cute-if-ying” blog pages than worrying about quality of writing, and it’s sickening.
While many a “travel bloggers” use “swirly teal, pink and white girly font” like it’s going out of style (and trust me, it is) I write everything in bold faced black. While the average “travel blogger” is petite and blonde, I’m curvy and dark haired. The typical “travel blogger” LOVES yoga, smoothies, beaches, and positivity. Most of my travels stories focus on my battles with anxiety, drinking with interesting characters, making questionable choices, not getting enough sleep, and never feeling like I have my shit together. I’ll take a coconut margarita over coconut water any day. I’ll take an entire plate of cheese fries to the face over chia smoothies any day. I will take dancing until I’m a sweaty mess on the dance floor with my friends over real exercise any day. I’m not anti yoga, I like it, and Lord knows I meditate every day, but because it actually helps me get my life together, not because it’s “super ‘grammable.” While most writers use a style that is neutral and like VERY encouraging and lovable, I write how I speak. I’m interested in sharing my stories, and if they resonate with you, great. If they don’t…I don’t care. The biggest praise for me is when I get told that I’m “witty” or “authentic.” Witty and assertive in one’s beliefs is something you can’t copy or fake. You either ARE that way, or you are not.
Speaking of copying, take a look at every travel Instagram and blog. I’d wager 90% of them, for the most part, looks exactly the same. It looks like a valley girl ate a shit ton of cotton candy, glitter, and magic and then ejaculated all over the place. No one can stray away from “the ultimate guide” either. Bloggers are even too afraid to use a word other than “ultimate” GOD FORBID it’s labeled as the “definitive” guide. By the way, another pet peeve… “life style coach?” Move over Barbara Corcoran, we’ve got a 24 year old Insta model who can do your job now! Years of experience? Who needs it? She got 40 thousand followers, a draw string bikini from Baby Gap, and a coconut in her hand!
As an English teacher, of course I think everyone of every ability should write. Writing is fun, it is trans-formative, and it heals. The ability to use words in a multitude of ways to express ourselves is what separates us from the animals. Anyone and everyone should write and even publicize their writing. But, make no mistake, your having a blog does not inherently make you a writer.
Like photography (a skill I don’t have), writing is a skill. The more “blogs” I read (some of which are actually great, and far better than mine) the more I’m personally insulted at having read them. I was writing for fun before it was cool, and before the thought of publishing anything on the internet ever crossed my mind. Why? I like it and I’m good at it. Sickeningly, it’s becoming so obvious that there are people not blogging for fun, or because it is their talent, but because just HAVING a blog MIGHT make them super famous and they might get to take free trips and be an “influencer”.
What ever happened to knowing your strengths? My Instagram description reads, “shitty photos.” You know why? Because I’m not trying to insult people’s intelligence and I own who I am. I suck at taking photos, I don’t sit and edit my photos all day, because I have a life, so I post what I have. If you suck at writing, how do you have the balls to call yourself a “travel writer?” The complete lack of self awareness is unbelievable, and the problem is becoming pervasive. I don’t call myself a musician just because I sing in the shower, and I don’t call myself an artist just because I color sometimes. Telling me via your blog that, “the food was delicious and the bar was super fun” doesn’t make you the next Julia Alvarez or Gillian Flynn, sorry. Let me guess, the water was also wet at the beach? Sand dry? Thanks for the info.
Not. everyone. can. be. a. writer. There is a difference between enjoying writing as a hobby and being a writer. Writing a shopping list of what you did in Los Angeles does not make you a writer.
My point in all of this, is the next time I read a comment of, “How do I grow my blog following” the answer is going to be, “Learn how to write.”
Grittiness. Alternative Scenes. Art. I love big cities for some of these reasons, and these reasons are also why I was so amped to visit Berlin. My bestie informed me that we’d have 24 hours on our summer trip where we could squeeze one final city in, and asked how I felt about Berlin. I practically jumped through the phone, “YES!” In all fairness, I realize I probably needed way more time to properly explore the city, but this is a tale of what was and not what I wish had been!
Pure exhaustion. After sleeping in sweaty hostels and pulling all nighters, we cancelled our reservation at yet another hostel and splurged on a sky rise hotel room which was pure heaven. The bathroom was spacious and it was nice to have some privacy and not have to share the shower and toilet with others! The room was SPOTLESS and modern. The bed was one where you literally sink into, and we spent about an hour laying in it contemplating just snoozing through out entire “layover.” Looking back, I can recognize that this was a massive waste of time, but all travelers know this level of exhaustion! Our brains hurt both from too much drinking and museum-seeing, our bodies were aching from walking all over three cities prior, and a nap sounded incredibly delicious. However, we begrudgingly peeled ourselves out of bed and trekked down to reception to start our day. I realize that this is the laziest part of my post, but that’s because I REALLY want you to get a feel for how lazy and useless I felt in the moments which took place in this section. Do you feel it? No, really. Do. You. Feel. It.
On the Prowl – AKA – Uncomfortable Wiener Jokes Galore
*A Runner Up for Academy Award for Best Plot in an Action Film: Not Without My Weenie (see below)
I’ll be honest, I had one mission, and it was food, I’m sure you’re all shocked. Whenever I travel, I NEED to try the food specialties of the land, and when inquiring about Berlin, I’d heard about Currywurst repeatedly, an exotic weenie that would allegedly emit magic into my life. How could I claimed to have been to Berlin and not tried some? Well, that almost was the case. Would you believe me if I said it took us decent looking ladies at least six hours to get some sausage from off the street? Sadly, this is factual information and really put me in a bad mood.
To start, we had only a few hours to utilize the bus tour passes we had just bought. We hadn’t eaten, but found a CurryWurst stand right by our hotel. Unfortunately, it was closed and not opening until later at night. We didn’t want to spend the afternoon only looking for satisfying sausages, even though this WAS a girl’s trip. So, we settled for Mexican food before our bus tour. While the burrito bowl was pretty legit, I just felt like I was cornered into this option and that I wasn’t making the best food choice. Mexican food can be found everywhere, I wanted the real. local. deal.
The bus tour wound up being one of those hop on/hop off deals, and at each stop we DID find a Currywurst stand. Big disappointment, NONE OF THEM TOOK CREDIT CARDS! Seriously, it felt like nowhere in Berlin took credit! Every stop became a rush of excitement, followed by a huge let down. I pleaded with the final stand owner that we came across. “Please, please tell me that you take credit cards and that I can have your promising sausage.” Even though I’d made the funniest wiener joke in history, he wouldn’t oblige me. “No, cash only.” I saw red – as red as the ketchup I’d seen pictured on Currywurst. Visions of flipping his food truck over and dumping curry powder on his head and drowning him in condiments filled my mind.
What the actual fuck? Fine, I’ll play along. At one point we walked in the sweltering sun ten minutes to an ATM to retrieve cash. I was hype. Any minute now, I would be gnoshing on sausages. Upon arriving at the ATM, we both realized we had left our debit cards at the hotel. If you’ve ever seen a toddler having a meltdown, then I need not describe my reaction. I was PISSED. Eventually, after walking all the way back to our hotel from the Berlin Wall, we finally hit the Currywurst stand by our hotel right as it opened. We put in two orders and I shifted anxiously from foot to foot waiting for my food. I practically stuck my head in the window of the food truck at one point as I breathed heavily and awkwardly awaiting. The man hurried along and threw our food onto the ledge. There it was…Currywurst. I quickly snapped a photo (hence the shitty quality of the photo) and dove in. We made the realization, and I want you all to know, that currywurst is a hot dog in curry powder with some ketchup on top. HOWEVER, I love hot dogs and therefore was not disappointed in the least.
I Like Big Bus, I Cannot Lie. ‘Specially When It’s Hot Outside.
We asked the receptionist at our hotel the best way to see the city quickly and she suggested the bus tour. It took a long time to find the stop closest to our hotel, but once we did, the tour was enjoyable for the most part. Each stop was centrally located to a major site and we were able to see quite a lot in our short time. If you’ve ever done the hop on/off bus tour, it comes equipped with earbuds which allow you to learn more about each stop. The only hiccups were that there was one instance where we had to wait over 20 minutes for the bus to come pick us up, we went into a cafe to buy sodas and snacks while we waited and SURPRISE, they didn’t take credit. Berlin really takes the idea of “living history” to heart evidenced by the fact that everyone acted as though a credit card machine were some new-fangled piece of equipment from the future. It was almost as annoying as when you visit a historical restoration in any part of the US and the people there all really act like we’re in the 1800’s, like when you ask them to take a photo of you. “Oh, what is this device here? I’ve never seen one before.” WELP I handed you sixty dollars to get into this fucking settlement and you didn’t bat an eye even though since it’s the 1800’s it should only cost me a nickel to get in this place. We also missed the last bus back which sucked big time.
We were having such a great time at the Berlin Wall that we had to walk from the Wall all the way back to our hotel. It was a heat wave outside and each step felt more and more impossible considering how exhausted we already were. Public transportation was nearly impossible to figure out and catch, and every cab that we tried to flag down ignored us. We tried to ask locals for help, all of whom also ignored us. At this point, I was pretty sure that I disliked Berlin. The people for the most part were cold, and Berlin overall just didn’t seem like an intuitive or comprehensive city. It felt icy and everything felt distant. We both became immensely frustrated and couldn’t fathom that we still had SO much further to walk.
