If you want to really get a feel for a place, eat off the street. Actually, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, I should probably rephrase that. Eat the street food.
As I drove around the country of Bulgaria, feeling the sun on my skin and overlooking fields of sunflowers, I couldn’t help but notice that corn (boiled or roasted) seemed to be omnipresent. This was especially true when we reached Sunny Beach, Bulgaria. It seemed as though there were corn vendors every few feet. But, in a sea of cobs, stood one gem…one golden kernel if you will. He is the stuff of legends…The Corn Man of Sunny Beach Bulgaria.
Sure, there are plenty of other, mostly male vendors selling their golden treats for cheap. Sure, they offer butter and salt. And, yeah, maybe even a smile to go with it – a rarity in Eastern Europe.
But, BUT…do they offer entertainment? Do they blast their music and dance with the corn? No. Only the corn man of Sunny Beach Bulgaria does.
He sings, he uses the corn as a microphone, he hypes you up as he prepares your meal – shouting things like “WOO” or “YEAH, LET’S GO!” Tomorrowland and Electric Daisy ain’t got shit on the corn man of Sunny Beach Bulgaria.
Just when you think the performance is over, he uses the salt shaker like a maraca, dropping salt and beats on your corn. If you ask nicely, he’ll even let you get in on the act.
Ladies and non straight men…let’s not forget. He does the entire act topless. He’s enviously tan and he knows how to sway, baby. Move over Chip n Dales. Swoon.
Best of all? He’s SO FREAKING NICE. He loves what he does and he brings joy to everyone’s faces. The price? A little over one US dollar. He should do birthday parties and weddings. He’s outstanding. I hope he’s happy wherever he is, and I hope that I get to see him again one day.
By far, the corn man of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria has the most popular corn stand in the area. Why? He wasn’t afraid to march to the beat of his own drum and let his unique ideas shine. If you keep up with my blog, you know how passionate I am about taking pride in being different and standing out. Therefore, I felt so very glad to have met him! He’s one of the fondest memories of our honeymoon!
If you ever run into him, PLEASE e-mail me a photo at email@example.com or hashtag your photo #whatilearnedistraveler.
Want another kooky experience from Bulgaria? Click here.
The Mad Hatter’s afternoon tea in London was high on my London bucket list. There are few children’s books which capture the heart of adult audiences like Alice in Wonderland. The book today is translated into countless languages and continues to delight the hearts of millions. Readers flock to the idea of escaping monotonous, everyday life to slay jabberwockys and save kingdoms.
Lewis Carroll is the author and wrote the book in the 1800s. The star, Alice, is based on Alice Liddel a small girl with whom he was acquainted. Alice in Wonderland features all the sorts of concepts that dreamers of any age appreciate. There is nonsense language, psychedelic imagery, and a marvelous cast of interesting characters. There is the hookah smoking caterpillar (Absolom) and the ethereal Cheshire Cat. There is the fearsome Queens of Hearts who instills terror in all of the subjects in Wonderland.
One of the most intriguing characters of the book is the Mad Hatter who often seems to be hosting outlandish tea parties of sorts.
This story is an absolute delight. I love the world that Carroll has created. Being a first timer to London, I knew that I couldn’t miss the opportunity for afternoon tea. After combing through possible venues for such an affair, I found the perfect one. I immediately booked a table for three at the Sanderson hotel. Why? Sanderson Hotel offers a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea in London!
Arriving to Wonderland
The whole day preceding tea had honestly been a busy, blurry, rush. With a late start to the day, we spent most of it RUNNING to Westminster Abbey, and trying to pack in every sight within the cathedral before our tea reservation. In Alice in Wonderland, there is a character whose name is simply the White Rabbit. He is always rushing everywhere, feels late, and is frequently commenting on there being “no time.” I think we felt a lot like him throughout the day and arriving to tea. Perhaps we were subconsciously method acting for our tea date.
All stress subsided once arriving inside the Sanderson hotel. We were indeed instantly transported to Wonderland. There is both and indoor space for tea and an outdoor courtyard. Little decorative touches like pink flamingos, a decorative garden swing, and beautiful flowers give the experience a girlish and far away feel.
As a literature nerd I was literally GIDDY that vintage books hiding tea menus were left on the table. It’s little touches like this that will make every Alice in Wonderland lover enthralled with the experience. You’ll get the opportunity to see which treats will accompany your tea when you “read” the book. My cousin has some dietary restrictions and the staff was very accommodating at subbing some items. There is also a list of cocktails, of course themed, from which to choose.
Tea and Booze
The tea pots are made to look like the King and Queen of hearts and even are adorned with paper crowns. We were given adorable glass viles with loose leaf tea to “sample.” You get to read the descriptions of each and pick the one that appeals to you. Choose wisely!
Champagne is available to accompany tea and we decided to treat ourselves with some rose. Be warned the price of the ‘champs’, as well as the entire experience will make a “rabbit hole” out of your wallet for sure.
The Cutest Treats in the World!
The treats served at tea time are all entirely Alice in Wonderland themed. Each design and concept is perfectly executed I might add. The white rabbit is represented with vanilla macarons beautifully designed as pocket watches. I found myself wondering how the hell they pulled that off! The King of Hearts ham and parmesan croque monsieur is a great savory treat. Other favorites of mine were the mocha chessboard gateau, chocolate and raspberry blue caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts rose and strawberry jammy dodgers. Remember, all of this is a fraction of what is served!
For traditionalists, scones with Cornish clotted cream and fruit jam is served, of course.
The Wonderland marshmallow magic mushrooms were not just a great sweet, but a true work of art!
Everything gets washed down with Alice’s exotic fruit “Drink Me” potion which is carrot meringue flavored.
What I Learned
Despite the cost, I was really wowed by this experience! The small details attention to details from the organizers and chefs really left me impressed. The Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea in London truly mirrors all the joy and excitement of reading the book itself. For anyone who is a fan of Alice, or just whimsical experiences, I cannot suggest this experience enough.
Looking for more of the lowdown on London? Click here!
Iceland is eccentric. No doubt about that. It is eclectic, artsy, open minded, and fiercely independent. Its capital city is the only one I know of that has silly walk day where everyone walks around the city apparently doing a silly style of walk. I’ve been told that Reykjavik also unveiled one, if not more, “silly walk crosswalks.” I’m sure my Russian family in law would hate this. They do not do silly things. But, I think it’s great!
What I describe as oddities are actually things that make Iceland unique. For starters, its language is not related to or “like” any other language in the world. Its closest to Old Norse which is what the Vikings spoke. For that reason alone, I want to learn it.
Icelanders also try to preserve their unique culture through names. No child born in Iceland may have a non Icelandic name. Check out this article for more specific information on the law and tradition!
Iceland Phallological Museum
This place holds more dicks than even the most promiscuous of sorority girls. This museum is devoted entirely to – you guessed it- penises! There are 282 natural specimens and 350 art installments related to penises. The museum is more specifically devoted to scientific realm of phallology. This academic area studies penises through different lenses including artistic, psychological, social, and biological. These different areas are apparent throughout the museum.
In terms of biology, you can see vast amounts of preserved pee pees from all sorts of creatures including whales, seals, and even a polar bear. There are artistic expressions of dicks including exhibits such as a penis lamp and utensils carved to look phallic. Iceland’s culture is big on believing in mythical creatures.
Naturally, you can see troll and elf penises as well. While my husband got nauseous half way through and left, I had a damn good time. All I can say is, I’m so happy that I won’t ever have to sleep with a mink whale. Ow.
