Trip Tales: Facing My Fears In Romania

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As I write this, we’re days away from Halloween, and I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. I’ve been considering fear not in a goblins and ghouls way, but in a very macabre Robert California from The Office at the Halloween Party way.
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I went to Romania well over a year ago, and writing a blog post on the adventure has been on my mind ever since. I always assumed that I’d be writing about Romania from a SpOoOoOky angle, focusing heavily on my visit to “Dracula’s Castle”, but nothing would ever come to me each time I sat down to write.

It was time to look at fear in another manner. When I consider what makes me afraid, what keeps me up at night, it’s not witches and monsters. I have five very specific fears, and ironically, I had to come face to face with each one of them during my trip. To many, haunted mansions or hotels are the most frightening places imaginable to visit. For me, the place I’m often most afraid to travel, is deep within myself. Even more frightening, is sharing these deepest fears with you, dear reader!
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Fear of the Unplanned Adventure: I plan everything. I’m hyper aware of the fact that we are given one life to live. There are so many countries to visit, and I’m not sure I’ll ever return to Romania. When I found out that I would have the chance to visit, I wanted to do it right. One of my biggest fears would be wandering aimlessly and wasting time when I could have been experiencing something meaningful and exciting, something I would be proud to talk about with family and friends. However, for reasons I’m sure had to do with over fatigue from my job, I dared to get outside of my comfort zone, and leave day one of Romania…TO CHANCE. (Thunder and lightning crash ominously/bats fly out of a cave.) Most people fear speaking the language of a new country or understanding the currency when traveling to a new country, I fear not having a comprehensive and well planned adventure. It keeps me up at night. For once in my life, on a whim, I rolled the dice and said, “let’s see what happens today.” I’m still a fan of well planned journeys, but, guys…day one was the best day in Romania. I had few expectations of where to eat and what to see, and thus, everything I witnessed for the day and well into the evening was exciting and new. Romania’s capital city of Bucharest has no shortage of amazing restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating for summer, adorable and uniquely themed coffee shops, and NIGHTLIFE. I was SHOCKED to discover that Bucharest can get DOWN! I would put Bucharest’s nightlife up against any city in the world. It has glamour, craziness, and incredible booze and music, but in a cozy, intimate, and approachable atmosphere. The city is small and easily navigable. The streets are flooded with people sitting outside eating dinner and bouncing from bar to bar.

Bucharest isn’t just a night owl’s haven. There is plenty to do during the day! We walked to the Palace of Parliament thinking it was the House of Ceausescu. The notorious home of Romania’s communist leader in the 1970’s, Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu is known for his totalitarian style of ruling and using tax dollars to fund his mega-mansion. I heard mixed opinions about his house as a tourist attraction, I was even scolded on one occasion by a man who felt, “it’s not right what they’ve done with his house. They’re glorifying him.” Evil dictator or not, I find large mansions interesting to wander regardless of circumstance. I could only imagine the shock on the revolutionaries faces upon seeing how Ceausescu had been living. Moving backward, I was a bit perturbed by the error of mixing up the sights. I hadn’t the least bit interest in seeing the Parliament building, but my husband did, and so we pressed on. I enjoyed the tour a lot more than I thought I would, although some of the figures and events mentioned were ambiguous to me as a product of someone who only has been taught history in the United States where history like Romania’s is largely neglected.

