Fred

Czech This Out

As a new standard, you can find a map at the end of this post – I hope it helps you on your travels!

Later this year, one of my childhood friends is partaking in the age-old tradition of marriage and to celebrate, my friends and I planned a trip to Prague.

This is what we saw, ate and found.

Yes, this was a stag/hen do of sorts, and amongst the tides of rowdy, drunken tourists on similar trips, we remained (relatively) sober and saw what the capital of the Czech Republic had to offer in a short time.

 

Prosecco

Drinks at Stanstead. 10:30am.

 

After a few drinks at London Stanstead and a short aeroplane ride, we arrived in the city and found ourselves in a slightly damp airport – not what you want when you forgot to bring a coat. But I had checked the forecast and knew that soon it’d be sunny skies.

After finding suitable transportation into the city, we arrived at our AirBnB just as the Sun was coming out. This apartment had been selected by the group as something different and memorable; it was a medium sized apartment, with a large lounge area which also functioned as the bedroom – a common feature in ex-communist countries which I personally admire.
The layout was simple but had a unique mezzanine floor, accessible only via a wooden ladder. The location was perfect too, it was on Dlouhá street, a party street just off the Old Town Square.

 

Once we had unpacked, we went in search of some food.
The bride-to-be is a big fan of Hard Rock Cafes, so we took a beeline to the burgers and cocktails that they had to offer. These cocktails were to be the first of many over the weekend, and as usual, the Hard Rock Cafe delivered good, filling food at an acceptable price. The environment was equivalent to that which I’ve experienced in the London branch, the food was slightly better.

After a few laughs and jokes, we noticed that it was starting to get late, so we head back into the Old Town Square to take some photos and soak up the feel of the popular tourist area. As we went during April, the annual Easter market was in full swing with street food, souvenirs and – of course – beer. There was even a blacksmith working over an anvil there, he was hammering and moulding some pieces which were immediately put on sale beside him.

 

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The Blacksmith

 

Following our first Czech beer and several minutes of watching the metal forger at work, we went in search of a pub. The first one we came across was a great Irish place called Irish Times Bar. This cosy bar had live music and drinks at a good price, so we stayed here for a few hours. (We liked this pub so much we returned every night of the trip).

Several rounds later, we joined the queue for Karlovy Lázně the popular 5 story club with different types of music on each floor. After having partied in several cities across the Europe, this club really takes the biscuit. It had such an infectious atmosphere and such a selection of music on offer, I doubt anyone could have a bad night here.

When day two came around, the five of us were surprised to find that we felt fresh as a daisy. We got up early and pursued our plan for this day of experiencing Prague via organised walking tours.

Whilst planning the trip, I had come across Discover Prague which offered a free walking tour amongst several other paid tours around the city. We left our apartment in the early morning to join the free Old Town and Jewish Quarter tour.

Although, we made a small pit-stop at the Easter market for a hot dog.

 

Hotdog

Hot dogs for breakfast

 

Our Canadian-Czech guide was a young lady named Amanda and together we explored the streets of Prague 1 with open ears. She lead us around the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter, which were jam-packed of interesting architecture and history.

Amanda told us about how Prague regularly floods and had once been the seat of the Holy Roman Empire. Prague has also been sieged several times and for Czechs, the Second World War started in 1938 as Germany was allowed to invade north Czechoslovakia in 1938.

This two-hour tour had taught us so much about the country and its capital that we decided to join Amanda later on the Castle District tour. First, though we needed some food.

Upon Amanda’s recommendations, we headed to an amazing little restaurant called Krčma. This traditional Czech restaurant served the best food I tried all weekend. I tried the pork, cabbage and dumplings dish which was flavoursome and comforting. The food was cheap and authentic and interestingly, in this restaurant, cider was cheaper than cola. If you like cider, I’d suggest you try Kingswood – a special apple cider that is light and refreshing.

