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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spires

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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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prague fountain

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.


The Travel Chronicles- Part One

This week the high in Seattle is 81 degrees. In Portland it’s 84 and in Austin it’s 102. Is it any wonder we chose the Pacific Northwest as the optimal location in which to celebrate three years of matrimony? That and a love of IFC’s Portlandia is what got us to Washington and Oregon for our annual anniversary vacay (see San Francisco and Mexico City), but it’s not what made the trip a memorable one. Maybe I’ve been reading too much David Foster Wallace lately, but the account of our trip will have to come to you in multiple lengthy segments. Beginning with the following…

Day One
We arrived in Seattle around 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, but the sun hadn’t completely set yet, which meant we could observe the dimly lit cityscape as we rode the light rail to the hotel. We watched the sunset over Ranier Beach and Century Link Field. We were captivated by this city.

The first night in Seattle was a short one. It was 10 p.m. by the time we dropped our backpacks off at the hotel, and though we craved exploration of the city, we also craved a meal, which we hadn’t had since breakfast. A sushi place next door, which in an attempt to rid itself of a fish surplus, was offering half-priced sushi on most of the menu. At $3- and $4-a-roll we ate till our heart’s content before returning to the hotel. One night on the king size bed was all we got before packing our bags for two days in the northwest wilderness.

Day Two
We walked the three blocks from the hotel to the rental car office—a serendipitous location—and loaded our bags into the aqua-colored Ford Focus (whose headlights we would never master). It was a new day and the city looked different in the morning light: more fog, more people, more Starbucks locales than initially anticipated. Before hitting the highway to Olympic National Park, we had first to rent the sleeping bags and mattress pads to make our stint in the peninsula more comfortable. REI’s flagship store was just up the road, and having rented equipment from the chain before, seemed the easiest and cheapest bet for acquiring the necessary goods. But Heath’s face dropped from its normal aim-to-please state when the rental man told him there were no more mattress pads available.

“What do you want to do?” Heath asked me at hearing the news. I was stewing in my frustration, with REI and with Heath. What do I want to do? What does he want to do? Wasn’t he the one who just went on a 32-mile backpacking excursion in the primitive Weminuche Wilderness? Wasn’t he the camping expert? Shouldn’t he know what to do?!  “I don’t know, this was your rodeo.” I said, grinding my teeth that the one part of the trip I had designated to Heath had suddenly taken an unexpected turn. We were advised to go across the street to a smaller local camping outfitter who would be more likely to have mattress pads to rent. When we got there and it wasn’t open, and we had 15 minutes to kill until it would be. It was nearly 10 o’clock and I had wanted to be in Kalaloch, which was still 4 hours away, by noon. We were both quiet as we waited; Heath afraid to say anything that would stir my anger, and me afraid to let my frustration kill the mood of the experience. When the shop keep arrived, she regretfully offered up the same mattress pad status proposed by the REI rental man and referred us back across the street. By now I was childishly negative. Hell, why go camping at all? I thought, ready to let the first hiccup of the trip spoil my good time. Our backpacks were already stuffed, but Heath suggested we buy some affordable mattress pads at REI and mail them home if we couldn’t fit them in our bags by the end of the trip. Two new mattress pads would cost us in the neighborhood of $200, so I wasn’t jumping for joy at the idea. But this was our anniversary, and I was acting like a Betty Draper brat. It wasn’t Heath’s fault that I had scheduled us to go camping during July 4 weekend, which was probably one of the busiest in the country. I knew I should relent and go with the flow. We picked out a couple of mid-grade pads and got the hell out of there so we could leave the negativity behind us and start the fun. Or so we thought.