One of the quirkiest places to eat in Reykjavik is undoubtedly the Laundromat Cafe. It is an “all types” welcome eatery in which they boast their acceptance of the LGBTQ community as well as breastfeeding moms! The space is bright in both its lighting and pop art decor. In many ways it feels as if you’ve stepped into a hip and woke comic book. The name, as you guessed, is because you can complete your laundry in the basement of the restaurant – and then come upstairs for a great meal.
The restaurant also offers books and games to peruse during your time at the cafe. I came for brunch and there was a fair offering of choices ranging from pancakes to acai bowls. You can also choose between a “clean laundry” platter or a “dirty laundry” platter for brunch. Of course I chose the dirty – who the hell eats healthy on vacation? I highly recommend this place if you are looking for “zanier” things to experience in Iceland.
It’s impossible not to talk about Icelandic oddities without mentioning the Lebowski Bar! The bar is inspired by and is named after the cult class movie, The Big Lebowski. The film surfaced in 1998 and features legends such as Jeff Bridges, John Goodman (LOVE), Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore. The bar is open for food and drink throughout the day and night, and becomes a night club meets bar on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The bar is decked out in eccentric style and pays a ton of homage to the film with movie posters and still photographs galore. Jeff Bridges, who is the lead in the movie, displays a serious affinity for white Russians throughout the film. Naturally, the Big Lebowski Bar has an entire menu dedicated to “white Russians.” The most famous is perhaps the “cocoa Puffcasian.” It has vodka, kahlua, and cream with a generous layer of cocoa puffs on top. It’s a boozier version of the end of a cereal bowl. This place offers a ton of great dancing on the weekends and fun to be had – as well as a great bite to eat.
More than half of Iceland’s population believes in elves, or as they are also called – hidden people. To be fair – Iceland’s landscape definitely lends itself to that belief. We took a free walking tour of Reykjavik and learned all about a particular elf stone. By the way, an elf stone is a typical stone, boulder, or rock that an elf has decided to make its home.
As the story goes, during an expansion project this particular stone was in the way of city planners. There were several attempts using various types of equipment to remove the stone to no avail. The city hired an elf whisperer to step in. After listening to the demands of the hidden folk living inside the rock the whisperer was able to convince the elves to “ease up.” Apparently – the rock was moved with ease after this encounter.
Bleeding Vagina Wall
Iceland is proud of their feminist culture. As such, it is only appropriate that a giant painting of a menstruating vagina hang in Reykjavik’s City Hall building. I’ll always remember the look of pride our tour guide had as she beamed at the painting. More so, I’ll remember the elderly people in our group who couldn’t believe the word vagina had been uttered aloud – let alone painting shown on the tour.
Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat Statue
Our next Icelandic oddity, is this man with a giant rock over his head. Iceland has erected this status in honor of its many civil servants who give service to the country every single day. There are so many, that in this piece they are depicted as a single person and that is why the man, with his briefcase on the way to work does not have an identity.
This Giant Fucking Goose
More than half of all Icelanders have Viking DNA coursing through their blood. Apparently, this fucking goose we found also has Viking blood running through his soulless body. He made it very clear who ran things down the the water, and I was never more terrified in my life. I’ll never forget the terror in my heart when I heard his big feet stomping against the ground. He turned a corner to find me and said, “this is my turf sucka. Don’t forget it.” It was a weird way to start our trip, I’ll be honest.
We took a bar crawl on our first night in Reykjavik. I highly recommend doing it through the company “Wake Up Reykjavik.” We met a lot of great friends and it was a really cool way to see the city. The price was a bit steep, but it covered all drinks and entrance into a nightclub. Typically drinks are ridiculously expensive in Iceland, so I found this reasonable.
At one stop in particular, we tried two of Iceland’s famous items. The first is the “black death” shot – also called Brennvin. It has a lethal reputation, and is popularly consumed within the country. It’s made from fermented potato or grain and fermented with carraway seeds. tastes…well…a lot like death.
Apparently, people used to get hammered off this shit and the government felt less than happy about that. They made all makers of Brennvin put a black label and skull on the bottle to make it less appealing. It had the opposite effect and is still drank far and wide today. The skull is gone, but the black label remains.
A note about drinking in Iceland. Reykjavik-ers lover to do bar crawls on the weekends. Make sure to get a good buzz going in your hotel or rental before hitting the bars, or else you’ll be paying off your credit card from now until next year!
Fermented shark came with the black death shots, and I was less than enthused about this option. Fermented shark used to be eaten by Vikings way back in the day, and that is about its only appeal. It tastes like raw and rotten fish mixed with ammonia. If you were looking for a dish that mixes those two flavors – this is your snack!
Hot Dog Hero
If you don’t try an Icelandic hot dog when you visit, you suck. Compared to all other dining options they are pretty cheap and SO fucking delicious. It is hands down my favorite “street snack” to date. Particularly you want to go to the stand where Bill Clinton – in a shocking twist of an old classic – put a weiner in his mouth. This weiner being a hot dog, though. I feel like I need to end that joke by saying if you think Monica Lewinsky is a whore, you are actual human trash.
You need to know that this hotdog has exceptional snap. I mean really, we’re talking a legit 10 out of 10 for snap. The hot dog also consists of a mix of pork, beef, and lamb meat which certainly makes it an oddity to anyone coming from America. The meat is top notch, organic, and free range. You should order your hotdog with everything for the best experience. This includes raw onions, crispy onions, ketchup, remoulade sauce and a sweet brown mustard sauce. You will know true love after finishing your dog.
The reason I love Lisbon? It’s the one lifestyle city that I found myself in love with. In this case, a lifestyle city is known for its relaxed atmosphere. A city where one comes to live and not to see, run, and exhaust themselves. Every person who visits can find their own piece of Lisbon, a piece they hold completely to themselves without sharing with a thwart of attention starved, selfie taking, floppy hat wearing tourists.
It’s one of the only places where you can have a smoldering, passionate, and intimate love affair with a city that is private and all your own. I remember sitting in one of the, what felt like hundreds, of very small bars in the Bairro Alto section of the city. It was a Mexican bar where my husband, four locals, two Europeans and one bartender were the only guests inside. My eyes felt heavy and smoldering, my movements languid, yet my speech with the bartender – both English and Spanish was free flowing and uninhibited. My smoky eye make-up was undoubtedly making its way down my face from the scorcher of the day. The heat from the day’s sun was retained in my tan skin, and I felt warm.
I was buzzed, and well fed, and among local people, and happy. God, was I happy. During my 12 hour layover to passionate Lisbon, there was no hurrying, and list checking, and walking quickly as though there were a motor in my back. There were moments like this, in this Mexican bar, stumbling across gem after gem and falling in love effortlessly with each dimly lit enclave that I visited.
Like most affairs of the heart, mine was short yet memorable. It left me swearing that I won’t return here again, no matter how enjoyable because there is too much else of the world to see. However, I still often think of the city and allow myself to recall each and every feeling it kindled inside me in such a short time. I find it formidable to ever “vacation” in Europe, but Lisbon is a city where it is easy to relax and let go.
The hill I was willing to die on during this short trip was confeitaria de belem. I refused to get sucked into the tourist trail outside of this experience. This experience would surely be worth the stress of the masses. Despite the madness of the crowds at the famous cafe, I was determined to indulge in Lisbon’s famed treat here.
After being punched in the back several times by zealous visitors, I had a sinking feeling that the experience might not make up for the abuse I suffered during the wait. However, The pasteis de nata were nothing short of a religious experience and that’s not because they were originally made by holy rollers.
I had spent weeks stalking the Portuguese egg custard tarts on social media and the internet. I had endured pushing and shoving in line while I waited my turn. I would gladly do it all again. They were the perfect breakfast. I can still do my best impression of Pavlov’s dogs when I think of flaky crust filled with a somehow sweet, almost pudding like texture with a perfectly burned, crispy, skin on top.