Finally, an off duty driver pulled into a home driveway right near us. We begged him to give us a hand, and while he seemed reluctant, thank GOD his wife met him in the driveway and ordered him to take us to our hotel. While he at first seemed annoyed, reminding us at least 25 times that he was off duty and that he shouldn’t be doing this, he eventually warmed up which in Berlin is speaking a little bit about a topic other than how we’re ruining his life. We had to pay through a ride sharing app once we reached the hotel, and since there was no WI-FI in the car, Amanda had to go inside, download the app, figure it out, and pay, all while I sat hostage in the car.
Check Point Charlie: Sure it was touristy, but if one could squint there eyes a bit, it was pretty cool to see a small glimpse into what history looked like. I’d been really excited to see this, and I definitely nerded out for a while and enjoyed my time here! Check Point Charlie was the most frequented crossing point at the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin. It became deeply symbolic of the Cold War. Today, you can take photos with the acting guards there and imagine what is must have been like to have to cross from one side to the other. We didn’t pay to get our photos with the guards, but we watched as other people did. The guards seemed to be really funny and enjoy interacting with guests. Allegedly you can get your passport stamped for an addition fee, but if this is true, I’d imagine it might become problematic and confusing when other countries see the stamp. Oh this stamp? It’s from a fake country called Check Point Charlie.
Brandenburg Gate: One of the most iconic landmarks of the city! It has seen so much of history and it’s hard not to be impressed by its sheer stature alone.
Berlin Wall: Probably the best part of my short visit! How does one describe the East Side Gallery? How does one describe the feeling of seeing the STILL difference between East and West Berlin from the top of a bus? Eerie? Grateful? Surreal? All of this. Our tour told us of stories of people jumping over the wall at the eleventh hour to escape what they felt would be the impending horrors of communism. We learned about the politics of both sides of the spectrum. Normally when I think of heartbreak and devastation, my mind goes to the developing countries I’ve visited. I felt that here, hearing about the stories of real people from very recently. The East Side Gallery was everything I had hoped Berlin as a whole would be. The art is imaginative, captivating, provocative, and utterly beautiful and edgy. It embodied all of the things I love about creativity and is a pure testament to the power and importance of artistry’s ability to impact politics and society. I could have and we did spend many hours here both taking photos, and taking in the history around us.
Bar Crawl: All I’d heard about was Berlin’s incredible nightlife scene. So, where then, was the nightlife? I realize we didn’t examine the entire city, it’s far too large, but nearly every bar we walked past was closed! I kept imagining edgy basement bars with a leather clad crowd who held out since the Studio 54 days. I imagined bars entirely devoted to themes like the Roaring 20’s. We wound up visiting two spots which kept frequenting the “must see” bars list, and these, while thankfully open, were both nearly empty. First, we visited the Stagger Lee with which I fell passionately in love. Stagger Lee does the 1920’s in a truly authentic, and not at all kitschy way. If you’ve ever seen Boardwalk Empire, you would think you have wondered onto the set, it’s that well decorated. It unequivocally and completely takes you back in time. The drink menu is extensive and expensive, but I need all readers to know, that this is where I’ve had the best drinks of my lifetime ever, period. The cocktails are imaginative and top notch, every drink I threw back was pure perfection and artistry in a glass. To wrap up the evening we had a night-cap at the N.N. Train Cocktail Bar. It’s definitely one of the more unique cocktail houses I’ve ever visited as the bar is literally an old train car! The ambiance is vintage, sexy, and definitely not to be missed, and drinks were very reasonable as well. We were able to sit comfortably on Adirondack chairs outside as we enjoyed our last cocktail of our last big girls trip. That memory will always mean so much to me. Amanda and I have traveled the world from Denver to Mexico to Central America and to Europe.
We’ve seen so much of the world, and I can’t explain to you how much our lives have been changed by all of the traveling we have done together. We both got married several months before, and while very hard to admit, we just knew that this was going to be our last ever big girl’s trip. One month later I was pregnant, expecting my baby in a month’s time, and she is saving up for a house on Long Island, and those are our priorities right now, and that’s OK because we did everything we wanted to for so long prior. I didn’t want the night to end, as exhausted as I was, and we spent a long time both equally talking about all the good memories around the world, and sitting in silence quietly contemplating what the future will bring. In some ways, it never mattered where we were all these time that we traveled. It didn’t matter that our experience in Berlin was less than desirable, because the memories will always be fond and that’s because we had each other’s company.
What I Learned Is: I’m glad I got to see Berlin. I’m a history fanatic and I’m so grateful that I got to see some pieces of history that are otherwise only available in textbooks and documentaries to most people. I’m glad that I can say that yes, I’ve seen some of Germany and got a basic feel for the zeitgeist of city.
I DESPERATELY and STILL DO want to love Berlin.
I don’t completely blame Berlin for my time there. It was short, poorly planned, and I was too exhausted to put any real effort into my experience. However, the same issues I raise are reported by people who do spend an adequate amount of time there. There are many cities (New York, Paris, Chicago, Seville, Lisbon, etc) where you step right into the rhythm of the culture, hype, and reputation. For example, when New York promises tall buildings, hot night clubs, top restaurants, and history – you really don’t have to walk all over the city trying to “find” those things, it’s all around you. In Berlin, I felt that the city is so spread thin that everything falls flat. It was a lot of, “Oh, ok, here’s the one building I recognize from photos, where is everything else? Four hours later…OH ok…here’s that one bar…oh and it’s closed.”
I’m eager to return because I want to do it right before I add it to my “underwhelming destinations” list. I’m so hoping that the Berlin of my dreams is real and that I was maybe too fatigued to see it. I’m more than interested in hearing everyone else’s thoughts on Berlin!
“I loved the uniqueness of the instruments and I was ready to play the shit out of my acorn squash…”
I’ve had a few passion ideas lately. As I begin to evaluate what it means to enter motherhood, I also inevitably evaluate my lifestyle. I plan on exposing my son to travel from a young age, this is a top priority for my husband and I. However, I also will not risk the health of my child for my own selfish interests. I have no plans on backpacking with my small baby to far flung corners of the earth where I cannot immediately reach adequate medical care should we need it. I’m getting used to the idea that for a while, travel might look different, it might be more domestic based, and I’m OK with that.
Looking at the news lately, all news, leaves me feeling as though I’m living in a war zone. The United States is broken in so many ways, and if you watch TV long enough, the question of, should I really leave my home today doesn’t seem so far off. I’m on a mission to see more of my own country, and to hopefully gain experiences which paint a different image from what I see in the media.
I think part of looking at my own country means being open to new experiences and varying ways of living and thinking. This is easy to do in far flung places, but for some reason, so much harder in the United States. My objective in documenting myself seeing more of my country is to travel as a stranger in a strange land. I want to see all walks and ways of life and reaffirm my beliefs that our diversity is what makes us a great nation. I truly believe that we are far more alike than we are different.
We took a baby moon road trip down south in which we stopped in various states and cities, one of which was Charleston, South Carolina. Our trip took place in February, which also happens to be Black History Month. As such, I searched for ways that we could learn more about the culture(s) of people of color in our nation, and thus, found The Gullah Lady.
My hesitations: We’ve become so divided as a country that I had this feeling that both people and my friends both of color and those of Caucasian persuasion might roll their eyes at my endeavor. I imagined both types of folks peering deeper into my motives for learning more about a piece of the black community. Am I trying to make myself look or feel better or superior to other whites? Am I trying to be a white savior? Am I being mocking or facetious? Why would I want to do this? Why does it matter to me? Is this a show? Are my endeavors genuine?
I’m really comfortable with my reasons for my endeavor.
I’m a culture fanatic. I just purely love learning about different cultures. I see no difference between a walking tour of Little Italy to learn more about Italian culture, visiting temples in Thailand to learn more about Buddhist practices, and spending an afternoon in Charleston with a Gullah woman learning more about a unique sector of Southern Black culture. I just like learning new things.
Inevitably, when learning about Black culture and history in the United States, the topic of slavery comes up. I don’t feel uncomfortable and don’t feel like all eyes are on me because I am white. I acknowledge and understand the history of decades long oppression, un-justness, and toil of Black America. I understand that I have white privilege and that this doesn’t make me a bad person, but it’s important to acknowledge it. There is nothing to argue about or get defensive about, it’s a part of the history of my country, and therefore I think it should be important to everyone who lives in the country. I don’t think anyone who shares their accounts of this history with me is blaming me personally or calling me a bad person. If I call myself a traveler, that means my job is to learn about the world. In order to learn, it’s important to listen and have an open mind and open heart. It’s important that when someone shares a story with us, that we hear their words clearly, and not our own words and thoughts swimming in our head.
I think that I should be able to learn about Gullah and slave history without my intentions being questioned. I think people of color should be able to walk into a museum about Irish Americans or other European Americans and not be looked at strangely. The history of the United States belongs to all of us, and we all have a responsibility to know the full and complete history of the nation we live in and in many times claim to love.
FINALLY, A Gullah Afternoon!
I booked this excursion through AirBnB, it was my first time using the platform for booking an experience and all went well! Our guide/leader was Sharon and we met her in the Columbus Street park. As it was rainy and dreary weather, she re-located us to East Side Soul Food restaurant. I immediately liked Sharon from the get go because she was diligent, organized, and in constant communication…all things that put my anxiety while traveling at ease!
Sharon is an exceptional story teller. Her profession, which I didn’t know existed, is literally that of a story teller, and she is one of the best. From the minute she began the day, it was impossible not to be captivated by her orating skills and enveloped by her warmth. As an aspiring writer and someone who enjoys stories and always has, I’m always in awe of people who are so gifted. She began by telling us how she first came to know about Gullah culture, her pre-conceptions, and how she has been immersing herself in the culture for years now.
