The Czech Republic and Austria

Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.

Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.

If you’ve known me for a little while, you might remember in early 2017 when I blogged every week about my 3-month journey around the world. If you’ve known me for a LONG while, you might even remember the various food blogging I did before that (hey, 2011 was a great year for a food blog!).

Well, my life has changed some since those days, but today I sat down in front of my computer to write a blog post and, guess what...it felt exactly the same as it used to.

I’m not picking up blogging again as a weekly habit, but now that I’m travel agenting as my awesome day job, I wanted to share about my most recent trip. I hope this post is interesting, informative, and inspiring. Share the wanderlust, people!

Oh, and if you want to go on a trip, contact me! ;)

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Last week, my husband and I returned from a 14-day visit to central Europe. We decided to go to the Czech Republic and Austria based on: (1) the predicted weather, (2) our interest in joining a bike tour there, and (3) wanting to visit Austria again after blitzing through it last year. I planned the trip bit by bit between February and May, and when August rolled around, we headed out.

Prague as viewed from above!

Prague as viewed from above!

We started with four days in Prague. What a charming city! Prague felt safe, walkable, and fun. Twice we went on runs in the morning over the Charles Bridge and I was smitten. I had NO historical knowledge of the Czech Republic or Prague, so I really enjoyed getting a sense of it. And wow, the Czech Republic has some fascinating history. The old stuff (like being ruled by the Hapsburgs and the kingdom of Bohemia) was evident in the buildings and the streets, but the newer history (communist rule from 1945 to 1989) was harder to spot. In Prague’s Velvet Revolution in November of 1989 (named because there was no violence, so it was “soft”) the country threw off its communist rule and has since become a democracy. It was fascinating to talk to folks who lived through that and learn about their personal experiences under the communist regime.

The Prague Castle complex.

The Prague Castle complex.

In the past 10 years, Prague’s tourism industry has kicked into overdrive, but the city doesn't quite have the infrastructure in place to handle it. The most popular spots were pretty much mobbed during the day, especially the Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle. As a visitor, the castle complex was interesting, but there was no clear way to line up for a ticket or see the attractions without complete chaos. This dissuaded me quite a bit. I seriously advise visitors to Prague to get to the castle as early in the day as possible! OR, forgo seeing the inside of the buildings and stroll the grounds at night after the buildings are closed. Contrast this Prague castle insanity with something like the Alhambra in Spain. There, the number of visitors is restricted each day, you have to buy tickets in advance, and they have a timed entrance!

The rest of Prague didn’t feel mobbed, just the well-known “must-sees.” [As a side note, that is why when I travel I sometimes skip those top attractions. Instead, I’ll opt for second-tier attractions that offer something fascinating without the buzzy mob; this is just better for my soul!]

I especially loved visiting the old Jewish Quarter and seeing the many synagogues and the famous Old Jewish Cemetery. Mostly, Europe feels like church after church, and this was a fascinating change.

We met up with our biking trip in Prague, but immediately headed out of the city into the countryside. From there, we spent the next five days bicycling! We had beautiful weather and quiet roads and I loved every minute of it. We were there with a tour company that handled all the details which made the whole experience really smooth!

I made some new friends while out on a bike ride!

I made some new friends while out on a bike ride!

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We spent two nights in the town of Cesky Krumlov (super picturesque and super touristy – that’s all I’ll say about that) and then headed over the border into Austria. All of a sudden, the signs were in German and the road quality got a lot better.

Our first destination in Austria was the Wachau Valley, a lovely wine-growing region along the Danube. It was here that I biked the hardest and enjoyed the best views and best downhill ride of the trip. There are miles and miles of bike paths along the river cutting through vineyards and fruit orchards. I really liked this area!! It’s only about an hour from Vienna, so it could absolutely be a day trip. OR, if you like white wine and beautiful things, try the Gruner Veltliner and consider staying longer.  ; )

After a peaceful two days, we said goodbye to this stretch of the Danube and our bike trip and ventured into Vienna for four days to explore on our own.

In preparation for writing this post, I went back and re-read what I had written about the 36 hours we spent in Vienna last year. I basically glossed over the whole city! Bah! Well, not anymore!

Last time we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Schonbrunn Palace (which was awesome). This time, we went deeper into the rest of the city. Some highlights: the Hofburg Palace, a historical walking tour, the Royal Crypt, and the Treasury. With all that sightseeing, we got so hungry we had to try the famous Sacher Torte at the two most famous cafes! I had a preference for the Sacher Torte from Demel, but shhhh, don’t tell.

We also visited the Spanish Riding School. This 300-year-old Lipizzan horse training program is amazing. We did a tour one day, and then went back the next day to see the horses perform. Many of these horses train with their riders for over a decade to perform on-the-ground skills and very difficult above-the-ground skills in front of a crowd. It was a show unlike anything I’d experienced!

The only down side of our time in Vienna was the heat. As you may know, much of Europe experienced serious heat waves this August. While it was worse in the south, it was pretty warm in Vienna as well. The temperature hit at least 90°F every day and there wasn’t much AC. You know what is air conditioned, though? Grocery stores! We had to pop in to see the goods and cool off.

