Beer in Bohemia 

The people in the Czech Republic consume the more beer per head than anyone else in the world, and the country has topped the per capita beer drinking table for 23 consecutive years! In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Czechs drank 142.4 litres per person, which is the equivalent of 250 pints – one every 35 hours! Read more here.

During our visit there, it was our duty, therefore, to contribute to national statistics and the delicious beers absolutely helped! We found that in Germany, there were fewer varieties of beer (weiss, dunkel, helles), all were light (around 5% ABV) and it was mostly about the quantity of beer (in liters!) consumed; read about the fun we had here! Almost all beer in the Czech Republic tasted like craft beer, with varied tastes, strengths, and we couldn’t get enough!

While all the beer we tasted was very good, according to us, the top 5 beers/breweries to try in the Czech Republic are:

Pilsner Urquell in Plzeň. Their traditional Pilsner, a blond lager, is very good, as are their darker, stronger beers- we tried Master (18°) which was yum!

Konrad and Hermann microbreweries. Our trip was perfectly timed to coincide with the Czech beer festival in Prague, a very lucky coincidence! As a result, we got to try a number of smaller microbreweries that might not have been possible otherwise. Konrad and Hermann were two that we only found at the festival and would definitely recommend both.

Kozel. More mainstream than the ones mentioned above, we found at least 4-5 different varieties of beer made by them and the few we tasted were delicious!

Bohemia regent. Also more mainstream, we got to try one of their craft brews, Lady vanilla, at the festival. It tasted like a very good cream ale, with a hint of lime, and now we really regret not having brought home any bottles!

Eggenberg brewery in Český Krumlov. Another famous brewery, this one truly deserves its good reputation! The restaurant has a nice ‘beer hall’ feel, their beers are really delicious and the food is tasty too! What more could one ask for?!

Na zdraví!!

2 days in Athens, Greece – fall in love with the ancient city!

Athens has always held a special allure, and we jumped at the opportunity to visit it!

Though we spent a week in Athens, the primary reason for the visit was work, so there were some evenings for play. Putting all the hours together we actually spent exploring the city, as is our theme, 48 hours in Athens might be sufficient to give a good taste of the city, though Athens, or Greece, will definitely leave you wanting much more time!

What blew us away right from the beginning was how old everything was! To be able to see and touch structures from 2000 and 1500 B.C. was absolutely amazing!

An approximate 2 day itinerary could be:

Day 1: Begin the day like the Athenians, with a frappe!


Take a walking tour. We went for the free walking tour organized by Athens Free Tour and enjoyed it. Unfortunately the rain decided to really come down right as we were beginning so the route was altered slightly to give us more shelter, but as in most cities, the walking tour was a great way to get a general idea of the city and figure out where things were. They have 2 tours everyday, one at 9.45am and the other at 5pm.

The tour starts from Hadrian’s arch, which is right outside the temple of Olympian Zeus, so if you can get there early, use the time to explore inside the Olympieion.

Tip: Buy the multi-site, combination ticket. When in Athens, you cannot not go into at least 3-4 of the ancient sites, if not all of them! This ticket, for 30 EUR allows entry into: Hadrian’s library, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, Kerameikos, Olympieion (temple of Olympian Zeus), and most importantly, the Acropolis and the North and South slopes, and it absolutely worth it.

Now that you have an approximate idea of where things are, if you can resist it, dont go to the Acropolis just yet.

Grab a gyro for lunch, on the go like the Athenians, or take some time to cool off and rest your feet before the next round of walking.

Use the rest of the day to explore inside Hadrian’s library and the Ancient Agora, and you still have the energy, the Roman Agora. Hadrian’s library is possibly the oldest library ever and some tablets that survived can still be seen! The Ancient Agora is a tiny city in itself and houses the best preserved Greek temple. We definitely recommend visiting both sites.

