Coffee, Art, History, and Cake | 3 Days in Vienna

Happy Boxing Day, Brits and Canadians 🙂 Happy post-Christmas Day to those who celebrated yesterday. I’m taking advantage of today’s downtime to finish up my Vienna recap, which seemed to grow and grow and grow. Finally, I’m done and can share with you what we did, learned, and ate while in this culturally and historically (and just actually) rich European capital.

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I need to be upfront with you. I believe Vienna is a beautiful city. We had a nice time while there. Many things were great and I would recommend many of the things we did while there (see list of recommendations at the end). But my recap is likely to seem less enthusiastic than that for Prague or other cities I plan to blog about.

Why? Because, for me, it’s hard to separate the weather from my tourist experience in a place. Especially when you’re only in a place for a couple days. When we got on the bus in Prague, it was a sunny morning. By the time we reached the Austrian border, all was overcast. The rain was light, a nuisance more than a concern, but the temperature had also dropped considerably from one side of the bus ride to the other. In Prague, I’d been strolling along the bridge, letting the sun hit my shoulders, carrying a shawl just in case. In Vienna, I opened and closed my umbrella constantly, wrapped my scarf around my head regularly, and never left the hostel without a sweater. It’s hard to compare these experiences.

Lodging makes a difference, too. Our lodging was a little weird here. It was a clean hostel, but it wasn’t comfortable. There were oodles of rules, and I had apparently accidentally marked that we were a male-male traveling duo when making the reservation and the owner nearly wouldn’t let us stay when I turned out to be a female. This was particularly weird since it was already a private room and there were not different sections for males or females. We had to keep our shoes at the front door (so the floors stayed clean), which meant there was a particularly funky smell immediately upon arrival. The shared kitchen was basically a Foreman Grill, a tea kettle (Actually, think I’ll make myself a tea now. Okay, I’m back. The kettling is warming.), and a cutting board. The walls were bare excepting multilingual signs of rules for every single item in the place. I know these rules are often necessary, but seeing nothing but rules on the walls is a bit unexpected in a city with so much wonderful art.

My point is that I feel Vienna is likely better than our experience of it. If I had felt the warmth of the spring sun while walking along the streets or stayed in a beautiful apartment with a functional kitchen where I could make white spargel (asparagus) soup and homemade schnitzel without the smell of feet wafting by, maybe I would be writing a post about how much I want to move to Vienna. Who knows?

We did enjoy ourselves, though. Really, we did. We loved the Naschmarkt. We visited some of the best museums we’ve ever seen. We loved exploring Vienna’s cafe culture. We loved our quick wine garden/heuriger afternoon. It was a good time. There is so much art, history, and music to see. It was, overall, a positive and rewarding stop.

Day 1

We arrived on a rainy afternoon, as I said. For someone who claims to be a “planner” when traveling, I had a major fail here. We had the address of our hostel and vague directions. We navigated the U (metro/subway) system well enough, but then had little to go on. We asked a very nice–but directionally challenged–local for help and were sent farther away. Finally, we went to a hotel to ask their concierge for a map. We found our way.

And from there, we immediately wandered into the Naschmarkt, snacking on some perogies and sampling dried fruits along the way. According to my journal, the market had the best dates I’ve ever seen on offer (but reading this makes me remember the dates we later ate on this trip, so I’m not so sure anymore). We sampled the tiniest wild strawberries, talked with butchers, cheesemongers, visited wine shops, looked longingly at piles of spargel (asparagus season is no joke in Austria and Germany), barrels of sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers, bulk bins full of candied or roasted cashews, almonds, and any nut you can think of. Along the sides of the market, there are restaurants, small wine bars, etc. The idea of joining locals for an evening glass would have sounded much more tempting had it been warmer, so we never did.

Our second stop was Cafe Sperl, an impressive cafe of yesteryear. All servers are tuxedoed and take their jobs very seriously, just as you’d hope as a tourist in Vienna. We found a cozy booth along the tall windows. The rain on the outside is always nicer when seen from the inside. As soon as the waiter had given us menus and walked out of earshot, I started to talk Jung and Freud and logical positivism (check out this video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA06_MTjcwQ) to the mister, seeing how long he could pretend that I knew what I was talking about.