Fear of Missing Out on an Instagrammable Moment: I’m really terrible at anything involving physical exercise. However, for a unique Instagram shot, I was willing to climb the (what felt like) 3,000 stairs to the top of the Pura Vida sky lounge. The journey upstairs is so arduous, that many of the steps are painted with words of encouragement to keep going even though it’s difficult. I have to admit, we stopped to laugh at a few of the sayings on the steps. Pura Vida Sky Lounge was the first place I had ever heard of which featured “blue wine” on their menu. I am always looking to showcase experiences that are unique, and I knew that none of my friends, family, or two followers had probably ever heard of blue wine, THIS WAS MY OPPORTUNITY FOR A MOMENT OF GREATNESS. Leonardo da Vinci had his art, Luther had his reformation, and my legacy would be the first of my circle to throw this wine into my mouth and up on the ‘gram. My husband went to get us two glasses. I literally polished my phone’s camera lens and adjusted the settings to showcase the azure alcohol in all of its glory. I imagined (pathetically as I look back) how interesting people would find this photo to be. The bar even offered a unique paint splattered counter to rest drinks on which was in and of itself an interesting background for the star of the photo. Then, utter defeat. My husband put his hand on my back and returned with nothing. “No..no this couldn’t be possible.” I thought. “So, they ran out of blue wine. Is white wine ok?” NOOOOOOOOO! My chance at being an influencer had come and gone. I pouted, I made overly loud comments wondering “how a bar which showcases something so unique could simply run out” at prime drinking time. I pounded my fist against the paint splattered bar top. “Fine. I’ll take the vino blanc” or better yet….vino BLAND. I drummed my finger tips, and stared out into the night air. It was refreshing after such a long climb. I swiveled in my seat and watched the other people at the bar and wondered about their stories. I especially remember a group of friends who were celebrating nothing in particular, seemingly just reveling in the happiness of a Friday with friends and drinks. Their smiles were genuine and their voices joyful. I couldn’t help but smile myself. This trip wasn’t about blue wine, or pleasing the Insta-masses. After all, they hadn’t worked hard to get me here, my husband and I did. Pouting over something so fucking stupid wasn’t bringing me joy, and blue wine wasn’t going to skyrocket me to Insta-stardom. Until this point, I always admired influencers. However, the real influencers of the night were the random people sitting at the table across from me. Without even speaking to me, they persuaded me to adjust my attitude, change my outlook, and to have a good time and be grateful that I was even in Bucharest.
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Fear of No Sleep: For the past several years I’ve been dealing with a weird form of illness. I’ll spare you the details and quickly tell you that no one has been able to get to the root of the illness, but it’s believed to be a weird form of migraine. When I have an “episode” I feel extremely dizzy, develop severe brain fog and forgetfulness, sensitivity to light, and become very faint. I’ve noticed that lack of sleep pretty much guarantees I will have an episode the following day. Knowing this association, I’ve inadvertently created a situation where I put myself into an episode by becoming anxious when I know I’ve had an inadequate amount of sleep, or when I know I am about to face an inadequate amount of sleep. A twelve hour layover in Lisbon coupled with being unable to get into our AirBnB upon arriving in Bucharest culminated in me facing a fear…I was awake for 36 hours without any chance to sleep. As we drove from the airport to the center of Bucharest, my anxiety at having an “episode” of sickness was palpable. My palms were sweaty, my hands shook, I found myself going on about how I felt I could possibly faint, I felt the severe brain fog, almost as if I were dreaming.

We tried to check into our AirBnB, and the young woman we woke up by pounding on the door told us that she still had not checked out, and we had to wait for the cleaning crew. I found myself in a full panic, on the verge of tears blaming EVERYONE (inappropriately) for the impending episode of sickness I was bound to face that afternoon. We were forced to sit in a restaurant’s abandoned outdoor seating area, and watch the city come to life slowly. I’ve read that apple juice calms people who are having a bad high on marijuana, and so, I’ve convinced myself that is calms panic too. Luckily, I had a small bottle of apple juice in my purse, and I sipped it slowly. I put my feet up on my suitcase and was forced to be in the moment. I noticed things I probably would have neglected entirely had the universe permitted me to rush about to my room, get ready for a tour, find the cutest breakfast spots, and so on.