 

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Amazing Czech food

 

The castle tour was eye opening and a lovely way to spend the late afternoon of our second day. The tour started at 5pm and as there was only a handful of us – Amanda took us to a small monastic brewery. This late in the day, the district was free of other visitors – the calming atmosphere contrasted well against our first evening. We enjoyed walking amongst the unique architecture of the buildings and the small explanations of each style our tour guide gave to us.

The highlight of this tour St. Vitus Cathedral – a true masterpiece. Similar to the Sagrada Familia, it has taken decades to build and during its construction, different rulers and architects have added to the design. What I found particularly interesting was that on the most recent face, there were carvings of men in modern-day suits – not something you usually see on a stone cathedral.

 

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The tour finished in the early evening, just after the Sun had set so we made our way to Charles Bridge – a tourist hotspot but a historic spectacle in the darkness. Just before walking across this stone bridge, we each bought at trdelník – which you will see everywhere in Prague.

This special pastry is a hollow pastry chimney, about the size of your fist, which vendors fill with ice-cream or chocolate spread or even ham and cheese. It’s similar to Mexican churros but crunchy.

 

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Trdelník

 

Our third day was more chilled and saw us taking part in an escape room, which was thoroughly enjoyable and gave us an hour to break out of a room by solving puzzles and finding keys to padlocks.

We also visited a few museums.These weren’t your usual history, art or national museums, but the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments and the Prague Sex Museum, both of which had a surprising amount of overlap with their articles!

If these types of museums intrigue you, I’d recommend visiting as they are something different to see. You can find the addresses of those we saw on the map below.

As it was our last full day, we went to watch the Astronomical Clock chime at precisely 2 o’clock – we had been told that the spectacle that tourists come to watch every day was underwhelming. Its performance, although not magnificent, was something different.

 

For the remaining part of the day, we bought some sweets at a pic’n’mix store called Captain Candy, had a secret cocktail at the Anonymous Bar and had a great meal at a one-of-a-kind bar/restaurant called Steampunk. Although we visited these three locations in sequence, they were each singular in their appearance and appeal.

 

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In summary, Prague offered a great weekend away, with much to offer than great beer or beautiful buildings. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a memorable trip!

Peace, BA.

 

My First Couchsurfing Experience

Thursday 26th May 21:16
“Hello, hola y hallo! My name is Benji and I’d like to sleep on your sofa please…”
The evening before the first of my final three exams at university, my friend Rob had shared with me a link to a blog titled “How Travelling Kills Ambition”.

In the year before, Rob had worked for 9 months at a global business and he quickly came to despise the office environment. Although Rob was the best in his academic year, repeatedly achieving 90+% in his exams, he had no interest in using his mathematical prowess in the same way again.

This blog, he said, summed up how he felt about life. Why working in an office will never be what he wanted. Why travelling would improve his life much more than a high income would.

I read this post and agreed with a lot of it. It describes the outlook of many people who are caught between society’s norms and living the life they want to. Let me know what you think.

 

The author of the blog was currently in Norway, and she had a recent post about why Norway was very accessible at the time of writing; the pound was strong against the krone, there were regular cheap flights from major EU airports and it was relatively low on most travellers’ to see lists.

This caught my eye. I already had two big trips planned for that summer (to Berlin with my Mum and to Poland and Hungary to teach TEFL) but my hunger for travel was high after revising for my final exams.
Within half an hour of receiving this post, I had found flights to Oslo (Rygge) for £54.38 and had a quick search of the hostels in the nordic city. They were all quite expensive.

 

Then the thought struck me. Couchsurfing, a.k.a.:

The Internet: Go sleep on a random person’s sofa
Me: Why not?

 

I downloaded the app, found a lovely couple who had similar interests, good reviews from those who had stayed with them and less than an hour after receiving the blog post, I had booked to go to Oslo 3 weeks later.
The next morning, when I sat my exam, I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities in this unusual country. What was I going to do? What was I going to see? How much would everything cost? What food would I try?
Upon arrival to the country, I had a rough idea as what my week was to be filled with; see the opera house, see the Scream, get my Viking on… but my journey became much more than this due to my Couchsurfing hosts.

