Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Prague, Czech Republic : Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge is one of the things all the tour books got correct. Not a single recommended restaurant that we wanted to go to existed anymore so we spent most of the time stumbling upon restaurants for food. All of which were fantastic and cheap. If you want to go to Prague, worry not about food or food costs. You should however worry about crowds.

Prague is a vacation center for the world. At any point in time you will hear dozens of languages as you walk down the streets. In fact it felt like travelling to New York City in the 1800s. It was a melting pot of people.

One of the biggest tourist attractions in the city is the Charles Bridge.

It is absolutely beautiful and not to be missed. Standing on the bridge is like living history. The bridge is protected by three towers. This one was in Old Town, where we entered the bridge.

The bridge was first constructed in the 1300s by Kind Charles IV and finished in the early 15th century and was the only crossing of the Vlatva river until 1841 making it incredibly important for trade. This is a very large bridge but is for pedestrians only. And pedestrians use it! The bridge is usually packed with people bbut if you get there before 9 in the morning it looks like this:

Awesome right? There were probably only 20 people on the whole bridge. Were it not for getting there so early we wouldn't be able to get pictures like this:



This is definitely a must see location of Prague. And seeing it in the morning like it was all ours made it so much better.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Would you believe me if I said...

that I travelled to Europe for 10 days with only a carry on? And that I made my teenage son do the same? Well we did! The last thing I wanted to worry about was missing luggage. Especially since we were flying in and out of different airports I didn't want any luggage confusion so I limited all packing. I strongly recommend TIDE packets (which you can get anywhere in the travel size section) for underwear and emergencies but otherwise I'm all big on the layering.

This means that I can wear a sweater 3-4 times without worrying about it being nasty smelling because it never really touches me. I have enough t-shirts for underneath for each day, and I pack one pair of pants for every 3 days. This is why I prefer jeans. Jeans look great the second and third day as long as no catastrophic spill occurs. Many people like the packing by bundling and I'm all for that. I have a couple of the little rectangles that make packing easy, but the BEST thing I learned is to use up EVERY bit of space available. So underwear and socks go INSIDE shoes. That is a wasted space that many people leave empty. Every little nook and cranny of my suitcase is filled so that everything I need fits in one travel sized bag.

Now this can cause problems. I didn't think about the fact that the candy dish I bought for my mother in law was Czech crystal and therefore LEAD so it caused a bit of a stir in Paris. (Not in Berlin mind you where we first got on the plane, but in Paris). What was only slightly humiliating was the fact that I had stuffed dirty socks and underwear around the glass for safety and space. So the little man in Paris was not terribly thrilled about unwrapping my sons dirty underwear to check the glass, but heh, there you have it.

I tell people pull out everything you think you have to take. And divide it in two. In fact I took a pair of shoes I wore once and should ahve left at home. But I wore a dress to the orchestra in Prague and really didn't have any other shoes that would work. So to me it was worth it :)


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Prometheus had it easy

You want to know serious torture? If the government really wanted to break prisoners to get information they would send them on a trip with a teenager. Seriously the first day we would get a call back from them with all the information if we would just Please. Take. Back. The. Kid.

I love my son I really do. The biggest problem is that HE I JUST LIKE ME. Who wants to go on a trip with their unique faults wrapped in a snappy mouth and surly attitude? I do! I do!

Overall my trip with my eldest was fantastic. We had a tremendous tour with Karen Pastofski on the day of his birthday (but more on that later....much more) but other than that we toured and visited places completely on our own.

Which went a lot like this:
Wake Up.
Get on tram (or train).
Get Lost.
Buy stuff.
Get on tram (or train).
Go to bed.

So many people have asked how I enjoyed travelling with my son. It was a lot like living with him so while others may have wanted me to shove him in a trash can to shut him up I really did enjoy our trip. We had a lot of laughs. There was a point we were walking in Berlin and saw a Johnny Cash sign and both broke in to Fulsom Prison Blues at the exact same moment in the exact same moment in the song. He asked such thoughtful questions and made very telling observations that made the trip worth it. He didn't even complain too much when I got us locked out of the hotel in Prague, or got us lost (also in Prague...I wasn't at my best in Prague).

But I did come up with some ideas for others if you want to travel with a teenager.
1. Let them sit away from you sometimes. Do you really need to sit right next to each other? They aren't going anywhere. If you get on a train or tram, let them wander away and show their independence. As long as they know where to get off they will be fine.

2. Plan for half the days to be late at night so they can sleep in. Science tells us time and again that teenagers have different sleep patterns than adults. Respect that. They really can't help it and you will find a much happier teenager later if you just let the sleeping bears lie.

3. (If you are travelling for longer than 4 days) Have a day for doing nothing. I don't mean a day that you are travelling to another city. I mean really a day that you have nowhere to be and nothing to do. Everyone needs to recharge. My son found all the places to be and see very stressful (more than I would have imagined). So having one day to just lie around and wander the local area was really fun and relaxing.

4. (If you are in a safe city) Let them go off on their own. Our rule was if we got separated meet at the the hotel. One night he got hungry late so I let him run to Micky D's for a late burger and fries. Most European cities are very safe from any violence and if he or she is only carrying enough to cover a burger pickpocketing isn't the end of the world.

