Czech-ing Out Prague

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Our three night stay in Prague felt like the right amount of time to visit the city. Enough to do what we wanted to do but not rush it. In hindsight I would have extended my stay if possible, but only to visit other parts of the country that we didn’t make time for.

We were hoping for some nice, sunny weather. Had we gone this week, we would have been in shorts and tee-shirts. Instead, we went last week, when the weather was the same as back home – pouring with rain mostly and very overcast. This didn’t ruin the trip though and we just put our waterproof jackets on and made the most of it. Luckily the final day brightened up nicely!

We stayed at the Caesar Hotel which was in a great location – a ten minute walk to the centre and right next to the river with some cracking views of the bridges and Prague Castle. It was just lovely to take the longer route into town along the river to soak up those views day and night. I was dubious as there were some quite mixed reviews of the hotel online, but our room was amazing (spacious, clean and a great shower) and breakfast was good.

Top Things to Do

  • A Walking Tour

We went with Sandman’s Free Walking Tour – currently ranked the best on TripAdvisor. The tours do fill up though, so get there early to get your name on the list. They do have multiple groups each time, so it isn’t too crowded. Our group had about 25 in it. I learned so much I would not have read about in a travel guide and we saw parts of the city to orientate ourselves with for the rest of the trip. Tijo was a great guide, mixing in interesting facts and info about Prague and the Czech Republic with a good amount of sarcasm and jokes to compliment. It was four hours with about one hour as a refreshments break and sit down which was quite appreciated.

  • Visit the Jewish Museum

During the tour, we were taken to the Jewish area of the city and had a peek at the Old-New Synagogue, the Ceremonial Hall and Cemetery but it really is worth buying an admission ticket to have access to all the sites. I will do a separate blog post on this as there is so much to talk about. It was definitely a highlight of the trip!

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  • Prague Castle

Set aside a morning/afternoon/all-day to do this. It is the largest castle complex in the world and yep, there is a lot to see! I recommend choosing the type of ticket you want before going in as they do not have this information easily visible when you are queuing and try to arrive early to beat the crowds. We paid a bit extra to climb the tower of the cathedral – it was so worth it for the fantastic views over the city, You can see the mass of tourists walking along the Charles Bridge too, which is a horrific sight to behold…

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  • Charles Bridge

You have to go here, it is so symbolic of Prague. Early morning or late evening is the best time as in the day it is packed solid of tourists and everyone is stressing over getting a spot for that perfect photo. One guy told a woman to move as she was in his shot, while she was just enjoying the views of the river. Rude.

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Prague is a beautiful city, but I could not stop comparing it to my experiences in other parts of Eastern Europe – especially Poland. I fell head over heels in love with Wroclaw and Kraków, that even three years on I am still raving about it! Prague just cannot compare in my eyes. Still, it was a lovely break – great to explore somewhere new, walk 25,000 steps a day (my FitBit and my legs were loving life) and learn about a different city and it’s rich history. I would love to go back to see other parts of the country.

Can you recommend anywhere else in the Czech Republic for me to visit? Let me know in the comments…

Stress over Holiday Mess

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-Can you turn around? I forgot my bank card!

The taxi driver looks back at me, nodding, as we are about to pull into the train station.

-I’m usually so organised…

-Well you’re not today! He chuckles.

-Definitely not. I say this half in agreement, half annoyed at myself. I plan everything meticulously. I don’t need my bank card as I have my travel money card and foreign currency, I explain. I just forgot I needed it to print my train tickets at the station.

I run back into my house, grab the card and jump back into the taxi. Luckily, I make sure I am always early for things, so there was enough time for two trips to the station!

Feeling very rushed, I print the tickets but notice I still have ten minutes before my train departs. So lucky. Lucky enough to even buy a toastie from the Costa on the platform before I find my seat on the train.

We’re on the train. It’s destined for Manchester airport and that is enough drama for this holiday, thank you. Sinking into the not so comfortable seat, tucking into my toastie and listening to the new Lana album, I receive a message on our group chat. I’m going to Prague with two of my school friends and they should be driving to the airport soon. My friend has forgotten her passport! She is in Liverpool and it is in Bristol. Even by my calculations, it’s not going to happen. Music off, cue a few frantic phone calls. Reluctantly accepting the situation, our group of three dwindled down to two.