 

I met them in a car park.

 

Okay, so I know you should never meet people you’ve “met” off the Internet in a car park, but this was Oslo, what were they going to do? Turn me into a gnome?

So I met Espen in this car park and I soon realised he didn’t want to harvest my organs for a quick buck. Espen was lovely. He was funny and sincere and thoughtful. Over the week, we spent quite a bit of time together and discussed many different topics – the Brexit vote was during my short stay in Oslo so that memory will remain with me for a while.

His partner Omar was great as well. A Venezuelan guy who had met Espen online, fell in love and when he emigrated to Norway, he finally met the man he’d later go on to marry.

They introduced me to some weird things.

  • Like how on birthdays, Norwegians have hot dogs in pancakes (which are delicious by the way).
  • How Norway is the biggest consumer of frozen pizza per capita.
  • And they also enjoy pic-a-mix like most other Scandinavian countries.
  • I also tried the brown cheese, which wasn’t so great.

 

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Norweigan brown cheese

 

Without them, I never would have visited Sognsvann, a beautiful lake at the end of the Metro where locals go to walk, cycle and swim. If you’re ever in Oslo, I’d definitely recommend going to this tranquil part of the forest, not that Oslo is a busy city like New York, but the calming effect of this area was amazing.

 


I also went to the Norsk Folkemuseum and the Viking Ship museum, which were great!

 
I’d definitely advise going to Oslo. I’d also advise seeing what Couchsurfing is like – you’ll get more back than you think!

 

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Oslofjord

 

Whilst writing this piece, I noticed that I was listening to Oslo by Anna of the North . Weird.

 

Peace, BA.

Nomadic Apples Origins: Fred the Minion

A few months before I scooted off to Mexico, a guy called Louis (whom I lived with) won a Minion at a fair. We called this minion Fred and Fred sat in our kitchen for several months, watching over our burnt pizzas and toxic fajita fumes.

When the time came to move out, my friend Louis forgot to take Fred and as I was the last person in the flat I asked Louis if I could take Fred with me to Mexico. Louis agreed.

Since that moment, Fred has been my travelling companion – escorting me to any foreign destination that my heart takes me.

We had fun in Mexico of course,

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“We made it”

And in the US,

But since then, Fred has also seen

  • Amsterdam
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IAmsterdam

  • Oslo
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Cruising the Oslofjord

  • Berlin
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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

  • Warsaw
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Sigismund’s Column, Warsaw

  • And a lot of Italy, including the very impressive Coliseum
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The Coliseum

and the giant lemons of Pompeii!

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In Pompeii

  • And most recently, Copenhagen.
    Fred loved Tivoli Gardens
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Tivoli Gardens – Fred enjoying a Glogg

 

Peace, BA.

My First Solo Trip – Part 2

Sorry for not posting this sooner – been frantically planning and sort stuff out for before I leave! More on that later this week.

 

This is a continuation of My First Solo Trip Pt 1, although this can stand alone.

 

Prior to travelling to Mexico, I decided that as I was on the other side of the Atlantic, I might as well stick around for a little bit.

I planned to go to the U.S.A. on a Trek America trip and to stay in New York City for a little bit. But first, I stayed in Mexico for a little pool time…

 

Following our farewell at the children’s home, our group went to the airport so that the majority could fly back home. Their time in Mexico had come to a close and they had a long journey back to England. My heart was already in a sensitive state after saying goodbye to the kids, but now I had to say goodbye to people who had become my close friends.

 

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

 

When I returned to the hostel that had been my home for the past four weeks, it was so quiet. But this eerie silence was just the beginning of my first step out as a solo traveller.

 

I had booked a hostel near the town centre of Puerto Vallarta (PV) for a couple of days. This hostel was the ideal location for most backpackers – walking distance to the clubs that this area was known for, but far enough away that we were safe from the noise or the hooligans.

