Welcome to my mid-travel break post! I promised I’d give you one so here goes… I’ll try to give you a sort of highlights reel/general overview, but basically everything about this first week rocked so it’s hard to separate the “best” moments. See if you can pick out some of the major themes (*cough* FOOD *cough cough*).
Saturday 10/29 [CPH to Paris]: Day One
Saturday airport logistics went quite smoothly—we all got to the airport on time, checked our bags, and were at our gate with about a half hour to spare. Of course, there was a brief moment of potential concern when one of the airport workers told us our gate didn’t exist (of course, Shuyao and Mariya’s first reaction to this news was: IT’S LIKE HARRY POTTER. IT’S MAGIC!). Luckily he was wrong, and our gate technically existed, although it wasn’t much more than a big warehouse stuck out about 15 min. walk from security. We actually got to walk out on the tarmac to our plane for that reason though, which was kind of cool (though a bit chilly). I was a bit nervous for our time in Paris, because I was the only French speaker in our group, but I hadn’t taken any French classes for almost two years. As soon as we heard the French people around us on the plane though, I felt so at home! It was the most of a country’s language I’d been able to understand so far, which was very exciting.
Our first night in Paris, once we were taxied to our apartment because the trains were apparently wonky, we immediately set out in search of dinner. We found an AMAZING crêpe place and thoroughly enjoyed a delicious dinner, after which we found a little market where we picked up a bottle of wine, and some cheese and crackers. We spent the rest of the night snacking in front of French TV in our cozy apartment.
best crepe of my life
wine and cheese in our apartment--so Parisian!
Sunday 10/30 [Paris]: Day Two
Sunday morning first thing we went in search of a boulangerie, and didn’t find one for a bit (a difficult feat in Paris) but finally stumbled upon a place to get fresh croissants—yummy! Then we walked back up to Sacré-Cœur, about 5 min. walk from our apartment. There were a LOT of steps, especially including the ones to get up to the dome, but it was definitely worth it for the gorgeous view. For lunch we headed down the hill again to find the Café Des 2 Moulins–where Amélie works in the movie! It was really cool to see the café in person, and our waiter (obviously very used to tourists) was hilarious. And we had our first French crème brûlée–delicious!
our crazy waiter
After lunch we went into the center of Paris to meet Shuyao’s friend (who is studying in Paris all this year) at the Arc de Triomphe. She basically gave us a full tour of Paris in just a couple hours, and it was really helpful to get a sense of the city with someone else who knew what they were doing (especially because we only had a metro map to guide us). Along our way we stopped at Ladurée, the most well-known place to get macarons, and boy, was it worth the twenty minutes in line. The four of us shared a box of eight flavors, each taking a bite of one and passing them all around so we could all try each kind. My personal favorite was pistachio, but they were all super light and tasty.
At dinnertime, we parted ways with our wonderful tour guide and Shuyao, Mariya, and I had dinner in the Latin Quarter. We each got the three course dinner special, which for me consisted of soupe à l’oignon, duck confit, and tarte aux pommes. It wasn’t the highest quality French food, but it was still good (especially for the price). After dinner we had a second dessert (obviously) of crêpes at a nearby crêperie. I got one with Nutella and whipped cream. It was very fresh, so it melted all over the place, but it was SO yummy!
Just when we thought the night couldn’t get better, we stumbled upon a street artist doing paintings with spray paint. We ended up watching him make an entire painting, which was really cool because you couldn’t tell what he was making until it was basically finished and it looked amazing. We ended up each getting a painting as a souvenir because it was just too special to forget about.
coolest experience ever
Monday 10/31 [Paris]: Day Three
Monday morning we tried to make it out to the Louvre first thing, but we ended up not making it there until about 10am, by which time the line was clearly over an hour long. Rather than wasting our whole morning waiting, we decided to come back later, and instead took some pictures before heading over to the Centre Pompidou. There the line was much shorter, plus we got in free thanks to our EU Resident Student status (WOOT). Even in the “smaller” museum there was tons to see, and we spend a few hours going through just the permanent exhibition. It was fun to see the mix of older and newer art, especially since it was organized chronologically so you could see the progression of how artists have pushed the boundaries for the last one hundred years.
Of course, after tromping around in a museum for a few hours, we were pretty tired and hungry, so we went over to L’As du Fallafel, which is supposed to have some of the best falafel in Europe. It definitely lived up to expectations. It was also really nice to have a different kind of food (i.e. not the same meat, cheese, and potatoes you find in much of Europe). We did a bit of shopping and exploring as well before heading over to the Louvre to try again. We got a bit distracted taking pictures with the pyramid, though, and by the time we started to head in, there was no line, but the museum itself was actually closing in 20 minutes. So we took a few pictures from within the pyramid and took a look at the gift shop, but did not manage to see the Mona Lisa.
Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower, obviously a must-see when you go to Paris. We chose not to go all the way to the top (about a 3 hour endeavor) since we’d already gotten a pretty good view of Paris from Sacré-Cœur, but instead just took the stairs to the first level and then took pictures on the lawn. It was very surreal to be at such a famous monument, and it still hasn’t really sunk in that we were actually there.
it's US! and there's the eiffel tower in the background...
For dinner we went to our favorite little grocer near our apartment and bought some pasta and veggies to cook. It was wonderful to have a hyggeligt little dinner at home (we’d missed hygge a lot since leaving Denmark) and our cooking did not taste too bad, although we way overestimated the amount of pasta we needed.
Tuesday 11/1 [Paris]: Day Four
Tuesday morning Shuyao and Michelle (who’d joined us Sunday night) left early for Versailles to meet another of Shuyao’s friends studying in Paris this year. Mariya and I decided to stay home instead since we’d seen a lot of castles in the past few months, and instead chose to go to the Musée d’Orsay. We started off the morning in a nice leisurely way, stopping in a boulangerie for some baguette which we ate on the way down the hill to the metro. Perfect morning. Of course, we also got drawn in by a macaron store on our way to the museum, and just had to get a few. I found my new favorite flavor–Praline (hazelnut and almond)! It was a good thing we stopped for a snack because we had to wait a while in line (as always) to get into the museum, and it began to sprinkle a bit while we waited. Of course, we had both contemplated and then left our umbrellas in the apartment, so we had no rain protection, and were not particularly inclined to buy an expensive umbrella from the street vendors passing them out nearby. Luckily, the rain held off for the most part until right after we got under the covered roof of the museum, at which point it began to pour. Perfect timing!
I again got free admission to the museum, but Mariya forgot her residence card at the apartment so she had to pay the reduced regular student fee. When we got in, we looked at the map and realized just how huge the museum was. All in all, we spent about five hours there, and we even missed one of the temporary exhibits! It was definitely worth the time commitment though, and we both really enjoyed the art. It was especially cool to see the famous Impressionist paintings and realize that we’d been to some of those locations in Paris–just a really crazy feeling.
Since we finished the museum at about 4pm, we were both absolutely starving, and found the first place we could that had a reasonably priced croque madame. Yum yum! Shuyao and Michelle called us during our late lunch and we met back up with them after a quick stop in the Notre Dame. Because it was All Saint’s Day, the church was having a ceremony as we were leaving, and we got to see the procession enter the church while the organ was playing! It was really ominous but beautiful and definitely worth stopping in for. I also really liked seeing the inside of Notre Dame because it was simpler than the other big churches I had been to, which meant you could really appreciate the details of the architecture, and it was very nice to look at.
Mariya's raspberry (i.e. unicorn) cake
Our first stop upon meeting up with Shuyao and Michelle was, of course, a boulangerie-patisserie where I got a chocolate eclair and a Paris-brest. Gotta love that pastry cream! We sat for a while outside under the restaurant’s heat lamps chatting about this and that, feeling a bit Parisian. Soon we were ready for real dinner, and we found another place with a three course deal which was actually much better than the place we’d been Sunday night. I had soupe à l’oignon (better this time), tartiflette, and a scrumptious lemon mousse for dessert. Mariya had a fluffy raspberry cake, which we decided tasted just like unicorns.
Wednesday 11/2 [Paris to Prague]: Day Five
Wednesday morning we went through about three different morning plans, since we first thought we were leaving at noon, then 11am, then we finally realized at about 9:40am that check-out time was 10am. Not exactly our smoothest departure, but we all made it out on time and dragged our suitcases down to a nearby boulangerie to have a final breakfast. First we tried to sit at one table and drag chairs over, but a waitress told us we could not move the chairs, so then we (rude Americans that we were) asked some other people (who had not ordered yet) to move down a seat so we could sit down. We bought some baguette and pastries, moved our suitcases out of the walking path, and finally thought we were settled in when the waitress came back and told us the tables were for restaurant patrons only (as the boulangerie was also an actual restaurant) and we had to order something off the menu if we wanted to stay. So we each got some hot drinks, and I had an oeuf dans sa brioche (basically toad-in-a-hole with brioche–NUMMY), which actually turned out to be great anyway, and a nice farewell-to-Paris breakfast.
Our trip to the airport went pretty smoothly since we were pretty familiar with the metro system, except when we almost got off at the wrong terminal (a few minutes ride away from the correct one). I was sad to leave the French-speaking atmosphere, but ready to go to a quieter city where we could have a less hectic schedule. Plus I was ready to turn over the language-translation reigns to Mariya, who speaks Russian, which is sort of similar to written (though not spoken) Czech.