Has this ever happened to you? Let me know in the comments.

 

Adventures at Home: Winchester, England

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I have really been exploring the South recently! This time, it was to the quaint, historic center of Winchester for a lovely day out.

The city reminded me of York, but what puts Winchester on top is that it is the city less-traveled. There is plenty to see and do but you do not have to push through the hoards of crowds to get around – my kind of place!

From the train station is a short walk to anywhere in the city. Our first stop was the famous cathedral. Your ticket includes a free tour and remains valid for the rest of the year should you wish to return; we didn’t do the the tour but the guides who we spoke to were very knowledgeable and happy to answer our questions. The cathedral is perhaps most famous as Jane Austen’s final resting place – of course we paid her a visit, but it is also home to a 10th Century Bible. A very impressive book, huge and detailed. Written on velum, it has been impeccably preserved.

Only a few days earlier, I was watching a TV documentary about Jane Austin’s life in Winchester and Bath and then it just so happened that that weekend, I was walking on the same streets I saw in the documentary. History in action.

Our next stop after a pub lunch was Wolvesey Castle. A free English Heritage site, and well worth the visit to get to know the Bishops of Winchester who made this their home during the Medieval period. The bishop was the most influential and powerful man in the city and our visit here gave much more context to how important Winchester was at the time, second to London! Nowadays, the site is a ruin, next door though, the new residence of the Bishop of Winchester can be found.

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After a bit of window shopping on the busy High Street, we had a tea and cake stop at the nearby Winchester Café. On offer was a superb selection of cakes and teas. Spoiled for choice with regards to the tea selection, the waitress recommended the apple and mint tea – wow, it was so good. On the menu I read that it had won awards, so it was no surprise really.

From there, it was a short but uphill leisurely walk back to the station to catch the train.

Adventures at Home: Stonehenge

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Many travelers coming to England have Stonehenge firmly in their itineraries, and it bewildered me that I had still not been there – it is one of the most iconic, mysterious and historical sites in my home country. Located in the south of England, in Wiltshire, Stonehenge is actually quite far for me to get to, and it has only been in the last few years that I am really beginning to scratch the surface in discovering the south of England.

With J. based down south now, it is only just over an hour’s drive to Stonehenge which makes it an excellent day trip. It is worth researching your visit before you go; Stonehenge may seem to be in the middle of nowhere, but there are plenty of interesting places nearby to see if you have time, including other English Heritage sites such as Woodhenge or Old Sarum.

The drive should have taken just over an hour, but this stretched to nearly two hours due to traffic congestion only 2 miles short of Stonehenge – a dual carriageway turns into single lane. This is extremely frustrating as it is a major road network and the main access road to Stonehenge. You feel so close and yet so far at the same time.

After about 45 minutes of stopping and starting the engine, we got through the bottleneck to find Stonehenge on the right of the road.

J chuckled: “right we have seen it now, let’s go!”

It’s true, we had seen it from our car, but we would have to go round three sides of a square to get to the Visitor Center.

Waving our English Heritage membership cards at the stewards, we were able to get free parking, just another perk of being an English Heritage member.

We booked our tickets in advance online through the English Heritage website which they recommend. Despite being members and getting free entry, the online booking not only saved us having to queue for the tickets but it also secured a time for us to get in. The heightened security upon entry seemed excessive, but I guess this is one of the most important historical sites in this country. Every bag was meticulously searched, we were all scanned in and I was even questioned where I came from. It is a necessity to keep us and Stonehenge safe, but it’s a sign of the times.

There is a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center which takes 5 minutes to get to Stonehenge. It is a very accessible attraction for all to see which is brilliant. Alternatively, you can take a relaxing 2 mile stroll through fields. We were not in a rush so we walked there and got the shuttle back.

We timed this all brilliantly as by the time we got back in the car to go for lunch, the rain came pouring down!

We took an audio guide which gives plenty of information about the history and significance of Stonehenge. I was very intrigued by how they changed the original road layout, as there used to be a main road which was right next to it! You could have touched it from your car seat.

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We drove through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside (in the rain) to find some nice pub food. It’s a lovely little slice of rural England round here. After recharging my batteries with a refreshing lime and soda and a gourmet steak sandwich, I felt quite tired but still had to drive back the hour and a bit home. As Old Sarum was only two minutes down the road, we jumped back in the car to have a look at this ancient hill fort/royal residence for the ultimate stop of the day.