Since we’d just snacked in the Naschmarkt, we weren’t really there for the food as much as the atmosphere. Thankfully, due to the long-established cafe culture and less of an emphasis on tipping, servers don’t seem to mind at all if you take up prime booth real estate while ordering minimal food. I ordered a zucchini soup; the mister ordered traditional sausages with horseradish and mustard. The soup was great and went according to plan. The sausage? Well, turns out that just because you’re in Vienna, it doesn’t mean you’re getting a great sausage. Also, it doesn’t mean you’ll get cutlery. Alas, a skinny and naked hotdog appeared before him on a silver platter. He asked for silverware. The server seemed surprised, but then gave an exaggerated, acquiescent head nod before bringing him a knife and fork. We were flabbergasted that in such a fancy-schmancy place, you were just supposed to pick up your weiners with your hands. We spent the rest of the time seeing if anyone else ordered the sausage to see how they ate it.

Then came dessert. I, being the trip researcher, knew all about the famous–or infamous–Sachertorte that everyone eats but few actually like (Mr.Bourdain isn’t thrilled with it, either). It’s dry, of course. I figured I probably wouldn’t love it, but it also seems like something you ought to try once, particularly when in Vienna. The mister is a chocolate fan. I mean, the guy really loves it. And he had heard of Sachertorte. So, when he saw other people ordering it, I knew he would want it. Should I tell him that most people don’t really like it that much and save us the trouble? Or should I let him discover this Viennese cake for himself?

I let him order it. We shared. Thankfully, we both had coffees to supplement it. He had denied the whipped cream (seen as a must for this cake) on the side offered by the server. I should have intervened there, too. Anyway, we finished it, him all the while saying he couldn’t believe I didn’t tell him all of this before he ordered. The coffee was great, though.

We called it an early night after dinner. I was sleepy, and he had plenty of work.

Day 2

We continued our cafe exploration the next morning. We sauntered among the monuments and sculptures into the Inner Ring, making our way to Cafe Central. We got a little lost, but not enough to be bothered. I met Mozart and Goethe and saw some of the prettiest cakes along the way. The size and ornament of the buildings were truly impressive. One beautiful building after the next; even “boring” bureaucratic buildings were lovely.

  

Since we got lost along the way, we were much hungrier than we’d expected to be upon arrival at Cafe Central. The grandeur of the place almost, almost made me forget that I was hungry. Nothing about this place was disappointing. I geeked out from moment one, which is the moment I saw a proper doorman for the cafe. Tuxedos or skirt suits for women, large windows, beautiful architecture inside and outside. The breakfast was ample, and I say this as an extreme breakfast lover. Mine came with a Viennese coffee (espresso with whipped cream). The mister got the “healthy” breakfast: granola, yogurt, fruit, veggie sticks, cheese, and butter with a coffee. And then, because we were on vacation and were good and hungry earlier, we stayed put and ordered desserts. Right after breakfast. We weren’t even alone in this. In my journal I drew a diagram of the layered dessert so I could pretend as though I’ll recreate it someday 🙂

From the cafe, we wandered a bit, then found the Globe Museum, which is part of the National Library. This is apparently the World’s only globe museum. Of course, this may be true, but there were certainly great globe collections in other museums. Still, we learned about globe production and construction and saw two Magellan globes, which was geogeek exciting.

Afterward, we wasted a lot of time trying to decide how much Habsburg stuff we really wanted to see. Sure, in theory, I’d like to see all of it. But tickets for museums start to add up quickly, the mister had much writing/coding to do, and I had many other things I’d prefer to see first. We decided to visit a few parts of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, including the Arms and Armours collection and the Ephesos Museum.  Seeing inside the building’s great halls and stairways was half of the fun. I enjoyed seeing the intricate design on the armor, but was weird to think about how many were made simply for ceremonial reasons. Weirder still when you see pierced armor and you know there was an injured body underneath there hundreds of years ago.

After museum time, we went together to hit up the Naschmarkt yet again, this time buying a couple Austrian cheeses (one strong blue and one soft aged goat cheese), some salami, bread, and a bag of delicious cherries to each for dinner with the remainder of our dried fruits. Husband headed back “home” to work, taking the groceries with him, and allowing me to make the most of the Kunsthistorisches museum pass I’d just purchased. The things we saw earlier in the day were outstanding, but I was not going to leave Vienna without spending some time with Bruegel, Rubens, and Vermeer.

