Prague

Salut à tous et à toutes!

I’m sitting in my apartment wrapped in a million layers, alternating between mango juice and my favorite Smith tea as I have tragically caught a cold. Less tragically, I am using said cold as an excuse to write this blog instead of cleaning my bathroom!

Two Friday’s ago, I awoke to a text from one of my teachers saying that my classes with her on Monday were canceled and an email from another teacher saying my classes with her on Tuesday were also canceled. I then went to my Friday classes when another teacher informed me that my classes with him were also canceled on Monday. This left me with a five day weekend. When God blesses you with a five day weekend, you do not just sit around your apartment the whole time! After a quick internet search, I found that Prague was the cheapest destination for a next-day plane ticket. I’ve heard a ton of good things about Prague and so was excited to spend 5 days there!

I made quick arrangements, told my roommates I was off (they were so jealous), and made my way to Charles de Gaulle for the impromptu adventure.

Day 1:

I stayed in the Czech Inn (see what they did there?), which while a bit of a walk from the city center, was a great hostel! Felt more like a hotel than a hostel. After arriving and dumping my bags I began exploring the city. It took no time at all to discover that Easter in Prague is celebrated much the same as Christmas. According to a tour guide, the Czech Republic is ~75% atheist, but Easter is traditionally a very important holiday and the commercialized version remains. I loved this because there were several Easter markets throughout the city! It was like Christmas markets all over again, but less cold.

The Czech traditionally paint beautiful Easter eggs that are for sale. Each region has a different style, and there are more modern styles too. The markets also had quite a variety of street food. From sausages, to grilled cheese (not sandwich, just literally cheese on a George Foreman), beer was everywhere, there was this very strange fried piece of dough with garlic, ketchup, and cheese (Langoš), and the MOST delicious pastry called trdelnik. I continued eating through Wikipedia’s “List of Pancakes” but was severely disappointed by the potato pancakes here.

All I did Day 1 was wander and eat. (I did not eat all of these in day 1 though!!!!)

Day 2:

This was a Sunday. I went to an English-speaking church in the morning, which while nice, was dull. Afterwards, I went to a gym with a really cheap drop in rate (~3 euros) called Fitness Centrum. I then attempted to go the Gastronomy Museum but I think it is closed. Happily, it was right next to a Patagonia shop and I spent wayyyyy too much money on a great jacket that was a great price!!!

Famished from shopping, I had a hot chocolate/drinking chocolate from Choco Cafe which while delicious, reminded me in little time that I do have a small chocolate intolerance. Before heading home, I watched the little show on the 600 year old astronomical clock in the Historic Square. I had the BEST fresh pasta of my life that night at a restaurant called U Bulinu.

Day 3:

Day 3 consisted of the Castle District. I started at the monastery that is at the top of the hill. The monastery itself was not worth seeing but the view was great! I proceeded to Petrin Hill Tower, which is a mini Eiffel Tower with a view over Prague. There was a bit of line to get in, but it was a good view!

After a quick coffee break, I went to the castle grounds to see what was there. I timed it right for the changing of the guard, which was kind of cool. The castle area itself was fine. I wouldn’t go there again, but I was glad to have seen it. I got lucky with the sun and stained glass in the cathedral, which was nice. Afterwards, I was hungry and decided to have a late lunch. I had goulash! Does that not sound so Eastern European?! Goulash is meat cooked for a long time in a paprika broth served with a roll. It was pretty good. Everything in Prague is so cheap, that I would have been happy even if it was bad (6 euros for the plate and a beer at a sit down restaurant). Restaurant called U Knihovny. I ended the day by wandering around Letna Park, where there are some great views of the city.

Day 4:

My last full day in Prague started with a trip to the Mucha Museum. It was the perfect size, in and out in about 45 minutes. I then climbed the historic center tower, which had great views of the old town.