Gullah is both the language spoken and way of calling the people of the culture. Gullah people live mostly on sea islands of southern Gulf states such as the Carolinas, some parts of Florida, and Georgia. The language and culture is a mix of American Southern and West African, and I’m sure some Caribbean as well. The crafts, arts, and food are all unique as well. Typically, you might see Gullah families selling sweet grass baskets around Charleston and Gullah food such as shrimp, fried fish, and greens at restaurants. I had no idea that such a unique culture was a part of my country and it thrilled me to learn more about it!
After learning about the beginnings of Gullah culture in the United States, it was soon music time. An area which I thrive in given the right conditions (wine, a dimly lit room, more wine) and do piss poorly in given the wrong conditions (sobriety by way of pregnancy.) Sharon taught us a song popularly sung in Gullah churches and taught us how to clap along, in a very unique style, to the song. Arthur and I spent most of the rest of the car rides on the trip arguing about the rhythm of the beat as we both remember it differently. However, I remember it the right way, so the argument was pretty much futile. The song was catchy and we still walk around our home singing it and clapping like lunatics, I even sing the song to my growing baby! He’ll sometimes kick when I sing it, although probably because my voice is bringing him physical pain I’d imagine (sad face.) We practiced singing as a group, but this was tricky. There were only seven of us and I felt we had to HIT IT for the first time. I didn’t want to over do it and make everyone else jealous, but I didn’t want to leave anyone stranded and under-do it. I thought I should over do it because, why not? Once that was over, I was semi-relieved. I was feeling kind of shy that day (unimaginable, but possible.) Then…Sharon pulled out a bag of Gullah instruments. She laid them on the table and we all had to pick one. I GRABBED THE ACORN SQUASH with gusto. I loved the uniqueness of the instruments and I was ready to play the shit out of my squash (by smacking it rhythmically.) We were given the option of just playing the instruments to the beat, or playing AND signing. Most of the group just wanted to play. However, my husband declared that we did not all come all the way to Charleston to sit on the sidelines and idly smack our squashes or clamp our cow bells, we needed to go balls to the wall. And so we did, and it was amazing, and we all laughed and definitely felt like one run through was enough, and so did the few people in the restaurant listening to us, but I’m pretty sure we wound up doing it twice. I was flushed, and shaky, because I’m awkward…but I had SO much damn fun!
My favorite part was what came next…quilting! We learned about the art of specifically Gullah quilting. The process if not difficult, but Sharon describes it as tedious. I guess it can be, but I found it relaxing. Strips of different cloth are cut up and you use a nail to push each piece through the burlap fabric and tie it into a bow. Eventually, the entire burlap base is covered and you have a quilt! While ours was random and colorful, there are plenty of artists who create actual scenes on their quilt which I would imagine is much more difficult. Everyone who partakes in the excursion works on the same quilt and it makes the experience that much more meaningful.
As we worked, Sharon exposed us to the language of Gullah culture by telling a story in the language, seeing how much we could understand, and then re-telling it in Standard English. She explained that she has told this story for audiences of two and audiences of hundreds. I was touched that she told us also about her personal struggles overcoming her being shy, unsure, and lacking confidence at some points in her life. In particular, she told a story of embracing her unique look when taking classes with a bunch of white women who all looked and acted different from herself. While her experience happened to be in this particular context, if one were to have an open mind, the lesson is relatable to anyone who has ever felt different or outcast. Personally, I have always been outcasted for being different (in speech, action, and mind) in my life until recently when I feel it has suddenly become cool and accepted to be oneself. Growing up, I thought and acted different from everyone around me and was ostracized immensely by my peers and even my own family and friends. Sharon’s story of not fitting in in so many ways really made me feel like I had found a kindred spirit, a person who got me.
Last, and most importantly for foodies, we were served samples of Gullah food. Rice and red beans, okra soup, and fried fish made their way around and I finished my food before everyone else, naturally. The experience ended shortly there after, and I left feeling so emotional as I always do when spending time with people for a short while, and feel so close to in the end. The Gullah Lady provided our best and most authentic experience of Charleston. I highly recommend!
What I Learned: Growing up was tough for me. I never felt like I fit in. My whole life I’ve been different. I’ve thought differently, acted differently and was just…well…different. I was always told I was too opinionated, too much of a dreamer, and to keep my mouth shut. I never wore the right things, and was usually shunned for not being conformist. When most people visit Charleston they do what they see other people on social media doing. I did those things too and they were great. However, I also decided to partake in something that spoke more closely to who I am, someone who does something differently. I came to The Gullah Lady wanting to learn more about her culture and people who are different from me. I wound up leaving feeling comforted that I’d learned from and about someone who is actually just the same as me. Sharon is a woman who embraced a new culture completely on her own, who took an unconventional career, and who until recently has had many experiences and instances of feeling like an outsider for doing things differently. The foods I eat, the way I worship, and the ways I build community were different than what I did on this tour. However, my fears, challenges, joys, and what I want from my life were not at all different from what Sharon and many others experience. If she ever reads this, I’d like to thank her for being fearless and breaking the mold. I’d like to thank her for reaffirming that it’s important to be unique and confident in who I am. I’d like to thank her for exposing me to playing the acorn squash, a memory that makes me smile on my dullest days. It will always be challenging to accept that I’m different, but there is truly no one else I’d rather be.
The Odyssey. A tale of a man dickin’ around the seven seas trying to avoid his wife for an absurd amount of time. The moral, according to my 9th grade honors English teacher, was to be aware of hubris, or excessive pride.
That’s what all the other kids learned, anyway. I spent all my time blowing off classes, getting into trouble, and doing the bare minimum to move onto 10th grade.
If I had taken class more seriously, perhaps I wouldn’t have wound up in a precarious and embarrassing situation. Yes, perhaps, I would have avoided falling danger to my own horseback riding hubris.
Third grade. I took two years of horseback riding lessons. I think I did OK, I got as far as learning to trot. I really liked the experience, and have gone trail riding every once and again, but never seriously studied the equestrian arts since let’s say 12 years old.
So…naturally…when a horseback riding instructor says, “Only people with five or more years of experience should ride this horse. Is that anyone here?” It seemed like I, 26 year old Stephanie, was the person naturally fit for this job and this horse.
Once you ride a horse, you never forget (is a saying I made up in my head that day.) As far as I was concerned, I knew everything there was to know about riding a horse, so why couldn’t I ride this one? Climb on, hold the reins, steer, I got it, bro. I’ve done this. The instructor looked me in my lying eyes and said, with furrowed brow, “I want to reiterate. You need to have ridden horses for five years to handle this horse. You have this experience, yes?” An audience looked on, and I really remember being pretty fucking good at horseback riding. “Yeah, I love horseback riding, for sure.” She nodded and pulled out a smallish guy from a stall (all Icelandic horses are very small, and I was at my heaviest, 170 pounds. Please keep this in mind as you read.) I scoffed and walked over to meet him. She told me his name in Icelandic, looking back I think his English translated name was, “biggest asshole and piece of shit ever.” I lead him out to the horse play pen to show him who was boss.
“I’m assuming you can use the stirrups to get yourself up” declared the instructor. Piece of cake. Nottttt. If only I hadn’t eaten so much cake, maybe I could have done it. I pretty much just choked the horse to death by pulling on his reigns to hoist myself up. My foot got caught in the stirrup and he began sauntering around in circles with my foot still in the stirrup, so I just giddye-up hopped behind him until someone came to rescue me.
“Are you sure you can handle this horse?” the instructor asked again. Again, hubris, swelled through my veins. “I said yes, maybe you should offer a step stool to your riders. Anyone would have trouble climbing onto a horse with no step.” I held the reins as I remembered and put my feet in the stirrups. I asked my husband to take a photo of me, as it would look really cool on my Instagram. The horse again began to walk in small circles as if he were short circuiting. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get him to stop and now people were starting to look at us. Small, careful, circles. Nose to tail. Every time Arthur tried to snap a photo, he was facing the wrong way due to his circling, of course. The instructor joined by a friend came out to explain the rules and my horse stopped, thank God.
His compliance lasted all of thirty seconds before he found and opening in the gate and just fucking walked out, with me on his back. “Ma’am, excuse me. Please come back, we need to go over the rules.” I fake laughed, but was sweating with embarrassment and seething with rage.
“Let’s fucking go, walk backwards.” I whispered in the horse’s ear, who was now walking further away from the gate wherever the spirit moved him. “Ma’am, you need to come back” the instructor shouted angrily. “Oh, yes, we’re coming. Here we come!” I waved confidently to her and my fellow riders as the horse continued walking at an embarrassingly slow pace further away, as if he were dying under the weight of my body. I pulled the reins as I had remembered to get him to go in the opposite direction. It’s like they weren’t even attached, no effect. “I’m not fucking kidding, let’s go.” I whispered again. He snorted and stopped, probably short circuited again, idiot. He began trotting around the horse playpen where one of the instructors had to come and rescue me and bring us back to safety.
We started in a single file line out of the gate, my horse was maybe 6th back. Well, he felt far superior to sixth place and so, would walk off the line and sidle up to the horse in front repeatedly. “Please control your horse. He needs to be back there.” Picture a person repeatedly trying to join a conversation they have been shunned from, and the conversers growing more and more angry. Whenever the instructors thought they’d gotten rid of us, they’d commence their joking and chatter. My horse did this four more times. Four more times he ran up to the front, stuck his big beak right in between their heads as they spoke, or casually pulled up next to them, and there was I, smiling and unable to control him laughing awkwardly and doing a queen of England wave.