Our first hour in Prague was a bit of a struggle bus (literally) because first we could not get transportation tickets because we had no change for the machine, and had to allow several buses to pass us by while we debated what to do, sent Shuyao in to buy the tickets, got worried about Shuyao and went to find her, then all almost missed the bus again. Then of course once we got on the bus I definitely fell over onto some poor people seated behind me when I got caught not holding onto the pole when the bus decided to start moving. Not exactly a good first impression.
When we finally made it to our hostel (relatively uneventfully), the nice man at the counter smiled at us and said “Welcome home!” He was a lot like one of the Danish University students working at DIS, and was very sweet. Our hostel itself (Charles Bridge Economic Hostel) was great–very clean with good facilities, and lots of discounts on local happenings. Best of all, it was located literally at the Charles Bridge, in the very center of Prague’s tourist area, and everything we wanted to see, so we didn’t have to take any public transportation the whole time we were there. After settling into our hostel, we (as always) went out in search of food. We ended up asking for a recommendation from the guy at our hostel’s info desk, which was the right decision because we found a great restaurant called Lokal.
Czech food, as you’d probably expect, is a lot of meat and dumplings, but surprisingly delicious ones. Plus for dessert I had one of the best pastries ever–a traditional Czech pastry with cream, basically a slightly flavored cream puff. It was amazing. After dinner we wandered around a bit (basically, Prague at night looks like Disneyland), and even went to a black light show (very strange but definitely a cultural experience) before settling in to our cozy room for a good night’s sleep.
Thursday 11/3 [Prague]: Day Six
We decided to explore the west side of the river first, the side where our hostel was, so we started the morning with a quick pastry run to a bakery recommended by our hostel. I had a yummy apple pastry that was mostly filling with thin layers of pastry on top and bottom. Then we started climbing the big hill up to the Prague Castle (nothing compared to all the steps of Sacré-Cœur). At first we just looked around at all the pretty architecture (and of course took some silly pictures with the castle guards–they were not amused). There were tons of tour groups around, and we knew next to nothing about the Prague Castle, so we found an English-speaking tour group and followed them around for a bit. The tour guide turned out to be really funny, and it was really nice to hear some of the history behind what we were seeing (and for free!). The St. Vitus Cathedral was especially beautiful. Apparently it was designed by the same architect as Notre Dame, so it had a lot of the same elements, though St. Vitus was definitely more ornate, and the stained glass was simply divine.
After finishing our “tour” of the castle area, we headed back down the hill to find something to eat. Along the way we stopped at a cart where a man was making fresh trdelniks, which is a kind of Czech dough/pastry made on rotating sticks and coated with sugar and cinnamon. Delicious and highly necessary if you ever visit Prague. Of course, we still needed some real food, so we walked around looking for a good place, and before we knew it, we were basically right next to our hostel, so we decided to ask for another recommendation.
We were pointed in the direction of a small bar well out of the touristy area. They only had five menu items, all in Czech, so our waiter had to translate them for us. He also taught us our first (and only) Czech word–”děkuji,” or thank you. We kept trying to use it for the rest of the trip, but a lot of people looked at us blankly or did not respond, so I think we may have been pronouncing it wrong. The food was really cheap and delicious, and it turned out to be right near our next stop, a hill with gardens and a tower on top.
This hill turned out to be legitimately steep, and we definitely burned off those earlier calories. The view was gorgeous though and the scenery was really pretty–lots of trees of different colors, much like New England (according to Mariya and Shuyao–I am a West-Coaster myself). It was nice to get out of the city for a while–there were practically no other people around on the hill, so it was very peaceful. When we got to the top, we saw a funny exhibition on a Czech inventor inside the tower. It not only showed his inventions, but pretty much every available artifact from his life, including his second birthday present, and his older sister’s dress that he wore from time to time.
There was also a “Mirror Labyrinth,” which was fun in a touristy/cheesy sort of way. First there was a hall of mirrors where you couldn’t really tell which way was real, and then there was a room with all kinds of funhouse mirrors that we spent probably at least twenty minutes playing with. There was also a “Magical Cavern” somewhere, but we didn’t end up finding it. Instead we went a bit down the hill to a restaurant with AMAZING hot chocolate. Shuyao ended up having two, and Mariya had two teas and a hot chocolate. I followed my hot chocolate with a ginger ale. I think the waiter probably thought we were pretty weird, but maybe they get strange people a lot with all the tourists tromping around.
That night we met our friends Elise and Stephanie, who happened to be in Prague at the same time, for dinner and jazz. We went to U Stare Pani, a hotel/restaurant/jazz club, since I’d read some good reviews of it, and it turned out to be even better than expected! We all met at 6pm, but the lady at the restaurant told us to make a reservation and come back in a couple hours since the jazz didn’t start until 9pm. So we went and wandered around the Old Town Square, which we hadn’t seen yet, and checked out the Astronomical Clock. Mostly we spent a while catching up while standing in the middle of the square, which was fun because we all got to share about our trips so far.
