March 24, 2013

My favorite part of the world

Alright I am back home from my recent travels :-) The route was pretty crazy. Almost 3 weeks of travels between 4 European countries. I started my journey on the 6th March going from my hometown to Prague, Czech Republic. Prague is a beautiful capital city. Not my favorite city around this neighborhood but still very classy and gaining more beauty every day with more reconstruction work done.

Purpose of my visit was the legendary Mumford&sons concert! :D Me and my niece are big fans of these British guys and we found way how to meet Marcus Mumford with Ted Dwane. The two main characters of the band. As you can guess the experience was unbelievable. Ted Dwane spent a few weeks couple years ago in Prague trying to write some lyrics for new songs. Back in the day he was completely unknown and according to his words also broke (well you are going to loose everything with our little TAXI mafia - not only your pants, how one of our Czech sayings states  ;-). Didn't wrote any useful music but fall in love with the city. Somehow I can understand why. You can't compare European cities between each other or other cities around the world. Prague is unique. Mostly beautiful during the day thanks to narrow streets which aren't that great at night because of lack lightening. I returned back home the next day. This was my first visit of Prague in these 3 weeks (don't worry one more has to come).

Repacked my bag, added skis and a thick sweater :-) Hurrray! I was off to Italy. For almost 5 days I got to enjoy Italy. Sella Nevea was the spot me and my classmates picked up for our last trip together as our school is going to end pretty soon (can you believe it? 2 more months and we have our university degrees  signed!). Our adventure began with a train ride from Ostrava to Brno. Two main cities in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic. The trip was organized by a Czech travel agency from Prague via Brno and Vienna to Sella Nevea and Tarvision ski resorts. 6 friends altogether hopped on the bus in Brno around midnight on Friday :-) Got of the bus after almost 9 hours of driving through snowy country in the end destination.

Sella Nevea looked as a huge piece of rock to us at the first sight and we were rather scared if we have enough skiing  abilities to conquer this place. But you know how it is. They always look differently from the top :-) The weather wasn't completely in our odds with light rain the first day and heavy snowing set up for the second day. The only thing you can do here is ski or snowboard. Not much sightseeing places can be found here without a car. We were reliant on the bus ... Nevertheless after two days surrounded by the rocks of the Alps time to change ski resort came. Tarvisio is a beautiful small Italian village. What a pity that our visit was set for Monday and most of the shops were closed. The skiing here is heavenly magical as the skiing paths are going above the clouds ending in a few houses on the top of the mountain. Three days ski pass is around 60€ for an adult combining three skiing resorts in the neighborhood. Really good deal, huh? I would recommend the Italian side of the Alps more than the Austrian ones because it's cheaper and the food is more delicious - it's the famous Italian pasta that wins every time ;-) Completely exhausted and with a light cold I returned back home to repack my bag again and to leave my skis at home.