We drove up Highway 5 to Edmonds to take the ferry to Kingston. From there the plan was to drive around the North side of the park and down to the west coast where we had a site reserved at Kalaloch beach. By using the term “the plan was” you may have correctly surmised that that is not what happened. We got to Edmonds at 10:40 and zipped into a McDonald’s drive-thru to gobble up a quick breakfast before the long drive to the beach. I ordered some kind of McNuffin and Heath some kind of McBiscuit. The total was surprisingly high when we pulled up to The First Window to seal the deal, but we were too hungry and too on-edge to care. When we entered the ferry traffic line it all became clear. Heath turned and asked, “Doesn’t McDonald’s stop serving breakfast at 10:30?” (I smugly admit that I was ignorant to this fact because practically the only time I eat McDonalds is at airports and the breakfast-or-lunch conundrum has never presented itself.) He was right. In our aqua colored Ford Forcus (whose headlights we would never master) were three cheeseburgers that paired quite awkwardly with our two scalding hot coffees. I was disappointed, yes, but not too much so to not eat. I had glumly swallowed the last of my breakfast cheeseburger as I noticed the sign overhead that read “Ferry Traffic Two Hours.”

WHAT?! By now it was near 11 and we weren’t even out of the Seattle metro area and likely wouldn’t be till 1. I had wanted to get to Kalaloch by noon, which clearly wasn’t happening, as it would be another 4 ½ hours to get there once we did board the ferry.

I had started to let this get the best of me when I remembered what Mark told me when I started to let my Type A personality go overboard in India (Drink every time she references going to India.) “That’s the lesson of traveling in India. No matter how much planning you do ahead of time, you have to be able to roll with the punches.”  Mark’s right. I’ve got to chill. We aren’t even in India.  We are in an air-conditioned aqua Ford Focus (whose headlights we would never master) with a reserved campsite on the beach and three years of sublimely happy marriage to celebrate. It is a little first-world-problemy of me to get so defeated and agitated by what is, at it’s core, a non problem. I’ll put on my big girl pants, lose the ‘tude and celebrate where we are and why we are. The magic that is 3G internet found us an alternate sans ferry route through Olympia that would get us to Kaloloch in 3 1/2 hours, plenty of time to enjoy a beach picnic and the perfectly breezy July 4 weather.

We rolled into Kalaloch at 4:30 and stopped at the information center where a comically unenthused park ranger (or maybe just a counter worker, I’m not sure of the national park hierarchy) not-so-politely told us how to check in, which was essentially not to. We browsed the marked numbers along Camping Loop D for our campsite and in record speed set up the tent. We could hear the ocean roaring but still had yet to catch a glimpse of the sea. (Our campsite was on a hill and surrounded by lush trees and ferns, but the ocean was just out of view.) We followed the sounds of the rolling tide down to the beach where we were met by sprawling sands, cold ocean water and beach logs that were larger than telephone poles. Heath said the view was like a scene from The Land Before Time rolled out before us—ocean in the foreground with misty mountains in the periphery.

beachlogsFor a good 2 hours we relaxed by the water, which really wasn’t that “by the water” at all since this was low tide and the sandy beach spanned some 100 yards before your toes could touch the cold Pacific Ocean waves. We cartwheeled in the tide, ran through the shallow water, photographed the expansive coast, lay in the sand, read in the sun, watched kite flyers fly and dog walkers walk and devoured with every sense the surroundings where we found ourselves.

kalaloch heathkalaloch heathkelseybeach seagullDespite our breakfast hamburgers, hunger crept in and we returned to the campsite for requisite Independence Day hot dogs and to swap stories about the camping experiences we each had growing up, and agreeing without qualification that this trumped all those past childhood memories. Now, we had the glorious beach, and the unbelievably comfortable weather, and, most importantly, each other.

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kalalochcampingAfter stuffing ourselves with hot dogs and jalapeno-flavored kettle chips we wandered back to the water a final time to take in the sunset. There’s nothing about beach sunsets that I can describe more adequately than what’s already been said or experienced, so I won’t attempt to here; though, I will add the scenery was made more memorable by Bota Box (I have a deep, deep love for the bargain enjoyed by consuming boxed wine) and a pair of Pro-America, Franzia-drinking (fellow boxed-wine enthusiasts) military men who took it upon themselves to impressively carry a 250-pound log up to their campsite for the purpose of who-the-hell cares.