Dinner was amazing–the jazz show was only $5 with our student discount, and food was all less than $10, but it was all super high quality. I had a HUGE plate of red cabbage, duck, two kinds of potato dumplings, and bread dumplings. Somehow I managed to finish it all (probably because it was DELICIOUS) but I was definitely stuffed afterwards. We also tried the famous Czech dark beer, which was actually much lighter than we expected and quite tasty. Then of course the jazz started, and the night was perfect. The band was really cute–the main singer/pianist especially was really into it and kept making faces, but you could tell they all really loved what they did. They also had about five young girl guest singers, which added a little bit of variety. One of them was only 15, but they were all really good.
definitely one of my best meals ever
We tried to get some dessert, but by the time we ordered it the kitchen was already closed. It was slightly disappointing (hardly a dent in our FABULOUS evening though) but it was probably for the best because we were all absolutely bursting from our dinners.
Friday 11/4 [Prague]: Day Seven
Our goal for our last day was to explore the other side of the river, and we began by finding somewhere for breakfast. We eventually happened upon a cafe, which turned out to be called Choco Cafe, and it had tons of specialty “hot chocolate” (basically melted chocolate in a cup). Shuyao had a plain one, I had one with sea salt, and Mariya tried the one with coconut milk. Obviously it was delicious, but super rich and none of us could finish much more than half our huge cups. We also all tried some “horace rolls” which were giant wafers rolled up with cinnamon, sugar, and cream inside, with (of course) chocolate to dip them in. It was an amazing breakfast, but by the end of it we never wanted to see chocolate again (or at least not for a little while).
Our next goal for the day was to find somewhere for Mariya to get her hair cut, because it would be much cheaper than in Copenhagen. During our search, we wandered through the Old Town Square again, and managed to catch the Astronomical Clock on the hour, when a man comes out and blows a horn. I also got a sausage in a baguette (Prague’s version of a hot dog) with ketchup and mustard which was super tasty. We were also looking for souvenirs/shopping opportunities, and eventually we found this cute little independent designer store, where we wanted everything but could afford nothing. We did talk to the woman at the counter though, who turned out to be a psychologist with a Master’s degree with very good English and a lot of interesting things to say. Before leaving, we asked her for a recommendation of a cheap haircut place, and she pointed us to somewhere we never would have found on our own. It was a haircut/piercing/tattoo place, and while Mariya was looking through the magazines to determine what type of haircut she wanted, Shuyao decided she was going to dye her hair. I decided to join in the spontaneity, but since I’d just gotten a haircut like two weeks before, I chose to get a cartilage piercing! It was all much cheaper than in the U.S., but it was also a very legitimate/clean place, and we were all very satisfied with our results. We spent about three hours of our day there, but the experience was definitely something we won’t forget.
the Golem was a mythical monster said to have been created to protect the Jews in Prague
By that time we were starving (a common theme in our travels) so we looked for something to eat even though we hadn’t accomplished all of our touristy goals for the day. We found a nice restaurant where we all finally tried Czech goulash (very tasty) and got ice cream for dessert. Unfortunately, by the time we were done it was dark and everything in the Jewish Quarter (the area we had not yet fully explored) was closed, including the Cemetary. We did manage to find a good souvenir shop, though, and we got our necessary Central Europe gifts before heading back to the Old Square for some hot wine (very tasty and mild-tastes a bit like juice because of added sugar/cinnamon) our free ghost tour (tickets provided by our hostel). The tour was cheesy, as expected, but surprisingly fun, and we actually learned some interesting things about the history of Prague. It was not a bad way to spend our last night, and we wandered around for a bit afterwards and got our last trdelniks of the trip.
Saturday 11/5 [Prague to CPH]: Day Eight
This morning was mostly smooth, except when we were on the bus and I realized we had an hour less than we thought we did (yikes!). Luckily we made it to our flight just fine, and Mariya even managed to spend her last few koruna on some honey cake in the airport. We had a bit of a surprise when we walked through the gate to board and the tunnel ended at a bus, not a plane. It turned out we had to take a bus to the plane because it was a small jet sitting out in the middle of the tarmac. For a small plane, the ride was surprisingly smooth, and I had the front row with some extra leg space. It was so weird to come back to Copenhagen this afternoon and hear Danish again. It felt like coming home to somewhere I’d lived for years after being gone for several years. Everything felt familiar but somehow different. But it was actually really nice to see my host parents again, and have a homemade dinner (pizza–yummy!) and see my own little computer again.
I still have lots of packing to do for tomorrow–I have to be at the airport at 10am for my study tour to Istanbul!–so it’s time to round off this post. It’s somewhat unbelievable that I’m headed off on another week-long adventure tomorrow, but I’m sure it will be tons of fun.
Until next week!