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6 Travel (and Life) Lessons Learned in Hong Kong

6 Travel (and Life) Lessons Learned in Hong Kong

While I have travelled extensively throughout Europe and parts of North America, I have not ventured into Asia nearly as much I would have liked so far. In fact, prior to my most recent trip, I had only visited Singapore (and the Asian part of Istanbul, but who actually “counts” that?). A recent business trip had me packing for a week in Hong Kong, and I was excited for the opportunity to explore a new country, city, and culture during my free time. It became clear to me fairly quickly upon my arrival, however, that I was grossly unprepared for my travels to such a large city in one of the largest countries in the world. After having spent a week in this metropolis of Southeast Asia, I have some insights that may help you with you first experience in this incredibly diverse and complex city.

It is still China, even if not on the Mainland. I think that I’d read somewhere (or I possibly just unknowingly assumed) that because Hong Kong was once under British rule, the country would somehow be less authentically Chinese in terms of culture and language. This was a bad assumption, and so my initial shock when wandering around the streets of Mongkok was much greater than if I’d been in a better mindset. Hong Kong is still very much China, and I think that’s a really good thing! This does mean, however, that all of the signage is in Cantonese (the dialect in Hong Kong), many people do not speak English well, if at all, and the food is very different than anything I’d experienced before. With that being said, visiting Hong Kong and being hit in the face with these cultural differences was an amazing experience, if only at first a little shocking.

The difference between each area of Hong Kong is MASSIVE. While choosing where to stay when in Hong Kong, I had absolutely no idea about the characteristics of each island and neighborhood in the city. I chose, in the end, to stay in Mongkok, and believe that this is a good location for tourists visiting the city. Mongkok is an incredibly local part of the city, and has a lot going on in terms of markets, restaurants, shops, and MTR (subway) connections. It’s also sort of in the middle of Kowloon, so it’s pretty easy to get essentially everywhere you’d want to go in Hong Kong.

I also enjoyed the harbor area a lot, and can appreciate the possibility of staying further south on Nathan Road to have easier access to this part of the city. Hong Kong Island feels like an entirely different world compared to Kowloon. As I was aware of Hong Kong’s reputation as a major world business center, I expected that much of the city would be incredibly modern, filled with massive skyscrapers, something akin to parts of Manhattan in New York City. While this is true on Hong Kong Island, it isn’t necessarily the case in other parts of the city. The buildings are tall everywhere, but the city at large isn’t any more modern than any other major city I’ve visited.

Traffic: rules need not apply. It took me a long time to figure out the “system” for walking on sidewalks, escalators, etc. in Hong Kong. Pro tip: there is no system. Hong Kong’s traffic situation is a hilarious mix of the UK system (driving on the left side of the street), and the system I’m familiar with in the US (staying to the right side of the sidewalk when walking), which often ends in everyone throwing their hands up and doing whatever the hell they want. And I mean that really seriously. By the end of the week, I became used to the way that people just move through sidewalks without caring if there are any other humans around them. I never, however, became used to the fact that some escalators were on the British system (your escalator is on the left of the set), and some on the US system (your escalator is on the right of the set). I can’t even express to you how many times I nearly began to walk the wrong way on an escalator, certainly to the annoyance of all the people around me. Sometimes it was different even within one building!

Another fun part of this is the way that Hong Kong drivers tend to react towards pedestrians. And that is, absolutely without any regard whatsoever. There are things that look like cross-walks, with signs on the ground telling you which way to look to see oncoming traffic, but SURPRISE! Drivers have the right-of-way here. Or, if they don’t, the drivers seem to think they do. Fortunately, it seems that cross-walks with lights are truly respected, but only to the exact minute of the pedestrian green-light. If you’re an inch onto the cross-walk after that moment, good luck!