They put him in the front of the pack, so he could feel like the leader or champion. It is here, that he thought it would be funny to buck wildly and do strange things with his body which terrified me and I had never seen before.
Again, I was scolded for not controlling my horse and the two instructors began to talk shit about me in Icelandic. I completely admit I did wrong from the get-go, but this horse had clearly never been ridden before. Nothing about his demeanor suggested he had ever been broken in, trained, or ridden. The whole group was made to stop as the instructors discussed what to do with me and Dickbag, the poorly behaved pony. I looked at him with rage in my eyes.
“OK, ma’am please get off the horse. You aren’t good for him, we need to bring you a new horse.” I got down from my horse with help and whispered that I hated him as I passed him. The look in his eyes told me he felt the same way.
My husband laughed and through looks agreed we would catch up with each other later as the instructor announced that everyone would go on ahead and I would wait with the other instructor for a new horse.
We waited in the freezing cold for thirty minutes because another instructor had to be radioed to come retrieve the horse, lock him up, and bring another horse. I was deeply embarrassed but happy to see him go.
Luckily, the instructor who waited with me was the kindest most understanding girl from Hamburg, Germany. I was honest with her, and told her that I did have experience, but from years ago and that I was deeply so embarrassed. However, I stressed that I didn’t think it was fair to pay for a lesson in skills I felt that I’d already had. She agreed and noted that anyone with experience is given a new horse to break in, so everyone should just be treated as a beginner. She also mused over her doing week long rides in the summer with her co-workers where everyone gets super drunk and thrown off their horses. Many of the horses just run away, but the Icelanders never worry because they run all the way back to their barn.
A new horse was brought and I actually began to feel very lucky. I was able to have a private experience on a much kinder horse who I fell in love with. We rode at my preferred pace and I got to make two new friends. Afterwards, we got to the barn ahead of everyone and I was given the opportunity to take photos and feed the horses who were hanging out in the horse play pen.
What I Learned: Cultural Nuances. Experienced in my world would mean, “have you done this before?” Experienced in Iceland means, “Do you feel willing and able to assist in breaking in this soul-less beast who has a reckless hatred toward all humanity?” I should have clarified, and not have been so eager to show off the skills that I could have sworn that I had. I feel that I missed some opportunities during the excursion, such as laughing and being with my husband. However, I also gained a private experience tailored to my needs and an opportunity to ride amidst the complete serenity and vastness of Iceland which I think wound up being incomparable. In the end, I found a horse I loved and got to interact with many other horses, learn more about the uniqueness of the Icelandic horse in particular, and hear more about the culture from my new friend. Much like Odysseus, my journey separated me from my spouse and felt like it went on for hours. I endured my journey in an unpredictable, feckless, and horrid vehicle (my horse) just as Odysseus had. If like me, you didn’t learn a damn thing from Odysseus’s inability to check his hubris, please, learn from mine.
Museum of Communism: A unique experience to say the least! My husband emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union. His stories of life in a communist society are interesting to say the least, and thus, have stoked an interest in communism for me (in a history-nerd type of way, not in a take my cows, government, and do with them what you will, way.) The museum aims to demonstrate what Czech life was like under the Communist regime. In addition, it discusses communism in other parts of the world and explains the ideas behind communism and how it has evolved from a manifesto to a societal way of life in some places. The biggest criticism for this museum is that it is “text heavy.” As in, there are paragraphs of reading EVERYWHERE and they are LONG. However, I know how to read, so this wasn’t a problem for me personally. The museum does a great job of immersing visitors in the communism experience as you are able to see re-creations of a corner store, work room, school room, and interrogation room during these times. I personally felt that I could have spent half a day in the museum, but I am someone who genuinely likes to learn about such things. This museum is fascinating to say the least. It satisfied my intellectual curiosity as well as provided an excellent understanding of a piece of the Czech Republic’s history. If you are someone who likes to learn, or enjoys unique experiences, I definitely recommend.
Prague Riverside Parties: I’d like an award for pretty much being awake for 24 hours, please. The night before this event we returned to our hotel in Amsterdam at 5AM, slept for 45 minutes, ran to the airport, touched down in Prague, checked into our hostel and shot straight over to the best tour I’ve ever taken. If you are looking for something unique and entertaining to do in Prague, here it is. The night started at a tour office-slash-party central where sangria and beer is unlimited. We were given the chance to meet our fellow party goers and the alcohol really helped everyone find the courage to make new friends. My favorite part about this bar crawl was the age range. Many bar crawls are filled with people who might as well be toddlers and say things like, “what’s it like to have a job and a home? I can’t wait to move out” or “Ugh, peed in my diaper, let me go change it, I’ll be right back.” If I tell them I’m married, forget it, they applaud me for doing the bar crawl without the use of my cane or walker. This event had some young people who were very agreeable, but mostly people in their mid 20’s to mid 30’s who had lives I could relate to which involved paying bills, having a career, and crippling college debt and anxiety about life. This, along with the booze, made it extremely easy to meet new friends.
Our tour guide was exceptionally funny, laid back, and a transplant from Australia. He enjoyed making fun of all of us, which some people I’m sure take offense to, but his wit is genuinely impressive and his jokes are harmless. I am incredibly sensitive to being made fun of and I never felt uncomfortable with his way of joking. While he leads the tour, another guide pushes the traveling party cart around behind us where we were free to grab booze and enjoy the tunes blasting from the music system. A third guide takes photographs so you don’t have to feel obligated to keep your phone in your hands the entire time. This all made for an extremely relaxing night out. We stopped by various and unique sculptures, works of art, and sites in Prague where the tour guide gave us the history of each stop, which may or may not be made up. I didn’t care, I hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours and couldn’t see straight from too much sangria.
Beyond the drinking and meeting new friends, there were several highlights. We sat in a park and ate Aussie meat pies for dinner which were delicious. We created our own stencils which we used to spray paint the John Lennon wall, a truly memorable experience in and of itself. We didn’t stay for the after party as we were completely shot. I laughed and drank so much on this tour and felt I had a really good way of getting my bearings of the city. A unique, fun, and relaxing way of spending my first night in the city for sure!
Zizkov – A little far from the center of the city, but I’m glad we wound up staying at a hostel in this area. Staying in Zizkov allowed us to be able to interact with local people and to experience travel without being catered to due to our American nationality. I recall one day when we tried desperately to ask for help catching the tram. People, for whom we asked for help in the neighborhood did not speak English and quite frankly, did not give a shit that they didn’t or couldn’t. In most places I visit people will cater to my English language needs, and if they cannot will become distraught and try desperately to throw together the few English words they know or frantically make gestures or draw pictures. Not the fine people of Zizkov. We would run into stores or approach people on the street desperate for information. Folks would either just stare at us looking incredibly bored and shrug, or ignore us all together. This was a good lesson to learn. The world does not revolve around my language or culture. I did not speak the Czech language, they did not speak my language, and that was that.
On a more positive note, we spent an evening doing some casual bar hopping and got to meet people who live in the area. Being further away from Prague city center, we weren’t subjected to only rubbing elbows with other tourists. We were able to learn about some locals’ everyday lives. We heard about their children, partners, and careers as well as their attitudes toward their own government as well as our government. The variety of bars ranged from a Tiki bar (Tiki Taky) which offered a variety of flaming cocktails and pretty good frozen pizza to a dimly lit bar which could best be described as an Eastern European saloon named Bukowski bar. While I enjoy nightlife, I’m way over the days of the mayhem and madness of crowded bars with music blasting and pretentious nightclubs. The bars in Zizkov were more appropriate to my interests. The atmosphere was cheerful and it was possible to make conversation. These are not the “all the bottom shelf liquor you can handle” joints that once wooed me in my early 20’s. By the way, it took me pretty long to learn that “all you can drink” doesn’t necessarily mean “drink all you can”, but I challenged myself and preserved everything weekend of my early 20’s nonetheless, and I’m all the worse for it. If you are looking for a place where adults come to drink without the noise and amateur hour feel, try Zizkov!
Charles Bridge A drunk rando once said, “Prague is Disney World for adults” as my bestie and I walked over the Charles Bridge. Nowhere is that more apparent than the Charles Bridge. In my opinion, it is most beautiful at night when the lights are on and it’s truly a sight to behold. The feeling of magic and standing right in the middle of history is unequivocal. There are TONS of tourists on the bridge, many taking photos. I recommend pulling off to the side and taking it all in as opposed to rushing from one side to the other with the masses.