4a. If you do get separated on accident (Eldest decided he didn't like our meeting place in KaDeWe and went up a floor. Without telling me. Needless to say, we met at the hotel). So he had to find his way back. He learned quickly that the best place to find English speakers to help you in any city is in HOTELS. So tell your teenager that if they feel lost. Find the nearest hotel and ask for help.

4b. Buy a travel card with unlimited travel. This way if you do get separated they just need to hop on the nearest public transportation to get you to the hotel.

5. Let them choose restaurants every other day. If they want to eat at Micky D's let them. Once. This way you both can enjoy the local cuisine but they still feel like they have some control over the trip.

6. Let them talk to their friends. We got Internet access every few days and I made sure that some of that time Eldest was able to chat with his friends. Keep up to date on the happenings back home are important to you so they would be important to him or her too right? It's not a statement of how much they wish they were home partying with their friends (OK maybe a tiny bit it is), but more a psychological need to know they aren't forgotten.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

I could go on for some time about how the cities differ, but I wanted to really think through what made these cities similar. And in many cases these similarities are common throughout continental Europe. Regardless, these similarities made it comfortable travelling from one city to the next. And why I tell people all the time that if you have travelled to one European country don't freak out about another. Many of the customs are similar!

First off a small European Union Primer. The EU consists of 27 "states": Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. HOWEVER, not all of these states have adopted the Euro and still retain their original currency. Czech Republic is one of these countries. They still have koruna (crowns). To make things more confusing some countries use the Euro but AREN'T part of the EU (Switzerland for example).

So enough history what did I find was similar? Well these may not stick out for some and I'm sure there are tons more but the following three were enough different from the United States that I took notice.

1. Restaurants are for visiting and enjoying the meal. Service is relaxed (read slow as molasses in January). You MUST ask for your check or you will sit there for as long as you want. Also in the Czech Republic they will keep plunking down glasses of beer until you tell them to stop or ask for the bill. So learn quickly how to ask for the bill in continental Europe or your meal times will last longer than you thought!

For a type A American this actually gave me anxiety. Even when I KNEW they were waiting for me to ask, I was antsy wondering what was wrong (Had I been rude? Were they sick of Americans?) So take heart, travellers! It's not you. It's them. And you and they are doing nothing wrong!

2. Put the money down on the counter. Don't hand it to them. And they will give you your change on the counter. Don't reach for it. One would think this wouldn't be so attention garnering, but one woman jumped when my son reached for the change. LOL. there is always a little tray by the register. Use it.

Public Transportation is reliable and frankly preferable to walking. Both cities have tremendously punctual tram lines. Both have subways, but Prague's is less prevalent. Use the trams instead. Multi-day tickets in both cities cover the use of trams and trains in the city and Berlin's includes buses as well.

So these three stick out the most, but I'm sure there are more. For the most part the cities are so different. Prague was saved by war. Berlin was decimated. Prague is all about the past, the history. Berlin is about the now, and the future. Prague is relaxed and calm. Berlin is moving and brisk. Everyone has asked which one I like better and that is like asking if I have a favorite child (which by the way is NOT the oldest after this trip....KIDDING!). They are all different. They all have their own unique talents and opinions. And their own annoying behaviors. But all of them have a place in my heart....just like these two cities.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ich bin ein Berliner...and Chinese....and Greek

Coming to Germany after the Czech Republic is a refreshing change with respect to schedules and time. There is truly a clock on every street corner here (pictures to come). To get here from Prague we took a train and got a first class seat reservation...for a car that did not exist. Additionally this train was two hours late. We ended up sitting in second class with a delightful couple from The Netherlands for half the trip. Learned lots I will have to share.

The train from Prague terminated in Dresden. This was news. It was supposed to travel all the way to Berlin. So we got off train 1 onto train 2 which also was short 4 cars to find no seating. We ended up sitting with our luggage shoved between our legs in the restaurant car for the whole trip. Once we arrived in Berlin everything has gone smoothly except for the fact that these people either don't eat out at all or eat out early.

And by early I mean the restaurants are CLOSED at 8 pm. So we have been stuck eating Chinese food and Greek food for dinner the two nights we've been here. Don't get me wrong it all tastes great but I could eat this at home :) Mission today is a real German restaurant. Oh and shoppping at KaDeWe (which is also CLOSED on Sunday!)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sedlice- The Bone Church

The Middle Ages proved troublesome in many ways. All these wars and plagues were piling up the bodies right and left and filling churchyards. So what is a church to do? DECORATE! This is only a portion of the original number of bones, but over 40,000 people's remains are here in the church...decorating the interior...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

i was going to ask what else could go wrong but i didn't want to jinx nmyself!

So 1800 hotels filed bankruptcy and cancelled our reservations one week before our trip. At the top of my to do list when I get home is to file paperwork to get that money back. So I called to hotel direct and booked the nights woohoo!

Except that the idiot reservations person booked them for OCTOBER. Nice. but the people here saw that we had originally tried to get the correct dates and their people booked the wrong dates so we got a hotel for the price I was quoted. Soon I will give you another crazy moment in our trip.

Soon I will post my own video of Sedlec the Bone Church...hope the lighting is ok...no flash and OMG creepy!!
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