I noticed a woman dressed exquisitely in all black doing the sign of the cross as she passed by, and no less than a dozen others who also would make the sign of the cross as they passed us at our table. I’m still not sure the precise reasons for this seemingly impromptu entertainment, but I have to assume I had my back to a church. I noticed the sounds of birds and how good the cool breeze felt in the air. Soon, I became excited about having had the opportunity to have Bucharest to ourselves. We busied ourselves with sightseeing and tours, and although I was tired, I no longer felt a sense of panic, but excitement having seen much of the city and thinking about all there was still to do.
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Fear of Not Being Enough: I have a really great personality. I’m funny, witty, generous, fun, interesting, and nice. I’m not entirely sure, but I may have developed such a substantial personality as a way of coping with what I feel I lack in physical looks. For a very long time, if a noticeably beautiful woman would walk in the room, I would suddenly question my own worth. I would feel like a brightly shining candle who is blown out and forgotten, if only in my own mind. Admittedly, for a long time, no number of good deeds or triumphs in life could compensate for what I felt I lacked in physicality. Romania is full of beautiful, leggy, fashionable, confident women. The kind of women who would make a very recent version of myself want to blend into a wall in fear of being compared unfavorably. We visited one of the most charming and popular restaurants in Bucharest called Caru’cu bere. The food was filling and there were a ton of options. Ordering nearly everything off of the menu and an entire bottle of wine barely put a dent in our pocket. I’ll be honest, I felt special. Romania is one of the few places in Europe that an average, middle class person can feel wealthy and important. Most importantly, we didn’t feel ripped off in any way. We toasted and took in the rustic and kitschy atmosphere around us, celebrating the kickoff to our honeymoon.
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Then. Entertainment. Beautiful, well – polished young women, and frail young men poured onto the dance floor to show off traditional Romanian dance and eventually, to pull participants on the floor to slow dance. A young woman, with a beautiful dress, flawless skin, and fluttering eyelashes immediately came to our table and asked my husband to dance. I was tempted to do what I normally do which was critically examine all of the ways we were different, and how that made her better than me. But, I chose happiness over fear. I told myself that this was not a malicious act, but a wonderful way for the restaurant to share a beautiful part of their culture with the guests of the restaurant. I snapped photos and laughed as soon other men were brought onto the floor to be lead around by experienced dancers. I noticed other wives and girlfriends clapping along and smiling, and I found myself doing the same. Eventually, women were invited up and I was asked to dance as well. Looking back, we were sitting closest to the dance floor and we were doing a good job of celebrating (our recent marriage) I would not be surprised if the dancers were actually going out of their way to give us an extra special memory. Choosing to see myself as enough that night in hindsight was one of the most important things I could have done. I now have a completely different outlook on myself to the point that this story is almost cringy to write, but I like to keep it real. In fact, that night we went to an awesome dance club where eventually a gorgeous topless dancer made her way to the stage. Rather than running the other way out of the club, I wrote off the dancer as “an interesting part of the atmosphere” and instead engaged in conversation with the bartender (pictured in a selfie which he took below) who was friendly and made damn good drinks. Also, shots were absolutely free that night! Beauty is not exclusive to an upper echelon of people. Beauty lies within all of us, and what makes us especially beautiful, no matter who we are, is a strong sense of self confidence and letting it shine like a beacon when we walk into a room instead of cowering in the corner and comparing ourselves.

Fear of a Travel Mishap: I book all excursions in advance. It has been my experience that activities fill up quickly. If you book activities in advance, you have a guaranteed, (usually) awesome adventure for the day. There is a higher chance of meaningful memories and well planned, stress free, adventures. I booked Arthur and I for a full day adventure. We were to visit the Brown Bear Sanctuary, Brasov, Rasnov fortress, and “Dracula’s castle”, which every self righteous traveler will have you know is actually and technically called Bran Castle. Our guide and fellow travelers were nice enough, and the day started off with pleasant exchanges. However, matters suddenly took a turn for the worst.
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Our driver and guide kept re-stating the fact that we had to be at the sanctuary promptly, and that we were only narrowly on time. The kicker was, HE had set the time for everyone’s pick up! Why not set the time for the tour earlier then? The thought of missing even a moment of this well planned excursion nearly set me over the edge, he kept reinforcing that time was of the essence and I grew more and more frustrated over his constantly saying this, and us passengers having no control over making it there on time. Then – the worst for any type A planner. A traffic jam. On a one lane highway.
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A tree had fallen down, and there was no way off of the line of traffic. Still, I remained hopeful that soon the cars around us, and eventually ours would begin moving. There was no way that the universe would allow for such an egregious mishap in my well laden plans. After one hour, our guide had informed us that we would not be seeing the brown bear sanctuary. He wondered whether we would like to see brown bears at the zoo instead. “That’s the opposite of a sanctuary” my husband protested, and a passenger in the back strongly agreed. “Let me ask you this, why do you want to see the bears?” Why? What the fuck did he mean why? I had my reasons for why I wanted to see them, but I didn’t feel like I should have to explain or justify why I wanted to see them. I signed up for the tour, why press me? He proceeded to tell us that the sanctuary was nothing special and that the rest of the day would be wonderful.