After a long, stressful, day at my actual job – I am smiling like a fool and salivating as I write this. (Let that image sink into your mind, super creepy, I know.) The cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top of the custard added another flavor dimension entirely, but I’ll be honest, they were better on their own. I remember sitting in a park as we ate them and watching a group of school children enjoy the playground. It sounds ridiculous, but I always forget that as much as countries around the world are very different, they are also very similar.
I’m always surprised by seeing something as ordinary as children being at summer camp. I couldn’t help but juxtapose our experience. I was a stranger in a far off land where things were certainly new, shiny, and different. For these children, Lisbon was their home, their backyard to climb and play in. We were both explorers in that moment, albeit in very different manners. The children delved within boundless imaginary worlds on their playground equipment; I dove recklessly into my egg tarts.
Confession. I sometimes imagine I am a historical character from a TV show given the right environment. I take my role way too far. I’m a HUGE fan of historical television shows. Right before visiting Lisbon I had binged watched The Tudors on Netflix. Many of the hallways in the Jeronimos Monastery looked like the hallways of William of Orange’s palace.
I obviously stalked around them quickly with my back straight and shoes clicking, trying to look very important as if I had a message to deliver. I made sure to have a smug smirk of arrogance on as I patrolled the hallways. I will often walk into doorways acting winded, as if I ran all the way to this point with an important message.
Other times I will look hopefully out a window or into a courtyard and pretend I’m meeting my love. Sometimes I get incredibly extra and re-enact a sword fight. It’s really entertaining and brings any historical site to life. It’s also very, very weird and uncomfortable for people around you. Never do this when other people are around.
No shade at Europe’s churches, but they all seem to look the same to me after awhile. I’ve yet to see a medieval church really jazz it up by serving guests their own blood of Christ sangria, or showing off their holy karaoke den. This was not the case at Jeronimo Monastery; I’m not implying that they had either of these initiatives. I’m saying it was certainly the most unique religious institution I’ve been to on the continent, I would even put it against Segrada Familia.
Many of Lisbon’s commemorative sites give a nod to their early explorers and the monastery is no exception. Sailors and explorers used to pray in the nearby chapel the night before their journeys for safe passage. King Manuel built the monastery nearby to thank the early navigators of Portugal. The entire building is created in white limestone which automatically makes it unique and there are nautical and sea-faring themes intricately carved into the limestone, which as a material even looks like nautical rope.
I am always looking for ways to connect with the past. Knowing that those objects were carved hundreds of years ago, have not been changed, and are now being admired by people decades later makes history palpable for me.
Wanting to know more about the nautical history of Portugal and its explorers, the padrao dos Desobrimentos was not to be missed, best of all, it’s free and entirely worth a visit. The monument was erected (LOL – so glad we use this word) to commemorate Portugal’s history of discovery and all of the brave explorers who navigated the seas and explored for Portugal. Figures such as Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama are featured in the memorial.
The bank where the monument is built was often the last view of home many sailors would see, but also, the first view of home if and when they returned back to Lisbon. The monument is absolutely striking and photos do not do it justice. It demands one’s full attention and awe as it completely towers above all of its visitors and appears so lifelike.
The structure has motifs of all who explored including missionaries, map makers, and artists of the 15th and 16th centuries. Lisbon is one of those cities where the ghosts of the past certainly walk among the bodies of the living. When the mist rolls in and you’re gaping at the memorial on the water, it is easy to expect the fog to clear and find yourself in a different century altogether. (Or maybe that’s just because I watch Outlander.)
The trams of the city were too scarce and too packed for me to want to take part in. However, this didn’t stop my admiring of them and taking pictures whenever I could. Lisbon is always celebrated for its historical trams, but I was pretty surprised how elusive they actually seemed to be. The lines were unfathomably long to ride them which seemed to defeat the purpose to me. The trams also didn’t seem to stop long enough to get any decent photographs – at least for me.
I made a promise to myself not to rush around like my ass was on fire. In the late afternoon, it was time to relax. What’s a good maritime city without a place to enjoy cocktails and music as the sun begins to set? I was happy when we stumbled across this scene with drinks, lounge chairs, music, and tables abundant. Time moved slowly as I drank a kick-ass sangria, hell, it might have even stood still. The sound of waves crashing in the background as Arthur and I caught up during the ultimate date night was meditative.
Later on after seaside sangria, we went in search or food in barrio alto. It was worth the nerve rattling cab ride uphill, followed by walking straight up hill further (OK, maybe that part – not so much.) We spent the night at a honeycomb of restaurants and bars.
Each building hosted a unique, intimate, and captivating experience. One of my favorite memories is a Portugese grandmother yelling down from her balcony that I must try the restaurant down the street and blowing me kisses after her overture affectionate for her favorite neighborhood spot. It was truly one of those moments that people fawn about when recalling an authentic travel experience. My husband and I drank two pitchers of a very strong sangria and eating one of the most filling and delicious meals I’ve ever had. A giant plate of fish and tons of potatoes (Portuguese dishes tend to be very heavy and light on veggies.)
I was stuffed to the gills – no pun intended – but could not stop eating. Full of unfairly good food, powerful booze, and the happiness that discovering a new destination brings, I became misty eyed as a Fado performance began. I had only seen Fado on my beloved Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and have been haunted by the artform ever since. The music reaches deep down into even the most stoic of hearts, squeezes, and does not let go until the song is over.
It is one of the most powerful art forms I have ever experienced, it’s impact lasts long after the performance. Fado is meant to convey a sense of “longing” which is unique as a musical genre, and this can definitely be felt by the listener.
Lisbon, for all of its hills and long tram lines, was my most relaxing short trip to date. I took no issue with not knowing where my feet would take me throughout the evening. I felt more than content to wander the gritty streets and follow one surprise after another each time I turned a corner. Lisbon – a smoldering city of graffiti covered walls, warm colors, maritime views, and alcohol infused pleasures, I’ll always look back fondly on our short time together. No matter what city I wind up in, I promise to give a smirk and head nod when I think of you and the memories that only we have shared. Xoxo.
Museum of Communism: A unique experience to say the least! My husband emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union. His stories of life in a communist society are interesting to say the least, and thus, have stoked an interest in communism for me (in a history-nerd type of way, not in a take my cows, government, and do with them what you will, way.) The museum aims to demonstrate what Czech life was like under the Communist regime.
In addition, it discusses communism in other parts of the world and explains the ideas behind communism and how it has evolved from a manifesto to a societal way of life in some places. The biggest criticism for this museum is that it is “text heavy.” As in, there are paragraphs of reading EVERYWHERE and they are LONG. However, I know how to read, so this wasn’t a problem for me personally.
The museum does a great job of immersing visitors in the communism experience as you are able to see re-creations of a corner store, work room, school room, and interrogation room during these times. I personally felt that I could have spent half a day in the museum, but I am someone who genuinely likes to learn about such things.
This museum is fascinating to say the least. It satisfied my intellectual curiosity as well as provided an excellent understanding of a piece of the Czech Republic’s history. If you are someone who likes to learn, or enjoys unique experiences, I definitely recommend.
Prague Riverside Parties: I’d like an award for pretty much being awake for 24 hours, please. The night before this event we returned to our hotel in Amsterdam at 5AM, slept for 45 minutes, ran to the airport, touched down in Prague, checked into our hostel and shot straight over to the best tour I’ve ever taken. If you are looking for something unique and entertaining to do in Prague, here it is.