 

Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora
Stoa of Zeus in the Ancient Agora
Odeon of Agrippa at the Ancient Agora
Gate at Roman Agora
Tower of the Winds at Roman Agora
Hadrian’s Library
Stone tablets at Hadrian’s Library

Dinner can be in the Monastiraki area. The deeper into the alleys you go, the more local the restaurants feel, though there are tourists everywhere. Rule of thumb could be cost of moussaka (not more than 8-10EUR) or a glass or ouzo (not more than 2-4EUR). Read more about all the delicious food in Greece here.

Day 2: Acropolis!

Go to the Acropolis museum first. Its a great way to hear the story about the Acropolis and Parthenon and see the real pieces they have preserved. Start from the top floor and make your way down, it felt like a more complete story doing it this way. Also the floor is glass, so maybe dont wear a skirt!

Now that you know all the history and have seen what the separate pieces look like, time to ascend to the Parthenon. (The hill with all the structures is called the Acropolis and the big temple on the top is the Parthenon).

You can get official guided tours, we didn’t, but I’m sure the stories would’ve been quite interesting. Climb up the Acropolis, soak in the views and feel the awe of being surrounded by stones that are more than 2000 years old!

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

If you havent had your fill of views, try to get to the top of Lycabettus (also known as Lycabettos, Lykabettos or Lykavittos) in time for sunset. The light guilds all the ancient structures, making them look even more impressive than they already do!

With more time in the country, definitely try to visit one (or many) of the islands. We only had a couple of days, so chose to visit Hydra (Idra) which was closer to the mainland than most, and really enjoyed our time! Read more about it in the post on Idra (coming soon).

To us, Athens felt so much like home- the warmth of the people, the summer heat, the traffic, the organized chaos- we loved every minute!

2 days in Paris: Top 10 things to do

One trip is never enough to explore all of Paris, but if you have a time-crunch (like most of us do) these are the 10 must-dos in a 2 day trip. In no specific order:

1. Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur: Wander through the narrow alleys in Montmatre, admire the work of the street artists and finally ascend to the top and visit the basilica.


2. Louvre: Two days are barely enough to explore the entire museum, but even if you can only spare a morning, this museum cannot be missed. With only a few hours, carefully choose the areas of the museum that are most interesting to you, otherwise you can get caught up somewhere else, and before you know it, it’ll be time to leave.


3. Eiffel Tower: Opinions of the Eiffel tour seem to vary, with some people love it others think its a monstrosity. When in Paris though, it is impossible to miss it, you can see the tower from almost everywhere in the city. We really enjoyed our visit, including the ascent to the top and would recommend visiting it, by day and night!

4. Notre dame: Another iconic structure in Paris, this Gothic cathedral is awe inspiring! Take the time to admire the work on the doors, the gargoyles all around the structure and the magnificent insides.

5. Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées: While there is a similar looking arc in most French cities, this one is special and warrants a visit. Also getting to it could mean walking down the Champs-Élysées, giving you a chance to ogle at all the fancy designer stores in the city of fashion!

6. Moulin Rouge: Made more famous after the musical and film, it is still a Paris landmark. Not just the windmill theater, in which, if you are lucky enough, you should try and watch a show; but also the metro station outside! A replica of the station can be found in Montreal, Canada!

Since this is a list of must-dos, and sampling the local food and drink feature prominently on our list of things to do, here are some food recommendations!

7. Desserts at a local patisserie/boulangerie: While French desserts look beautiful, they might seem small and insubstantial to the untrained eye (like us). However, once eaten, they are just the right size to leave you satisfied and yet craving for a little more!

8. Eat Escargot: Not for the squeamish, but in butter and garlic, with basil pesto, they are actually quite tasty!


9. Drink the wine: When in France, how can you not!


10. Walk along the Seine and ice cream at Île Saint-Louis: Following the lead of a local friend, we found that this was a really fun experience. Berthillon is quite famous and though the line was long, it was totally worth it!