There was so much to see. I budgeted something like three hours of museum time, thinking it’d be okay. I ran out of time. (I was kicked out of the museum. Museum staff could have been nicer when explaining that I had to exit a certain way and they definitely made it awkward by building a human chain and forcing people out. All they had to do was tell me to go the other way. It was weird.) Thankfully, I got in my Caravaggio time.

I took copious amounts of notes in the gallery, which was something new for me. This was amusing on a social experiment level. Sometimes I’d be finishing notes about something else or even noting a French or Spanish vocabulary word, so nothing that was too important. Still, when others see someone taking notes about one painting, they tend to stop and pay attention, just because you’re there.

I felt slightly rushed through the European masters, but was extra rushed through the Egyptian and Middle Eastern collections. My highlights were the mummified Nile crocodiles and the Greek and Roman statues. If ever I return to Vienna, I will make a second visit here, no doubt.

After the museum, I met up with Jordan. He’d done a little research about wine bars in the neighborhood. He found a fun, low-key place to do a tasting. We went to Pub Klemo for a six-wine tasting (we shared folks, small pours :)). Because we were in Austria and didn’t know much about Austrian wines, we asked for a flight of blaufränkisch, a red wine we’d never tried before. We definitely need to take a look for one of these on the shelves for a special occasion. (Update! I found one in Cambridge and it’s on the shelf chez nous!) Anyway, I loved this place and would have returned had our stay been longer.

We returned to the hostel, pulling out our stinking cheeses and stuffed peppers in the common area. We’d prepared ourselves a proper charcuterie board with fruits and veggies. To the left, some people ate fast food take out. To our right, they ate ramen noodles from styrofoam. We felt a little weird. But less weird when we realized their take out cost nearly the same as our market meal.

Day 3

The next day seemed equally as full as the first. We started just like the day before, in search of one of the city’s well-known cafes. I often feel that because something is famous it must be overrated. This, I’m learning, is not the case near as much as we think. These cafes are great. They’re no secret either.

We actually skipped breakfast at the cafe because it looked like weiner and kaiser rolls were the main breakfast options. We enjoyed our coffees and newspapers before venturing out to food stalls for a late morning snack of pretzel. Enormous pretzel, that is.

The pretzel hunt led us by St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which we ventured into for just a wee bit. We also passed Mozart’s house, but didn’t stray from my direct path to the Belvedere once the pretzel had been secured.

 

Oh, the Belvedere. I think it’s my favorite art museum of all time. Okay, I have other favorites, too, but my experience here was just so fun. Also, the clouds started to break up, so the grounds looked gorgeous, sun shone into the galleries and halls, and there was a cafe where Jordan was able to work to his heart’s (head’s?) content while I arted to my heart’s content.

The Belvedere is the old palace of Eugene of Savoy. I mean, well done. I’d love it as my summer residence as well. And I’d also love to fill it be a great art collection. I, like everyone else in the museum, fell in love with Gustav Klimt. Even if you loved his art before walking in there, you’d fall in love all over again. The museum knows that the famous painting, The Kiss, is a victim of its success/everyone wants a photo with it. So much so that the museum made a replica, but it in a well-lit area and made it an official “selfie point”. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to think and I feel like I’m behind the curve in the art of the selfie, so you’ll have to just imagine me there. I would love to tell you all of the new-to-me artists I loved here, but it would be a long list. I just loved the interwar period. Anyway, if you like art museums or old palaces with great views and orangeries, go here!

After feasting my eyes on some Europe’s best art for the SECOND DAY IN A ROW, I collected the coding husband from the cafe here. (In case you’re wondering why he passed on the art, it’s not necessarily because he’s a Philistine, but because his dissertation was due for submission at the end of the summer). As I mentioned, the clouds had parted, and the rain decided to give us one party cloudy day in Vienna. Since the weather was nice[r], we decided to make the most of it and head toward the outskirts of town to a little heuriger (wine garden that serves up a homemade-like style meal). We hopped on the tram to Beethovengang (the man himself was here!) to visit the Schübel-Auer Heuriger.

Clueless as to how to proceed upon arrival, we wandered in and sat down at an empty table, hoping that was the protocol in these places. Soon, a man came over (not a waiter exactly, since they didn’t bring any food) and simply asked,

“Red or white?”

I ordered white; Jordan ordered red. When you think wine in Europe as a North American, you typically think swirling, sniffing, pontificating, right? None of that. Just good and low-key. The man disappeared and returned with two mugs of wine and signaled that we should head on inside.