 

Here, I arrived with my backpack and found my way to my room. My first encounter was a solo traveller was a Mexican man called José – he was in the bunk beneath me. Sadly, my Key Stage 3 Spanish eluded me and I forgot how to respond to ¿Dondé vives? (where are you from?).

Solo fail #1.

 

In the handful of days which I spent at this hostel, I met some travellers from across the globe. An Englishwoman, a French Canadian lady who was somewhat of a polyglot and a German guy with a unique stance on environmentalism (a topic which I have an interest in). But more importantly, this hostel had a pool!

 

That first dip in that pool after 28 days in 35+ heat was a sensation – it also helped with the hangovers which naturally came with the hostel life.

 

The fondest memory I have of these few days was one night when we’d decided to go out, but we had decided too late and none of us 6 was drunk. Sadly, in this district, to purchase alcohol from a convenience store (we were on a budget after all) past 11 pm was illegal. We scoured the few stores which were still open for a drink – as getting drunk in a bar would have cost 20x as much.

Thankfully we found a place which was known to the locals, and we ended up sitting on the beach, looking out to the thunderstorms raging in the Pacific, drinking triple strength vodka and pop from polystyrene cups.

 

This is one of those stories which would never have arisen without the hostel environment of inviting others to dinner.

 

Due to visa restrictions, I had to leave Mexico two days after this evening.

 

I had booked a flight months before, from PV to Chicago O’Hare then onwards to Newark. My layover in Chicago was 14 hours, overnight.

 

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Next stop, America

 

I did my research and I decided not to travel out of the airport at this time. In hindsight, this wasn’t the best idea – I should have gone out just for a Chicago-style pizza pie. #RIPizza. 

The dinosaur was pretty cool though!

 

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The dinosaur that welcomed me to the USA

 

So, here I was, 31 days in the tropics of Mexico, now staying in an airport overnight, with no phone (it had died). One thing I hadn’t counted on was the A/C. The A/C in O’Hare seemed to be set on absolute zero at night as if to help all travellers coming in from the American Summer cool off. For me, it was like stepping into a cryogenic freezer. I had travelled for 14 hours and I needed sleep.

 

When I landed at Newark and got to baggage reclaim, disaster struck.

My bag wasn’t there.

 

My bag, with unique [for them] Mexican presents for my family and all my clothes [par one set which I always pack in my hand luggage] had disappeared.

 

But I held back the panic.

 

I found my way to the baggage problem desk, which seemed miles away, and informed them of my problem. They didn’t seem engaged at all. I was met with blank faces. They told me to go check again, although I had already waited and all of the baggage had come through.

 

Back I went, my bag was still vacant.

I returned to the blank faces at the desk.

 

I was starting to freak out. I had booked to go on a 7-day tour of North East USA the next day, I wouldn’t have a permanent location for more than a week. Even if they did find my bag, how could they return it to me?

 

A lady at the desk saw the anxiety grow in my eyes and stepped forward to help. She asked me to describe my bag and said that it could have been placed in the Special Baggage Area due to its size.

 

After 5 minutes of rummaging through, she found it!

Panic over!

 

I made my way to the hotel.

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7 days we spent in this van

 

Having little travel experience, I thought I’d let someone else do the planning for my first trip. As such I booked onto the Freedom Trail Trek America tour which was a minibus tour with destinations including

Pennsylvania

Washington DC

Niagra Falls

and Boston

 

These famous locations were definitely a highlight of the “trek”. Each location exceeded my expectations – seeing places that I had seen on television and in films left me kind of starstruck.

 

Our tour guide, John, was a hilarious strawberry-blonde American who had been working at Disney World Florida for a couple of years. He was a great guy to travel with, definitely when the rest of our tour group was less forthcoming with enthusiasm as the week wore on. It also helped that we had similar interests and he never took anything too seriously – something I try to involve in my days since.

 

This week was filled with great times, a few were

Getting a fresh hot Philly cheesesteak – I miss that cheese every day

Running up the Rocky steps

Seeing the Lincoln Monument in DC

Going to the Jettison cemetery and seeing all of the unnamed graves

Visiting an Amish Town, to then realise it was just an open-air museum.