Thai Foot Massage: Travel is different than vacation because it wears you out. It’s physically exhausting and despite all of my solid memories of traveling, I also don’t recall having a single trip where my feet didn’t feel like I’d rather amputate them than withstand the pain of having walked SO MUCH. My feet and legs were throbbing after walking around the city all day, and then I saw it…too good to be true…a Thai foot massage salon. Warm memories of my first Thai foot massage in Bangkok came flooding back. I forced my best friend to experience the magic with me. This experience truly allowed me to wax nostalgic, minus the price. In Bangkok, I paid something like five dollars with tip. Here, I’m pretty sure we paid 60 US dollars each, but the sheer joy of the massage is worth it (at least to me.) When John Mellancamp wrote “Hurt So Good” he was inspired by Thai foot massage. For those unfamiliar, a warm blanket is draped over your body as the act begins, and you nearly always fall asleep. A masseuse works the FUCK out of every inch of your feet, rubbing out every knot and pain. If there is a knot in your foot, the masseuse will find it. What makes it unique? Something I dreamily refer to as…the stick. The masseuse takes a polished wooden stick and prods it into various pressure points of your feet, relieving pent up pressure and alleviating tightness in particular areas. If you think sex is great…try this. Afterwards, your shoulders, neck, and scalp are given plenty of TLC. I constantly have knots in these areas and I carry a lot of tension in my body, this treatment was designed for me. I kept trying to tell this to all the other throngs of people waiting online to get rubbed, but they wouldn’t let me cut them. There are at least two Thai massage parlors in the middle of the town square and although they are not what you think of when you imagine flying to Prague, it’s an experience well worthwhile. My bestie’s shoes were incredibly tight on her feet and after the massage, the swelling went down and she was able to put them on with ease! I don’t know, I keep calling Prague magic…fits right in with the magic of Prague to me!
Old Town Square: The old town square is the pulse of the city of Prague. It is where both old and new Prague join together and come to life. The view of the crude fairy-tale-esque Church of Our Lady of Tyn surrounded by orange roofed buildings is the city’s iconic “hallmark” picture. On the day we spent time there, a band was playing and all came to gather on the cobble stone streets where visitors sat and enjoyed the sun while drinking beer and eating snacks from the numerous stands set up around the perimeter of the square. It was impossible not to be consumed with a “how lucky am I?” feeling as we relaxed in the midst of the unfamiliar history of the city center while enjoying something as comforting and familiar as a good weather festival.
Beer: In Prague, beer is said to be cheaper than water. It is also more delicious, less disappointing, and generally makes me a happier human being. It’s the thing to do. Get yourself a nice sized beer, eat some pretzels with it, and have yourself a moment. Wherever beer and snacking are part of the culture, I can make myself at home.
Prague Castle: It would be almost subhuman to say that such an old, historical site is un-enjoyable. This made the list twice because there were aspects I enjoyed, and aspects which frustrated me immensely. First off, those who know me by now know I love the opportunity to see history first hand. I love wandering into historical sites and getting lost in imaging what life was like so long ago. Prague castle offers so many opportunities to do just that.
Golden Lane – These are preserved buildings which demonstrate what life was like from the approximate 16th century until World War II in various capacities. Of particular interest was the home (number 14) of Matylda Prusova, a famed fortune teller. Ms. Prusova predicted the downfall of the Third Reich at one point during WW2 and was arrested by the secret police where she later died during her interrogation. I have an inexplicable affinity for fortune tellers of the past and conjuring up what conversations they may have had with their clients is of special interest to me. We live in an age of nearly all answers to every question are available in a nano second at our fingertips. I wonder what it may have been like to be so yearning to know something that you visit a mysterious fortune teller, or witch to gain information or a better understanding. I wonder what kind of life a woman with such a unique profession lived.
Defenestration of Prague – Defenestration means to throw someone out of a window. Although this was done at least twice in this castle, one such time was a central moment of religious turmoil within the country in 1618. I remember hearing about this piece of history in a college class and for reasons truly unknown have always been intrigued by this story, probably because those sentenced to the punishment survived and were able to run away! We saw the window where the incident took place and were able to learn a lot more about the specifics. I don’t know that the audience for this blog would be interested in a history lesson on the event, and besides, the castle does a better job of explaining this than I ever could!
Audio Guide – The amount of things to see in Prague Castle is beyond ones wildest information. I really don’t think you could see it all in a lifetime. Luckily, there is an audio guide which I am a huge fan of as it limits the amount of reading you must do and keeps your interest as it narrates a story. It offers the opportunity for an in depth explanation of exhibits of your own particular interest. My best friend, on the other hand, hates audio guides. I am truly surprised I’m not telling you about the defenestration of the audio guide. Speaking of which, you must fill out a “potential criminal application” because if you do not return your guide to the office by a specific time, you are reported to the police who then begin the task of finding you and arresting you. That’s a real threat BTW!
Rosenburg Palace – As overstated enough, I enjoy being among historical places with a story and imagining what it might be like to be the people who once inhabited or spent time there. This was especially poignant at the Rosenburg Palace. Empress Maria Therese founded the palace in 1755 as a home where noblewomen could live if they had fallen on hard times. As I walked the halls, I tried to imagine the lives of those women and what they ‘hard times’ may have looked like. I imagined how they were dressed and what they would do throughout the day. I considered who they loved or were interested in romantically and how this might have come at odds with the strict rules in place at the palace. The site is incredibly ornate and reeks of the aristocracy, an aspect of history with which I am fascinated. If you’re any kind of imaginative, stop by!
Big Books – God only knows which part of Disney Prague World we found this in, but we came across a selection of replicas of records books which would have been kept by the castle. One such book (the one with a skull on it) is a records book of all the names of those who fell victim to the plague. Although it’s far away and you cannot see it, we found ourselves marveling at it for quite some time. Often times the historical events we learn about in class seem so outrageous that it is hard to believe that they actually happened. Here, albeit a replica, we were confronted with the truth that so many people did die of the plague and there names were actually recorded. To be in the presence of such history, and such personal tragedy within history is really an astounding feeling. In that book were the names of people who were not unlike myself, I’m sure, and were overtaken by one of the most sinister health crises to ever confront humanity. It’s easy for the mind to run wild with a typical day in the lives of the people compared with this book, and how much their lives were changed at the onset of the plague. Chilling.
Not a Fan! (BOOOOOO!): – (I did not like these things)
Prague Castle: My bestie and I each had a complete “crank-a-saurus” day on our trip, and this was Amanda’s. Hers was mostly in response to and triggered by our time at Prague Castle. I really think this reaction was not without merit, and I could totally see how a traveler could get frustrated and fed up at Prague Castle. It is so damn easy to become burned out from traveling, and in particular, site seeing. Prague Castle is a marathon, a day long if not several days long site seeing journey. It requires extensive time on one’s feet as well as devoting an entire day to cramming new information into your brain. There’s also the element that it is fucking HUGE. It could be its own city with its own postal card, therefore, it feels quite arduous to get from one point of interest to the next. If you’re here for the selfies and fake candid photos of yourself pretending to learn something, skip it. If you have limited time, but are eager to engage with the history of the castle, come prepared with a plan. There are entire websites and guide books devoted to this one site. I suggest making a plan in advance of what interests you and becoming familiar with the layout of Prague Castle which really should be called Prague Mini City. This will minimize the amount of time you spend being lost and confused which we did and only added to the frustration and fatigue! The layout is not intuitive and it was exhausting trying to hit all of the stops and creating a plan on the go. As someone who has exercised once, I tell you, plan for this day like you would for a day long hike!
Ice, Ice, Baby – As my bestie and I relaxed in our hostel with the two new roommates we met, one of them posed a question about a topic that we thought only we had noticed. “Is it us, or are the people here…very unfriendly.” I’m a literal stereotype of a New Yorker in so many ways, but I am also, as far as I can tell, an incredibly friendly and kind person. A habit both myself and my bestie have is smiling at people that you pass on the street. I told my tour guide that this was something I often did, and he replied that Eastern Europeans have a quote about such a thing. “He who wastes a smile is a fool.” If you think that sounds harsh on its surface, check this out. It actually means, “A person who smiles at strangers is mentally inept, or intellectually challenged.” Quite a harsh indictment for trying to brighten someone’s day or demonstrate politeness and friendliness. If you have a friendly disposition, bear in mind that actions that are normally reciprocated at home will most likely not be, here. I found it very difficult to engage locals in conversation for the most part. Smiles were definitely not reciprocated and many of our attempts to speak with locals or joke around were straight up ignored! I’ll never forget thanking cab drivers for the lift and just being stared at annoyed-ly until I shut the car door. When leaving the airport, my best friend was screamed at for asking a question regarding her luggage, and no one around us made an expression to signal that this was abnormal or inappropriate. As I’ve already emphasized, I’m a true New Yorker. But, in New York it’s not unheard of to respond to “thank you” with “you’re welcome”, or a hand up to acknowledge that I’ve heard you and it’s not problem. Culture shock can happen anywhere, apparently!
Public Transportation – It could be us, it could be the city. I’m going to blame the city because I’m a bitch and because I’m still bitter. We could not figure out public transportation for the life of us. We spent nearly four hours trying desperately to find a way to take PT from Zizkov where we stayed, to the city center. Everyone we asked pointed us in a different direction, none of which were intuitive or made sense and for that I was pretty pissed. Thankfully, Uber was extremely cheap, so we just got carted around that way instead. I’ll never say no to Uber or a cab!