However, we remained locked in traffic for another hour.

Finally, we began moving, but I’m sure I still have indents on my palms from where my fingernails were stabbing into my hands as I balled my fists in frustration and anger. Nonetheless, I must have had an extra xanax that morning, because I decided that today would be a good day regardless.

Brasov was our next stop. Upon exiting the van I immediately fell in love and wanted to photograph everything. Charming is the only way that I could possibly describe Brasov. It was jovial and lively with a multitude of tents set up in the main square selling everything imaginable. I use that phrase in good faith because I was able to locate and buy a freaking Joe Bonamossa CD for my father…of all things to find! Brasov is storybook-esque with brightly colored buildings, beautiful fountains, and cobblestone streets.
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Getting back into the van, morale had returned and brown bear-gate was water under the bridge. We all talked excitedly and compared the souvenirs we had purchased. That is until the grim reaper, our tour guide, gave us more bad news (his nickname is apt.) “So, since we spent so much time at Brasov, we’re going to have to rush through Bran Castle to make it to the last stop. I suggest we snap some photos of the castle and leave.” Once again, my heart began to beat and I could feel my blood pressure skyrocket. My husband, who is normally the least argumentative person on earth put his foot down. He announced that we came all this way to see the castle and that we would be looking inside, no exceptions. Grim asked, “Why do you want to see the inside of the castle? It’s not that interesting, it’s not like in the movies.” This constant questioning of why I wanted to see the things on the tour was maddening. I was ecstatic to get out of the van after awhile and get to the castle.

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It was haunting, chilling, and beautiful. However, our guide did not allow us to do a guided tour, so I was not able to learn too much. I got some decent photographs and got to scour each and every room. At the very least I was able to make the most of the situation and let my imagination run wild in each new room that I discovered. To me, this was the most important piece of the day, and getting to see the castle was an experience that I am truly grateful for in any capacity.

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Once back in the van, our guide informed us that we had missed Rasnov fortress, but that he would get us to Peles castle in time to tour it and take photographs. I’m sure you can already sense the finale…we didn’t make it and simply walked around the grounds. Our guide feigned understanding of our situation, but ultimately felt he bared no responsibility and did not issue us a refund. I feel that he did at the very least due to his mismanagement of time.

In the end, this whole mishap was the worst thing that I could imagine happening to me while traveling (other than murder and stuff.) I spend hours…HOURS meticulously researching activities to do and then more hours re-reading my itineraries and dreaming about my plans. By the time the trip comes, I have the schedule etched into my memory. To me, situations like the aforementioned are equated with a waste of time and a terrible experience, certainly not one to treasure.

As frustrated as I was, the opportunity to practice gratitude unfolded. Unbeknownst to me until this point, we cannot always have what we desire. If God or the universe decided that the day in its entirety could not happen, they gave a damn good compromise in letting me see the one piece of the day that I longed to see the most. While sitting in traffic, I was able to sit on the guardrail of the highway and look out into the woods. The same woods I had seen in every corny film made about Romania. To me, those woods were synonymous with Romania. Staring out into them and into the mountains, I was able to take a few deep breaths and realize…I’m here, I made it. However today turns out, tomorrow is a new one in the same place. What matters is, I’m here.