If you have had enough of the big city, take a day trip to Versailles. Read more about it here

 And at the end of it all, come back, with a little more time, to soak in more of the vibe in the city that styles itself as a global center for art, fashion, gastronomy and culture!

Czech Republic beyond Prague: Plzeň & Český Krumlov

While Prague is undoubtedly an important city to visit in the Czech Republic, smaller cities/towns around are also charming, have interesting sites and great food and beer!

We spent a day in Plzeň and another in Český Krumlov, and would definitely recommend both for day trips out of Prague.

Pilsen (Plzeň) is about 1.5 hours outside Prague and is home to the famous Pilsner beer, brewed by Pilsner Urquell Brewery, specializing in bottom-fermented beer since 1842. Being beer aficionados, it was impossible not to visit the city!

With about half a day in Pilsen, a few must-dos include:

Pilsner Urquell Brewery: visit the brewery to soak in the atmosphere! We did not take the tour, but if this is the first brewery you have visited, the tour is supposed to be quite informative and fun. Definitely go to the beer hall and drink a beer (or two)! We tried the regular Pilsner and a dark, stronger beer called Master. They were both delicious!

The brewery is connected to the town by a footbridge and clearly marked walking path, making is very convenient. Park in the brewery, and after a few beers wander into the town!

Pilsen has a small but pretty city center. It is famous for the colorful and highly decorated facades of the houses that line the street.

The cathedral of St. Bartholomew is an imposing Gothic church right in the main square. Probably established in 1295 it is home to the statue of the  “Madonna of Pilsen” which is considered to be a European masterpiece and the town’s most treasured artifact. A replica of the statue can also be found outside the church.

Pilsen is also where the third largest synagogue in the world can be found, the first two being the ones in Jerusalem and Hungary.

Having built up an appetite, feast on local specialties, washed down with delicious beer! Read more about the great Czech food we tried here.

We couldn’t squeeze it in, but a walking tour of the city will be a great way to get to know the place better and learn more about all the interesting stories!

Český Krumlov: After spending a few days in Prague, we drove to Český Krumlov. Although it is about 4 hours away, the route is very scenic, making the drive fun. 

Move over Shah Rukh Khan, there’s a new hero in town!

The city (or town) is picturesque and small enough that nothing is more than a 15 mins walk away. The center is also clearly signposted (the red and blue strips below) so its difficult to get lost.

Spend the time walking around and marveling at the views, which get better at every bend in the road!

Although not as large or imposing as the castle in Prague, the castle in Český Krumlov is pretty and steeped in history, so it is definitely worth paying visit to it.

Also, they have a real live bear in the moat outside!

The walk to the top is hard work, but the views make it worth the effort. Also the gardens are quite pretty!

Having thus built up a thirst (and an appetite) walk over the the Eggenberg brewery. They have delicious, refreshing beers, and the food is pretty good too!

As night falls in the city, the lights add to the beauty of the place. Do continue to wander even after dark- the starry sky and soft music played in the main square, make it a very romantic setting!

The great little apartment we found on Airbnb and our wonderful hosts definitely enhanced the experience! Check out the place we lived in here.

While visiting the big, well known cities is definitely a great experience, exploring smaller towns that are off the beaten path, makes it a more ‘real’, less touristy experience, giving the visitor a real feel for the place and the wonderful people living there!

Food Guide: Athens, Greece 

Like Italy, one of the highlights of our Greek trip was the food! Heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine, Greek food was really delicious and very affordable. Some of what we tried and would definitely recommend include (we ate a lot- this is a long but tasty post!):

For appetizers:

Greek salad: When in Greece, how can you not?! The vegetables are some of the freshest, the tomatoes are flavorful and the fresh feta is delicious!


Tzatziki: In the land of the best yogurt in the world, anything made with yogurt is delicious. Fresh tzatziki with warm bread could absolutely make a meal on its own.