Food for Thought – Top Foodie Experiences
Svejk Restaurant Malostranska Pivnice: Whenever I meticulously plan each trip that I embark on, of special interest is making sure that I get to eat the food of the traditional country or city. (What?! You, Stephanie?! But, you’re so petite! This is very hard to believe!) Visions of Bohemian delights such as pork knuckle, pretzels, and beer filled my dreams and this restaurant delivered my vision to perfection. We sat at iconic picnic tables in the beer garden of the restaurant where we were doted over by a great waiter (until we didn’t tip him over 20%, then he dropped the act.) There are racks of baked pretzels on each table and we happily ate every single one of them, but thought it was weird that people around us weren’t doing the same. We found out they charge extra, but the price per pretzel is negligible for the most part. We each ordered a large beer for one dollar and took time to look over the menu and the clientele. I was happy to see that many of the people dining around us appeared to be locals, and having some Bohemian ancestry in my family, I found that a lot of the local men kind of looked like my dad in one way or another. People were full of good cheer and full mugs of beer. A waiter brought out some kind of giant slab of meat on a spit to the girls next to us, and I simply had to know if this was the famed pork knuckle. I leaned over and asked one of the women who ordered the dish what it was, and she responded with, “Pork knee. Now get the fuck away from me before I kill you.” This is a local translation of what she actually said in English with her ‘how dare I ask’ stare and curt words. “Pork knee.” Pork knee? All I’d heard about was pork knuckle…close enough. We ordered beer cheese which was not what either of us thought it would be. I had some salty fondue vision in my head. This was room temperature soft cheese with mustard on the side and beer completely poured over it. It was strong and pungent, not overall disgusting, but not something I would order again. I enjoyed all the flavors together, but was also repulsed by them after I’d finished the dish. The pork knee came out in all of its rock-star glory with an array of groupie sauces to dip it in. It was fatty, juicy, extremely heavy and filling. Pork knee (knowing how much the girl next to me hated me, it was probably pork ass to be honest) was both unlike anything I’ve had, yet reminiscent of a pork chop. For me, European food is kind of usually all related. There is some version of a sausage, a noodle, a dumpling, a goulash for every culture. I have to say, the few items of Czech food I’ve had were truly unique experiences and are an acquired taste. I wouldn’t imagine that these are dishes that are easy to whip up in my home kitchen, and the ingredients are probably hard to come across. The menu has a dizzying variety of meals and it was a memorable introduction to Czech food!
Pastar: What kind of self respecting New Yorker and Italian doesn’t crave pasta every other day? I’d gone far too long without a bowl of noodles in my face, four to be exact, and I could feel weakness, confusion, and flu like symptoms setting in. We trekked all the way to a highly rated Italian restaurant which was closed, and naturally, we had to go to a nearby bar to numb the pain and disappointment. A quick internet search lead us to a new found highly rated Italian restaurant, yes, Pastar was the welcome real-life mirage of noddley goodness in a bleak, barren, desert of only which there seemed only to be sausages and pork knees. The front of the store offers a vision of what heaven might look like. There is an impressive meat and cheese selection for purchase as well as various spreads and jarred items. As we continued walking toward the back, the dining area was a brick pizzeria- meets-elegant-cafe-area. It wasn’t long before we ordered and our dinner was served, that is to say, service was attentive and quick. The pasta was rich, fresh, and way too legit for me to quit. It was not “Czech Republic’s version of a pasta”, but instead, the real stuff. A waiter insisted that a girls’ night out should be met with full glasses of champagne at all times, and, how could we resist? We didn’t and had several glasses because we’re teachers and can afford such luxuries. (We split a half bottle is the real story.) The wait staff were among the friendliest people we met in Prague and we were given complimentary shots of lighter fluid at the end of our meal which were definitely not optional. The waitress made sure we knew that this was a Czech tradition of great honor and prestige. After taking a very small sip and smelling it, I think she meant to say, “this is how we terminate the lives of felons on death row, with this drink right here!” We made a plan to pour the nail polish remover into our water glasses when the waitress walked away. I have fond memories of Amanda ridding her shot in one swift motion, while every time I tried to dispose of mine, someone popped up out of nowhere asking us how everything turned out. In a city that at most times felt unfamiliar and cold despite it being the throws of summer, Pastar offered a delicious home sickness remedy composed of familiar elements of Italian food, drink, and pleasant conversation.
Cafe Savoy: We enjoyed dessert at the famed Cafe Savoy and it’s incredibly obvious looking back that we had no business being in such a famed and elegant institution. Chandeliers, beautifully patterned walls, and large picture windows cultivate an unmistakable air of sophistication. And boy, if I’m not just the EPITOME of sophistication! (See photo of me pouring hot chocolate into a mug and spilling it everywhere.) Late night wound up being a great time to visit the Cafe because during most times, the line can be extensive. Cafe Savoy is near famous and has been around since the 1800’s. The lavish decor and unmatched service truly capture the grandeur of the time period. The dessert experience? Honey, it’s to die for! The pastries were incredibly decadent and the size was generous. (That second part? That’s what she said!) For history buffs, culture fans, and dessert enthusiasts, a must visit.
Digs – Where I Crashed
Brix Hostel: This has been my third experience at hostels. The jury is still out. I like the idea of staying in a hostel, but some aspects deter me. In some ways, I feel like I’ve surpassed on the age which is appropriate to stay in a hostel. I’m a working professional making a decent salary staying in an $18 a night bunk bed when I could probably very well afford an AirBnB or cheap hotel. However, I was late to the traveling game, and I feel that if I don’t experience hostel life in my 20’s, it will only continue to become even more inappropriate for me to stay there. Certain unavoidable aspects skeeve me out, such as the amount of people who sit on the communal furniture (like couches) with their bare feet and sweaty legs in a single day. Sheets on beds and stuff are changed, but the soft couches? Yuck. The kitchens tend to skeeve me out as the mix of a variety of different types of foods tend to fill the air and because so many people use the counter space they are sticky, dull, and have that “never going away” film on them. I need to stress, these are things that I find fault with at all hostels, not just Brix. Brix was among the cleanliest of hostels I’ve stayed at; I would happily recommend staying here.
Brix Hostel provided an excellent experience, and I have very fond memories of having stayed there. As previously mentioned, it’s in the Zizkov district which is not very central, but wound up being a good experience. The check in process was thorough and the receptionist very friendly. I was happy that the hostel seemed to host a variety of ages and I didn’t feel like the creepy, nearly 30 year old auntie watching over everyone. We stayed in a women’s dorm in which there were six beds in total. The room next to ours was filled with many beds and you had to journey through this room in order to get to ours, so I’m happy that we were sectioned off in a way. Under the beds provided ample storage and I was able to fit my entire backpack. Bring your own lock, or rent one from the front desk just to be safe. The variety of roommates we had were easy to get along with although we didn’t get much time to really get to know anyone as each night the guests changed. We stayed in the midst of a heat wave and to say our room was sweltering at night would be an understatement. There was no fan or air conditioning, and we had to completely soak our towels and drape them over our bodies to keep cool! (There was only one night where there was wind outside the window, and then it was much easier to fall asleep!)
The hostel had a bar and courtyard which could become very crowded depending on the day and time of day. Our last night in Prague, I oddly have happy memories of waking up every so often to the sound of partying in the courtyard until all hours of the night. Although we weren’t participating, the cool air and lively sounds of others having a good time made me smile. They weren’t too rowdy and the sound was reminiscent of those summer nights at home when friends and I could kill hours in a backyard sitting around a fire pit drinking beers. When we left early in the morning, people were just leaving the revelry. The showers and bathroom we used overall was IMMACULATELY clean, probably cleaner than my bathroom at home. I would probably stay here again if given the chance.
What I Learned: Prague is a fairy tale come to life meets near perfect preservation of the medieval period in history. It is beautiful and historic. It is magical and reminds me very much of Hansel and Gretel, or Shrek. It was my first look at Eastern Europe and there were a lot of cultural aspects that differed immensely from anywhere that I’ve ever been. I’m incredibly grateful for the experience I’ve had in Prague. My best friend is an exceptional travel partner, probably the best. Many of the positive memories I have from this trip are because she was by my side, and together we can turn nearly any experience into a fun opportunity. I’ve never disliked anywhere that I’ve traveled to, but I need to be honest in saying that Prague was not a city I would feel the need to re-visit. It’s hard. Looking back at this trip as I re-hash all of the experiences I’ve had, I’m remembering Prague as a beautiful and convivial place. However, I truly remember that both of us felt it had been way overrated by friends who had traveled there, and we both felt a bit disappointed for the most part by our experience in Prague overall. The people I encountered for the most part seemed to realize that tourism brings money to the economy, but seemed to really despise and resent the tourists. This was palpable from nearly the moment we arrived. Despite the beautiful streets and architecture, there’s an ensconced sense of desolation, bleakness, and hollow feel to the city.
– *Thision Open Air Cinema: This wound up being one of my most memorable experiences in Athens! I had never been to an open air cinema, and it seemed like the perfect way to spend a summer’s evening in Athens. We arrived early to see Mama Mia 2 which wound up being the most appropriate film to see as it takes place in the Greek islands and we were heading there next. I cried a few times during the film, not only because it was sentimental, but because the experience was just so perfect. I felt as though I caught a glimpse into how an Athenian may spend a typical evening with friends or family. The experience felt like an opportunity to see local life, but felt so familiar at the same time. Watching people laugh and cry together, people of all backgrounds, was one of those moments which made me realize why I love travel. A destination can be so foreign, but whenever I feel homesick, there are these little bouts of circumstance that play out which remind me that people are people wherever you go in the world. Whoever these people were, they felt an emotional connection to what was unfolding on the screen the same as I did. They danced and sang to the music just as I had the urge to do. This combined with the sun setting over the Acropolis and holding hands with my husband as we drank cool beers and hot popcorn made for an excellent experience. One I will never forget. We were all to ourselves as a newly wedded couple on a date, yet surrounded by people just like us. I can’t hear Abba’s Fernando without crying heavy, happy, emotional tears ever since this night!