The night started at a tour office-slash-party central where sangria and beer is unlimited. We were given the chance to meet our fellow party goers and the alcohol really helped everyone find the courage to make new friends. My favorite part about this bar crawl was the age range. Many bar crawls are filled with people who might as well be toddlers and say things like, “what’s it like to have a job and a home? I can’t wait to move out” or “Ugh, peed in my diaper, let me go change it, I’ll be right back.”
If I tell them I’m married, forget it, they applaud me for doing the bar crawl without the use of my cane or walker. This event had some young people who were very agreeable, but mostly people in their mid 20’s to mid 30’s who had lives I could relate to which involved paying bills, having a career, and crippling college debt and anxiety about life. This, along with the booze, made it extremely easy to meet new friends.
Our tour guide was exceptionally funny, laid back, and a transplant from Australia. He enjoyed making fun of all of us, which some people I’m sure take offense to, but his wit is genuinely impressive and his jokes are harmless. I am incredibly sensitive to being made fun of and I never felt uncomfortable with his way of joking.
While he leads the tour, another guide pushes the traveling party cart around behind us where we were free to grab booze and enjoy the tunes blasting from the music system. A third guide takes photographs so you don’t have to feel obligated to keep your phone in your hands the entire time. This all made for an extremely relaxing night out. We stopped by various and unique sculptures, works of art, and sites in Prague where the tour guide gave us the history of each stop, which may or may not be made up. I didn’t care, I hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours and couldn’t see straight from too much sangria.
Beyond the drinking and meeting new friends, there were several highlights. We sat in a park and ate Aussie meat pies for dinner which were delicious. We created our own stencils which we used to spray paint the John Lennon wall, a truly memorable experience in and of itself. We didn’t stay for the after party as we were completely shot. I laughed and drank so much on this tour and felt I had a really good way of getting my bearings of the city. A unique, fun, and relaxing way of spending my first night in the city for sure!
Zizkov – A little far from the center of the city, but I’m glad we wound up staying at a hostel in this area. Staying in Zizkov allowed us to be able to interact with local people and to experience travel without being catered to due to our American nationality. I recall one day when we tried desperately to ask for help catching the tram. People, for whom we asked for help in the neighborhood did not speak English and quite frankly, did not give a shit that they didn’t or couldn’t.
In most places I visit people will cater to my English language needs, and if they cannot will become distraught and try desperately to throw together the few English words they know or frantically make gestures or draw pictures. Not the fine people of Zizkov.
We would run into stores or approach people on the street desperate for information. Folks would either just stare at us looking incredibly bored and shrug, or ignore us all together. This was a good lesson to learn. The world does not revolve around my language or culture. I did not speak the Czech language, they did not speak my language, and that was that.
On a more positive note, we spent an evening doing some casual bar hopping and got to meet people who live in the area. Being further away from Prague city center, we weren’t subjected to only rubbing elbows with other tourists. We were able to learn about some locals’ everyday lives. We heard about their children, partners, and careers as well as their attitudes toward their own government as well as our government.
The variety of bars ranged from a Tiki bar (Tiki Taky) which offered a variety of flaming cocktails and pretty good frozen pizza to a dimly lit bar which could best be described as an Eastern European saloon named Bukowski bar. While I enjoy nightlife, I’m way over the days of the mayhem and madness of crowded bars with music blasting and pretentious nightclubs. The bars in Zizkov were more appropriate to my interests.
The atmosphere was cheerful and it was possible to make conversation. These are not the “all the bottom shelf liquor you can handle” joints that once wooed me in my early 20’s. By the way, it took me pretty long to learn that “all you can drink” doesn’t necessarily mean “drink all you can”, but I challenged myself and preserved everything weekend of my early 20’s nonetheless, and I’m all the worse for it. If you are looking for a place where adults come to drink without the noise and amateur hour feel, try Zizkov!
Charles Bridge A drunk rando once said, “Prague is Disney World for adults” as my bestie and I walked over the Charles Bridge. Nowhere is that more apparent than the Charles Bridge. In my opinion, it is most beautiful at night when the lights are on and it’s truly a sight to behold. The feeling of magic and standing right in the middle of history is unequivocal. There are TONS of tourists on the bridge, many taking photos. I recommend pulling off to the side and taking it all in as opposed to rushing from one side to the other with the masses.
Thai Foot Massage: Travel is different than vacation because it wears you out. It’s physically exhausting and despite all of my solid memories of traveling, I also don’t recall having a single trip where my feet didn’t feel like I’d rather amputate them than withstand the pain of having walked SO MUCH. My feet and legs were throbbing after walking around the city all day, and then I saw it…too good to be true…a Thai foot massage salon.
Warm memories of my first Thai foot massage in Bangkok came flooding back. I forced my best friend to experience the magic with me. This experience truly allowed me to wax nostalgic, minus the price. In Bangkok, I paid something like five dollars with tip. Here, I’m pretty sure we paid 60 US dollars each, but the sheer joy of the massage is worth it (at least to me.) When John Mellancamp wrote “Hurt So Good” he was inspired by Thai foot massage. For those unfamiliar, a warm blanket is draped over your body as the act begins, and you nearly always fall asleep.
A masseuse works the FUCK out of every inch of your feet, rubbing out every knot and pain. If there is a knot in your foot, the masseuse will find it. What makes it unique? Something I dreamily refer to as…the stick. The masseuse takes a polished wooden stick and prods it into various pressure points of your feet, relieving pent up pressure and alleviating tightness in particular areas. If you think sex is great…try this. Afterwards, your shoulders, neck, and scalp are given plenty of TLC.
I constantly have knots in these areas and I carry a lot of tension in my body, this treatment was designed for me. I kept trying to tell this to all the other throngs of people waiting online to get rubbed, but they wouldn’t let me cut them. There are at least two Thai massage parlors in the middle of the town square and although they are not what you think of when you imagine flying to Prague, it’s an experience well worthwhile. My bestie’s shoes were incredibly tight on her feet and after the massage, the swelling went down and she was able to put them on with ease! I don’t know, I keep calling Prague magic…fits right in with the magic of Prague to me!
Old Town Square: The old town square is the pulse of the city of Prague. It is where both old and new Prague join together and come to life. The view of the crude fairy-tale-esque Church of Our Lady of Tyn surrounded by orange roofed buildings is the city’s iconic “hallmark” picture. On the day we spent time there, a band was playing and all came to gather on the cobble stone streets where visitors sat and enjoyed the sun while drinking beer and eating snacks from the numerous stands set up around the perimeter of the square. It was impossible not to be consumed with a “how lucky am I?” feeling as we relaxed in the midst of the unfamiliar history of the city center while enjoying something as comforting and familiar as a good weather festival.
Beer: In Prague, beer is said to be cheaper than water. It is also more delicious, less disappointing, and generally makes me a happier human being. It’s the thing to do. Get yourself a nice sized beer, eat some pretzels with it, and have yourself a moment. Wherever beer and snacking are part of the culture, I can make myself at home.
Prague Castle: It would be almost subhuman to say that such an old, historical site is un-enjoyable. This made the list twice because there were aspects I enjoyed, and aspects which frustrated me immensely. First off, those who know me by now know I love the opportunity to see history first hand. I love wandering into historical sites and getting lost in imaging what life was like so long ago. Prague castle offers so many opportunities to do just that.
Golden Lane – These are preserved buildings which demonstrate what life was like from the approximate 16th century until World War II in various capacities. Of particular interest was the home (number 14) of Matylda Prusova, a famed fortune teller. Ms. Prusova predicted the downfall of the Third Reich at one point during WW2 and was arrested by the secret police where she later died during her interrogation.
I have an inexplicable affinity for fortune tellers of the past and conjuring up what conversations they may have had with their clients is of special interest to me. We live in an age of nearly all answers to every question are available in a nano second at our fingertips. I wonder what it may have been like to be so yearning to know something that you visit a mysterious fortune teller, or witch to gain information or a better understanding. I wonder what kind of life a woman with such a unique profession lived.