Eggplant salad: Also made with yogurt, but this time with smoked eggplant- how can one go wrong!


Saganaki cheese: Pan-seared hard yellow Greek cheese, eaten with a drizzle of lemon, sounds as delicious and sinful as it tastes!


Kopanisti: Made with sharp tasting cheese from the Cycladic island of Tinos, with sun-dried tomatoes and yogurt, it had a strong taste- not necessarily for all palettes, but we really liked it, especially washed down with ice cold Ouzo!

Spinach and cheese roll: Inspired from Turkish food, it also made for a great breakfast.

Given a chance to go to one of the islands, sea food starters are:

Seafood soup/stew: Made with a tiny local fish (with an unpronounceable name) it was tasty, heartening and extremely comforting.

Fried calamari: Yes, you can get them anywhere in the world, but how often can you eat them right next to where they were caught?!

For mains:

Gyro: Almost ubiquitously available, this meat and salad wrap, with fries, slathered in delicious sauce is messy, filling and delicious! We even took a couple to the airport for one last taste of Greece before we left.



Souvlaki: Also another form of kebab, this time on a skewer, it is normally served with fries, salad, and warm fresh pita bread. With the spicy sauce or tzatziki, it is finger licking good.

Kebab with yogurt: With pita at the bottom, kebabs and vegs in the middle, covered with yogurt and spicy tomato sauce, we really licked the platter clean!

Moussaka: One of the better known Greek dishes, the moussaka in Greece was probably the best we’ve ever tasted.

Saffron risotto: Saffron from Greece is world-renowned and when added to risotto, definitely made the dish something special.

Lamb shank: The Greeks pride themselves on eating only the most tender, well cooked meat- and true to form, the meat was delicious, juicy and literally fell off the bone!

And then the sea food…..

Lobster with spaghetti: A delicacy, sold in most restaurants by the weight, we were lucky enough to have it cooked for us in a Greek friend’s house, and oh was it d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s! Definitely a must have! Even if it isnt home-made, especially for you..

Hydra Octopus: Made specially on the island of Hydra (Idra), the olive oil and tomato sauce, along with the juicy octopus, come together really well!

Saganaki mussels: We tried this in Hydra, but might be available wherever there are mussels. Made with feta cheese, pump mussels and butter- what’s there not to love!

And finally, for dessert:

Greek yogurt with thyme honey: Simple and delicious, I could’ve eaten it for every meal! The yogurt is thick and creamy and thyme honey (honey from bees who visit only thyme flowers) has just the right amount of sweetness… ah heavenly!

Baklava: Also influenced by the long Turkish rule, they have baklava with pistachios, almonds, walnuts and even chocolate!

Orange cake: Made from Seville oranges, that are too bitter to eaten on their own, and sweetened with honey, this was oozing and moist and yummm!


Lemon coconut cake: We were offered it, on the house, in one of the restaurants and would definitely recommend ordering it! Tart and coconut-y, it made for a very interesting dessert.


Fresh fruits: They are everywhere, gorgeous to look at, and so cheap! Peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cherries.. all for only about 1 EUR per kilo! I wish I could’ve brought some back with me!

Drinks (of course):

Frappe: Reading about the frappe culture, is nothing compared to actually seeing it- everyone drinks frappes, all the time! Its a great way to consume coffee- unsweetened or sweetened if the coffee is too strong, iced to beat the heat, it can keep you going all day long!


Tsipouro: Greek brandy, the clear version is drunk before a meal as an aperitif and the aged smoky kind is drunk after meals.

Ouzo: Also drunk as an aperitif, tsipouro with anise came to be called ouzo. It was once called “a substitute for absinthe without the wormwood”. Clear in the bottle, it turns milky white when mixed with water.