– Acropolis: This one is so obvious that is almost feels insulting to put it on the list. Seeing the monuments atop the acropolis from anywhere whether it be dinner or the streets below is a hits you in the gut moment. The realization that this sight has been here for so many to see for centuries, the realization that so many people would do anything to see this sight and here I am seeing it from every angle is humbling. I hate hiking and sweating with a passion. I hate when people say, “the reward is when you get to the end and see _____”…insert any non impressive lake, view, sight without a bar. This is the one and only time in my life where I felt that the prize for having finished an arduous hike was worth it. To be clear, when I say hike, I refer to anything where my ass isn’t being pushed around as a hike. There were literally people with canes and walkers doing the same hike as me, and beating me, guys. BUT, it was sweltering, and I was sweating, and I was tired, all the prerequisites needed for a hike were met on this day, so, let’s call a spade a spade. From the point of ascent to reaching the top of the acropolis, it’s not hard to envision the ancient people (my vision has them all in white linen) pulling animals up the hill, chatting with each other, and praying to their gods. Besides one teacher I work with who still can’t figure out how e-mail works, the Parthenon atop of the acropolis is the oldest relic I have ever seen. Both ancient wonders leave me awe struck. I’ve seen memorabilia from the romantic age of literature and shivered at its antiquity and my proximity to it. The feeling of being in touching distance of the Parthenon, coupled with its sheer magnitude and a never ending parade of questions about its being built is unfathomable. Considering hiking up the hill and being able to see this is something I consider a feat, I cannot imagine the swirl of pride that ancient Athenians felt having actually built the damn thing. To see it from a distance is incredible, to see it close up is an incomparable experience. Despite the many tourists who were there to see the Parthenon (wait, you’ve all heard of this too?! not just me?!) it did not feel crowded. I really appreciated the fact that there were refillable stations for water bottles at the top, otherwise known by normal people as water fountains.
– Athens Food Tours:Why anyone would go on a walking tour where you don’t get to eat throughout it is beyond me. You would think that if one were given two options, walk for two hours with no food, or walk for two hours and stop every three minutes for food, the correct option would be obvious. Alas, there are people who don’t do food tours, evil does live among us, folks. The name of the company we went with is literally Athens Food Tours and it was an exceptional afternoon well spent. My healthy and fit husband got to see that there is more to the culinary world than fruits, veggies, and steel cut oats, and I, got to eat like I was going to the electric chair under the guise of a cultural experience. In marriage, that is what you call a win-win. Our tour guide was the ever-amazing Georgia who was kind, knowledgeable, and bold. We traveled through some of the grittier parts of Athens and she faced traffic, cat calling, and other hazards like a bad-ass! Some of the highlights include walking through fruit markets and fish markets where Georgia got hit on, but I flipped my hair around and acted as if these compliments were hurled in my sweaty direction. “Ugh, guys seriously, stop, I have a husband!” We visited a koulouri stand where Greeks running to work and hung over partier-s grab their breakfast, the so called, Greek doughnut made of sesame bread. We had a full sit down meal eating the traditional gyros on a cobble stone street as we watched the world go by. There were samplings of basturma, baklava, and halva. My favorite was the onslaught of cheeses, honeys, and olives provided by a store which specialized in delicacies from Crete, a part of Greece known for its culinary wonder. The tour was an excellent way to meet others, connect with local culture, and learn more about the lives of Athenians. Foodie travel has become an insanely popular business as per the late Anthony Bourdain’s influence. I try to take a food tour everywhere I travel to, and it is an exceptional way of learning about another culture.
– Plaka: If you ever find yourself underwhelmed or actually, overwhelmed by the streets of Athens, head here. It is heavily tourist-ed, but aesthetically pleasing and relaxing. Picture dope street art meets cobble stone, car-free streets meets, low hanging trees with beautiful flowers. This was a great place to grab a beer, a platter of fried food, and to enjoy the beauty of the little buildings and nature around us. A hip, Instagrammer’s version of heaven. Our waiter took the time out to really converse with us, to learn more about us, and to tell us more about Athens as we slowly became giggly and euphoric from drink. Whereas Athens tended to move very fast for me, Plaka seemed to move more slowly and peacefully.
– Temple of Zeus: Not much stands of the old temple to the big shot himself, but the pillars which do stand are tall enough to bump into the home of the gods itself. I found myself staring at it as I walked around yelling, “This is just…here!?” People drive past it every day, see it from their windows, and don’t even give it a second glance! Again, one has to keep in mind that we’re not looking at a monument erected (have to continuously use this word as we’re talking about Zeus) in honor of something that happened long ago. You are literally looking at the thing built so long ago! THOUSANDS of years ago, and it still stands! It’s even crazier when you realize everyone has a least heard of Zeus. He is the world renowned adulterer, rapist, child eater, womanizer, thunder bolt throwing boss of all the Greek gods. This is where people came to worship him, beg of him, and seek clarification to life’s mysteries. ”Dear Zeus, sexually assaulted by a swan, have a feeling you know something about this.“ It’s a fraction of a temple, that is all, but it’s something I found I could marvel at for hours.
– *Panathenaic Stadium: My husband is a fan of athleticism and sport, and I have at least tried athleticism one time, so we were really eager to see this. This was his find and it was a great one. The audio guide is a must as it explains the history of the site as well as the history of the Olympics. There are plenty of great photo opportunities and the whole place is full of stairs, AKA, places to sit which really suited me well. While I used the stairs as respite and to take selfies, my husband ran up and down them to get his cardio in. This, again, is a great example of a win-win in marriage. To get to the inside you go through a tunnel and the audio guide does an excellent job of painting a scene of a gladiator coming out to see the crowd for the first time, or the ancient rituals which happened under the bridge, one of which involves topless women dancing in a circle. Weird because when those girls did this, it was religious, when my friends and I do this, it’s “inappropriate” and “frightening to children.” The inside has a well laid out and captivating display of memorabilia from every year’s Olympics including prior torches, jerseys worn, signs hailed, and more. It was interesting to see the way the Olympics looked in different years and in different places, the huge variety in display is dizzying and kept us interested. I enjoyed this experience so much more than I thought I would have and I highly recommend!
– Theater of Dionysus: I remember being in my freshmen year of college and taking a world theater class. Despite learning about so many styles of theater, learning about the ancient Greeks and the way they celebrated acting and stories on stage captured my interest greatly. In any given school year there are a few things you will always remember, wonder about, and be interested in learning more about, this was ancient Greek theater for me. I enjoyed imagining the ancient Athenians sitting in the amphitheater with their bread, cheese, and wine while theatrics and the magic of acting was literally invented right before their eyes. I remember learning about Dionysus and his association with wine, food, theater, and entertainment. I’ve googled photos, search up stories, and watched countless documentaries on all these things just for the sake of wanting to learn more and enjoyment. Seeing the theater of Dionysus itself was a pinch me, tears in eyes, heart in throat moment for me. I sat where all those people I dreamed about had sat before. I sat in the same place where they were overtaken by the spirit of creativity and joy of wine, both of which overtake me nearly every day. I stared out over the trees and roads, imagining ancient people excitedly coming to sit for the show. To be fortunate enough to visit a place I’ve heard about and dreamed about for so long…there are no words to describe my gratitude. If there’s one thing I love to do it’s dream and imagine, what a perfect place for such activities.
– Public Transportation: In the travel-sphere there is a shit ton of emphasis lately on living like a local. I’m pretty much good on that. I kind of get what sleeping in a yurt is like, I’d rather sleep in an air-conditioned hotel and go to Starbucks. To live like a local, you should follow someone to their job every day. Drop their kids off at daycare. Pay their water and electric bill. I think it’s kind of stupid this idea of “living like a local.” I live in Brooklyn, and the local experience is not going to a restaurant three meals a day. It’s me re-heating leftovers for dinner and taking a nap on the couch shortly after. I think what travelers really mean, is a glimpse of local life, which is much more feasible. It’s the chance to go to a nightclub where locals blow off steam, it’s buying your meat from the butcher up the block, it’s staying in an apartment where other native people to the area live. I hear taking public transportation talked about a lot, in travel…I don’t know that a lot of people actually do it. We took Athens version of the subway to and from the Acropolis and it provided me with a brief glimpse into local life. I knew there were mostly locals on the train because my not knowing how to do anything and wide eyed wonder girl look at the list of stops made most of them sigh annoyed-ly and roll their eyes…just like in New York! I’m AWFUL at taking public transportation. Drive-able, or I’m not going is my motto. I’d rather spend big bucks on a cab than two dollars on a subway ride, and I’m really not ashamed to admit that publicly. I don’t like being crammed into tight spaces with others, I don’t like the feeling of no air, and I hate standing in a pee filled subway cart being verbally harassed by weirdos when I can sit comfortably in a car. So there, I’m the world’s WORST human and traveler, whatever. However, there are a few places where the public transportation system is fairly straight forward and so I don’t mind taking it. Athens was one such place for me. Fairly clean, fairly safe feeling, fairly straight forward. I recommend.
Not a Fan! (BOOOOOO!): – (I did not like these things)
– Walking Around at Night: To be fair, this isn’t just an Athens thing, this is a boo for most cities. I always think, how would I feel as a woman walking alone here at night? The answer is pretty scared. There were certain areas that were desolate, not well lit, and shady. Not to mention, the uncomfortable stares and remarks made to me. If I felt afraid walking around at night with my husband, I really don’t think I’d enjoy walking around at night by myself. Be smart, be alert, and take a cab to and from anywhere you need to go in the evenings. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
– Food overall: I did an amazing food tour and I had some pretty good meals here. I visited a number of cafes and restaurants while in Athens across many different neighborhoods. I wouldn’t say that the food I had overall was bad, but it wasn’t what I expected. There are certain places in the world where people rave about the food. In Charleston, for example, I did not have a single underwhelming meal. I just feel as though there was nothing that I could rave or rant about in terms of meals I had. There were certain places where the concept was cool, or the atmosphere was impressive, but do I recall a single stand out meal that I had because of the food? Not really. Greek food is something people rave about, like Italian food, and for that I felt a bit disappointed. Feel free to comment with your culinary experiences or gems of restaurants I missed! If you want to tell me that the experience I had is offensive to you…direct all e-mails to your nearest trash can.