I then took a city tour. I don’t really care for the tours very often, but I was running out of other things to do. I was the only one there, so it was a private tour which was kind of cool. I was pretty tired after the tour, and ended up back in my hostel where I took a long nap. I’d been logging 12+ miles a day of walking plus my workouts… time to nap! There is a really well known vegetarian restaurant I went to for a late dinner, called Lehka Hlava. It was really good! I ended up sharing a table with two Americans my age since it is a pretty popular restaurant and I didn’t have a reservation. They were very cool people, I ended up going out with them after dinner, which was really fun! Nice way to break up a couple days alone. I stayed up way later than I had expected to and celebrated my last night in the way of the Czech – with Pilsner!

Day 5:

I spent the morning at the Museum of Communism in Prague before heading to the airport. It was an interesting and well done museum… just about the length I like (~1 hour). Worth going to and learning about how communism affected the day-to-day life of the Czech people.

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Flat Jane liked Prague too!

All in all, Prague was awesome! Cannot recommend it enough. It was definitely worth the sizable dent in my bank account 🙂

A bientôt,

Amy

Bruges

So after several weekends of catching up with people since Christmas, Netflix binges, and penny pinching, I decided it was time to go somewhere.

Well actually, I was thinking about going somewhere and told my roommates I was going somewhere and then one of them wanted to come, and then I was committed! The thing that is nice about Lille is that there are a fair number of nice day trips nearby (both within and outside of France). The two places I’ve had left on my list in Belgium are Bruges and Antwerp, and we ended up in Bruges.

Lets have a quick breakdown on how trains work. You have two types of trains, regional trains (slower, cheaper) and high speed trains (faster, $$$$$$$$$$). Also, each country has different train pricing schemes and discounts available. Some countries don’t offer any advantages for buying in advance, some have great discounts for group travel, some have weekend discounts, etc. etc. This is why if you are looking at booking train tickets between 2 countries, you should always check out the price from each country’s train company. SNCB, the train organization in Belgium, has tons more discounts available than SNCF, the French train organization (https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Promotions/Discounts).

Living in Lille is great because Gare Lille Flandres is serviced by both Belgian and French regional trains, so not only can I access the great discounts from Belgian Rails, but I also get to start with a cheaper, regional train rather than just high speed options.

Josephine and I arrived in Bruges around 11 and spent the next hour and a half just wandering the city. It is a fairly small city that has preserved and restored it’s medieval, Flemish, architecture and has some canals wandering through it. We really lucked out as it was a sunny, January day! We were able to see the majority of the city within an 90 minutes of walking.

After wandering, we wanted to find lunch and a bathroom. My #1 first thing I look for in a city is a soup restaurant. They are awesome… cheap, warm, nutritious + almost always with free wifi. So, we had lunch at Soup. It was good! The local beer in Bruges is a Zot, so I had soup, half a panini, and a Zot blonde.

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Souuuuuuuuuuuuuup! (€12)

There are a bunch of smaller museums in Bruges, so after lunch we visited two of them. Firstly was the Groeningemuseum, an art museum featuring local art and artists. It was pretty good… a smaller museum, but about the biggest size art museum I can actually enjoy. What was nice was that there was a range of time periods, styles, and techniques represented so it was more interesting than 465132165451 religious paintings from the 15th century.

After that, we ended up at the Bruges City Hall, the Stadhuis. This is a 2 room museum, but the main room is amazing! The building itself is centuries old, but the interior was redone around 1900 into a Gothic Hall, with murals depicting the history of the city (and explanations are provided). Fairly interesting and very striking!