I really like Vienna for its grandness and history. Also, as a visitor, it feels safe and it’s really easy to use the metro to get around everywhere. It was riding the metro that I experienced my favorite thing in all of Austria: when taking the escalators at the metro stations, EVERY SINGLE PERSON STANDS ON THE RIGHT! That means you can step on an escalator at the bottom, look up, and see a clear path to walk all the way to the top. BEAUTIFUL.

I realize this is NOT why most people like Vienna, but what can I say? I love it! So. if you visit Vienna, you must take the subway, just to see crowds on the escalators.  : )

Also, quick shout-out to our Vienna accommodations: Hotel Altstadt. Classy, quirky, and amazing breakfasts!

In summary, the Czech Republic and Austria both get big thumbs up. So does my travel partner/husband for being willing to go on adventures with me.

Where to next?? Who knows!

Until then, safe travels!

Travel Wrap-Up: What I learned from 3-Months Abroad

Ninety five days of travel brings some interesting insights. For me, it was all about new skills, new perspectives, and new interests.

Today I'm writing about our trip as a whole, partly to get closure and partly to share my most interesting observations. At least I thought they were interesting! Let's start with similarities and differences.

 

Things that are the same around the world (or at least in the 9 countries I visited):

-Ice cream. In every city, I constantly spotted people with ice cream cones and big smiles. From kids to adults. It just may be that ice cream is the best afternoon snack the human race has come up with so far.

-Parents and kids. Even without knowing the language, it's immediately obvious what's happening as a small child tries to run one way and a parent grabs them to bring them the other way. It turns out that little kids are pretty much the same everywhere and taking care of them is a universal human experience.

-Credit cards and the internet. My Visa worked everywhere and I went to ATMs at banks in every country and put in my card to get cash. The world is so connected now, it's amazing. The traveler's checks I remember from my childhood are long gone! Similarly, I was able to blog post from everywhere and keep in touch via the internet easily. Wifi was so prevalent, I never felt disconnected for more than a day at a time.

-People. Yep, people are actually pretty much the same. I found that even with language differences and cultural differences, folks in other countries are just like me. Everyone's just trying to do their thing, get through their day, enjoy their lives.

 

Things that are different in different countries:

-Timing. Meal timing, travel times, lifestyle - all these change depending on the country. Most notably, in Spain. Why yes, I'll have dinner at 9PM, thank you.

-Flora and fauna. The creatures in New Zealand stole my heart and the creatures in Australia genuinely scared me. In southern Spain, the air was perfumed with the scent of orange blossoms and wisteria. In Croatia, the ocean was bluer and clearer than anywhere I've ever seen. And in Iceland, my heart melted when we drove past each sheep followed by her 2 little lambs. The world is a diverse place!

-Languages, electricity, currency (Ok, you already know these, I just wanted to include them as a reminder). Surprisingly, we got by using English in every country we visited except for Spain. There, we used a combination of our (terrible) Spanish and the Google Translate app to communicate what we wanted. We needed wall adapters for our electronics everywhere and there was one type for Oceania and one type for Europe. During the middle third of our trip, we only needed Euros. These differences can put some people off, but once you get used to them, they are not a big deal.

 

How this trip affected me:

-I discovered I like learning about history when I can see it. I'll admit, I've never been keen on learning history. HOWEVER, actually seeing a spot and understanding it through its history was fascinating! Europe's history is long and extremely complex and seeing the impact of various empires in multiple places during our trip made the history come to life. Whereas before I knew next to nothing, now at least I could hold my own in a simple history discussion. : )

-The quickest way to make things better is to eat. I had a hunch that I sometimes got hangry before this trip, but traveling elucidated the truth. When things felt like they were going badly, it was likely that I hadn't eaten in a while. When I got hungry, my patience went down, my energy went down, and my temper rose. In short, I wasn't very fun. A meal made everything better! Once I realized this, we started prioritizing meals when we could.

-I like traveling to places that aren't crowded. I get pulled out of the enchantment of any beautiful site when it's too crowded. When I can't walk at my own pace or I have to weave through a crowd, I can't concentrate on being open to wonderful things anymore. Maybe this means in the future I'll seek out less popular destinations or maybe I'll travel somewhere popular only during the shoulder season.

-I'm still me. I didn't fundamentally change on this trip. I learned a lot and I saw a lot. The ways I like to travel became clearer and I know I can plan awesome trips in the future. In short, I discovered more about myself, but that didn't change me, it actually made me more me! (If that makes sense).

What's next:

I'm back in the United States (and loving the showers!) and it's time for the next chapter. This trip was amazing, but it was appropriate to wrap it up. I was fatigued from traveling towards the end and looking forward to visiting friends and family. But I also can't wait to plan the next trip, whenever that is!