Defenestration of Prague – Defenestration means to throw someone out of a window. Although this was done at least twice in this castle, one such time was a central moment of religious turmoil within the country in 1618. I remember hearing about this piece of history in a college class and for reasons truly unknown have always been intrigued by this story, probably because those sentenced to the punishment survived and were able to run away!
We saw the window where the incident took place and were able to learn a lot more about the specifics. I don’t know that the audience for this blog would be interested in a history lesson on the event, and besides, the castle does a better job of explaining this than I ever could!
Audio Guide – The amount of things to see in Prague Castle is beyond ones wildest information. I really don’t think you could see it all in a lifetime. Luckily, there is an audio guide which I am a huge fan of as it limits the amount of reading you must do and keeps your interest as it narrates a story. It offers the opportunity for an in depth explanation of exhibits of your own particular interest. My best friend, on the other hand, hates audio guides. I am truly surprised I’m not telling you about the defenestration of the audio guide. Speaking of which, you must fill out a “potential criminal application” because if you do not return your guide to the office by a specific time, you are reported to the police who then begin the task of finding you and arresting you. That’s a real threat BTW!
Rosenburg Palace – As overstated enough, I enjoy being among historical places with a story and imagining what it might be like to be the people who once inhabited or spent time there. This was especially poignant at the Rosenburg Palace. Empress Maria Therese founded the palace in 1755 as a home where noblewomen could live if they had fallen on hard times. As I walked the halls, I tried to imagine the lives of those women and what they ‘hard times’ may have looked like. I imagined how they were dressed and what they would do throughout the day. I considered who they loved or were interested in romantically and how this might have come at odds with the strict rules in place at the palace. The site is incredibly ornate and reeks of the aristocracy, an aspect of history with which I am fascinated. If you’re any kind of imaginative, stop by!
Big Books – God only knows which part of Disney Prague World we found this in, but we came across a selection of replicas of records books which would have been kept by the castle. One such book (the one with a skull on it) is a records book of all the names of those who fell victim to the plague. Although it’s far away and you cannot see it, we found ourselves marveling at it for quite some time.
Often times the historical events we learn about in class seem so outrageous that it is hard to believe that they actually happened. Here, albeit a replica, we were confronted with the truth that so many people did die of the plague and there names were actually recorded. To be in the presence of such history, and such personal tragedy within history is really an astounding feeling.
In that book were the names of people who were not unlike myself, I’m sure, and were overtaken by one of the most sinister health crises to ever confront humanity. It’s easy for the mind to run wild with a typical day in the lives of the people compared with this book, and how much their lives were changed at the onset of the plague. Chilling.
Not a Fan! (BOOOOOO!): – (I did not like these things)
Prague Castle: My bestie and I each had a complete “crank-a-saurus” day on our trip, and this was Amanda’s. Hers was mostly in response to and triggered by our time at Prague Castle. I really think this reaction was not without merit, and I could totally see how a traveler could get frustrated and fed up at Prague Castle.
It is so damn easy to become burned out from traveling, and in particular, site seeing. Prague Castle is a marathon, a day long if not several days long site seeing journey. It requires extensive time on one’s feet as well as devoting an entire day to cramming new information into your brain. There’s also the element that it is fucking HUGE. It could be its own city with its own postal card, therefore, it feels quite arduous to get from one point of interest to the next. If you’re here for the selfies and fake candid photos of yourself pretending to learn something, skip it.
If you have limited time, but are eager to engage with the history of the castle, come prepared with a plan. There are entire websites and guide books devoted to this one site. I suggest making a plan in advance of what interests you and becoming familiar with the layout of Prague Castle which really should be called Prague Mini City. This will minimize the amount of time you spend being lost and confused which we did and only added to the frustration and fatigue! The layout is not intuitive and it was exhausting trying to hit all of the stops and creating a plan on the go. As someone who has exercised once, I tell you, plan for this day like you would for a day long hike!
Ice, Ice, Baby – As my bestie and I relaxed in our hostel with the two new roommates we met, one of them posed a question about a topic that we thought only we had noticed. “Is it us, or are the people here…very unfriendly.” I’m a literal stereotype of a New Yorker in so many ways, but I am also, as far as I can tell, an incredibly friendly and kind person. A habit both myself and my bestie have is smiling at people that you pass on the street.
I told my tour guide that this was something I often did, and he replied that Eastern Europeans have a quote about such a thing. “He who wastes a smile is a fool.” If you think that sounds harsh on its surface, check this out. It actually means, “A person who smiles at strangers is mentally inept, or intellectually challenged.” Quite a harsh indictment for trying to brighten someone’s day or demonstrate politeness and friendliness.
If you have a friendly disposition, bear in mind that actions that are normally reciprocated at home will most likely not be, here. I found it very difficult to engage locals in conversation for the most part. Smiles were definitely not reciprocated and many of our attempts to speak with locals or joke around were straight up ignored!
I’ll never forget thanking cab drivers for the lift and just being stared at annoyed-ly until I shut the car door. When leaving the airport, my best friend was screamed at for asking a question regarding her luggage, and no one around us made an expression to signal that this was abnormal or inappropriate. As I’ve already emphasized, I’m a true New Yorker. But, in New York it’s not unheard of to respond to “thank you” with “you’re welcome”, or a hand up to acknowledge that I’ve heard you and it’s not problem. Culture shock can happen anywhere, apparently!
Public Transportation – It could be us, it could be the city. I’m going to blame the city because I’m a bitch and because I’m still bitter. We could not figure out public transportation for the life of us. We spent nearly four hours trying desperately to find a way to take PT from Zizkov where we stayed, to the city center. Everyone we asked pointed us in a different direction, none of which were intuitive or made sense and for that I was pretty pissed. Thankfully, Uber was extremely cheap, so we just got carted around that way instead. I’ll never say no to Uber or a cab!
Food for Thought – Top Foodie Experiences
Svejk Restaurant Malostranska Pivnice: Whenever I meticulously plan each trip that I embark on, of special interest is making sure that I get to eat the food of the traditional country or city. (What?! You, Stephanie?! But, you’re so petite! This is very hard to believe!) Visions of Bohemian delights such as pork knuckle, pretzels, and beer filled my dreams and this restaurant delivered my vision to perfection. We sat at iconic picnic tables in the beer garden of the restaurant where we were doted over by a great waiter (until we didn’t tip him over 20%, then he dropped the act.)
There are racks of baked pretzels on each table and we happily ate every single one of them, but thought it was weird that people around us weren’t doing the same. We found out they charge extra, but the price per pretzel is negligible for the most part. We each ordered a large beer for one dollar and took time to look over the menu and the clientele. I was happy to see that many of the people dining around us appeared to be locals, and having some Bohemian ancestry in my family, I found that a lot of the local men kind of looked like my dad in one way or another. People were full of good cheer and full mugs of beer. A waiter brought out some kind of giant slab of meat on a spit to the girls next to us, and I simply had to know if this was the famed pork knuckle.
I leaned over and asked one of the women who ordered the dish what it was, and she responded with, “Pork knee. Now get the fuck away from me before I kill you.” This is a local translation of what she actually said in English with her ‘how dare I ask’ stare and curt words. “Pork knee.” Pork knee? All I’d heard about was pork knuckle…close enough. We ordered beer cheese which was not what either of us thought it would be. I had some salty fondue vision in my head.
This was room temperature soft cheese with mustard on the side and beer completely poured over it. It was strong and pungent, not overall disgusting, but not something I would order again. I enjoyed all the flavors together, but was also repulsed by them after I’d finished the dish. The pork knee came out in all of its rock-star glory with an array of groupie sauces to dip it in. It was fatty, juicy, extremely heavy and filling.