Romania was everything I could have ever hoped to discover and more. Its identity is rustic, rugged, and unique. Its history and folklore is rich. Before leaving, I had images of Romania being vaguely haunting and spooky. However, I stood against fears that I was not prepared for and would never had guessed I’d be coming up against. There is so much more behind the impeccable Instagram photos and wise quotes that people post. Every person who travels winds up facing some fear or level of discomfort. I wound up facing so many of my deepest fears unexpectedly and all within three days. At the same time as this trip, I was experiencing one of my most significant bouts of anxiety that I ever recall grappling. Working through these challenges in Romania put me in a great place for the rest of my honeymoon. Ever since this trip, I do not tense up in the face of adversity or difficulty, but embrace it calmly and work through it logically knowing that everything will always, for the most part, work out just fine, but only if I believe it will. I’m curious, what are your travel related fears, or any fears for that matter!? Tell me in the comments and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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Trip Tales: BUDAPEST

“…coffee and cake can become a habit…”

– A random Trip Advisor review

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I’m not what you’d call…cinematic-ally adventurous. Nothing too violent, but if it’s true to, or based on history (Narcos, Vikings, war movies,) I’ll watch it. I don’t like violence for the sake of violence. I hate romance movies and even worse romantic comedies, that genre feels like it’s made for people who don’t like thinking. I don’t like anything that’s going to make me cry or feel emotions deeply, I already do too much of that in my time as it stands. And for fuck’s sake I will never watch a movie of ANY type with my parents again. The number of times we’ve been surprised by a random sex scene that I’ve had to endure watching in their company has created more trauma than can even scratch the surface in my therapy sessions. I’ll not be burned by those moments ever again.

No – I like films which transport me to places. I’m incredibly appreciative of a director and writer who can capture an entire era, destination, and zeitgeist in words and film – that type of genius is not lost on me. Therefore, when I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, for one in a handful of times in my life, I fell in love.

The film captured the magical, whimsical – yet hearty and stern essence of Budapest – if not central Europe entirely. Thus, a new item crept onto my bucket list WAY before the hype over Budapest took off. Despite my desire to visit simmering long before the Buda-movement, I was only able to get around to going last summer. I was on the hunt for the Budapest of my dreams, the Budapest of one of my favorite films, that Budapest. I imagined eating pastries and goulash, riding the funicular, lounging in the baths which haven’t changed since the World Wars, and strolling around art museums. I wanted quirky. I wanted artsy. I wanted historical. But, would I get it?

Well, here’s a photograph from day one.

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Some people can jump right into the vibe of a city – I can’t.  I am always thrilled the first day, but also terrifyingly aware that I am a small fish in a big pond. In every aspect of my life, it’s usually the opposite, well not when visiting a new destination – cities in-particular. In this case, as my readers will know, my type A, over thinking, over anticipating mind got the best of me. I looked forward to seeing the version of Budapest I had fallen in love with from a fictional film instead of seeing Budapest for what it was – a city which wound up being even better than I hoped once I let it show me who it was.

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Day One Disaster:

My best friend and I allow each other each a “cranky day.” We are each allowed one day to be cranky, annoyed, frustrated, tired, but that is it. Today was my day. I’ll chalk some of this up to the heat wave sweeping central Europe, some up to my impending period, but mostly, my aforementioned impossible expectations. Much like an ungrateful spouse or parent, I wanted my version of Budapest, and while I enjoyed what I saw, it didn’t match the movie in my mind. Oh yeah, and all of this happened:

Another city, another day of having no idea how their public transportation works and using precious time trying to understand it. A heat wave blasted through central Europe at this time and we were drenched with sweat before accomplishing anything for the day. To make matters worse, we functioned on the littlest bit of sleep imaginable. When we finally DID figure the tram out, we took it in the opposite direction of where we intended to go. We wanted to take it to see the highly rated Buda castle, and eventually, we did make it there, only to find out that it was closed as it was a Monday. This was after waiting ridiculously long to ride the funicular, to the castle. I threw myself into the grass and declared my utter frustration before re-grouping and taking some selfies which underscore that I should never be considered petite.