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A much quieter attraction to Stonehenge, but still a significant place, Old Sarum is the oldest settlement in this area; a royal palace for Henry I and where the Doomsday book may have been presented to William the Conqueror. After a dispute in the 13th century, the decision was made to move the cathedral in the grounds to an area nearby. The settlement which grew around it became Salisbury and ultimately, Old Sarum dwindled in power.

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This was a fascinating insight into history, and I am sure this is only a taster for what this region has to offer.

Returning to Peru: 3 things I’m looking forward to

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When I visited Peru back in August 2013, I did say to myself that I would return one day, but I didn’t think that day would come only four years later.

In less than two months, I will throw my backpack on and return to South America, on a journey which will not only cover Peru but also parts of Chile and Bolivia. I absolutely loved Peru, although it doesn’t always bring back fond memories, considering the terrible altitude sickness I suffered from on our treks.


I am looking forward to exploring more of this country, and returning to some familiar places.

Practice my Spanish…

When I first visited Peru, I had only been studying Spanish for one year at university. I managed to hold conversations and barter in markets but it will be great to go back and hopefully speak Spanish with more confidence.

Visit some new places…

I’m looking forward to spending a few days in the capital, Lima, at the end of our three week trip – all I saw was the chaos of the airport, which is making me nervous about stepping out of those airport doors again! We will also be visiting Lake Titicaca which I didn’t see last time either.

 Retrace my steps…

As well as seeing some new sites, I am really looking forward to returning to familar ones. We are spending about 4 days in Cusco. I loved Cusco as it had such a great feel to it and the markets were incredible. It will give us some time to chill and see the sites and maybe do a day trip somewhere.

I am also returning to Aguas Calientes (love the eggy hot springs!) and Machu Picchu. J. really couldn’t go to Peru without seeing Machu Picchu, now could he? It did mean forking out a fortune though for the train tickets but it had to be done.

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Machu Picchu

I wish I didn’t have to do the early morning hike there though from Aguas Calientes. I have done it before, and I don’t need to prove I can do it to anyone, not even myself, as I have already done it. The bus this time is appealing, but J. wants to experience it himself, so he is going to have to deal with me whining and complaining all the way up there!


There is so much more of Peru that we aren’t exploring this time, as we are wanting to see the Atacama desert in Chile before working our way up through Bolivia circling round again to Peru, but that only gives me the excuse to go back…

What do you love about Peru?

Travel Update: Where am I going next?

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So today I had my final formal observation of my teacher training year! Relieved is an understatement. My final evidence bundles are ready to hand in on Wednesday. Just 4 and a bit weeks to go until I qualify – I can see the light out of this very long, dark tunnel.

At least I have so much look forward to: holidays that is – lots of them!

July 2017: Prague and Pembrokeshire, UK

Two days after I qualify (!) I am flying out to Prague for a few days with some of my old school friends. I’m glad to be squeezing some time in to explore a bit more of Europe this summer! If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments.

Flash forward a day or two and I will be in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It started out as a nice, quiet weekend with just me and J. but then he came up with the idea of inviting all his old uni friends, so it’s quite the group who are going now. I’m glad some +1s are going otherwise it would have turned into a lads trip + me! Not so relaxing… It’s my first trip to South Wales and fingers crossed the weekend won’t be a wash-out! Although saying that, I am sure it will be.

August 2017: Peru, Chile, Bolivia

This trip has been so much more complicated to plan than South East Asia was, I just hope that it all works out. Stay tuned for a post later this week on 3 reasons why I am looking forward to returning to Peru.

October 2017: Madriiiiid

For my first October half term as an NQT teacher Spanish and French teacher, I have 5 days solo travel in Madrid booked. I’m being a good Languages teacher – I am going a Spanish-speaking country for professional development…

I am being constantly reminded that, “okay, so you’re finding your training year tough? Wait until your NQT year…” This is not filling me with much confidence, but I am one to focus on what I have to look forward to, to get me through.

I have my hostel and my flights sorted, nothing more. I spent 3 days there two years ago at the end of my Year Abroad and I regretted not going sooner, as I absolutely loved it! I’m looking forward to visiting the museums (finally), eating my favourite food and going to the Hamman Al-Andalus Baths again to chill out. It would be great to do a day trip somewhere new like Córdoba. I cannot bear to return to my Spanish home, Salamanca, for a day. The idea weighs heavy on my heart and fills me with too much nostalgia now I no longer live there.

