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.

Croatia

Walking the city walls in Dubrovnik. 

Walking the city walls in Dubrovnik. 

For the past 12 days, we've been chilling in Croatia.

Now, Croatia was not one of the countries I had oringinally been longing to visit on this trip (compared to New Zealand or Spain, for example), but I had heard many people talk about the Dalmatian Coast and its beauty, so we decided to include it. When we looked at our options for visiting the Dalmatian Coast, we settled on the idea of doing a bicycling trip there, and then built the rest of the days around that. 

As a primer, it helps to know that Croatia is shaped like a sideways V pointing to the west. The top part is inland, the bottom part is a thin strip along the coast and includes a number of islands. 

Walking around in Zagreb.

Walking around in Zagreb.

We came into the country from the northeast as we were in Budapest and traveled by train to the capital: Zagreb. The whole population of the country is just over 4 million people and 1.1 million of them live in the Zagreb metro area. 

Our 1.5 days in Zagreb consisted of a lot of walking around, relaxing in parks, and finding food and bakeries. We did have to spend a morning doing laundry, so we didn't get as much time in this lovely city as we wanted...alas. 

Stopping for the important things.

Stopping for the important things.

Then we packed up and traveled south about two hours by car to get to one of Croatia's most popular national parks. It's called Plitvice Lakes and it's a series of small lakes and waterfalls that are just beautiful. This area gets a lot of visitors and it's easy to understand why. The blues of the lakes and the greens of the surrounding forest are brilliant. There are boardwalks to walk on out over the lakes and practically through the waterfalls, so it really feels like you're in the middle of this natural beauty.

You know what didn't feel as beautiful? The big tour groups all coming through the paths at once. I know they want to visit as well (and they should!), but getting stuck behind of a group of 40 people on a small path always pulls me out of my groove. To avoid them, we did some of the less popular trails and found much more solitude. 

We stayed at the rustic hotel in the national park and it was delightful and relaxing. After our high-speed trip around of the past few weeks, the time in Plitvice was a welcome break. 

The view of Split from the harbor. 

The view of Split from the harbor. 

Continuing south after Plitvice brought us though the mountains, away from the green trees and onto the coast. Now the terrain looked more like California. We spent a day in the historical city of Split gawking at the beautiful old white buildings and our first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea. Split is where we met up with our 6-day biking trip AND our two special guests for the week....our dads! We invited them to join us to explore this part of the country by bike and they were both willing to come! It was awesome to see familiar faces of family after being away for so long.  

Downtown Split.

Downtown Split.

Early May is the very start of the main tourist season in Dalmatia, so it was still a bit chilly, and a lot less crowded most days. For biking, that was perfect! 

We visited three islands off the coast: Brac, Hvar, and Korcula, and then finished up in the city of Dubrovnik. 

All three islands were charming. They had little towns with white limestone buildings, tons of small individually owned grape vines (and lots of wine), and a lot of hills. Yep, the biking was not easy. Luckily, the views made it totally worth it. I've never seen ocean that color before - it was amazing!

I couldn't narrow down my photos quite enough, so here are a few too many of the sights along the way. 

Walking in the old walled city of Dubrovnik.

Walking in the old walled city of Dubrovnik.

We finished up in Dubrovnik (famous these days for being the filming location of King's Landing in Game of Thrones). I liked it a lot! The old walled city had a lot of charm and didn't feel overly packed with tourists, probably because it was so early in the season. 

I can't get over how blue the water is! The color combination is brilliant

I can't get over how blue the water is! The color combination is brilliant

Aside from all the sightseeing and beauty, we learned a lot about the history of this country from our biking tour guides. As expected, Croatia's path to its current status was long and extremely complicated. It was especially fascinating and upsetting to learn about the war that destroyed a lot of the area in the early 1990's. Croatia had been part of Yugoslavia, but as it fell apart, there was fighting and shelling in a lot of the country. You can still see remnants of the damage in Dubrovnik.

 

So that was Croatia. Now, on to ICELAND, the last country on our trip.