So, I’m finally getting around to writing a post about my winter break in Prague and Vienna (about 3 weeks behind schedule, as per usual).
First off, let me tell you: travelling in countries where you don’t speak the language is both humbling and exhausting. You have to do embarrassing or infantile things, like communicate in gestures to the woman at the ticket booth who only speaks German or just nod really enthusiastically when the cashier tells you your total in Czech. It did, however, make me grateful that I’m a native English speaker because, at least in Prague, most people that worked in the more tourist-y areas spoke English (it surprised me, but this was not really the case in Vienna. There were plenty of people that we came across that only spoke German. I guess German is just more of a viable international language than, you know, Czech). That said, it taught me what it feels like to be out of my element. Like, really out of my element. I’m not going to say that I have had the full experience of living somewhere where I don’t speak the language at all (8 days is definitely not enough for that), but even the small taste that I got was enough to give me massive respect for people who move abroad with minimal knowledge of the local language. It’s overwhelming and learning a new language is no small task, even when you get the advantage of starting young.
So, we began our week-long Eastern European adventure in Prague (“we” being myself, my housemates Kirstin and Lindsay, and our friend Brynne). We were lucky enough to stay in an AirBnB that was within walking distance from anything we wanted to see. I mean, we were probably a 10 minute walk from the main historic center– and the city itself, at least the more tourist-y historic part, is very walkable. Also, it is dirt cheap. It just so happens that 1 US Dollar is worth about 24 Czech Krona, which is great news for college students like myself (the downside is that it’s super colorful, so it feels more like monopoly money, making it easy to forget you’re actually spending real cash).
And let’s not forget that the city is absolutely gorgeous.
The pictures don’t even do it justice.
The architecture in Europe really is amazing in general, whether it’s the French Haussmannian style or traditional Baroque or Gothic styles. However, Prague’s architecture is particularly great since it was largely untouched by the air raids of the World Wars. There are a great deal of buildings that date back to the 1500’s or earlier, which is absolutely mind-boggling to me. Many of the buildings are even still in use, such as the Old New Synagogue (and yes, that really is the name), which was built in the 1200’s and is Europe’s oldest active synagogue. At any rate, the city is beautiful and I had a great time seeing so many different eras and styles of architecture so close together.
Perhaps my favorite part of Prague, however, was the food. As I previously mentioned, Prague is a cheap place to travel, so you can eat at a nice restaurant for the equivalent of less than $10. Our kitchen in the AirBnB was kind of mediocre, so we ended up eating out for lunch and dinner each day that we were there (we made up for it by cooking our own meals in Vienna, where food would’ve been more expensive) and it was amazing. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so well for so many consecutive meals in my life.
Regional specialties include: beef goulash, schnitzel, bread and potato dumplings, and basically anything with heavy cream, potatoes, and meat. Also, let me introduce you to what really should be the next big thing to be put on a stick and sold at the Minnesota State Fair: Trdelnik. And no, I don’t know how to say it either.
It’s like a better version of mini donuts and a churro combined. Plus nutella. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
Basically, if I had to sum up Prague in three words, it would be: Cheap, gorgeous, delicious!
Our next (and final) stop was Vienna, Austria. Vienna is consistently rated the top city for expats, which I found very easy to believe after visiting. Unfortunately, it was rainy, windy, and cold almost the entirety of our stay there, making it significantly less enjoyable. However, even with the miserable weather, I could see that there was something warm and welcoming about the city. Vienna also features a lot of typical European beautiful architecture: Gothic, Baroque, Art-Nouveau, and all that jazz. It also has some pretty neat coffee houses. We went to probably the most well-known coffee house in Vienna (and boy, did the price reflect it) and the atmosphere was so different from your typical American coffee shop. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good hipster American coffee shop, but everyone in this place was reading the newspaper and there were waiters in tuxedos and there was classy music playing… It felt like stepping back in time (minus all of the socio-political repercussions, of course).
Apparently, there are also coffee houses where you bring a book and trade it in for another to read at or in between visits. That sounds like my kind of place.
We also went to the Schonbrunn Palace and the Hofburg Palace (we didn’t actually go in Hofburg, but we went to the royal butterfly garden there). Unfortunately, photography is forbidden inside, so I only have pictures of the outside and of the one room where I didn’t see a “No Photography” sign.
Speaking of the royal butterfly palace…
The butterfly garden was a nice break from the cold and it was so, so pretty. We also got to go to the Natural History Museum, which had some of the most beautiful ceilings (sounds weird, but you’ll see what I mean):
Also, it had my cute elephant friend:
Vienna also has greeters, which are basically volunteers who give you personalized tours. It was a great way to see the city through the eyes of someone who lives there and our greeter gave us some cool tips for places to visit.
And last but not least, Vienna has an amazing gelateria. Zanoni & Zanoni. 10/10, would recommend. It was absolutely delicious. I mean, it even beat Babcock, which is saying something. Essentially, if you ever happen to stop by Vienna, go and grab a couple scoops of the sweet perfection that is Zanoni & Zanoni.
So yeah, I did the tourist thing. It was great to see new parts of the world and get out of my element (even more than France). I’m excited to do it again soon (I’m looking at you, Easter weekend), but for now, I am more than happy to spend some time home (more or less) in France.