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The trek was not a total waste, as the universe aligned to bring me something up my alley, an exhibit on Frida Khalo. Frida and I are kindred spirits I like to think. We both, at times, walk the line between creative genius and utterly insane. We both feel things deeply and are drawn to chaos and madness. We both see ourselves in everything we produce, creatively and otherwise. We both don’t wax our eyebrows ever (screw the haters.) Amanda is not such a huge fan of Frida, but patiently waited on the bench while I read every little description of each of her work and uttered, “oh wow” after each one.

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After, we decided to head over to Fisherman’s Bastion. A mecca for selfies and photograph taking with little else to do, as I saw it anyway. It was beautiful, picturesque, but overall a tic on an Instagram driven to-do list. While we were able to snap some pretty decent photos, let’s be real. It was a bajillion degrees out and besides taking photos, the only other option is to look out over the water and stare, wishing you were submerged into it. It was getting to be that time, booze o’clock, when I remembered the underground wine labyrinth suggested to me by a friend. We agreed that would hit the spot and as I goggled the location, I could not believe my luck, the place was within walking distance! We walked in the heat searching feverishly, yearning for the cool darkness of a wine cave and the lighthearted conversation and relaxation that polishing off a bottle of vino brings. Our GPS told us we had arrived, but the cave was nowhere to be found. We wandered up and down the street for a solid 45 minutes before realizing the cave was inside of a hotel. After searching the entire hotel for an additional 45 minutes, we were told the wine cave was closed for the season. Enter, two incredibly frustrated, annoyed, and worst of all, sober travelers.

We headed back to the hotel and decided to “nap it out.” We agreed that we would wake up refreshed and laugh about all of this over a delicious Hungarian dinner and cold drinks.

Except later on that night, everything was closed. We couldn’t find a single place near us to enjoy dinner. If you know me, you know I deal with frustration and disappointment extremely well. Except I’m obviously fucking kidding. I’m a miserable beast when faced with even the slightest, minor, inconvenience or deviation from my plans or dreams. And as you can see, this was way more than a minor deviation. We’re talking about not eating dinner for fuck’s sake!

Then, like a shining beacon of hope, the bridge shone and stood out. We decided to head that-a-way. On reaching the bridge, tons of young people were hanging out ON the bridge itself. It looked edgy, it looked fun, it looked like I’d never be able to haul my ass up there as per my complete lack of arm strength. That is where my love affair with Budapest begins.

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Young people apparently hang out on the bridge and drink, chat, and just relax as traffic whizzes by. A group of women we met there suggested crossing over it and we would find a wealth of restaurants and bars. Before departing in search of sustenance, I vowed I would return and I would too chill upon the bridge at some point.

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Finally. Budapest delivered. We enjoyed one of my most memorable meals to date – the infamous chicken paprikash. A perfectly cooked piece of chicken smothered in a creamy paprika sauce and served with Hungarian gnocchi. As if that weren’t enough, a cream sauce is served on top to even out the spice. This definitely makes its way into the top five meals I’ve ever had while traveling. Sheer perfection.

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New York Palace Cafe: Bougie in Budapest. Frequented in days ago by writers well known and never known, the cafe as of 2006 has been fully restored to its original splendor. Some call it, “the most beautiful cafe in the world” and I’d be hard pressed to find a counter argument. I had an incredible experience here soaking in the decadence and opulence of a Budapest stuck in time. A string quarter serenades diners as they sip coffee, enjoy a delicious lunch, and of course nosh on renowned pastries and cakes. Of course we ordered Hungarian goulash (no better place to try it!) and finished with an assortment of desserts to satisfy the devil which was what my impending menstruation.