Most locals will warn you to be careful when drinking ouzo, and they always recommend drinking it with food. It is generally considered poor form to drink ouzo ‘dry hammer’ “ξεροσφύρι”, xerosfýri, an idiomatic expression that means ‘drinking alcohol without eating anything’ in Greece. This is because, the sugar in ouzo delays absorption of alcohol in the stomach, making the drinker believe that s/he can drink more without feeling tipsy. Then the cumulative effect of ethanol appears and the drinker becomes inebriated rather quickly!

Go to Greece and eat! καλή όρεξη

2 days in Dubrovnik- Game of Thrones and the old city

Croatia had been on our travel list for many years. But it wasn’t until Game of Thrones came along that it really bubbled up to the top. Dubrovnik, famous for being Kings Landing, is as beautiful as you would expect.

With 2 days in Dubrovnik, the 2 things we recommend are the Game of Thrones tour and walking along the old city walls, of course well lubricated with local food and drink, and interspersed with some beach time!

We spent our first day on the Game of Thrones walking tour. It may sound tacky but it’s a must do if you are a fan of the show and also a great way to get some local stories of the show and the city.
We started at Black Water Bay – where the battle was filmed and saw the area where all the bastards were purged in Kings Landing.


Across from the famous walled city of Dubrovnik is the Lovrijenac fort or St. Lawrence Fortress. The fort is built to withstand attack from the seas and the land, with 39 feet thick walls and is often called Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar. Two drawbridges lead to the fort and above the gate there is an inscription Non Bene Pro Toto Libertas Venditur Auro (Freedom is not to be sold for all the treasures in the world). A lot of scenes from Game of Thrones were shot in here- the Dog saving Sansa from being raped, Joffrey’s name day.

The fort also offered great views of the city and played an important part in the (real) history of Dubrovnik and its many sieges, right up to 1991, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, when the city was under siege for 7 months!

Then we walked into the main city. It still has a drawbridge to limit how many people enter and of course, was another important site in King’s Landing.

This gave us a good idea of the layout of the city and whetted our appetites to walk on the old city walls the next day. The city belongs to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites and has been maintained to retain its old charm. Walking on the walls provided a panoramic views in all directions and was definitely worth the time and effort.

2.JPGWith the close proximity to the water, how could any visit be complete without some beach time!

3.JPGDelicious local wine and fresh sea food was the icing on the cake!

1.JPG

Food Guide for the Czech Republic 

When thinking of the Czech Republic, while beer would probably be one of the first thoughts, food would possibly not feature on the list. However, for us, food is an important way to better learn about a new city or country, so doubtless, our explorations of the Czech Republic included culinary adventures!

Meat, especially beef formed a major part of Czech food (sorry veggies, this post is quite meat-heavy). Some of the food we sampled, and quite liked, included:

Goulash: Available in almost all restaurants (especially those catering to tourists) goulash is like a spicy beef stew with a thick gravy. Originally from Hungary, it has comfortably integrated itself into Czech cuisine. We had it served with dumplings, which were bland and unsalted when eaten plain, but served very well to mop up the last of the gravy!

Beef tartar: One of our first forays into the world of raw beef, and oh was it worth it! We were asked whether we wanted to mix the meat, eggs and spices ourselves or wanted it done in the kitchen- fortunately we chose the latter, and recommend that you should too! As a part of our preparations we had come across a food blog that very rightly said- why should you do the job you’re paying the chefs to do?! When served like the photo below, the way to eat it is: rub the clove of garlic on the toast- it is crisp enough that it serves as sandpaper and gets nicely coated, then slather on the meat and dig in!

We’re still hunting for tasty and affordable beef tartar outside the Czech Republic!

Stuffed dumplings: Coming from the bay area, we were used to stuffed dumplings being a part of dimsum, not European food, so this came as quite a surprise. These were stuffed with pork, and dipped in mustard, they were delicious! Move over XLB, there’s a new dumpling we like!

Soups: Apparently hearty soups also feature often on traditional Czech menus. In the harsh winters, they can be very heartening. We tried a pea and bacon soup and a potato soup in a bread bowl, both were tasty and comforting!