My journal tells me that the food on offer was all that we’d hoped! I stand by it. I had a plate full of blood sausage and sauerkraut. I’ve had some pretty solid blood sausage in my day (think mortadella and Argentine parrillas!), but this was the best. My dining companion had pork and dumplings.  Naturally, I stole bites, but I was so thrilled with my own choice that I didn’t feel the slightest twinge of food envy. Oh yeah, then there was dessert. If you’re in Vienna for a long stay, you can spend more time going to and from a heuriger. If you are in Vienna for just a few days, but still want the experience, this is a perfect, tram-accessible stop.

We spent a bit more time exploring Beethovengang before returning into the city. You know, as I write this, I feel full just thinking about what I’m about to write. You can judge me if you’d like. It’s fine. We ate again. In the time we had spent in the city, we hadn’t had a proper beisl experience. I’m still not entirely sure we have, since it didn’t fall at the lunchtime beisl rush. Either way, we split a schnitzel plate, because how can you not eat schnitzel in Vienna? I know, double meat consumption. I was a horrible flexitarian. But really, it was a great schnitzel. And a great, cozy little place to have something to eat.

The next morning, we woke up relatively early (when traveling, I’m always sooo nervous about being late for my bus/train/flight), leisurely at our market leftovers for breakfast and packed our bags. And then we found what may be the only seedy part of Vienna (see article here): the bus station.

Just like that we said goodbye to Vienna.

Except, of course, I haven’t really. Despite the weather, despite the lame lodging situation, there is just too much to do and see there. I want to return to see an opera in the Vienna Opera House. I want to return to the market and go to a functional kitchen and sip Grüner Veltliner and more Blaufränkish while making schnitzel. I want relive all the fancy cafe experiences and try different coffees. I want to read more about the Habsburgs and then visit their palaces. I want to visit the Albertina and all the art (impossible task, I imagine) that I missed this go ’round. I want to take a biking tour of more family-run heurigers.

If you ask me what my favorite stop on our trip was, my answer will not be Vienna. But I would never tell you not to go. And I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d regret visiting or turn down another opportunity to go. It’s grand–in ever sense of the word. You should go if you get the chance.

Recommendations

I thought about separating out the food and sights, but in Vienna, cafe culture, beisl culture, and heuriger culture are both, so it made little sense to separate 🙂

 

 

What’s with the Dress? | Dressember 2016

It’s better to light a candle than curse the dark.

The last year seemed to go by so quickly and yet last so long all at the same time. I know we all stress about holidays, events we must attend, the things we mean to do. But I, for one, am so glad they exist. These special days, seasons, or months help me truly appreciate a year. The holiday season is in full swing, but for three years in a row, December has also meant something else for me.

In December, thousands of others and I celebrate Dressember, the month of the year where we wear a dress every.single.cold.day in order to spread the message that every woman has the right to live a vibrant and autonomous life.

This campaign is meant to celebrate womanhood and all women of all types, but also raises funds for two great organizations: the International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org) and A21 (www.a21.org), which both seek to eliminate human trafficking of all human beings worldwide.

The Dressember campaign has chosen to raise funds for these organizations because they both operate rescue missions, break up human trafficking rings, and also provide resources and help to those they’ve rescued. Human trafficking disproportionately affects women and children.

All month my team members (Hey, Lesley! Hey, Shannon!), and I will be posting photos as proof that we’re holding up our end of the dress-wearing bargain. It’s about so much more than posting photos of ourselves. We don’t mean to clog up your news feeds with our selfies, but rather remind you every day that there are people who need our help and respect.

I’d love it if you can help us by:

1) joining our team — it’s not too late! (We’re Cut the Slack)
2) learning more about these organizations and/or the causes they fight for;
3) making sure that the women in your own lives are being encouraged and empowered to live full, free, and meaningful lives of their own choosing;
4) sharing the message and/or clicking on the links/liking posts by Dressember on FB so FB’s algorithm will allow others to see this;
5) donating toward our team fundraising goal.

To learn more about the campaign, please visit https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/cuttheslack

Thanks to all of you in advance! You’re the best 🙂

Please note: Much of this information and also copy comes from the campaign and organizations themselves. My intent is to spread the message, not claim the copy as my own.