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Nightlife: Budapest’s nightlife scene is insane. To start, the ruin bars/pubs are unique to Budapest and a must hit. Ruin pubs/bars are so called seemingly due to their appearance. Usually housed in some form of shanty building with random decor and lawn ornaments which give it a look of an elevated trailer park meets garage sale, yet aesthetically somehow works marvelously as each one gives an outdoor art museum vibe. We didn’t want to wait on line for hours, so we hit a random one and had several beers while musing over how good life could be. The beer was cold, the people were interesting, the decor was unique. What wasn’t to love?

With every intention of heading home afterwards, we stopped in a more typical pub after for one last beer of the night. Sitting next to a window which opened up to the street, we met a group of travelers (who themselves had just met) from Scotland and Ireland. They were incredibly friendly, fun, and suggested coming with them to a nightclub, and so we did.

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Woah. Instant-Fogas was PACKED. Laying in a tin can with sardines would have felt more spacious. One of our new Scottish friends was able to get us in the door quickly where we immediately proceeded to the nearest bar. In fact, this night club mega club has several bars, all themed. All difficult to get to because again…PACKED. Due to the spontaneity that drinking a lot brings, Amanda and I found a bar, ordered some red-bull and vodkas, and found our way onto the dance floor practicing our coolest (not cool) new moves. The crowd definitely felt like it had a college/just graduated college vibe and so we kept each other entertained and tuned all the children around us out. Possibly one of the greatest moments was getting asked to dance/hit on by someone who had to be no older than 21. When I flashed my wedding ring at him, he stumbled back as though shocked. “You’re married and everything? That’s crazy.” Yeah, bro, trust me, I know. I sent him on his way and realized that the friends who were our own age and older, well, we’d probably never see again. We enjoyed each other’s company and complete ridiculous-ness as we continued to tear up the dance floor, sip red-bull and vodkas, and disappoint an unusually high number of frat bros that we were in fact married and off the market.

Upon leaving the club sometime in the early morning, we passed a restaurant which serves fried chicken in a waffle cone. Genius. Alas, it was closed, and so I practiced my incredible dance moves right there in front of the storefront for no apparent reason at all.

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Hotel Gellert and Baths: At this point, I should mention that we were staying at the famed Hotel Gellert and Baths. It was truly, the closest imaginable place to the hotel in my favorite movie. I found it. A scene out of the Budapest of my dreams. Old worldly and yet refined, Hotel Gellert stands luxuriously and is in itself, a sight to behold. Although it lacked air conditioning, it was a welcomed stay after roughing it in hostels in the cities prior. There is no greater amenity than a private bathroom.

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The day after our evening of dancing til dawn, we decided to relax in the Gellert baths located within the hotel. To start, we ventured outside and cooled off in the giant pool. Luckily, every hour the giant pool becomes a wave pool and you get to participate in trying not to drown and the collective whooping of, “WoooAAAhhhh” that people from all places and backgrounds all manage to scream unanimously. When the waves were at their highest, it literally looked like a scene out of the Titanic. A small girl clinging to the side of the pool was ripped out to sea (her dad laughed), strangers were thrown about and smashed into each other, people tumbled up on “shore.” I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. I’d worked my abs out enough from giggling and we bathed in the outdoor hot tubs.

After the fun of watching humanity in peril at the wave pool, we “sampled” each and every bath indoors. The indoor baths look exactly as though they could easily fit right into The Grand Budapest hotel. The baths have done a great job of preserving the beautiful look of antiquity made up from the tile and stone work. It feels exactly as though one has been transported to another era, perhaps the second World War.

Wine River Cruise: How do I even begin to describe the amazing-ness of this experience? It was one of the greatest nights of my travels.

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As the heading suggests, we embarked on the classic wine river cruise around Budapest at night. Included was live string instrument music performance, some snacks, and 8-10 tastings (pretty much full glasses) of wine. Luckily, we were sat with the most incredible group of fun loving travelers ever who became our friends for the night.