So what's next right now? Now, my husband and I are moving to Denver, Colorado. We had a plan to leave LA for a long time and we're making it happen. He will be starting graduate school in the fall and I will be....Well, I'm not sure yet. I will be looking for my next job/activity/involvement this summer. I'm so excited to get to know a new city and a new region. Especially one that has a lot going on in sustainable food!

Because I will be focusing on establishing a new home base, I am taking a break from blogging regularly. I've enjoyed writing about out trip, but as my life moves in a new direction, I don't know where this blog is headed. Therefore, it's time to take a hiatus. 

Don't worry, if something really interesting is happening, I'll write about it!

Until then, be well.

An Adventure in Iceland

Today's post on Iceland will be my last post from our 3-month around-the-world adventure. Can you believe it? We're done! Holy cow. I have a lot to say about that. BUT, I won't do it now. I'm planning to write a whole wrap-up post regarding my feelings on the trip, so I'll leave that alone today and instead focus on Iceland, the final country we visited.

ICELAND

The food in Iceland was expensive, but delicious!

The food in Iceland was expensive, but delicious!

This small country of 300,000 people located way up at a latitude of 64 degrees north is much more inviting than it sounded to me initially. When we first talked about including it in the trip, I was apprehensive, but some research and talking to friends changed that. First of all, I knew a handful of people who had already been there and loved it. Second of all, Iceland is actually pretty green, with an overall milder climate than I'd thought and some otherworldly sites.

We planned to visit Iceland at the very end of our trip because we wanted spring weather rather than winter weather. That worked...sort of. Turns out spring has just barely arrived in Iceland in the second half of May.

With 8 days to play with on our visit, we spent 2 in the capital city, Reykjavik, and 6 driving around the southern half of the country in a rental car. This is the way most people visit Iceland and having done it, I agree that it's the best way to see the country.

Honestly, our first two days in Reykjavik were stressful. We had just come off of a beautiful week bicycling on the gorgeous and relaxing Dalmatian Coast and Iceland was stark, cold, weird-looking, and extremely windy when we arrived. I was tired of traveling, I didn't like the location of our hotel, and I didn't like the wind and rain. It was the grumpiest I'd been on our whole trip. If I'd written this post that day, I'd have a very different opinion of Iceland.

 

But we rolled along through our time in Reykjavik and then got our rental car. Once we had wheels (and therefore some control over timing and location), things started looking up. We spent a good chunk of time at the visitors' center, learned what to see where, and headed out of town to start seeing the sights.

And that's when things got awesome.

Boiling hot water coming out of the ground at Geysir (part of the Golden Circle).

Boiling hot water coming out of the ground at Geysir (part of the Golden Circle).

The massive waterfall, Gullfoss, also part of the Golden Circle.

The massive waterfall, Gullfoss, also part of the Golden Circle.

We hit the most visited tourist sites in an area 45 minutes away called the Golden Circle first, then kept going farther from the city. The Golden Circle was nice, but not the best stuff. It consisted of a lake area, a geothermal area, and a massive waterfall. Not too shabby, but there's so much more! The farther from Reykjavik we went, the better the sites. We also got lucky because our weather got better and better throughout the week. It turns out, the sun makes everything in Iceland sparkle!

Black sand beach in South Iceland, near the town of Vik.

Black sand beach in South Iceland, near the town of Vik.

Amazing hexagonal basalt columns on the beach.

Amazing hexagonal basalt columns on the beach.

We pulled over and followed this sign.

We pulled over and followed this sign.

The driving we did was mostly on Route 1, Iceland's main highway which goes all the way around the outside of the island. You can't go into the interior in a regular car because of all the snow, mountains, and glaciers, so you travel around in a circle on what's called the Ring Road. The views are gorgeous and there are waterfalls, mountains, canyons, craters, and more. It's easy to stop, walk around, and take pictures. Once you've seen one spot, you get back in your car and keep going. We stayed in hotels along the way, spent two nights at our turn-around point (a 2000-person fishing village called Hofn in the Southeast of Iceland), and stayed in different hotels on the way back.

Beautiful glacier views from the road.

Beautiful glacier views from the road.

I've been thinking a lot about selecting my favorite spot on our road trip (so hard to choose!), but I've decided it is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. I've never seen anything like it before and the colors and shapes were so beautiful. I took like a bazillion photos, but I'll limit it to a few here.

Final thing: this isn't really a blog about travel planning but I just can't finish this post without adding a few tips for anyone heading to this amazing country.

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon on a sunny day.

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon on a sunny day.

  1. Bring a sleep mask. In the spring and summer, the sun never really sets, so it is never dark outside. Blackout curtains in hotel rooms can be hard to find.
  2. Plan shorter driving distances per day than you think. You'll want to stop so much, it's easy to get behind on driving and end up pulling into a destination much later than anticipated.
  3. Bring waterproof clothes. And warm weather clothes. And a bathing suit.
  4. The food at restaurants is crazy expensive. It just is. Everywhere. (But it's also delicious).
  5. Get a car and get the heck out of town. The road is the soul of the country.

In conclusion: after a rocky start, I fell in love with Iceland and now I can't wait to go back and explore the rest of the country!