Pork knee (knowing how much the girl next to me hated me, it was probably pork ass to be honest) was both unlike anything I’ve had, yet reminiscent of a pork chop. For me, European food is kind of usually all related. There is some version of a sausage, a noodle, a dumpling, a goulash for every culture. I have to say, the few items of Czech food I’ve had were truly unique experiences and are an acquired taste.
I wouldn’t imagine that these are dishes that are easy to whip up in my home kitchen, and the ingredients are probably hard to come across. The menu has a dizzying variety of meals and it was a memorable introduction to Czech food!
Pastar: What kind of self respecting New Yorker and Italian doesn’t crave pasta every other day? I’d gone far too long without a bowl of noodles in my face, four to be exact, and I could feel weakness, confusion, and flu like symptoms setting in. We trekked all the way to a highly rated Italian restaurant which was closed, and naturally, we had to go to a nearby bar to numb the pain and disappointment.
A quick internet search lead us to a new found highly rated Italian restaurant, yes, Pastar was the welcome real-life mirage of noddley goodness in a bleak, barren, desert of only which there seemed only to be sausages and pork knees. The front of the store offers a vision of what heaven might look like. There is an impressive meat and cheese selection for purchase as well as various spreads and jarred items. As we continued walking toward the back, the dining area was a brick pizzeria- meets-elegant-cafe-area.
It wasn’t long before we ordered and our dinner was served, that is to say, service was attentive and quick. The pasta was rich, fresh, and way too legit for me to quit. It was not “Czech Republic’s version of a pasta”, but instead, the real stuff. A waiter insisted that a girls’ night out should be met with full glasses of champagne at all times, and, how could we resist? We didn’t and had several glasses because we’re teachers and can afford such luxuries. (We split a half bottle is the real story.)
The wait staff were among the friendliest people we met in Prague and we were given complimentary shots of lighter fluid at the end of our meal which were definitely not optional. The waitress made sure we knew that this was a Czech tradition of great honor and prestige. After taking a very small sip and smelling it, I think she meant to say, “this is how we terminate the lives of felons on death row, with this drink right here!”
We made a plan to pour the nail polish remover into our water glasses when the waitress walked away. I have fond memories of Amanda ridding her shot in one swift motion, while every time I tried to dispose of mine, someone popped up out of nowhere asking us how everything turned out. In a city that at most times felt unfamiliar and cold despite it being the throws of summer, Pastar offered a delicious home sickness remedy composed of familiar elements of Italian food, drink, and pleasant conversation.
Cafe Savoy: We enjoyed dessert at the famed Cafe Savoy and it’s incredibly obvious looking back that we had no business being in such a famed and elegant institution. Chandeliers, beautifully patterned walls, and large picture windows cultivate an unmistakable air of sophistication. And boy, if I’m not just the EPITOME of sophistication! (See photo of me pouring hot chocolate into a mug and spilling it everywhere.)
Late night wound up being a great time to visit the Cafe because during most times, the line can be extensive. Cafe Savoy is near famous and has been around since the 1800’s. The lavish decor and unmatched service truly capture the grandeur of the time period. The dessert experience? Honey, it’s to die for! The pastries were incredibly decadent and the size was generous. (That second part? That’s what she said!) For history buffs, culture fans, and dessert enthusiasts, a must visit.
Digs – Where I Crashed
Brix Hostel: This has been my third experience at hostels. The jury is still out. I like the idea of staying in a hostel, but some aspects deter me. In some ways, I feel like I’ve surpassed on the age which is appropriate to stay in a hostel. I’m a working professional making a decent salary staying in an $18 a night bunk bed when I could probably very well afford an AirBnB or cheap hotel.
However, I was late to the traveling game, and I feel that if I don’t experience hostel life in my 20’s, it will only continue to become even more inappropriate for me to stay there. Certain unavoidable aspects skeeve me out, such as the amount of people who sit on the communal furniture (like couches) with their bare feet and sweaty legs in a single day. Sheets on beds and stuff are changed, but the soft couches? Yuck.
The kitchens tend to skeeve me out as the mix of a variety of different types of foods tend to fill the air and because so many people use the counter space they are sticky, dull, and have that “never going away” film on them. I need to stress, these are things that I find fault with at all hostels, not just Brix. Brix was among the cleanliest of hostels I’ve stayed at; I would happily recommend staying here.
Brix Hostel provided an excellent experience, and I have very fond memories of having stayed there. As previously mentioned, it’s in the Zizkov district which is not very central, but wound up being a good experience. The check in process was thorough and the receptionist very friendly. I was happy that the hostel seemed to host a variety of ages and I didn’t feel like the creepy, nearly 30 year old auntie watching over everyone.
We stayed in a women’s dorm in which there were six beds in total. The room next to ours was filled with many beds and you had to journey through this room in order to get to ours, so I’m happy that we were sectioned off in a way. Under the beds provided ample storage and I was able to fit my entire backpack. Bring your own lock, or rent one from the front desk just to be safe.
The variety of roommates we had were easy to get along with although we didn’t get much time to really get to know anyone as each night the guests changed. We stayed in the midst of a heat wave and to say our room was sweltering at night would be an understatement. There was no fan or air conditioning, and we had to completely soak our towels and drape them over our bodies to keep cool! (There was only one night where there was wind outside the window, and then it was much easier to fall asleep!)
The hostel had a bar and courtyard which could become very crowded depending on the day and time of day. Our last night in Prague, I oddly have happy memories of waking up every so often to the sound of partying in the courtyard until all hours of the night. Although we weren’t participating, the cool air and lively sounds of others having a good time made me smile.
They weren’t too rowdy and the sound was reminiscent of those summer nights at home when friends and I could kill hours in a backyard sitting around a fire pit drinking beers. When we left early in the morning, people were just leaving the revelry. The showers and bathroom we used overall was IMMACULATELY clean, probably cleaner than my bathroom at home. I would probably stay here again if given the chance.
What I Learned:
Prague is a fairy tale come to life meets near perfect preservation of the medieval period in history. It is beautiful and historic. It is magical and reminds me very much of Hansel and Gretel, or Shrek. It was my first look at Eastern Europe and there were a lot of cultural aspects that differed immensely from anywhere that I’ve ever been. I’m incredibly grateful for the experience I’ve had in Prague.
My best friend is an exceptional travel partner, probably the best. Many of the positive memories I have from this trip are because she was by my side, and together we can turn nearly any experience into a fun opportunity. I’ve never disliked anywhere that I’ve traveled to, but I need to be honest in saying that Prague was not a city I would feel the need to re-visit. It’s hard.
Looking back at this trip as I re-hash all of the experiences I’ve had, I’m remembering Prague as a beautiful and convivial place. However, I truly remember that both of us felt it had been way overrated by friends who had traveled there, and we both felt a bit disappointed for the most part by our experience in Prague overall. The people I encountered for the most part seemed to realize that tourism brings money to the economy, but seemed to really despise and resent the tourists. This was palpable from nearly the moment we arrived. Despite the beautiful streets and architecture, there’s an ensconced sense of desolation, bleakness, and hollow feel to the city.
– *Thision Open Air Cinema: This wound up being one of my most memorable experiences in Athens! I had never been to an open air cinema, and it seemed like the perfect way to spend a summer’s evening in Athens. We arrived early to see Mama Mia 2 which wound up being the most appropriate film to see as it takes place in the Greek islands and we were heading there next. I cried a few times during the film, not only because it was sentimental, but because the experience was just so perfect.
