Three days in Prague (Or “our hoo-haa in Praha” if you’re Heath)

Prague is a fairy tale of a city, if not an idiosyncratic one.

First, I’d categorize Prague as perhaps the most claustrophobia-inducing city in all of Europe, at least in my experience. Prague’s old town is chock-full of bone monsters. (That’s Clickhole’s sardonic terminology for “people.”)  Really though, the tourist headcount here is unrivaled—even by the crowds at New York’s Times Square or at Orlando’s bouquet of theme parks. Perhaps the human population seems so dense because of the close proximity of all the town’s biggest tourist attractions to one another. Maybe too, it’s the narrowness of the streets. It could also very well be attributed to the fact that we chose to visit at the peak of tourist season, but nevertheless, expect to battle your way through a current of slow walkers, pan handlers, and backpack toters when you visit Prague.

I don’t bring this up to in anyway hint that Prague is a city to be passed over on any European vacays that might be in your future. On the contrary, it’s a delightful destination where they deeply value Pilsner beers, bacon stuffed dumplings, breathtaking city views and a perplexingly popular astronomical clock.

Let’s start with the clock, as it’s where Heath and I pretty much began our foray into Prague’s Old Town. If you have never heard of Prague’s 15th century astronomical clock, allow me to enlighten you. It starts with a very novel concept: it chimes every hour on the hour. I know, it sounds…absurd, unfathomable, outrageous? But stay with me. There are also little figurines that, when the clock chimes, follow a mechanical track in a circle until the chiming stops. It’s the stuff of black magic, I say. This enchanting ritual lures people from all over the world who marvel at the clock’s mysterious wonder.

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How the clock came to be Prague’s unofficial mascot I’m sure I don’t know, but people go apeshit for this thing. What’s even more frustrating is how crowds gather in unbelievable masses beneath the clock before the top of the hour to witness the “miracle” in person, only to obstruct their view by holding their cell phone cameras in front of their face. Though, with so many distracted tourists gathered in such close proximity with arms raised overhead, it does make for a petty thief’s dream. If I were the editor of Pick-Pocket Monthly, I would most definitely feature Prague’s Astronomical Clock in the “10 Places to Pick Pockets Before You Die” issue. One thing I will say for the clock, however, is the tower offers up some of the best views of the city. That experience is one not to be missed.

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The food in Prague is another topic on which I’d like to share a few thoughts. Now of course, it stands to reason that any urban center is going to have diverse offerings that hail from all regions of the globe, but where I want to focus my efforts is on what I  understand to be traditional (yet modern) Czech cuisine. Suffice it to say, vegetarians ought to take heed in the Czech Republic Capital.  In my limited experience, I encountered virtually the same menu at every Czech-oriented eating establishment: dumplings, bread, meat, cabbage and, if you’re lucky, goulash. Now, was there variety among the dumplings and breads and meats and cabbages? Oh sure. Sometimes the dumplings were potato, sometimes bacon. Meats, well, the sky is really the limit. Pork knuckle? Pork shoulder? Pork head? It it’s pork, they have most definitely got it. Cabbage comes both in red and white, though it is most definitely always stewed and sweetened. This might sound like I was not enthused with this steady stream of meat and potatoes, but that would not be the case. It’s rare I get to dive headfirst into a never-ending pool of dense carbohydrates, rich proteins, and syrupy vegetables. So I quite enjoyed this deviation from the typical shrimp taco or chicken sandwich that I’m known to plop onto my plate. Though, you’d be correct in assuming I didn’t experience many hungry evenings in Prague.

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Bonemonsters, superfluous meat plates and clockster-f@#ks aside, Prague is right up my alley. It’s one of the only major European centers not destroyed in WWII or culturally annihilated by the subsequent oppressive communist regime. What I’m trying to say is, Prague has a lot of experience just being Prague. And it seems comfortable in its own, cobblestone-covered skin.

Granted, most of our experience there was limited to 3 days in a tourist-heavy area, but I’d still say it’s a delicious city that celebrates the old without bathing in nostalgia, and welcomes the new without moving too rapidly toward a complete industrial overhaul. Blackening castles tower over street musicians who serenade tourists with Bob Dylan covers. And Pilsner beers can be ingested by mug or by bathtub (we tried both). The red roofs and spires of the skyline can be viewed from modern TV towers or park-laden bluffs. And absurd black light theaters are positioned next to classical churches, while lights from modern, high end fashion retail shops illuminate centuries old Jewish cemeteries down the road. But the juxtaposition doesn’t feel dichotomous. On the contrary, it’s harmonious.