Bohemian Moments | 5 Days in Prague

In my opinion, there are three types of travel moments that matter: the fiasco moments (that typically end up being extremely laughable assuming no actual harm), the moments that you appreciate in retrospect, and the moments that announce themselves as glorious little time nuggets of joy from the very second you find yourself in the moment.*

You know, those last ones are the moments that make you pinch yourself, turn the adult you into the giddy middle-school version of yourself (don’t worry, you’re likely much more self-aware now, so your antics are forgiven). These are the moments that I sometimes call Fraulein Maria moments–moments that make me think that “somewhere in my youth of childhood, I must have done something good”. Of course, any time you have a great trip, you’ve probably had a few of these.

In Prague, it seemed like they were heaped upon me. I was swimming in Fraulein Maria moments. Leisurely backstrokes. Sure, it was our first stop on the trip, so I was probably extra eager to pick up on special little vacation vibes as quickly as possible. Whatever, that may have created bias, but my reflections are coming to you long after we’ve had time to finish and process our entire EuroTrip. (Too long, sorry!)

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Day 1 | We arrived in Prague late at night. Because, well, Prague has a reputation that even my co-market-workers in Vancouver warned me about, we pre-arranged a trusted driver to weave us in and out of the Old Town streets. And we spent the night splitting our time between ducking in and out of late-night bakeries, indulging in our first Czech Pilsners, and losing ourselves between floodlit buildings of grandeur. Oh, yes, from night one, I was in a happy place.

Day 2 | Our first walk through Old Town Square was crowded with other tourists just like us, but we still geeked out at the architecture. Even better? Wandering just a few blocks off of the square, where there will still be tourists, but there are rarely hoards. Then you can take photos and smile at all the pretty windows without worrying about another tourist slamming into you. We spent the rest of the day walking. And eating bread and potato dumplings. And sausages with mustard and fresh horseradish. The ubiquity of fresh horseradish made me so, so happy. Those of you with wild horseradish supplies in your yard, I envy you. We also visited the beer garden that overlooks the city during our stroll in the park. The beer culture here becomes obvious on a weekend day in the park. Moms push strollers from playground to playground, chatting and sipping to-go pilsners. Friends bring picnics to the garden and share a pitcher. And all of this seems so low-key, familial, and enjoyable.

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We made our way to the other side of the city to the Malá Strana area, where I got straight to work on being nerdy. We headed to the Lennon Wall, Shakespeare and Co., and walked in the footsteps of Kafka, before crossing back into the Staré Město across the Charles Bridge.

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Day 3 | Alas, Jordan could not play tourist with me forever. On day three, Jordan headed to his conference to register before it actually started. Registration went quickly, allowing us time to explore the Vyšehrad Castle and grounds together before grabbing lunch together.

The Vyšehrad grounds took a fair amount of time, and we let it. We visited the church, vines, statues, a few restaurants and a pretty cemetery with a view (for those of you who don’t know, I love visiting them. They are a beautiful expression of culture and history). When lunch came, we found an outdoor grill restaurant. I tried to order a grilled vegetable, but failed. The sausages were delicious and well accompanied, but it had become clear I’d have to seek vegetables out more than I was used to.

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One of maybe three photos together on the whole trip!

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Day 3 Continued | The mister spent the afternoon at his conference, which meant I got to explore the city according to my own interests, and they alone. Freeing, really. I’ve never taken a long trip by myself, but this trip would give me a taste of that. After the time in Prague, our days started to fall into a bit of a routine on the days we weren’t on the move. We would have breakfast together, be it in a coffee bar, cafe, or in our Airbnb apartment. He would check in with his data (which was processing back in Canada), start running some processes, etc. Then we might do one morning activity together or read/recover in the apartment, each lunch at a market or low-key restaurant, then part ways. Jordan would retreat to a cafe or the apartment to write, edit, process his data. I’d explore museums and markets and city neighborhoods to my heart’s content. This is when I could take as long as I wanted in any gallery, browse the books as slowly as I wanted to, and ask questions galore about the truffles, cheeses, or vegetables I found. And oh yeah, visit libraries.

This day was magic. Pure magic. I walked up the hill to the Strahov Monastery to view one of Europe’s most beautiful libraries. And then also head across the street to the abbey’s brewery for a lone beer. And I know people (sorry, Amy Schumer!) might feel like that girl reading a book in a bar is trying to look mysterious, but really, she just wants to drink her beer and read her book. This is also my “don’t-feel-like-you-have-to-make-conversation-with-me” shield. I enjoyed the moment. Truly. I was high on the library moment.