Yet off I was again. Second time in a week Prague was my destination. This time for a reunion with my summer companions. They became my family for three months thanks to the Work & Travel program which I've spent in San Francisco Bay Area. We meet at least once a months since the program ended to plan something special for the upcoming summer. This time we had a special visit from the US! All summer we were dreaming about our country and Ryan couldn't resist to spend his spring break abroad to see if our words were true :-) We did an almost three days tour of Prague together. I always wanted to visit the library in the Strahov monastery. So this was our start point. Walking then down the hill to end up in the Hradcany area enjoying the view of the city below us. Various tickets can be bought for the Czech castle area. In my opinion you get the best value with the small loop ticket. Showing you the old part of the castle, the st. Vitus cathedral and the Golden lane. From here on it's really close to the Charles bridge (even I would recommend to cross the bridge from the Old town square to the castle - to see the scenery in front of you). Continuing to the Old Town Square with the Astronomical clock and small markets thanks to the Easter season. Try as many things you can! :-) Potatoes, dumplings, sausages, sauerkraut dishes, wine, honey liquor and many many more.  During your stay in Prague you don't have to spend all of your money on the pricey restaurants surrounding touristy areas. In the lunch time every restaurant offers lunch menu deals for the business people trying to make their life easier with three course deals for good price (around 150 CZK). Well as you can guess they hide many times these offers before the tourists so don't be afraid and ask for lunch menus every time. There is also a really nice food court in the Palladium shopping center which is located on the end of the  Na Prikope street which connects the Wenceslaus Square with the Gunpowder Tower.
Second day was in the spirit of the Wenceslaus Square, Astronomical Clock - go to see it from the top! The scenery is beautiful and you can see Prague from all four cardinal directions. My next special stop was at Cafe Slavia. This 'kavarna' (cafe in Czech) has the VIP and intellectual awareness among the Czech nation. I was surprised that the prices here are reasonable and the vibe you get from this place is still the same as it must have been around 1920 :-) I loved it so much that every time I'm in Prague I'll stop by for a little something! Thanks to a mid day pay at the Czech National Theater we were able to get inside for the ridiculous price of 50 CZK per ticket to see the grounding stones and the beautiful venue as well. The dancing house further down by the Vltava river doesn't fit so much into the typical Prague picture so don't be dissapointed. But you can take the small and narrow streets of Prague city center with various shops to return back to the Wenceslaus Square. Prague is one of the cheaper towns you can visit in Europe. So take advantage of this knowledge and enjoy your stay here. Beer is usually about $1, meals below $10 and the entrances to exhibitions are for about $5 each :-) Big note! If you're a student don't forget to bring your student's ID. ISIC is the standardized one among Europe but also your local ID is going to be accepted by the vendors.This card is giving the students a huge advantage how to save on entrances and even sometimes in restaurants for food (e.g. two pizzas in price of one, etc.).

The Czech government opened the Czech railroads to the competition which means that two new companies were grounded to compete in price and standard. Most of them offer hot beverages for free and free wifi is already the standard when crossing from Bohemia to Moravia. Yep, also Brno I visited twice in this whole trip. Here it is pretty simple: the Labyrinth below the Vegetable market, the Catacombs and Spilberk castle (another castle! :-). All three places don't cost more than 200 CZK to visit and are going to be perfect way how to spend a day in Brno. Even I have to admit the we were a little bit disappointed about the Spiberk exhibition - the English translation wasn't the best ...

So now you maybe ask yourself where is my favorite place in the world ... Vienna is the answer!!! This city is so beautiful. Connecting the magic of roman empire with huge impressive buildings. Several buses depart Brno every day for Vienna. The ride is around 150 CZK one way and takes less than 2 hours. We arrived here in the evening before the sunset and after our luggage was left at the hotel all the breath taking architecture was nicely lighted up with many street lights. A single ride with the tram or subway is 2€ but it's useless as strolling around is really quick and easy. The street system of Vienna contains a circle surrounding and connecting the inner circle with the rest of the city. Most of the tourist attractions are within walking distance from the Ring. Albertina and the old part of the National Library are my two most favorite parts of Vienna. Albertina is a modern arts museum having currently Monet to Picasso exhibition in it's corridors. Prunksaal (the old library) hosts an exhibition which describes March 1938 when Hitler took Austria into the German Empire with his speech on the Neu Burg balcony. The entrances are more expensive here than in Prague - you can expect the double prices in Vienna.
In this season you can't see so many traditional markets as before Christmas in Vienna, therefor was the traditional Naschmarkt a little bit disappointing showing only mediterranean cuisine. On the other hand Mariahilfer Street is not going to disappoint me ever :-) This street is know for shopping. During this trip I found out that it continues to the Inner Stadt, crossing the circle, with even more luxurious shops in the city center. All parts of Vienna are nicely reconstructed which means that the Inner Stadt part - the city center is a delight to look at. The main character is Stephan's Platz with a big cathedral in the center. Also here you can visit one of the two towers of the cathedral to see Vienna from the air.
We have visited so many museums during our stay here so it's almost impossible to describe every single one. I'm going to post links for various helping web sites later on. Since yesterday I'm back home and can't believe myself that I managed the past three weeks. This time my travels were different because for the most time I was the tour guide which I have enjoyed. That's also the reason for no pictures in this post as I wasn't taking any. Thanks to everyone who made this trip possible and joined me :-) It was soooo much fun from the beginning until the end! I can't wait until I pack my bag again :-) 
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