Restaurants aren’t always the easiest places to find. I spent the first night looking for a restaurant for dinner on a street where I was assured there were plenty of restaurants, and I couldn’t physically find one. I told my free walking tour guide this tale of woe, and he could only laugh, not understanding how I couldn’t possibly see the signs for the restaurants. The thing is, the restaurants in Hong Kong are often located several stories above street level, so you must first check above your head for signs that designate restaurants (only sometimes in English, of course), and then for the elevator entrance to find which floor you need to get to.

Once I figured out the system, I had some great meals, but man do I wish someone had told me that on my first day! In any case, I managed to have some really excellent meals, and highly recommend Jasmine Garden at Langham Place for great Cantonese cuisine and Indian Restaurant and Bar for an excellent lunch menu.

The smog situation is real. Because Hong Kong is not on Mainland China, I assumed that it was not as adversely affected by the notorious smog that plagues many Chinese cities. And then, I got to the harbor, and I could hardly see the buildings across the water:

The smog situation during this week was explained to me by one of my colleagues as “a generous gift from the Mainland”. In fact, I heard many locals mention that the smog during the week I visited was particularly bad, with a government warning one of the days encouraging people to stay inside as much as possible to avoid the polluted air. With that being said, there’s no denying the fact that the smog lasted for an entire week (at least, I left after one week), and I’m sure it will happen again. Just be prepared for it, because I was very surprised, and then subsequently disappointed that the air quality and visibility was so low.

Human kindness abounds. This is not necessarily unique to Hong Kong or travel in Asia, but after a somewhat shocking first day or two in the city, it was something that I desperately needed to be reminded of. First, I want to preface this by saying that even after traveling to countries and cultures that are vastly different than my own, travel can still be shocking to me, just as it can be to everyone. I’m humbled by this reminder, and I’m grateful for the people that helped to remind me of the positive aspects of culture shock that I met along the way.

I went on a free day that I had to visit the Big Buddha (Tian Ten Buddha) at the Po Lin Monastery. This place is on Lantau Island, one of the many islands that make up Hong Kong, high up in the mountains. The photos of the place looked absolutely incredible, so I was excited for the opportunity to get out of the city a bit to explore some nature and culture. Granted, the day I was able to visit was one of the coldest and rainiest days of the entire week I was in Hong Kong, which was a bummer, but I thought it would still be cool to see. Usually this place is accessible by cable car, but that car will be closed until summer 2017 for renovations, so I was responsible for taking a bus up the mountain to get to the monastery and statue. After sorting that out and hoping onto the bus, I had a very interesting ride up a very steep and narrow mountain road, only to arrive at this:

Obviously, this is not the beautiful view that I expected, even from halfway up the stairs, but I walked up to the statue in any case (I was there, right?). By the time I got to the top, it began raining a lot more, so I took some photos, walked around a bit, but then decided to head down the hill. I made my way through the shopping village, found some cows roaming on the street, and went back towards the buses.

When I got to the (very long) line for the buses, it was clear that I wasn’t making either of the next two buses, which meant that I would be standing on line for at least 40 minutes. Perfect. It was still raining, and I was very much not dressed for such conditions, so I bucked up and prepared myself for a miserable 40 minutes, a little bitter that the experience was not what I had envisioned. After standing for a couple of minutes, two people got on the line behind me, but I didn’t really notice them as I was preoccupied trying to connect to the free Wi-Fi. That was until I noticed that I was no longer standing in the rain. The man behind me was holding an umbrella, and had moved so that we were both covered by its gloriously dry cover. I turned around to say thank you, and we all started laughing at the fairly miserable situation we found ourselves in. We got to talking, and I discovered that they were from England; the man had been traveling in Asia for 6 months and had just arrived in Hong Kong about a week prior where his friend from Bristol had joined him to visit. We spent the next 40 minutes on our long, wet line talking about everything from travel to culture, to the recent contentious votes in both of our countries. Having this sort of connection with people when I was feeling so down and disconnected from the world was a god-send, and that was beyond the fact that these two were incredibly interesting people to meet! We finally made it to the bus, and got back to the town where the MTR station was located to get us back to warm and dry clothes. We all agreed that we were so wet and miserable that we rightly deserved to treat ourselves to Starbucks at the shopping center nearby before getting back on the MTR. We sat at the Starbucks chatting for well over an hour, it was such a great evening. We parted ways on the MTR train without exchanging contact info, so it’s likely that I’ll never see or talk to them again, but I truly enjoyed connecting with other travelers in a way that I haven’t gotten to experience in a while. And it all started with the sharing of an umbrella- something that he certainly did not have to do, but that absolutely made my day and perspective 1000x better. So, thanks, kind strangers!