Fried cheese: What’s better than a tasty cheese, the fried version of the same cheese! Breaded and fried, it was sinful and yum 🙂 Apparently it makes a great late night snack after an evening of drinking, and we can completely understand why!

Untitled.png

And for dessert, Trdelnik. It is made by spirally winding dough on a spindle and slowly roasting it over hot coals. The fragrance of the cooking trdelnik is hard to miss and harder to resist! Once cooked through, it is covered with sugar (powdered or granulated, either works as well) and can be eaten plain, filled with molten chocolate or ice cream. We tried one with ice cream and another with chocolate, and they were both absolutely delicious! (my mouth is watering at the remembered taste, as I write this post).


Of course, no Czech meal is complete without copious amounts of beer, but there is so much to say about the beer, that we have a separate post about it!

2 days on the Amalfi Coast

From Florence, we headed south to continue our Italian adventure. Being brave, we rented a car a drove from Florence, through Naples all the way to Sorrento.

A word of caution: for those used to driving in the US or in most of the other parts of Europe, the streets of southern Italy may not be for you. Traffic rules don’t always apply, people will cut in front of you, there is minimal lane discipline- though as long as you keep your cool and remain brave, you should be fine!

We broke journey in Pompeii to explore the city, read more about it in our post about one of Europe’s most compelling archaeological sites.

Pompeii to Sorrento was a very scenic drive, offering gorgeous views of the Italian coast. Be prepared for windy, single-lane roads, which provide the perfect excuse to drive slowly and soak up the views! Definitely recommend it- as long as you dont have a deadline to get anywhere.

With 2 days to spend along the Amalfi Coast here’s what we would recommend: (for what to eat while here, check out our post here)

Day 1: Day trip to Capri

Ferries ply to and from Capri fairly frequently from Sorrento harbor, as well as from Positano and Amalfi. Sorrento to Capri took 30 mins and offered gorgeous views of the majestic Mount Vesuvius.

Street art in Sorrento city center
Sorrento harbour
Capri!

 

On Capri, boat trips to the blue grotto are plentiful, and as touristy and unappealing as they might appear, they are worth the time, especially if the blue grotto is open to visitors. We werent as lucky, the tides werent in our favor, though the trip around the island was very scenic and fun in itself.

The green grotto
Beautiful corals
Impressive stalactites
The dramatic Faraglioni (the three towering rocks)

 

If the waters look tempting- go for a swim! How often do you get a private (almost) beach with a view like that 🙂

Besides the port of Capri, which is bustling and busy, the peak of Monte Solaro offers great views of the island. You can get to it by walking up, there are fairly clearly marked steps  that take you all the way up. It is a tiring climb in the sun, but the views make it worth the effort! You can also get to it by chairlift from Marina Grande. Piazza Umberto offers plenty of opportunities to slake the thirst developed on the climb up!

With the long summer days, there is enough time and daylight to walk around Sorrento city center even after the boat back from Capri. The city has two main streets, lined with restaurants, bars and lemon shops!


Day 2: Drive along the coast, Positano & Amalfi

If you have a car, the drive from Sorrento all along the coast, through the small coastal towns, including Positano and Amalfi should definitely be done. With no car, buses run between the towns and also use the coastal road, so offer the same views, without the anxiety!

Positano: The town has more stairs than streets, so be prepared! It is a quaint little town, so do spend the 1-2 hours wandering around. If its warm, perhaps even go for a short swim!

The Grotto delo Smeraldo (Emerald grotto) can be another pit stop. Between Positano and Amalfi, you could get to it either by road or by boat from Positano or Amalfi. Worth a quick stop, especially if you havent been inside the blue grotto, it is also cheaper than the blue grotto and access to it doesnt depend on the tides.