Are you looking forward to any future travels this coming year? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Robyn

Japan Series: Japanese food you HAVE to eat

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Welcome back to the Japan Series. This is the final installment of my travels in Japan. It’s saddening that this chapter in my travels is coming to a close but I hope you have enjoyed the weekly blogs.

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Not only am I a picky eater, but I also don’t eat pork or seafood for religious reasons. Visiting Japan with these dietary requirements was a worry not only for me, but for my friend who knew just how much pork and seafood is used in Japanese cuisine. And so commenced the challenge to find Japanese food that I could actually eat. Hmm.

However, after 9 days in Japan, the food was hands down one of the absolute best parts of my trip and so varied as well. I was spoiled for choice for what I could have.

Today I am going to share some of the best meals I ate on my Japanese journey to gastronomic enlightenment.

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Tokyo

A great place to get food near Shinjuku is Tori ki zoku, a chicken kebab place which had delicious chicken with a range of flavours. What was great is everything is ordered on a tablet at your table, so you can order as much or as little as you want at a time, and it is in English as well.

Okonomeyaki

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We went to a place near Harajuku, which was very friendly and open to travellers with menus and instructions in English. Basically, to make onkonomeyaki, you cook your own food and choose the ingredients. We chose chicken teriyaki for one and beef, onion and picked ginger for the second one. There was so much food, and it is great because you are the one in charge, so you know exactly what is going into your meal.

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Onigiri

These rice snacks wrapped in seaweed usually have something in the center – it can be salmon, pork, tuna etc. but I really liked the ones with fried chicken! Absolutely delicious for a quick snack, and I just wish we had them in convenience stores back at home. Cheap, quick, easy and satisfying.

Sushi

We went to a sushi restaurant in Tokyo and I was surprised at how cheap sushi is in Japan (70p/plate). For a salmon nigiri, you are looking at roughly £3 in the UK! Sushi is such an expensive meal at home so I was shocked at how affordable the real deal is. As I don’t eat seafood, not much sushi is available to me except the salmon (I despise tuna as well), but there was so much choice with duck and beef as well which I have never seen in the UK before. I loved the automated ordering service, like what I have seen in other restaurants in Japan, it is just so efficient and easy to keep track of what you have ordered.

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Kyoto: Ayam-ya – the best chicken ramen you will ever have

So I love chicken ramen, a dish I often have in the UK. However, in Japan, the real deal is usually made with pork, not chicken. It seemed as though eating an authentic chicken ramen would be impossible in Japan; however, TripAdvisor came to the rescue as there was one place near the station – a Halal restaurant – which served delicious chicken ramen. I did get a food coma but it was the best ramen ever and it’s great that there is a place in Kyoto for those of us who want our ramen fix chicken-style!

Sukiyaki

Before our night bus back to Tokyo, we wanted something substantial for dinner, and we found it. This was by far the BEST meal I had in Japan. Find it upstairs in the Isetan department store in Kyoto.

Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish which I had never heard of before, but after this experience I will never forget. It consists of thinly sliced beef, which is slowly cooked at the table in a nabemono pot (yes another meal where you need to cook it yourself!), alongside vegetables and other ingredients, with soy sauce, sugar and mirin.

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Harrie loving the sukiyaki life

The sukiyaki consisted of all-you-can-eat beef, vegetables AND bottomless soft drinks AND dessert. We had 90 minutes for the table and of course, we made the most of the time. We got through two plates of beef and so many vegetables: cabbage, Japanese mushrooms, leek, onion, tofu, salad greens, etc. so it was healthy to a certain extent…It was magical but I definitely ate too much and was in a food coma on the coach back to Tokyo. Do I regret it? No, not really.

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On the whole, experiencing Japan’s amazing food culture was so accessible to me, there was so much choice and I was never left hungry or without options. I loved the restaurants where we could cook ourselves because it became an experience and I knew exactly what was on my plate. I’m sure Japan has so much more food for me to discover and I can’t wait to get back to sink my teeth into more.

What’s your favourite Japanese dish? Let me know in the comments,

Robyn

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