My second story comes from my last day in Hong Kong, and I wish that it had happened on the first! I was desperately looking for a good, local restaurant for lunch, as I hadn’t yet managed to have dim sum or Chinese barbecue, and I was ready! I had read that a nearby mall to my hotel in Mongkok had some good places to eat, so I went on an adventure to find them. I managed to get to the mall, and kept going up escalators (alternating sides, of course) trying to get to the restaurant section at the top only to discover that this mall was 13 stories high (not including the basement levels)! It just never ended.

I finally found a restaurant that looked like it had local food (Jasmine Garden), and it had a line of about 20 people standing outside, so I figured it had to be good! I took a number (after much doubt about how exactly do to that- the electronic number system for restaurants got me at the beginning), and I waited for my table. I was seated next to another two-person table, and another couple soon joined me. Our tables were quite close together, so when they noticed me looking at the menu practically sideways in confusion over what exactly I should order (I didn’t understand what the concept of dim sum was, at first), they offered to help. I mentioned that I was excited to try the barbecue pork, but was open to suggestions. They gave my order to the waiter (who only spoke Cantonese), and explained what they’d gotten for me to try. I ended up with spring rolls that had shredded chicken inside, steamed rice, and barbecue pork- perfect.

I was instructed to try the spring rolls first plain, and then with the sauce provided. I mentioned that I really liked it with the sauce, and then the wife said something to our waiter. Apparently, she’d asked for a different kind of sauce for me so that I’d have the chance to try the sweet and sour sauce that comes with other types of dim sum. It was so sweet that they were genuinely interested in helping me to try the best bits of their cuisine! They also noticed how significantly I was struggling with the rice with chop sticks (it was my fault, I put it on the plate and put soy sauce on it, so it was no longer sticky), and so they taught me how I’m actually supposed to be eating Chinese food (with a soup spoon, out of a bowl- even when it isn’t soup!).


We also had a chance to talk a bit about our own cultures, countries, travels, and some politics. I was hesitant to comment on politics, not knowing their backgrounds or opinions on the recent controversial changes in my own country, but they jumped right in. It became clear that they were also nervous about the route that American politics is taking, and we had an interesting discussion regarding Chinese/US relations, which is something I hadn’t had a chance yet to discuss openly with someone from the region. They were so truly interested in learning about my life, country, and culture, and I had an amazing time learning about theirs. Having this chance to get to know some local people outside of a business setting was so refreshing, and was exactly what I needed. It was so hard for me to relate to a lot of the people that I’d met, because I admittedly know much less about Chinese culture than I do about many other cultures globally. The fact that this couple took the chance during their Saturday lunch to introduce me to their food and to their own lives was so beautiful, and I’m grateful for the experience. They were also very upset that I hadn’t taken a photo of my food or myself during this clearly momentous lunch, so my phone was taken so that it could be taken care of on my behalf. Now, you all get to experience the amazement:

Thank you, again, kind strangers! I have so much more appreciation now for your country, city, and culture and am thankful for your beautiful introduction.

And so here concludes my lessons learned from a week in Hong Kong. This experience taught me so much more than I was honestly expecting it to, but I suppose by now I should know to always expect to grow and develop from each and every experience that I have. I’m grateful for the time that I spent in this city, and I’m excited for the chance to explore more of this beautiful continent (just hopefully in better weather!).