But a goat walked on me so it wasn’t so bad!

Following this, we visited a Cracker Barrel and had fresh American biscuits ❤

Visiting WalMart and Targets (a lame goal, but I liked it!)

Staying in the only hostel in Boston (HI-Boston) and meeting up with a friend from Mexico

We stayed in national parks for most of the journey, in tents, which was a great way to get away from the busy cities we visited during the day

Being offered drugs 3 times in the half an hour I spent in Boston Green. I was more interested in my 32oz Big Gulp I got a 7/Eleven

Buying the shoes below at a random thrift store

Getting Canadian WiFi from Buffalo, NY

 

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Eye of the tiger

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Sweet cheesy deliciousness

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Fred 2016

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High on a hill was a lonely goatherd

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Biscuits ❤

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Following that, a personal highlight was when we just came off the Maid of the Mist at Buffalo. We were singing Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off [the (un)official song of the trek as it was released the day we started] **** whilst queuing for a lift. The unique part of this story is we were actually with a lady who had played Jasmine at Disney, she was a good laugh and nearly had a breakdown when we approached the Canadian border ‘cos she didn’t have her passport.

 

Like all good things, this trek had to finish, and John dropped us off at that first hotel in Newark. From here, I made my way to a hostel in Brooklyn – not without having a night-time sighting of the Empire State Building, which was immense.

I had booked this hostel back in England, mostly because it was the cheapest option. I mentioned this to a guy on my trek and his face dropped. He said that he’d stayed at this hostel before coming on the trek, and it wasn’t in a nice area. He then went on to explain the time that he got off the Subway (which was 60m from the hostel), but went the wrong way when off the train and had to be escorted by the Police back in the right direction.

A lovely thing to hear when you’ll be staying at this place for the next 5 nights.

 

The next 5 days were both a blur and a struggle. I had so much planned and was able to do everything I wanted to do, but I hadn’t expected to be ready to go home when I was in a city I had wanted to visit for so long. The 5/6 weeks away had started to take it out of me, I felt emotionally drained.

 

When I was back in Mexico, Elle Seaver (the founder of TSF) put it this way, and I still think about this now,

   It’s like you’ve got a big pot of love. And by giving and volunteering to these kids, you’re using up your pot. Without those you love and your close friends to replenish the pot, you soon feel less drained.

 

Using this analogy, I had used up my current pot of exploration. I needed to go home to see my friends.

 

But I carried on. I didn’t get stabbed outside my hostel, which was nice, but it wasn’t the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. I didn’t find it very social and being under-21, I couldn’t partake in much even if it was. (Also the bathrooms had this weird frosted glass in, so you could see who was on the toilet or in the shower)

 

I’m glad to say that as a solo traveller, I did a lot of stuff in NYC. So much to say that I do not need to return as a tourist (although I probably will)

 

During my 4 days there, after meticulous planning, I was able to

Go to the Top of the Rock to see the Empire State Building

My ears popping in the elevator was unusual

Walk around Central Park

Visit the toy store from up

Go see the 9/11 memorial

Go on all 5 Grey Line bus tours (I bought a 2-day pass, which included 1-hour bike rental)

Cycled across the Brooklyn Bridge

Walked Wall Street

Had Chinese in China Town

Went to Trader Joes and bought some food

Walked the Highline 

Which had a free food/art/music festival at the end

Accidently took a water taxi to Ikea in Brooklyn

See the Statue of Liberty

 

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I cycled across the Brooklyn Bridge!

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Fred takes on Times Square

 

The highlight of this part of my journey and my favourite place in the world is Jane’s Carousel.

This hidden gem below the Brooklyn Bridge is a gentrified area of Brooklyn with hipster shops, restaurants and, of course, a carousel.

I didn’t go on the carousel but I found serenity just sitting up against it, with the New York skyline in the distance, reading a book or listening to some music.

 

Peace, BA.

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My favourite place in the world