And then I started ambling down the cobblestoned streets, taking in the view from the top of the hill. Everywhere I turned I saw a trdelník, those beautiful sugar-coated tunnels of delicious carbohydrate. When I saw a stand that had a particularly yeasty smell, I stopped to purchase my very own. I stand by my choice. Not too crunchy, still just a little doughy, sugar and cinnamon, and tiny bits of almond. I nibbled, bounced my way on down between other happy tourists, jaded locals, and the beautiful buildings that surrounded us.

I reached the bridge, still nibbling, still grinning like a fool, and the music that seemed to be in my head was suddenly being played by a jazz band on the bridge. How did they know what was in my head?

I’m chipper all the day,
Happy with my lot.
How do I get that way ?
Look at what I’ve got!
I wrote this on the day of about the moment: “I thought I was going to die with glee!”
It didn’t even stop there. Things got better and better. I visited the Klementium. Also from my journal, I wrote “I made it to the Klementinium and its Baroque library, which I preferred to the others in the Strahov. What a luxury to get to pick your favorite Baroque library for the day!”
I bought myself a ticket to that night’s concert. Sure, this is likely one of the most touristy concerts in town, but I listened to the music of Dvorak, Vivaldi, and Smetana for a price so unthinkable, I almost regret not going twice. I heard a harpsichord live, the recorded tapes from 6th grade listening contest coming to life. There were moments so beautiful that when a Dvorak song came to an end, everyone in the audience seemed reluctant to applaud, not wanting the final note to end.
Finally, I walked from the concert to a nearby restaurant, U Dobrenskych. We had pickled cheese and onions as a starter. Even a few days in the Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany will remind you how versatile pickling can be 🙂 The mister ate braised beef cheeks; I had my first schnitzel, of the pork variety. Highly recommend this place.
When my head hit the pillow, I sincerely thought, This was definitely one of the best days of my life. I’ll stand by that.

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Day 4 | Or the day I fell in love with Alfons Mucha.

Jordan needed to present some research. He practiced a few times in the morning. I tried to be a strict coach. I think I was. But I was also dreaming about breakfast at Libeřské lahůdky. The pastries were varied and numerous. We tried cheese and poppyseed, a jam kolache, and a creme-fille doughnut of some kind. For years I have said I don’t like doughnuts, but those are words I didn’t mind eating 🙂

He left for the conference, and I went to the Alfons Mucha museum to learn about his relationship with Sarah Bernhardt (his muse) and some of the history of the Czech people through his art. I swear to myself that the next time (!) I return to Prague, I will see his Slav Epic. I visited the Municipal House (pictured below), and then had a coffee in order to wait until a respectable hour for lunch.

For lunch, I visited Sisters, which was recommended in the Foodie Guide to Prague (the best three dollars you can spend before you trip, I kid you not). It was worth the wait.  Sisters uses fresh, pretty ingredients to make chlebicek, those little works-of-art open-faced sandwiches that the CR is known for. I’d also be lying if it didn’t taste wonderful just to have any sort of vegetable-heavy lunch. I asked more questions than was probably normal for ordering a lunch at the register, but they were helpful and suggested some classics. I also took the opportunity to scope out the butcher next door. I almost lunched a second time when I saw their offerings, but figured I should just come back, especially since we’d planned on eating at a nice place for dinner that night.

I spent my afternoon splitting time between one part of the National gallery (which is split between several buildings), answering e-mails, catching up on jet lag sleep, and reading one of the books I’d tucked along into my luggage.

In the evening, I meet with the mister, his then future boss, and some other people in his field. We met at Cestr, but apparently my dining suggestion had been overruled by the group (which obviously hadn’t read the Foodie Guide!), so a beer was had, and then we were supposed to meet them across town where some other colleagues were eating. We got lost, and lost again. Then found the place, which was closing for the night, and later learned that they never even found it. By the time this had happened, we ended up eating pizza slices on the street and having cake at Cafe Slavia, one of Kafka’s old haunts.  Not how we’d pictured the evening, but other than being a little chilly and a lot lost, all was well that ended well enough.

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Day 5 | After the Cestr/getting lost debacle, Jordan had agreed to leave the conference around 2 for a late lunch there. He must have sensed my disappointment from the night before 🙂

I planned a morning visit to the Jewish neighborhood of Prague and it’s Jewish Museum, which consists of 7 buildings. The synagogues are beautiful and have exhibits ranging describing the life of the Czech Jewish community throughout history. I visited Celebration Hall and the Pinkus Synagogue, which is a memorial with the names of the 80,000 Czech and Moravian Jews who were victims of the Holocaust. It’s a powerful, powerful memorial. I highly recommend a visit to this neighborhood and museum if you’re in Prague.