Amalfi: While only 20km away from Positano, driving to Amalfi takes about 45 mins. Amalfi was bigger than Positano, but no less quaint. Also since the sun had finally come up, it was the much awaited beach stop! The restaurants that line the beach look touristy and expensive, but are not! For 20EUR, we had a bottle of wine and a meal for two, and access to a private beach, and beach chairs! Worth it, we would say!

If you can manage it, take the boat back to Sorrento. Driving back will take you along the same roads with their ocean views, but the boat provides a whole new vantage point and the towns perched precariously on the hills, make for great sights.


While, as with most places, there is enough to do for a week along the Amalfi coast, two days were just about enough to give us a taste of what the place had to offer and leave us wanting more!

Oktoberfest!! And 48 hours in Munich, Germany 

Experiencing Oktoberfest had been on the to-do list for many years, considering how much we liked beer, how could we not attend the festival solely dedicated to it! Finally everything fell into place and in Sept. 2015, K, conveniently, had a work trip planned in Germany and Norwegian airlines had a great ticket to Oslo, so we gathered the troops and made it happen!

The extremely affordable Oakland-Oslo ticket, allowed 24 hours to explore Oslo, an added benefit.

Day 1 was spent exploring Munich and its sights, Marienplatz, the Deutsches museum, BMW museum and Olympic village, ending with dinner at the Viktualenmarket2.jpg
We warmed up for the next day with a few beers and kaiserschmarrn (a delicious dessert of caramelized pancake) at a local pub Nihar found and loved. He might’ve over-indulged just a little- the next day didn’t begin as well for him!1.jpg

The next day, we explored the Englischer Garten and soaked in some sunshine before an afternoon/evening of debauchery!

Finally, it was time! The train to Theresienwiese transported us to what felt like a city unto itself. Large beer tents, fair rides and games, food stalls and more people than would’ve been imagined. Needless to say, we were delighted! The evening saw us in the tents of Hacker Pschorr,  Spaten and Paulaner. Since we had no reservations anywhere, finding a table was often a challenge but we did get to know a few interesting people in the process, our and their friendliness, no doubt, fueled by all the beer.

With all the joy-rides and games stalls beckoning, a few of the braver souls rode the roller-coaster and claimed that they loved each of the 4 loops it took them on! Emma and Teja also shot targets and won a rose each.

The fest really ended for us, with an extremely satisfying meal from McDonald’s- probably the best we’ve ever had there!


While the next morning was not much fun, it was a great experience and highly recommended, if you’d like an evening of beer, music and some drunken singing along, lots of people, a roller-coaster ride and some more beer!

2 days in Prague, Czech Republic 

With nothing about the Czech Republic in our trusty ‘Western Europe’ Lonely Planet, Prague was one of the cities we were least prepared for!  A few things we learnt right away, and are good to keep in mind, include:

1. Currency: The Czech Repubic has its own currency, the Czech koruna. In May 2017, 24CZK = 1CHF, 23.5CZK = 1USD, 26CZK = 1EUR. A lot of transactions are cash only, so it is good to have some local money. Places do take Euros, but often offer a poor exchange rate, so avoid it as far as possible. The worst rate is at the border to buy the Vignette to enter the country- if possible definitely try to buy it in CZK!

2. Language: Czech sounded like, and probably is, a fairly difficult language. Most people do speak at least some English and German, so it isn’t too difficult to get around with no knowledge of the language. They do appreciate the effort though- ahoj (pronounced ahoy) is hello and goodbye, dike (pronounced dee-kay) is the slang for thank you, dobrý den (pronounced doe-bree-den) is good day, and prosím (pronounced pro-seem) is please.

3. Western/Central/Eastern Europe: I think instinctively one would assume that the Czech Republic is a part of Eastern Europe- it is not; Vienna, which is firmly a part of Western Europe is east of Prague! The locals say they are part of Central Europe, and definitely do not like to be called Eastern Europe.