And if you’re like me and needed wayy more info before venturing into Southeast Asia, check out my fellow blogger over at Creative Travel Guide who has an excellent list of 40 Things you Need to Know before Traveling Asia.

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Morocco Days 4 & 5: Rabat, Moulay Idriss, Volubilis, and Meknes

Morocco Days 4 & 5: Rabat, Moulay Idriss, Volubilis, and Meknes

Wow.  It’s only the 5th day since I landed in Morocco, and I have to admit, it’s incredibly overwhelming!  So far, I’ve visited 4 cities/towns and just landed in my 5th (Fes) to explore over the next day or so.  As you can imagine, we’ve been moving pretty quickly, although I have to say that I’m impressed at how well everything has been organized thus far!  I am exhausted, though, and anticipate many early nights in my future on this trip!

After departing from Casablanca yesterday morning, we took the train about 2 hours north to the city of Rabat.  Rabat is the current capital of Morocco, and one of the four imperial cities in the country (alongside Marrakech, Meknes, and Fes).  We were given maps and were told to wander around the city on the hunt for the 3 major sites in the city.  First, we stopped at Rabat’s Kasbah (a former royal fortress) made from orange clay located just outside the old medina.  


I also managed to wander into a small street market surrounded by beautiful blue walls.


After leaving the Kasbah, I had a wander through the medina, which is a part of the city with small winding streets.  The souk is the local market, typically located in the medina, and as Moroccans typically do not store food at home, especially in large cities like Rabat, the market was full of fresh products for the locals to purchase for the day.  I loved wandering through my first true Moroccan market to see all of the products on offer, as it was a great glimpse into local life in Rabat.  After exiting the hectic market, I walked along the walls surrounding the medina towards a mosque and the Muhammad V Mausoleum .  The minaret (tower) of the mosque was meant to be the tallest in the world, but the king died before it was finished and the decision was made to leave it as it was when he passed giving it a unique flat roof rather than the more typically pyramid roofs of many of the minarets in Morocco.  


Standing behind the mosque and minaret is the Mausoleum where tombs of the royal family are located.  The tomb is still guarded by the king’s guards; two men sit mounted on beautiful horses at the front gate of the Mausoleum, and one stands at each entrance of the tomb, all dressed in the traditional costumes.  



The architecture of the Mausoleum is absolutely beautiful with gorgeous arches and mosaics creating such a peaceful atmosphere.  I loved the opportunity to visit this place, as it was much more beautiful and impressive than I was expecting.  As we were on a “self guided tour” for Rabat, I do wish that I had more information about what exactly the significance of each part of the Mausoleum is to understand the history and culture behind it.  In any case, it was a great start to our first stop after Casablanca!

Once we finished lunch in Rabat, we headed on a train towards Meknes where we boarded taxis bound for Moulay Idriss.  Moulay Idriss is a small town of about 20,000 people located in the Rif mountains in northern Morocco.  The city was originally founded in the 10th century by Moulay Idriss el Akhbar, who was the great-grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  Now, Moulay Idriss is a beautiful little town known as a holy city, as many make pilgrimages to the tomb of Moulay Idriss el Akhbar, who is buried at a mosque in the center of the city.  While the mosque is off-limits to non-Muslims (as the town itself was until several years ago), the town was absolutely incredible to visit.  The walls along all of the small winding streets were painted a bright turquoise blue color which made everything look incredibly beautiful.


We took a short tour with an incredible local guide to learn about Moulay Idriss, both the town and the man, and to learn more about small Moroccan communities.  I truly enjoyed the opportunity to walk around this small, isolated town with someone who had grown up there, as it was an amazing opportunity to really truly understand the local culture.  At the end of our walk, we were brought to a viewpoint over the town where we could see the roofs of the entire town, including that of the beautiful mosque, right as the sun was beginning to set.