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Fun Fact: the blackening of the exterior is a natural process the stone goes through overtime and there have been extensive renovation efforts where a natural chemical is applied to the stone to keep it the sandy yellow color. It’s a controversial practice in Prague where some argue the castle should age naturally

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Watching the sunset from a Prague biergarten.

Watching the sunset from a Prague biergarten.

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These are mostly observations taken while in Prague’s downtown, but as is true in any well-loved community, off the tourist-beaten path, there is a lot to appreciate about Prague and its people.

During our stay in Prague, we took up residency with Tomas and his equally blonde female counterpart in their first floor airbnb apartment in a idyllic Hradčanská neighborhood. Upon arriving, Tomas made a point to show us where we were, where the main tourist sights were, and recommended places we should see that aren’t also recommended to 234228394753986436 other people by way of Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, what have you. As a result, we wound up spending a few of our mornings and evenings wrapped in the warm cloak of the easy-going and cordial keepers of the Cafe Calma, Indian by Nature, and Restaurace U veverky.

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View of a fountain from a morning coffee at Cafe Calma. Note: If you Where’s Waldo the fountain scene, you’ll notice both homeless men taking their daily bath and a toddler on the waters edge taking her daily toddle.

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We were on the first floor of this slightly pink, slightly art deco building.

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Well, for lack of a more eloquent synopsis, here ends my Prague Blague.


Berlin: Teil eins

Berlin is teaming with street-front patios, confusing traffic signs, gratuitous graffiti and swiftly moving bike paths. Of course, I knew virtually none of this before landing in Germany’s vibrant capital and experiencing it myself.

It’s sort of funny to think about the series of events that led Heath and I to Europe. The whole trip was practically born from a drunken happy hour (as if there is any other kind) with my female soul mate Melissa. She and hubby Nick were about to depart for a 5-month bike tour through the European country side before relocating permanently to Seattle. Rather than lament her loss, Melissa and I instead tipsily planned a reunion for the four of us in Germany. I promptly returned home and recounted our plan back to Heath. Not for approval, mind you– we don’t have that kind of relationship–but for the sake of healthy discussion. For what it’s worth, Heath’s and my original plan for summer travel was to do a relatively cheap backpacking excursion in the Rockies so that we could save the big bucks for some much needed electrical upgrades. Sexy, I know, but as many homeowners know, when you’re on a budget it’s touch sometimes to relinquish your liquid assets on a plane ticket over something with some actual ROI. After crunching the numbers and recounting our promise to ourselves that we wouldn’t start our human family until we’d traveled together to 3 continents, we both decided now was as good a time as any to cross the pond and butcher a few languages. A few clicks through priceline.com later, an itinerary to and from Berlin was sitting in my inbox. A few Rick Steves episodes after that, a course was charted and we had a regular old European road trip on our hands.

We got to Berlin on a Friday morning a little after 7 o clock. Despite a raging case of jet lag, we walked from our Hauptbonhof adjacent hotel to Brandenburg Gate so Heath could take his requisite history teacher selfie, and so we could begin our stroll down Unter den Linden. Apparently, the popular promenade was once shaded by centuries old Linden trees, which Hitler had removed during his burgeoning political career and replaced with German flags. The uproar from Berliners was so great that the flags were removed and the trees replanted. Interesting priorities there, pre World War II Germany. Normally, the boulevard is teaming with tourists and ritzy cafe patrons, but we were there before most shops had opened and had nearly the entire boulevard to explore by ourselves.

We walked passed Hotel Adlon (of Michalel Jackson baby-dangling fame), Humboldt University (where academic legends like Albert Einstein have taught), a statue of Frederick the Great (rumored lover or famed French philosopher Voltaire), and a handful of kitsch Ampelmännchen souvenir shops before arriving at Museum Island.

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Heath in front of Brandenburg Gate

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A growing Berlin skyline

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Museum Island is a great part of town, home to five internationally renowned museums like the National Gallery, the Bode Museum and others. Despite a mean case of jet lag setting in and our traveler’s high adrenaline increasingly wearing off, we spent the 16 Euro admission to pass through the German History Museum. The museum beautifully chronicles the region’s history from roughly the middle ages to present. We circled the collection through WWII before finally succumbing to our jet lag and heading back toward the hotel, by way of one quick stop for a taste of currywurst.

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Heath gets his Napoleon on.

 

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Portrait of Lady Victory. Her statue originally sat atop Brandenburg gate and she was known as the Goddess of Peace until Napoleon conquered the city in 1806. Then the statue was taken to Paris before being returned in 1814, after Napoleon’s defeat, where her olive wreath was replaced with an iron cross and she was renamed Lady Victory by the Prussians.