Food for Thought – Top Foodie Experiences
– Coffee: Here is an area where Athens really shined. The coffee scene has something for everyone. Want to feel like you’ve just smoked an entire pack of cigarettes? Try a black coffee here. Want to keep up your buzz AND energy levels? Try your coffee with booze. I could not get enough of the iced coffees and frappes. Creamy, sugary, deliciousness cool and refreshing on a summer day? Yes please.
– Acropolis View Restaurants: If you’re going to splurge on anything in Athens, let this be it. Sitting at a table at night, eating an incredibly expensive platter of cheese and meats while sipping wine and seeing this view? Most people only see this in their dreams. It’s an experience where I constantly had to ask myself what I did to deserve such privileges in life. Then I remembered that I deal with teenagers all day long and that I definitely fucking deserve this moment. There is nowhere else in the world where you can eat dinner and have the Acropolis as your view other than Athens, Greece. It is the pinnacle of reward for working hard, saving up, and getting yourself here. Any other day you can eat cheap souvlakis and get on line at Burger King, but at least for one meal and one day, anyone coming to Greece needs to have this experience. It’s a complete paradox to the less than rave reviews that Athens gets and its always good to see the other side of the coin.
– Little Kook: I almost regret putting this on the list as I don’t want to see it become a Buzzfeed video. Little Kook is the coolest and most unique restaurant I’ve been to anywhere in the world. Every few months it completely changes themes, and when I say completely changes…this isn’t putting holiday decorations in an out of a box. EVERYTHING changes, the wait staff’s outfits, the menus, the plants, the decor, everything. The atmosphere and decor could honestly give Disney World a run for its money, I’m probably as impressed by this place as I am by the Parthenon. It seemed to be dessert centric, and so I got a giant milkshake with an entire doughnut on top. What better way to unwind after an entire food tour? My words about this place and its vibrancy pretty much render useless, it needs to be seen to be believed!
Digs – Where I crashed
We stayed at a chic and cozy little apartment found through Air BnB. It was the perfect size for two people and offered a small balcony to sit and watch the neighborhood below. Some of the strengths include plenty of closet space, a full size make up table, and a kitchen where the host has ice cold water waiting in the fridge, this was much appreciated in the throws of summer! The host was a friendly and warm woman named Haroula who was everything I hoped a Greek mother or grandmother would be. While the apartment was not centrally located to the Acropolis, it was easy enough to hop on the underground train and get there (maybe about seven minutes in total.) Plenty of adorable restaurants and cafes in the area. ALL IMAGES OF AIR BNB PROPERTY BELONG TO PROPERTY HOST AND WERE NOT TAKEN BY ME!
Listing title: Central, Cozy & Vintage, Perfect for two!
What I Learned…
Athens gets a bad rap. Anyone looking to travel to Greece is always told, “Ehh, a day or two in Athens is fine, but leave immediately after. Actually, just fucking skip it. It’s a war zone.” As up front as I am about the seediness of Athens, I love grit and I love big cities. Big cities are often talked about in terms of their homicide numbers, public health detriments, and lack of cleanliness. Anyone who lives in or has spent time in big cities knows that there is so much more to a city, and it is no different for Athens.
No, Athens is not one of Greece’s famed islands. Athens is where you experience pockets of local life, street art, and the plight of the average Joe (or average Constantine I guess in this case.) School is where you hear history, Athens is where you see the history you’ve learned about, an experience that for most people only exists in BBC documentaries and textbooks. Yes, Athens is dirty streets and creepy men, but it’s also green grasses, beautiful flowers, picturesque restaurants, and stunning, unparalleled views. Athens is seeing triple from a single shot of ouzo or raki while you listen to loud chatter and even louder music. People say to run out after one day, I can’t believe I only spent three days. There is so much to see and do, and much to do beyond the guide books and TripAdvisor suggestions. Everyone wants to be Anthony Bourdain, yet they shutter at the idea of exploring the people and ‘mean streets’ of places with grit, like Athens. If your purpose in traveling is to take pretty pictures to make your friends jealous, by all means, snap your selfie at the Parthenon and bounce on over to Santorini. If your purpose in travel is to connect, to learn, to explore and maybe get a few physical and emotional cuts and bruises along the way, as any good explorer does, spend some time in Athens.
I shouldn’t have clicked it, but I did. New York Post put out an article today entitled,
“Woman raped and burned kills attacker by dragging him into the flames”
I held my stomach with one hand as I opened the article on my phone with the other. “Surely, the country can’t be getting this fucking bad” I thought to myself. Things were getting ‘that bad’, but, in another country. My country was not the sight of the attack. It had taken place in India, a country where sexual assault, rape, and violent crime against women is up, again.
Damn. Humans are selfish. At least I am. After reading the article and the comments, I thought about myself. I began to recall my own time backpacking through India. I thought about my own uncomfortable moments involving the men there and put my phone down. “Can’t believe I did all that. Backpacked through India.” Despite only being two years ago, it seemed like some wild, impetuous thing I’d done as a teenager/young adult, to which there are many stories. On more than one occasion, I felt threatened by a man in India, and I still feel the same nausea thinking about those moments as I did when they actually happened.
I listened to a podcast on the way home from work, punching my foot to the gas to get to church and receive the good ashes, evidently. Four female hosts talked excitedly about their time in India and how they’ve been trying to re-create their favorite dishes of the country in their own homes here in the states. “Oh…India!” I declared out loud, suddenly and VERY fondly remembering the rainbow array of exceptional food I had during my two week stint. I did not have a single bad meal while in India. The hosts talked of sweet coconut chutney with idli, a better version of pancakes. “Yes, yes! I remember eating that every day for breakfast, it was delicious!” I said aloud in agreement. Writing this now, I’m embarrassed saying that because as you’ve probably guessed, I was alone in my car saying this aloud. A flood of happy memories such as lounging on a private boat on a sunny day in Kerala, dining on the beach in Goa, and laughing so hard my sides hurt in a rickshaw with my husband and our driver in Delhi came pouring into me. India, one of my best trips, I mused.
Same trip, same traveler, two very different recollections. So, what gives? Mixed feelings. I participate in many travel related social media groups. Every once in a while there is a woman who will ask if she should visit India, or visit India solo. The responses are always, “yes!” “hell yeah!” “OMG YES!” These straight up, no hesitation responses always puzzle me. Admittedly, when a woman asks if she should do anything in this group, there are seldom people who say something like, “no” or “let me be honest…”
I’ve been an outcast in so many spheres in my life, that I don’t comment on these circumstances and just let everyone pipe in with their “yeahs” and “yipees” which I’m SURE are well-intentioned. After all, these people are all adults. My strange comment won’t mean much, I’m sure. But, if a friend were asking me if they should visit India, here is what I would say.
I’ve been to 23 countries and God knows how many places in the USA. I mean it when I say, I love every single country I’ve ever visited. I. love. India. There are so many reasons why. I intend on writing another article about the details of my trip to India, but here’s a snapshot.
India, on one hand, is not what you think. Yes, I did visit the bustling cities of Delhi and Mumbia. But, India is more than just that. The south of India, in particular, is another world entirely. Kerala and Goa are the best parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, and California rolled into one. Think lush greenery, beautiful beaches where people party until sunrise, palm trees swaying in the wind, hippies, yoga in the brightest green tea hills you have ever seen, and the most soft spoken, humble, and normal people you’ve ever met. Kerala is nicknamed God’s own country, and the name is legitimate.
If God used a mighty paintbrush to paint only one part of the world canvas, it was undoubtedly Kerala, and south India as a whole.
Goa was a vacation spot for people who are exactly like the friends and family you know. In fact, nothing could be more typical of a resort town. Older women clinking their wine glasses as they cheered being on a girls trip and away from their stupid husbands. Men slamming down beers and singing “pub style” in small beach shacks, celebrating being away from their annoying wives on a guys trip. Parents dipping their small children into the ocean and laughing at their reactions at seeing the ocean for the first time. Guests ordering plates of fried seafood. People drunkenly singing karaoke at beach side bars and trying to find the perfect souvenirs of t-shirts, sunglasses, and trinkets in small clothing huts. Tito’s lane is full of nightclubs, bars, and restaurants that could fit right into Los Angeles, Miami, or anywhere of the like.
Some parts of Mumbai and Delhi could easily have been mistaken as any big city in my own country. We were shocked to see young couples on…DATES! Dates in chic, hip restaurants which played hip hop music and kept right on part with the edgy molecular gastronomy movement happening everywhere in Europe and the Americas. Young couples held hands and walked along the water. Dads driving middle class cars held the door open for their small children to run in and be dropped off, presumably, at school.
For those who aren’t visiting India to see a different version of the same thing they see all the time, there is room for that too. In Udaipur we visited a temple where men, women, and children sat in colorful and elegant clothing clapping their hands and signing to worship their gods, barefoot and smiling. We visited small shops where artisans create works of art from animal bones, and we caught a performance of traditional Rajasthani performance. Our first day in Udaipur we passed a public bus, except this bus allowed men to sit on top of it when there was not enough room down below.