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That night, we watched in awe nature’s version of fireworks and fell asleep to the sounds of ocean waves. kalalochsunsetIn the morning we drove to the rainforest.


And with that, wedding season has come to a close.

This spring/summer has been very wedding-centric for we two, but alas it has come to a close (at least until September), and we made a point to go out with a bang. For the season finale, we attended the nuptials of Dan and Destiny who paired traditional elements with some pretty off-the-wall ones. I thought I had seen the coup de grâce of wacky wedding fare after Eric and Lisa tied the knot last September; their big day featured a midnight snack of breakfast tacos, a venue named after a haircut, multiple live music performances and iPod parting gifts. This event didn’t incorporate those elements, but there was badminton, snow cones and a wedding reception held at a swimming hole.

The Town
D & D got hitched on her family’s land out in Ingram, Texas (which is near Kerville, which is near nothing). The location is one Destiny had always singled out as her future wedding day destination long before Dan even came into the picture. Lucky for Dan (and for us), she chose well. Ingram was a treat to behold.

Getting to Ingram from Austin entails a 3-hour drive though some of Texas’ smaller towns, but it’s a pretty one that winds through Texas’ version of wine country and passes through historical landmarks, like Johnson City (birthplace of LBJ). So getting to the wedding festivities was actually half the fun.

The Ceremony
Dan and Destiny, or Danstiny as I shall call them for the remainder of this post, were lucky to have family with astonishingly beautiful hill country property. But getting all the guests from their respective lodging accommodations to a hilltop located smack dab in the middle of a 700 acre sprawl is not an easy feat. Guests met at a bunk house located at the foot of the hill and were then transported via limousine party bus to the ceremony site. The drive was windy and rugged, and with zebra and deer roaming the country side to the left and right of the bus, the whole event seemed more the stuff of an African safari than a Texas girl’s wedding. The combination of Beyonce songs being blasted from limousine speakers along with sightings of families of deer made for an interesting juxtaposition.

The hilltop where the couple said “I do” was remarkable and benefited from a breeze that kept guests from sweating through their britches. The couple wrote their own vows and kept the whole affair short and sweet.

The Reception
After the ceremony, guests were shuttled to the family swimming hole. And though her family titled it as such, the spot was less like a “hole” (which made me expect to find a muddy mess that perhaps was once a lake, but in these times of drought would more closely resemble a puddle) and more like the private swimming quarters of Texas royalty. Beautiful stonework surrounded a pristine blue pool that overlooked garden lights, green lawn and beautiful native terrain.

The couple were received with splashes of lavender seeds which sent an aroma through the air that lingered throughout the reception, and they celebrated with Texas BBQ and hill country wine. Wedding cake flavored snow cones were served to children and jars of homemade jellies and preserves were passed out to guests as they arrived (Heath and I snatched some Apple Butter to enjoy at home). Those who wanted to, swam, and those who preferred to stay dry hung out in the biergarten where Danstiny had arranged to entertain friends and family with a bean bag toss, card games, Chinese Checkers and badminton (which allowed Heath to say the word “shuttlecock” more times than I would have preferred).

The affair was personal and romantic and perfectly picturesque.  I will remember it fondly and file it away as one of the more unique and inspiring celebrations of love I have been privileged to witness.

Fare thee well spring wedding season, and onward with summer vacation!


SUH-MER!

SUMMER!!!

I do not normally support the excessive use of exclamation points, but today is a special day. It’s the last day of school/first day of summer for Mr. Heath. He has worked for the school district in some form or another for the past three years, but this was his first year as a classroom teacher—a goal he’s had since he was elementary school-aged—and year one of lecturing, tutoring and paper grading has come to an official close. But unlike me (who was praising JesusAllahBuda on day 185 for getting me through it in one piece), Heath has a different attitude about his final day with his pupils.