I felt as though I caught a glimpse into how an Athenian may spend a typical evening with friends or family. The experience felt like an opportunity to see local life, but felt so familiar at the same time. Watching people laugh and cry together, people of all backgrounds, was one of those moments which made me realize why I love travel.
A destination can be so foreign, but whenever I feel homesick, there are these little bouts of circumstance that play out which remind me that people are people wherever you go in the world. Whoever these people were, they felt an emotional connection to what was unfolding on the screen the same as I did. They danced and sang to the music just as I had the urge to do.
This combined with the sun setting over the Acropolis and holding hands with my husband as we drank cool beers and hot popcorn made for an excellent experience. One I will never forget. We were all to ourselves as a newly wedded couple on a date, yet surrounded by people just like us. I can’t hear Abba’s Fernando without crying heavy, happy, emotional tears ever since this night!
– Acropolis: This one is so obvious that is almost feels insulting to put it on the list. Seeing the monuments atop the acropolis from anywhere whether it be dinner or the streets below is a hits you in the gut moment. The realization that this sight has been here for so many to see for centuries, the realization that so many people would do anything to see this sight and here I am seeing it from every angle is humbling.
I hate hiking and sweating with a passion. I hate when people say, “the reward is when you get to the end and see _____”…insert any non impressive lake, view, sight without a bar. This is the one and only time in my life where I felt that the prize for having finished an arduous hike was worth it. To be clear, when I say hike, I refer to anything where my ass isn’t being pushed around as a hike. There were literally people with canes and walkers doing the same hike as me, and beating me, guys. BUT, it was sweltering, and I was sweating, and I was tired, all the prerequisites needed for a hike were met on this day, so, let’s call a spade a spade.
From the point of ascent to reaching the top of the acropolis, it’s not hard to envision the ancient people (my vision has them all in white linen) pulling animals up the hill, chatting with each other, and praying to their gods. Besides one teacher I work with who still can’t figure out how e-mail works, the Parthenon atop of the acropolis is the oldest relic I have ever seen. Both ancient wonders leave me awe struck. I’ve seen memorabilia from the romantic age of literature and shivered at its antiquity and my proximity to it.
The feeling of being in touching distance of the Parthenon, coupled with its sheer magnitude and a never ending parade of questions about its being built is unfathomable. Considering hiking up the hill and being able to see this is something I consider a feat, I cannot imagine the swirl of pride that ancient Athenians felt having actually built the damn thing.
To see it from a distance is incredible, to see it close up is an incomparable experience. Despite the many tourists who were there to see the Parthenon (wait, you’ve all heard of this too?! not just me?!) it did not feel crowded. I really appreciated the fact that there were refillable stations for water bottles at the top, otherwise known by normal people as water fountains.
–Athens Food Tours:Why anyone would go on a walking tour where you don’t get to eat throughout it is beyond me. You would think that if one were given two options, walk for two hours with no food, or walk for two hours and stop every three minutes for food, the correct option would be obvious. Alas, there are people who don’t do food tours, evil does live among us, folks. The name of the company we went with is literally Athens Food Tours and it was an exceptional afternoon well spent.
My healthy and fit husband got to see that there is more to the culinary world than fruits, veggies, and steel cut oats, and I, got to eat like I was going to the electric chair under the guise of a cultural experience. In marriage, that is what you call a win-win. Our tour guide was the ever-amazing Georgia who was kind, knowledgeable, and bold. We traveled through some of the grittier parts of Athens and she faced traffic, cat calling, and other hazards like a bad-ass! Some of the highlights include walking through fruit markets and fish markets where Georgia got hit on, but I flipped my hair around and acted as if these compliments were hurled in my sweaty direction.
“Ugh, guys seriously, stop, I have a husband!” We visited a koulouri stand where Greeks running to work and hung over partier-s grab their breakfast, the so called, Greek doughnut made of sesame bread. We had a full sit down meal eating the traditional gyros on a cobble stone street as we watched the world go by. There were samplings of basturma, baklava, and halva.
My favorite was the onslaught of cheeses, honeys, and olives provided by a store which specialized in delicacies from Crete, a part of Greece known for its culinary wonder. The tour was an excellent way to meet others, connect with local culture, and learn more about the lives of Athenians. Foodie travel has become an insanely popular business as per the late Anthony Bourdain’s influence. I try to take a food tour everywhere I travel to, and it is an exceptional way of learning about another culture.
– Plaka: If you ever find yourself underwhelmed or actually, overwhelmed by the streets of Athens, head here. It is heavily tourist-ed, but aesthetically pleasing and relaxing. Picture dope street art meets cobble stone, car-free streets meets, low hanging trees with beautiful flowers. This was a great place to grab a beer, a platter of fried food, and to enjoy the beauty of the little buildings and nature around us.
A hip, Instagrammer’s version of heaven. Our waiter took the time out to really converse with us, to learn more about us, and to tell us more about Athens as we slowly became giggly and euphoric from drink. Whereas Athens tended to move very fast for me, Plaka seemed to move more slowly and peacefully.
– Temple of Zeus: Not much stands of the old temple to the big shot himself, but the pillars which do stand are tall enough to bump into the home of the gods itself. I found myself staring at it as I walked around yelling, “This is just…here!?” People drive past it every day, see it from their windows, and don’t even give it a second glance!
Again, one has to keep in mind that we’re not looking at a monument erected (have to continuously use this word as we’re talking about Zeus) in honor of something that happened long ago. You are literally looking at the thing built so long ago! THOUSANDS of years ago, and it still stands! It’s even crazier when you realize everyone has a least heard of Zeus.
He is the world renowned adulterer, rapist, child eater, womanizer, thunder bolt throwing boss of all the Greek gods. This is where people came to worship him, beg of him, and seek clarification to life’s mysteries. ”Dear Zeus, sexually assaulted by a swan, have a feeling you know something about this.“ It’s a fraction of a temple, that is all, but it’s something I found I could marvel at for hours.
– *Panathenaic Stadium: My husband is a fan of athleticism and sport, and I have at least tried athleticism one time, so we were really eager to see this. This was his find and it was a great one. The audio guide is a must as it explains the history of the site as well as the history of the Olympics. There are plenty of great photo opportunities and the whole place is full of stairs, AKA, places to sit which really suited me well.
While I used the stairs as respite and to take selfies, my husband ran up and down them to get his cardio in. This, again, is a great example of a win-win in marriage. To get to the inside you go through a tunnel and the audio guide does an excellent job of painting a scene of a gladiator coming out to see the crowd for the first time, or the ancient rituals which happened under the bridge, one of which involves topless women dancing in a circle.
Weird because when those girls did this, it was religious, when my friends and I do this, it’s “inappropriate” and “frightening to children.” The inside has a well laid out and captivating display of memorabilia from every year’s Olympics including prior torches, jerseys worn, signs hailed, and more. It was interesting to see the way the Olympics looked in different years and in different places, the huge variety in display is dizzying and kept us interested. I enjoyed this experience so much more than I thought I would have and I highly recommend!
– Theater of Dionysus: I remember being in my freshmen year of college and taking a world theater class. Despite learning about so many styles of theater, learning about the ancient Greeks and the way they celebrated acting and stories on stage captured my interest greatly. In any given school year there are a few things you will always remember, wonder about, and be interested in learning more about, this was ancient Greek theater for me.
I enjoyed imagining the ancient Athenians sitting in the amphitheater with their bread, cheese, and wine while theatrics and the magic of acting was literally invented right before their eyes. I remember learning about Dionysus and his association with wine, food, theater, and entertainment. I’ve googled photos, search up stories, and watched countless documentaries on all these things just for the sake of wanting to learn more and enjoyment.