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Currywurst is a traditional Berlin street food and is actually not very good at all. An acquired taste, perhaps.

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Berlin is growing at an incredible rate that has made it difficult for infrastructure to keep up. These above ground water pipes cascade the city landscape. I rather liked their colorful presence, as it had an imaginative Lego-like quality.

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View of the train station from our hotel. Great for incognito people watching.

A long nap and much-needed shower later, we walked to nearby Zollpackhof Biergarten for libations and grilled meats. Beer and patio lovers we are, the Berlin beer scene is one I would very much like to reproduce in America. Austin has a few biergarten imitations (Bangers, Scholz) but none that capture the laid back atmosphere of the German gartens. You order at the counter, choose your own seat, and enjoy the environment without interruption or pressure to be hasty. It’s worth noting that unlike Texas’ outdoor atmospheres, Berlin’s biergartens are free of mosquitoes, and the temperature maxes out at comfortable 85 degrees: warm enough to enjoy a cold one, but not so hot that you’re patting your arm pits down with paper napkins.

We spent a few healthy hours here talking about relationships and conspiring about life. Around 11, we departed from our beer-drenched den of contemplation and headed to Tiergarten–Berlin’s Central Park–for a midnight stroll.

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We left Berlin in the morning, only to return a week later.

Next up: Dresden, Prague and Bone Church.

 

 


Bon Voyage

It’s no secret it has been all quiet on the doodle house front as of late. Today, I’m happy to announce it is in part because most of our DIY dollars have been reserved for….

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We depart tomorrow for a two-week trip to Central Europe–a first for both the mister and myself. We fly in and out of Germany, with side trips planned for Prague, Vienna and the Salzburg lake district, all before concluding our trip with a 4-day Berlin bender with our buddies Nick and Melissa.

We’ll be sure to tell you all about it. Prost!


Shelf Life

It’s funny how there are some plans you stew and stew over before putting them into action, while others seem to be executed nearly immediately. The latter was the case for my most recent DIY–installing a set of shelves in the corner of our office. A routine Saturday browsing of the internets led me to stumble across a photo of an ingenious design for wall mounted display shelves that I felt compelled to emulate post haste.

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Normally, I think it’s best to leave corners open and free of clutter, but there is so much I love about this design from A Home West. I think it’s a super way to display the artifacts that help define us while still maximizing storage capacity. And since storage has always been an issue for Heath and myself–I’m a bit of an impulse buyer, Heath’s got a smidge of hoarder in him–this solution seemed ideal for both storing Heath’s collection of history books and my random assortment of knick knacks. I don’t exaggerate when I say fewer than 10 minutes passed from the moment I stumbled across this clever home remedy and when I departed to Home Depot for supplies. A couple of hours later, the office was rejuvenated.

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It turned out to be an incredibly simple, fast, and affordable way to freshen up a neglected space. We already had the wood from an old project Heath and I worked on at our last house, which, coincidentally, was also one we embarked on to create storage in our old office. So the only real cost was the hardware:

  • 20 1/2-inch wood screws (four for each shelf)
  • 10 L-shaped brackets
  • 20 washers
  • 20 metal anchor screws
  • 20 3-inch wall screws
  • Black spray paint

That was it! I think I spent something like $34 total and a Saturday afternoon to see the transformation through to fruition. I still need to stain the edges of the shelves, and I’ll admit, I kind of miss my map wall, but my lust for this new unit is keeping me pretty satisfied.

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May flowers

Not to be self congratulatory or anything, but Heath and I are basically American heroes for making good on our promise to the garden to give it some much needed TLC.  Austin’s been gifted with a pretty spectacular spring season, which made it nearly impossible for us not to get our hands dirty these past couple months beautifying the grounds of House Doodle. Veggies have been planted, bottle trees erected, new fences built—a productive spring season indeed.

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The bathroom reveal

Our unplanned bathroom renovation has come to a close and I’m thrilled with how it turned out–not only from a design perspective but by how quickly the whole thing came together (despite my month lag in posting). We had always figured we’d get around to doing a reno ourselves at some point, but truth be told I’m grateful for our little pipe bursting fiasco because the pros got it done faster, cheaper and better than we ever could have. It’s just like the bible says: there’s a time for everything– a time for DIY and a time for LOPDIFY–Letting Other People Do It For You.

Previously, on the doodle house…

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The contractors got in and out in just over a week (though the week living in our house without a working toilet was not one of my favorites) and did a masterful job. The final product is not too far off from the first-and-only mood board I created a few months back when I first started day dreaming about a restroom redux, though their are some key differences between the vision and the reality.