We had entirely too much fun getting to know each other, feeling good from the wine, singing, dancing, and sneaking glasses of champagne from the floor above us. The sites were a wonder to see from the boat, and we were able to get some pretty memorable photographs.

Our tickets included transportation back to our hotel, which we said “hell no” to and asked the driver to drop us off at another location. Two of our new friends wanted to come, but didn’t pay for round trip transportation. So, in solidarity, we each took a piece of our yellow wrist band (which indicates we paid for transport) and made two full size bracelets for our friends to board the van with us to…

Street Food Karavan I’m not a food truck fanatic. I hate standing and eating. Eating is synonymous with relaxation and therefore needs to be done sitting. HOWEVER, run, don’t walk to Street Food Karavan. Seemingly endless amount of choices of food trucks serving many of the Hungarian treats on our “eat it list” including:

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Langos – deep fried dough with cheese, sour cream, and an endless possibility of choices of toppings on top, probably much bigger than your head (not mine, I have the biggest one in the known universe)

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Kolbice – The ULTIMATE drunk or comfort snack. I’m rolling my eyes in this pic because I didn’t want to stop eating it to take the picture. A bread cone filled with mini sausages or hot dogs topped with roasted onion and tons of cheese sauce. This is not a drill…it’s everything girls like me dream about.

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After we met some random girl who invited us back to her hostel to use the toilet (I think she even came into the bathroom with me???) We headed to the…

Erzsebet Square – Prior to arriving our new friends and us stopped at a late night convenience store for more snacks and even more drinks. I will never…NEVER forget sitting with our feet in the water on the edge of the giant pool which overlooks the Budapest eye. We shared snacks, jokes, and personal stories about our lives back home as though we had always been friends. One of the guys and I jumped into the pool (it’s ankle deep) and raced from one end to the other which we found hysterical, but the police guarding the area did not. (We go off with a warning, naturally I’m pretty sure I did it again anyway…damn heatwave)

After Party on the Bridge – Wrapping up the night in proper fashion, what better way to say goodbye to such an amazing city other than drinking champagne and sitting on the bridge overlooking the gorgeous view in our pajamas? We hung out for hours.

A little over 48 hours was up, and it was time to move onto Berlin. I wish so desperately that we stayed longer as Budapest is one of my favorite places in the world to have visited.

My Little Melbourne: I have to give a shout-out to this adorable breakfast and coffee spot. Not only for the epic and random street fight I witnessed on the way there at 8:00 in the morning, but because their iced latte was literally perfection. Sweet (not too much so), creamy, and energizing. It was quite possibly, the perfect iced coffee!

What I Learned:  I learned that Rome wasn’t conquered in an instant…so neither would be Budapest. I was so desperate for the city to stand at attention and reveal itself to me from the moment I landed, and I had to accept that the city is not that way, most places outside of London and New York City are not that way. The treasures are hidden within and take some time to discover, but once I found them, I finally found the Budapest of my dreams. Budapest was not an instantaneous love for me, but it became a genuine, deep, love nonetheless. It is a work of beautiful sculpture left over from days gone by. In so many ways it does embody the opulence of the past while surprisingly modern in areas. The nightclub I visited could rival any of that in New York City. It doesn’t serve me to have a grand expectation of what a city will “be like.” Rather, I would like to work on visiting a new place and enjoying it for what is truly is. Our next stop is Montreal and Quebec City. As much as images of maple syrup shacks, moose, and French speaking folks carrying baguettes laden my mind…I’m inclined to reserve my expectations.

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Trip Tales: SAVANNAH

“Lots and lots and lots of Spanish moss”

— A Random TripAdvisor Review

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Big Fan (I Liked These Things!):

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!?

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Trip Tales: PRAGUE

“Red in tooth and claw”

   – A Random TripAdvisor Review

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Big Fan! (I Liked These Things!)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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Trip Tales: ATHENS

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“Nice, old, somewhat dirty city.”

— A Random TripAdvisor Review of Athens, Greece

Big Fan! – I liked these things

– *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.

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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.

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– *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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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