With that out of the way, Prague is a fun and relaxed city, with cheap food, very cheap and really tasty beer and lots of interesting places to see! With 48 hours in the city, some of the key sights and things to do would include:

Old town square and the atomic clock: Steeped in history, with an interesting story at every corner, the old town square is a great place to admire the architecture (the Old Town Hall, the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Jan Hus memorial and St. Nicholas church), people-watch and gawk at the atomic clock as it strikes the hour. The food from the stalls smells delectable, but costs at least twice of what it does elsewhere!

Stroll along Charles Bridge: One of the iconic and famous bridges of Prague, it is probably one of the busiest places in the city. Walking across can be quite a challenge, but the statues along the bridge, the vendors with their handmade trinkets and the views along the Vltava river, make it well worth the effort.

Visit Prague castle: It is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m², believed to be founded in around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty. It feels like a tiny city in itself, and is worth the 3-4 hours it takes to walk around and soak it all in. No tickets are required to enter the castle grounds and gardens, so you can walk around the entire site for free, however individual sights- like the St. Vitus cathedral, Golden lane, etc, within the complex require their own tickets. It is supposedly the most visited site in Prague, so if the Charles bridge was a challenge, this is a lot busier! Tickets can be bought online and looking at the lengths of the queues, that would probably be recommended. We admired most of the structures from outside and watched the 12 noon changing of the guard- which is the bigger ceremony held once a day. Since the castle is perched up on a hill, the views of Prague from it are quite spectacular too!

Fun fact – the castle looks great lit up in the night when viewed from the city, interestingly, a large number of these lights were sponsored by the Rolling Stones! Apparently, when the band asked why the castle was dark during their visit to post war Czech Republic, they were informed by the then President that the country had no funds for frivolities. Ashamed but moved, the band sponsored the lights that stand even today!

Visit the Jewish neighborhood: Most of the Jewish neighborhoods of Prague were spared during World War II and a lot of the synagogues and buildings and in perfect condition. Horrifyingly, this was because when Hilter visited the city during the war, he fell in love with it and decided to preserve it, to be used after the war as a museum of the ‘extinct race’! The Spanish synagogue is ornate and stands at the site of probably the oldest synagogue in Prague. Confiscated properties of Czech Jewish communities were stored in the synagogue during World War II, which was handed over to Jewish Museum after the war and is now open to the public. The old-new synagogue, while small, is the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of twin-nave design and is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Pinkas synagogue commemorates about 78,000 Czech Jewish victims of the Shoah (holocaust) and has their names on the synagogue’s inner wall. It also houses an exhibition of pictures drawn by children in the concentration camp in Theresienstadt, taught by the renowned artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.

The clock in Hebrew above the old-new synagogue

 

Spanish synagogue
The Kafka statue in the garden outside the Spanish synagogue

 

Visit the second statue of Kafka: Located in the new town, getting to this statue is like traveling through a time machine, from the past to today! Located behind the modern, bustling Quadrio Shopping center, the work by David Černý’s complements his other statue entitled Metalmorphosis, installed in North Carolina.


Fred and Ginger (the Dancing House): This is a non-traditional, modern construction is a stark contrast to the ornate Gothic buildings in old town. Worth looking at just as an oddity!

Lennon wall: Once a normal wall, since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs. In a state of constant metamorphosis (there was a can of spray paint sitting at the wall inviting wannabe artists), with a musician playing Beatles songs, it lends a very Bohemian feel to the area!

As always, food and drink was a big part of our trip. Czech food was quite delicious and cheap, and the beer was really great! Widely available and actually cheaper than water, it complemented every meal, was ubiquitous, a great way to beat the heat and so tasty! Fun fact – The Czechs are the largest consumers of beer in the world, with an average of 142.4 – 156.9 liters (based on which study you read) per person per year! Well ahead of any other contender!

So naturally we had to do our part too, consuming an average of 1 liter per head per day 🙂 Read about it here.

Read about our experiments with and experiences of Czech food here.