When Travel Makes You Rage Quit: Part 1

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All of my feelings about that day captured in one flattering photo.

As I’m sure you can tell from my last few posts, the first half of our trip through Central and Eastern Europe went off without a hitch.  We were on top of the world and having a great time.  Unfortunately, we didn’t fare as well on the second half of our journey.

We left Prague, still feeling a little under the weather and set out for Brno, another city in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic.  This was actually something we were really excited for and curious about for a couple of reasons.  First of all, because we came very close to studying abroad in Brno together while we were in college, but had to back out because it was too expensive.  We had always  kind of regretted the fact that we didn’t go through with it and hoped that visiting would give us some sort of redemption.  We had also heard nice things about Moravia from our tour guide in Prague, citing the delicious plum wine and the people’s hospitality.

We hopped off the train and looked around for a map, as we didn’t have the luxury of a working smartphone on this trip.  We stopped at the information desk to ask for directions, but the person behind the desk couldn’t speak much English.  We managed to get some information about a tram stop, so we took it and figured we could ask someone for directions to our hotel once we got there.

WRONG.  Most people either walked right by us like we weren’t there when we asked them for directions, or shrugged their shoulders and told us they had never heard of the street we were looking for.  It was raining, we were cold and sick, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and the sun was going down on a pretty sketchy-looking neighborhood.  So much for hospitality.  All I could think in that moment is how glad I was we never studied there; it would have been a total disaster.  At least I got closure.

Not knowing what else to do, we decided to take the tram back to the train station and figure things out from there.  They had a small pizza stand inside, so we grabbed a couple slices each, and to make a bad day worse, it turned out to be some of the nastiest pizza we had ever eaten.  We were both feeling exhausted and fed up at that point.  That’s when the perfect solution dawned on me:  we were already at a train station….why not just leave?  The next stop on our itinerary was Vienna and we’d only budgeted one night in Brno and had already missed all the things we’d wanted to do while searching for our elusive hotel, so the idea didn’t seem so crazy.  We ran into the ticket office and luckily they had a train leaving for Vienna within 45 minutes.  After a whopping three hours in Brno, we bought our tickets, breathed a sigh of relief, and waited impatiently to get on that train.

 

Adventures in Prague

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Prague is one of those cities I had dreamed of visiting for quite some time before this trip.  It’s one of those places that I built up a lot in my head.  I imagined it as a city full of old world charm, but still keeping up with the times.  I pictured it as the kind of place where one would go to lose themselves in the magic of the surroundings, grab an excellent cup of coffee, and perhaps find a nice bench somewhere to start writing the next great novel.  I wasn’t completely wrong, but Prague was not exactly the romantic place I had envisioned.

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Probably the prettiest Starbucks ever.

The first thing that surprised me was how jam-packed with tourists the place was.  I knew Prague was an up-and-coming tourist destination, but being that it was January and freezing, I was surprised by the crowds.  There was plenty of old world charm – thanks to the amazing Gothic architecture that fills the place up – but I couldn’t help but feel like it was a little inauthentic, since just about every corner of the city screamed tourism.

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Not kidding about the crowds.

Despite that, we were determined to have a good time – after all, we were already part of the tourist “problem”.  Besides, we couldn’t be too upset because our hotel had one of the best continental breakfasts we’d ever eaten, and nothing starts your day right like a good  breakfast.  We started out by signing up for one of the Sandeman’s free walking tours, which I can’t recommend enough because it changed the course of our entire trip!  We just happened to meet someone from Kansas City, not far from our native stomping grounds and hung out with her for the rest of the trip, which made for a great time.

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We toured the city for about four hours, learning all about the city’s history from one of their locals.  After the tour, we decided to head out with our new-found friend for some dinner.  We stopped at a random vegetarian restaurant that looked interesting, and it turned out to be delicious!  After filling up, we decided to hit the town again in search of some of Prague’s famously cheap Czech beer.

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Even though it has a reputation for having great cheap beer everywhere, it took a little digging to find the “right” place.  Finally, we asked around and were directed to a nice pub in the city center with outdoor seating, complete with fleece blankets to keep warm.  We each ordered one of their dark pilsners and it did not disappoint.  To top it all off, we were visited by some of the most intense rolling thunder I’ve ever heard in my life, sans rain and lightning.  It was a perfect evening.

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We made plans to meet our friend again to tour Prague Castle and the Petrin Tower on day two and met at the beautiful Charles Bridge.  It was a very chilly morning and Dakota and I were both starting to come down with colds, but having practically the whole city to ourselves for awhile was well worth getting out early to make the trek.  The farther we climbed up towards the castle, the more amazing the views from behind us got.  My “holy crap I really get to do stuff like this” moment happened when we finally found ourselves standing in front of St. Vitus Cathedral. It was huge, magnificent, and breathtaking.  Truly one of the most stunning pieces of architecture I’ve yet to see.

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After re-positioning our dropped jaws, we headed further up the hill to the Petrin Tower, a Czech attempt to copy the Eiffel Tower.  Despite its lack of originality, the Petrin Tower is still worth visiting for its amazing 360 degree views of the whole city.  The long climb up the winding spiral staircase (we didn’t want to be lazy and take the elevator) was totally worth it.  All of the bridges, towers, and water blended together into a stunning panorama.

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After heading back down, we stopped at an AMAZING vegan restaurant specializing in Czech food and it was probably the best food I ate the entire trip.  The highlight was definitely the cherry dumplings.

We wandered back down to the area around Prague Castle to watch the changing of the guards, stopped into a few shops, and then it was time to say goodbye to our new friend, who had to fly back to London.  We parted ways and then stopped for a cup of hot herbal tea.  My husband and I were both feeling pretty lousy by the time afternoon rolled around, so we stopped at a pharmacy, grabbed some cold medicine, and spent the rest of the night resting in the hotel and binge watching Cupcake Wars, hoping to recover enough to make it through our next train journey.

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Despite the fact that it’s very touristy these days, I say that Prague is still definitely worth the visit.  There are plenty of things to see and do and you can have a great time on the cheap, especially if your idea of a great time is sharing some good beers with some friends or gawking at Gothic architecture.  Was it a little cheesy at times?  Sure.  But in my book, that’s not always a bad thing.