The poor guy is actually a little sad.

Since I’ve known him, Heath has always wanted to be a teacher. I, on the other hand, change careers every year or so (not an exaggeration). So it’s hard sometimes to comprehend how happy and fulfilled he is through his work, as it is quite literally a dream come true. He comes home every evening not venting about something trivial that happened during the course of the day, but instead laughing about the funny, reflective, and endearing things his students have shared with him. I am so proud of him for sticking with it over the years and for caring so passionately about education.

Of course, what get’s him through this little rough patch of bidding adieu to his year-one youngins, is the knowledge there will be a whole new crop of kiddos next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

So let us not wallow in sadness at the passage of time, and instead celebrate what all there is to look forward to this summer….

  • Dozens of garden projects
  • Daily trips to the public library
  • Sleeping late
  • Labradoodle walking
  • Vacations to Mexico City
  • Vacations to New York City
  • Birthday Celebrations
  • Texas Rangers Baseball

And now is the time for this season called summer, and though school is now out, let’s not view it a bummer. Tonight we will party in true doodle house style. Happy summer to all, see ya after a while!


La Luna De Miel…La Secuela

Every year on their wedding anniversary, my parents take a trip together. Sometimes it’s to the mountains and sometimes it’s to the beach, sometimes to a rural cabin in the wilderness and sometimes to a major city with thousands of things to do and see… but no matter the destination they make a point to run off somewhere together and celebrate the fact that they made it through another year of marital bliss.

I like this idea.

So following in their footsteps, Heath and I made a pact to take a regular anniversary trip of our own…a recurring honeymoon. Last year it was to San Francisco, but this year we opted to get a bit more adventurous and take a trip outside the country. Last night we clicked the “purchase” button for two tickets to Mexico City!

It might not be one of the first cities that comes to mind when you think “romantic getaway,” but as two kids who dorked out over stories of the Aztec pyramids and love eating tacos on the street…it’s sort of the perfect destination. Plus we will be rendezvousing with a dear friend and Mexico native upon arrival who can show us the town and help us do Mexico City like royalty.

Photo Courtesy National Geographic

Photo Courtesy National Geographic

Photo Courtesy New York Times

Photo Courtesy New York Times

Photo Courtesy New York Times

Photo Courtesy New York Times

Photo Courtesy New York Times

Viva Mexico!


Married @ the Mohawk

Check out these amazing photos by Jake Holt from Eric and Lisa’s wedding two weeks ago at The Mohawk. Definitely an unforgettable evening.

 


Fighting Fires

On Labor Day, Austin was blessed with its first day of non triple digit temperatures in more than 3 months. A chilling breeze blew through town forcing people to wear peculiar faces as they stepped outdoors. Smiles? Is that what those are? Are people actually happy to be outside? Yes. Yes they were.

Happiness was short-lived, however; along with cool air the breeze also brought hot fires. Lots and lots of devastating, torturous, life-destroying fires.

Today the smoke is infiltrating the Austin air and making the entire city smell eerily similar to a camp site. The sky is a faded grayish blue and every 30 minutes the radio interrupts, advising affected-area residents on whether or not they can return to their homes, announcing which school districts have closed for the week, and informing people on which churches are taking in evacuees. Some county websites have even started posting listings of houses and properties confirmed burned, and the news sites remind Austin residents to stay indoors and avoid breathing the smoky air when possible.

It’s odd being so close to a “danger zone.” To hear about the chaos on the news is one thing, but to see the smoke move slowly across the skyline is completely surreal and haunting. News at work trickles in slowly about someone’s cousin who’s house was burned, or so-and-so’s coworker who lost their dogs in the blaze. Dreadful.

Just when you think the weather in Texas is looking up, everything turns to hellfire and brimstone.


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