The absolute best part of the day was after the Stadhuis. There was a gelato/waffle cart just across from it in Burg Square. OMG. OMG. So good. What I’ve learned about Belgian waffles:

  • there are 2 types, Bruxelles + Liège (Liège is 456116874 better than Bruxelles)
  • they can be served with toppings of all sorts. Maybe with Bruxelles waffles you would want toppings, but DO NOT be tempted to order toppings on Liège waffles! Plain, without even a sprinkle of powdered sugar is best
  • go somewhere with a line and good smell. Most waffle places make a bunch of waffles in advance, and then reheat them in the waffle iron as ordered. These are good, but not that good to be honest. AMAZING waffles will be found at places where they have either ran out of pre made waffles or only make them fresh to order. They are piping hot, the inside is not completely cooked, and the outside is sticky from the sugar. These places usually have a line because they aren’t pre cooked.
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Praise the Lord, oh my soul

The rest of the evening was spent popping into and out of some churches, eating frites, buying beer + chocolate, and window shopping. I went to Chez Vincent for the fries, but really not nearly as good as the friteries here where I live or in Ghent. Really they just tasted like normal fries. We got chocolate at Dumon, as I’ve heard it was good and was reasonably priced. We went to The Bottle Shop for the beers – they have tons of different varieties of beer and the appropriate glasses for each one.

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All in all, it was a good day 🙂

Things I wanted to do but didn’t:

  • visit The Folklore Museum, showing the historical Belgian way of life
  • tour De Halve Maan Brewery
  • climb the belfry
  • visit The Beer Museum
  • rent bikes and bike to the beach + in surrounding natural areas

A bientôt,

Amy

Cologne

I’m addicted to Christmas markets. Like addicted. And Germany is supposedly the place to be when it comes to Christmas markets.

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You know what one of the best things about living in Lille is? You can hop in a car and depending on the direction, you can go to five different countries within 3-4 hours (the Netherlands, Belgium, England, Luxembourg, and Germany). So whats a girl to do other than high tail it to Germany to partake in Christmas festivities?

Cologne has not one, but SEVEN Christmas markets scattered throughout the city. I only had one day there, because I went with a tour group that provided a there-and-back bus trip for only 35€ from Lille. This was great, because it meant we went straight there (whereas on the train, or a bus, you will have to make connections) and it was cheap! The one day limit did not prevent me from getting a lot done, however.

The number one priority of the day was obviously the Christmas markets, but Cologne also has the #1 most visited tourist attraction in Germany, the Cologne Cathedral, and several nice museums. I spent the morning getting a sense of the markets (i.e. deciding what to buy), then went to the cathedral and a museum, then returned to the best markets to buy some stuff and eat dinner.

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From the Cathedral market

Let me tell you, German Christmas markets are magic! The ones in Cologne had so many lights, decorations, good food, and general festive-ness.

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The Angel Market

Of the markets in Cologne, I went to 6 of the 7. I will say that the Christmas Avenue market was the worst of them all. My favorite was the St. Nicholas’ Village market, and then the Cologne Cathedral market, they had the best decor, vendors, and food.

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St. Nicholas’ Village market at night

So what exactly are Christmas markets all about? There are plenty of gifts to buy, but I think the most important part is the food! Drinks including coffee + hot chocolate (spiked or not), mulled wine, and beer (for Cologne, this means the local brew, Kolsch).  Food including local favorites and standard market finds. Various wursts (bratwurst, currywurst, etc.), crepes and waffles, roasted mushrooms, spatzle, kartoffelpuffer (a fried potatoe pancake served with applesauce), and flammkuchen (thin pizza type dish) can all be found.

The drinks all come in reusable mugs you have to pay a deposit on. Each market has a different mug, so I kept my favorite as a nice little souvenir. I also visited NINE different food booths in one day…. so many foods and so little time 😉

In terms of items that can be purchased, there are many different things being sold! Popular items were: wool/knitted clothes and accessories (great hats and gloves!), Christmas decorations and ornaments (especially nutcrackers), wooden goods, candles and candle holders, jewelry,  cookie cutters, toys, and regional food specialties.

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Outside of the markets, I toured the cathedral and the chocolate museum. Both were interesting and worth dealing with the crazy crowds! (Shoutout to Grandma May, at the chocolate museum, I watched them make the Lindt truffles you always give us!!)

All in all a great day, very scenic, very crowded, and very filling! I really want to visit Bavaria in southern Germany, and this just made me want to go more.

A bientôt,

Amy