Seeing the theater of Dionysus itself was a pinch me, tears in eyes, heart in throat moment for me. I sat where all those people I dreamed about had sat before. I sat in the same place where they were overtaken by the spirit of creativity and joy of wine, both of which overtake me nearly every day.
I stared out over the trees and roads, imagining ancient people excitedly coming to sit for the show. To be fortunate enough to visit a place I’ve heard about and dreamed about for so long…there are no words to describe my gratitude. If there’s one thing I love to do it’s dream and imagine, what a perfect place for such activities.
– Public Transportation: In the travel-sphere there is a shit ton of emphasis lately on living like a local. I’m pretty much good on that. I kind of get what sleeping in a yurt is like, I’d rather sleep in an air-conditioned hotel and go to Starbucks. To live like a local, you should follow someone to their job every day. Drop their kids off at daycare. Pay their water and electric bill. I think it’s kind of stupid this idea of “living like a local.”
I live in Brooklyn, and the local experience is not going to a restaurant three meals a day. It’s me re-heating leftovers for dinner and taking a nap on the couch shortly after. I think what travelers really mean, is a glimpse of local life, which is much more feasible. It’s the chance to go to a nightclub where locals blow off steam, it’s buying your meat from the butcher up the block, it’s staying in an apartment where other native people to the area live. I hear taking public transportation talked about a lot, in travel…I don’t know that a lot of people actually do it.
We took Athens version of the subway to and from the Acropolis and it provided me with a brief glimpse into local life. I knew there were mostly locals on the train because my not knowing how to do anything and wide eyed wonder girl look at the list of stops made most of them sigh annoyed-ly and roll their eyes…just like in New York!
I’m AWFUL at taking public transportation. Drive-able, or I’m not going is my motto. I’d rather spend big bucks on a cab than two dollars on a subway ride, and I’m really not ashamed to admit that publicly. I don’t like being crammed into tight spaces with others, I don’t like the feeling of no air, and I hate standing in a pee filled subway cart being verbally harassed by weirdos when I can sit comfortably in a car.
So there, I’m the world’s WORST human and traveler, whatever. However, there are a few places where the public transportation system is fairly straight forward and so I don’t mind taking it. Athens was one such place for me. Fairly clean, fairly safe feeling, fairly straight forward. I recommend.
Not a Fan! (BOOOOOO!): – (I did not like these things)
– Walking Around at Night: To be fair, this isn’t just an Athens thing, this is a boo for most cities. I always think, how would I feel as a woman walking alone here at night? The answer is pretty scared. There were certain areas that were desolate, not well lit, and shady. Not to mention, the uncomfortable stares and remarks made to me. If I felt afraid walking around at night with my husband, I really don’t think I’d enjoy walking around at night by myself. Be smart, be alert, and take a cab to and from anywhere you need to go in the evenings. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
– Food overall: I did an amazing food tour and I had some pretty good meals here. I visited a number of cafes and restaurants while in Athens across many different neighborhoods. I wouldn’t say that the food I had overall was bad, but it wasn’t what I expected. There are certain places in the world where people rave about the food.
In Charleston, for example, I did not have a single underwhelming meal. I just feel as though there was nothing that I could rave or rant about in terms of meals I had. There were certain places where the concept was cool, or the atmosphere was impressive, but do I recall a single stand out meal that I had because of the food? Not really.
Greek food is something people rave about, like Italian food, and for that I felt a bit disappointed. Feel free to comment with your culinary experiences or gems of restaurants I missed! If you want to tell me that the experience I had is offensive to you…direct all e-mails to your nearest trash can.
Food for Thought – Top Foodie Experiences
– Coffee: Here is an area where Athens really shined. The coffee scene has something for everyone. Want to feel like you’ve just smoked an entire pack of cigarettes? Try a black coffee here. Want to keep up your buzz AND energy levels? Try your coffee with booze. I could not get enough of the iced coffees and frappes. Creamy, sugary, deliciousness cool and refreshing on a summer day? Yes please.
– Acropolis View Restaurants: If you’re going to splurge on anything in Athens, let this be it. Sitting at a table at night, eating an incredibly expensive platter of cheese and meats while sipping wine and seeing this view? Most people only see this in their dreams. It’s an experience where I constantly had to ask myself what I did to deserve such privileges in life.
Then I remembered that I deal with teenagers all day long and that I definitely fucking deserve this moment. There is nowhere else in the world where you can eat dinner and have the Acropolis as your view other than Athens, Greece. It is the pinnacle of reward for working hard, saving up, and getting yourself here.
Any other day you can eat cheap souvlakis and get on line at Burger King, but at least for one meal and one day, anyone coming to Greece needs to have this experience. It’s a complete paradox to the less than rave reviews that Athens gets and its always good to see the other side of the coin.
– Little Kook: I almost regret putting this on the list as I don’t want to see it become a Buzzfeed video. Little Kook is the coolest and most unique restaurant I’ve been to anywhere in the world. Every few months it completely changes themes, and when I say completely changes…this isn’t putting holiday decorations in an out of a box.
EVERYTHING changes, the wait staff’s outfits, the menus, the plants, the decor, everything. The atmosphere and decor could honestly give Disney World a run for its money, I’m probably as impressed by this place as I am by the Parthenon. It seemed to be dessert centric, and so I got a giant milkshake with an entire doughnut on top. What better way to unwind after an entire food tour? My words about this place and its vibrancy pretty much render useless, it needs to be seen to be believed!
Digs – Where I crashed
We stayed at a chic and cozy little apartment found through Air BnB. It was the perfect size for two people and offered a small balcony to sit and watch the neighborhood below. Some of the strengths include plenty of closet space, a full size make up table, and a kitchen where the host has ice cold water waiting in the fridge, this was much appreciated in the throws of summer!
The host was a friendly and warm woman named Haroula who was everything I hoped a Greek mother or grandmother would be. While the apartment was not centrally located to the Acropolis, it was easy enough to hop on the underground train and get there (maybe about seven minutes in total.) Plenty of adorable restaurants and cafes in the area. ALL IMAGES OF AIR BNB PROPERTY BELONG TO PROPERTY HOST AND WERE NOT TAKEN BY ME!
Listing title: Central, Cozy & Vintage, Perfect for two!
What I Learned…
Athens gets a bad rap. Anyone looking to travel to Greece is always told, “Ehh, a day or two in Athens is fine, but leave immediately after. Actually, just fucking skip it. It’s a war zone.” As up front as I am about the seediness of Athens, I love grit and I love big cities. Big cities are often talked about in terms of their homicide numbers, public health detriments, and lack of cleanliness. Anyone who lives in or has spent time in big cities knows that there is so much more to a city, and it is no different for Athens.
No, Athens is not one of Greece’s famed islands. Athens is where you experience pockets of local life, street art, and the plight of the average Joe (or average Constantine I guess in this case.) School is where you hear history, Athens is where you see the history you’ve learned about, an experience that for most people only exists in BBC documentaries and textbooks.
Yes, Athens is dirty streets and creepy men, but it’s also green grasses, beautiful flowers, picturesque restaurants, and stunning, unparalleled views. Athens is seeing triple from a single shot of ouzo or raki while you listen to loud chatter and even louder music. People say to run out after one day, I can’t believe I only spent three days.
There is so much to see and do, and much to do beyond the guide books and TripAdvisor suggestions. Everyone wants to be Anthony Bourdain, yet they shutter at the idea of exploring the people and ‘mean streets’ of places with grit, like Athens.
If your purpose in traveling is to take pretty pictures to make your friends jealous, by all means, snap your selfie at the Parthenon and bounce on over to Santorini. If your purpose in travel is to connect, to learn, to explore and maybe get a few physical and emotional cuts and bruises along the way, as any good explorer does, spend some time in Athens.