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.

Berlin: Highlights

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It’s been two months since my wonderful trip to Berlin and yes, I am feeling slightly guilty for not having posted this earlier…

The work/eat/sleep/repeat lifestyle sucked me back in for a while, and then the Easter holidays happened (yay!), I feel alive and inspired again. I was also so, so lucky and managed to experience a whole new country: Japan. I can’t wait to share that with you, it was a truly incredible country. My only regret was having to come home! But first things first…

Berlin Highlights

The low-down:

Your euros can go a long way in Germany’s capital! The majority of my highlights cost us a grand totaly of 0€. Berlin was, shockingly, a very affordable city to visit; I completely over-budgeted and have leftover euros I will have to spend at some point in the future.

There are so many places worth visiting to discover the diverse and rich culture and history of Germany’s capital. After 6 days, there was still so much more to see, but we will have to wait for our next trip. Luckily, Berlin in summer has a completely different vibe, so I look forward to experiencing the city without frozen limbs in February..!

If you still need to catch up on the first post in this series, you may find it here:  Berlin, Berlin!

Brandenburg Gate at night

This photo pretty much speaks for itself. It was a great view! In summer, I believe there is a nice park to explore just behind it.

Recommended duration of visit: 15-30 minutes

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Brandenburg Gate

Look down

Berlin has its fair share of rooftop bars, but on a rainy day, Monkey Bar was a nice way to shelter from the rain/cold while spying on some of the Zoo’s inhabitants below!

Recommended duration of visit: Under 1 hour

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Monkey Bar, view of the Berlin Zoo

Jewish Museum

I highly recommend the Jewish Museum which was nothing short of an experience. The exhibits to the architecture of the building were really powerful and thought-provoking.

Recommended duration of visit: 1-2 hours

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Jewish Museum

Walk, just walk

The public transport in Berlin was really impressive, and we were able to get anywhere by bus, tram, or U-Bahn/S-Bahn so easily. What I really loved though was getting off in a neighbourhood and just exploring.

 

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Berlin streets

The Holocaust Memorial

This is free so there is no excuse not to do it. There is an indoor exhibit underground, below the memorial which has a collection of a range of testimonials and collections from victims and survivors of the Shoah.

Recommended duration of visit: 1 hour

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Holocaust Memorial

Visit the Bundestag

The roof terrace and dome of the Reichstag Building offer great views of the city. A free audio guide is also included (who doesn’t love a free audio guide?) which lets you brush up on your knowledge of the Reichstag Building and its surroundings, the German Bundestag, the work of Parliament, and the sights you can see as you walk up and around the dome.

Remember to book in advance online to be able to take advantage of this free activity!

Recommended duration of visit: Under 1 hour

berlin1Walk the Berlin Wall memorial

The East Side Gallery is an interesting walk where you can see the open air art ‘gallery,’ but to better comprehend what life was like during this time, The Berlin Wall Memorial, located on Bernauer Strasse, gives a powerful insight into this historic moment. It highlights what this particular street and its residents experienced divided by the Berlin Wall.  It gives visitors an impression of the fortifications on the Eastern side but also the events which took place there. I recommend visiting during the evening which is when we went; the darkness envelopes your surroundings, allowing you to visualise what this street might have looked like not so long ago.

Another interesting exhibition nearby which is worth seeing is the Ghost Stations Exhibition, “Border Stations and Ghost Stations in Divided Berlin,” which can be viewed at Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station. It gives an idea of how the underground transport system worked during the Berlin Wall.

Recommended duration of visit: 1 hour

 

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

One of my colleagues encouraged me to ‘go to the church, which has stained glass everywhere – it is really beautiful to look at.’ Not a lot to go on, but luckily my friend Kam, who I was visiting, knew exactly what my colleague was talking about – the Kaiser Wilhelm, Memorial Church. This Church, was built in 1959-1963 in what was West Berlin, after the original 19th-century church was bombed during WWII. . The damaged spire of the old church remains, which is adjacent to the new-build and its ground floor has been made into a memorial hall (which is so beautiful!!). It’s free to enter both and it’s really amazing to see the new and old standing harmoniously together.

Recommended duration of visit: 30 minutes

 

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What are your Berlin highlights? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

Berlin, Berlin!

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After 5 months of zero travel, it felt strange packing my bags and heading to the airport for February half term to the German capital. A week away was refreshing, and I had missed that sense of adventure, discovering a new city and all it had to offer.

In this post I am going to give an overview of my trip, sharing the best of accommodation, transport, the costs and the wonderful food. Next post: the best places to visit in Berlin.

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Meeting me at the other end was one of my closest friends who I hadn’t seen since our Graduation last July, and also my boyfriend who arrived on a separate flight.

She has been studying in Berlin for the last six months, learning German and exploring Berlin, which I think is very exciting. We were lucky enough to visit restaurants, bars and sites we would never have found had we been traveling on our own – even with our beloved TripAdvisor app.

Accommodation

My boyfriend and I booked an Airbnb apartment for the trip and we were both thrilled with it. At £30 each a night, we had our own flat with full amenities, steps from the tram, in the hip area of Prenzauer Berg in what was part of ‘East Berlin’. We booked this accommodation ourselves but fate happened that we were staying on the very same street as my friend! Albeit, it was a very long street and she was 5 stops away on the tram. Still, this was great as we could co-ordinate meeting up much easier than if we were staying on the other side of the city.

Berlin is not a beautiful city;

it is intriguing, has a profoundly interesting and distressing history, it carries a sense of being liberal and slightly rebellious. It is a city of contrasts and its streets are museums in their own right.

6 days in the city gave us enough time to ‘see’ the sights and also to begin to get a feel for the place. At the start of the week, I decided that Berlin was not for me; grimy, so hipster at times that I couldn’t cope, it even reminded me a bit of Budapest which I enjoyed but was not my favourite city. After a few days it really grew on me though. It is a very livable city.

There are three aspects which we enjoyed most about Berlin; its very affordable, the public transport system is great and possibly the most important thing – the food was so good.

It’s an an affordable city

Aside from the cost of flights, accommodation and a 42€ Berlin transport pass, six days in Berlin only cost 100€ for all food, drink and entry to sites. We were not very thrifty as we ate out every lunchtime and evening. I came back with quite a few euros to spare which hardly ever happens.

Transport

We paid the 42$ for a 6-dy transport pass for all tram, bus, U-Bahn and S-Bahn travel in Berlin. This I would highly recommend as we relied heavily on public transport to get around. The transport was always punctual and even had services which run through the night. Moreover, there are no ticket barriers or staff checking passengers for valid tickets. So different to what I know in the UK. There is a sense of trust that people do not abuse the system, however I am sure that there are those that do. Of course, I could have got away with buying no ticket for the entire trip as I never had to show mine, but it is not worth it as you can be charged a heavy fine. Also, as the transport is of such good quality, its worth buying to ensure that this continues.

Delicious food and drink

The three of us agreed that we did not eat one bad meal all week. We discovered wonderful homemade pizzas for 3.90€ that were so good, we went back to the Pizzeria for more on our final night. We discovered a chic cocktail bar in West Berlin, where you have to ring a doorbell to be let in. Berlin does excellent burgers, as we found at Shisho. Beat the queue and spend an hour at the Monkey Bar in the early afternoon and have a birds-eye view over the Berlin Zoo. Or for a more affordable option, visit Bikini Berlins rooftop view next door for a free showing!

See you next time!