I actually wound up running into the then future boss there, which is how I learned about that the other group never found the restaurant the evening before.

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From the Jewish Museum, I went back to Name Maso and the market to choose the ingredients I’d need for my attempt at Czech cuisine. This shop buys meat from farmers who use traditional aging practices to increase flavor and typically use a heritage breed of Semental. I asked for help, knowing they’d know exactly the kind of cut I’d want for a goulash. I left with 260 grams of shank steak (though he said I really should have at least 200 grams per person–ha!), 100 grams of pastrami, 100 grams of salami, and a loaf of beautiful, hearty, dark bread. A total of…just over 9USD. Woot! My other purchases for this goulash meal, as well as breakfasts, and a road lunch came to 7USD. That’s including a French cheese, people!

Anyway…

The mister and I met for lunch. Cestr (and really any place recommended in that food guide) did not disappoint. This was one of the best meals of my life. (I have zero Michelin star notched on my belt, so judge that as you will). I have no pictures for you because I was too excited and too embarrassed to snap photos with a clunky DSLR in a classy restaurant. Still, worth your time and money. We were served an amuse-bouche, which also served as an amuse-moi. I don’t usually dine at places were I’m given a proper, cute amuse-bouche, okay? There was a perfectly chilled pilsner, pork knuckle, brisket, bread and potato dumplings, fudgy chocolate cake with housemade peanut ice cream, port-like dessert wines from the CR, and a walnut liqueur. All this, dear reader, came to about 30USD. And you don’t have to tip near as much as at home in North America. So, so worth returning after the previous night’s almost-meal there.

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We returned to our temporary home. Jordan worked. I read a bit. I got to food prep. I knew that by the time we returned from our evening plans, we’d be hungry again, and I certainly wouldn’t have time to do all I wanted in the kitchen. Oh, glorious home cooking! It’s strange, maybe, I’m not sure, but after even three days of not doing any real cooking, I had missed it sorely. It was therapeutic for me, boiling potatoes, cooking some cabbage, channeling my Bohemian great-grandmother, all while looking into a cutesy Czech courtyard. Cabbage, caraway, paprika, dumplings, fresh horseradish. It all felt so comforting. This little moment to myself in the kitchen, combined with the lunch of a lifetime, was snowballing into a very glorious food day 🙂

Before we could partake of the dinner, though, another wonderful thing happened. I convinced the mister (thanks in part to the very affordable prices) to accompany me to the opera! It was my first time, and I was giddy, yet again. The atmosphere itself was worth it. Getting dressed up, seeing others gussied up, sitting in a little opera balcony with a French farmer-turned-B&B-owner couple that happens to love the opera, the ornate chandeliers, the old creaky chairs. The mister looked dapper; I felt pretty. I even sipped a champagne flute at intermission of the front balcony. Oh, there are times the 20-year-old me must look at the 30-year-old me and be disappointed. But this, I cannot believe would disappoint her in the least. I experienced an evening–a whole day–she would have not even known to have dreamt.

On the way home, we swung into a resto for one last pilsner before returning to “our” kitchen and our home cooked meal. The mister seemed impressed that I had made all of that while he was working/napping. Oh, happy, happy day. Even just thinking of the day makes me feel truly blessed.

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Day 6 | Day 6 doesn’t really count. We woke up, packed, ate breakfast, packed lunches, and made our way to the bus station.

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Our time in Bohemia had come to an end. The whole trip, however, was just beginning. There would be oodles of pinch-me! moments to come over the next three weeks. Still, there was little doubt that Prague had set the bar high. Sure, there are droves of tourists, you have to watch for pickpockets, and you’ll never have a serene moment in the Old Town Square. But if you do just the tiniest bit of research, you’ll eat well, find amazing merry drinks, be immersed in art, music, history, and culture, and all while feeling that this is a life you can afford. I’ve seen only one tiny part of the Czech Republic. I so, so hope to see more some day.

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*This is obviously excluded any actually dangerous scenarios, but on the vast majority of researched trips, these do not occur. I’ve only once been in a situation I thought was really, really sticky. It probably wasn’t safe. But I do laugh about it now.