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What stayed from the original plan?

Hexagonal tiles: I clung tight to my original plan to use hexagonal tiles on the floor. I’ve always thought it was a classic and clean look but still had plenty of character and dimension.  I also like how they fit in with the era of the house and appeal to my tendency to gravitate toward anything with an entrancing repetitive pattern (see stencil wall). No, I never deviated from wanting those in any bathroom renovation we would undergo. There’s no denying, that look is pretty dope.

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white hexagonal tiles

Blue and white color scheme: I love all shades of blue (especially anything in the teal/turquoise family, as is evident by the nagging urge I experience to paint everything from tables, to dressers, to walls in one shade or the other) and I wanted to bring it into the bathroom as well, though initially, my vision was for it to come through mostly via accessories–a variation, I’ll note, I had no qualms with. The wall color we chose? Ash blue by Valspar.

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Round mirror: Most everything else in the bathroom is angular, so I wanted to  invite some playful curvature to provide contrast to an otherwise predictable space. We got ours for $40 at Target.

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Wooden accents: In our kitchen, we try to blend modern design elements (counters, light fixtures, cabinet hardware) with things that are a little more true the home’s original design (knotty pine cabinets). I wanted to do the same in the bathroom–update the space, but without losing some of the warmth and richness that can come when you modernize. I figured incorporating some soft wood accents would help accomplish that. Our towel cabinet (Home Depot) gives a nod to our knotty pine kitchen but still has some of that sleekness that ties it into the rest of the bathroom and house. Though, to be honest, I’m still weighting whether or not it’s dimensions are right for our very small space. Though, I dare not try to make my own after our last DIY kerfuffle.

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Water/animal-themed art: I knew whatever art ended up in the bathroom I wanted to be water themed because, get it? Initially I thought about something with dogs, and then briefly considered this goofy otter pic from Etsy, but when we spotted this Grace Potter and the Nocturnals poster by LandLand at a renegade craft fair, it seemed like a winner. It had all the shades of blue I was after, featured water creatures (crawfish) and, you get cool points cuz it’s a band poster–a band we’ve seen before. High fives all around.

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What changed?

Wall tile: it was old, and the grout desperately needed to be redone, but  I was fond of the bathroom’s original celadon green tiles. Like blue, I’ve always also always been drawn to green, and since I’m a gal on a budget and not tremendously opposed to letting my retro hang out, I assumed if we updated the bathroom, the green tile would probably hold steady. Of course, once the experts came in and said the whole thing would have to be demolished, I started singing another tune. Because the space is so small, I opted not to replace the tile with something similar, but to go bright and understated. White subway tiles fit the mold and go oh-so-well with the white hexagonal flooring.

Shower curtain: I originally planned for white to try to keep the already small space from feeling too busy. But in the context of our white walls and floors, a white shower curtain made the space a bit boring, and that’s not in compliance with doodle house code. I briefly considered spending way too much on some of the perfectly marketed curtains on Anthropologie, but wound up spending only $10 at Marshall’s for a print that I think turned out to be perfect for the color, size and tone of the space.

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What makes me happy?

All of it!

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Let’s swatch–calming paint colors for a tiny bathroom

light blue paint colorsConfession: despite being a color enthusiast, I’m new to the paint swatch business. I have never tested a color on the wall against others before because, frankly, I’m impatient. Once I start flirting with a color, I want to seal the deal and make it mine as quickly as possible. This approach is not fail safe, and while I’ve had my fair share of victories, I’ve also ended up repainting both the living room and the office after feeling like I was being punched in the face by repugnant pigments. With our bathroom renovation I wanted to exhibit a little class, a little reserve, and really take my time choosing the best color for the small, poorly lit space. Not a novel concept, but the experience has been a revelation.

Since the rest of the house looks like what you would get if you crossed a peacock with a rainbow, I decided to do something muted, cool and calming for the bathroom. After picking out four appealing bluishgreyish colors, I hesitantly went where all sensible renovators have gone before, straight to the heart of Swatchington, USA.

In their containers the colors seemed nearly identical, but once they were on the wall, I realized how truly crucial the old paint-and-wait method is to seeing a design notion through to reality. On a broader canvas, struck by different angles of light, the colors took on their own personalities, with some rising to the top of my must-have list while others were knocked out of the running completely.

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The merit of this well-known and widely practiced technique is not rocket science, hell it’s not even 6th grade science, but this practice is something I will never skip over again.

And because I’ve spent my evenings collecting inspiring images to drive the direction of our bathroom, reno, I’ll subject you to the same. My pics for the best of blue/grey bathrooms below…

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