We were staying with a local family in their Riad bed & breakfast in the town of Moulay Idriss called La Colombe Blanche.  The hotel is perfectly located and run by an awesome family who were incredibly warm and welcoming. After watching the sun set over the hills from their terrace, we had a lovely dinner at their home where we learned to cook traditional cous cous (much more difficult than it seems), and then ate kefta (meatball) tangine and cous cous around a family-style table.  This was an amazing experience, as clearly so much effort had gone into preparing the meal and it was lovely to learn more about the people traveling with me, as well as Muhammad, our guide.  Plus, the interior of the home was beautiful!  I highly recommend a stay here if you plan to visit Moulay Idriss- and be sure to order dinner from the family, I have never had more delicious cous cous!


The next day we made our way back to Meknes with a pit stop at the nearby Roman settlement Volubilis.  Volubilis was a massive Roman settlement, one of two in Morocco, but was unfortunately largely destroyed by an earthquake in the late 18th century.  Still, standing essentially alone within these ruins was a very surreal experience.  The settlement is surrounded by rolling hills, and seemed to go on for miles.  We were able to walk through some of the massive houses that were owned by wealthy families in Volubilis, complete with gorgeous mosaic “carpets” which still lay as they were on the floors of the individual rooms.


We were also able to walk through the forum, and then the cathedral which has no walls or roofs, but still has massive and beautiful columns outlining where the structure stood in its time.


A visit to Volubilis is definitely worth putting on the itinerary of a North Moroccan trip, particularly if you will already be visiting Moulay Idriss.  It’s possible to get a taxi or local guide to take you to Volubilis from Moulay Idriss, and the prices can be quite reasonable (after haggling, of course!).  

After departing from Volubilis, we made the 45-minute journey back to the town of Meknes to visit the ruins of the palace created by King Moulay Ismail, a contemporary of Louis XIV of France.  King Moulay Ismail was well known for trying to create structures and a kingdom just as amazing as those created by Louis XIV, and so what is left after the same earthquake that destroyed Volubilis is still absolutely incredible.  The most note-worthy structure is the stable which was built to house 12,000 of the king’s horses.


After visiting these ruins, we stopped in the medina for a camel burger before heading on to our next stop in Fes.  Camel burgers are rarely consumed in northern Morocco, as the meat is quite expensive for the locals and you won’t see many camels in the area, but there are still a couple of (very) small restaurants that are willing to prepare them!


Overall, I loved this part of the trip as these were places I might not have thought to go to on my own.  I would especially recommend a visit to Moulay Idriss and Volubilis, as they’re very remote but truly incredible pieces of Moroccan history and culture that would be difficult to find in other places in the country!


Up next: Fes and Chefchaouen (the Blue City)!  Remember to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and on this site to hear the latest about my Moroccan travels!


Morocco Days 1-3: Casablanca

Morocco Days 1-3: Casablanca

I’m sitting by the ocean listening to the evening’s competing prayer calls ring out over the city, and I still can’t quite grapple with the fact that I’m in Casablanca.  In Morocco!  I’ve been dreaming about this day for years, and finally, I’m here.  I’ve spent my first day visiting the legendary city of Casablanca, and before I part ways with my entry point into Morocco for my next city (Rabat), I’m eager to share my thoughts.

Yesterday, after a grueling 12 hour travel day (thanks to terrible Prague-Casablanca flight connections), I arrived to the Casablanca airport ready to jump into bed.  First, I was shepherded through to immigration, where I was met with a sticker on the immigration window that said, “Smile, you’re in Casablanca!”  I’m certain that the immigration officer thought I was insane because, truly, this sticker put the biggest grin on my face.  After receiving my Moroccan passport stamp, I made my way towards baggage claim and what I thought would be a similar baggage claim experience to every other that I’ve ever had.  Nope.  Customs officials actually check all bags, even in the “Nothing to Declare” section, which was an exciting surprise.  Obviously my backpack didn’t look too threatening, and I was sent on my way.  I knew the approximate price of a taxi to get to my hotel, and considering it was nearing 9:30 pm, I was game for a quick and easy trek to the city.

The airport in Casablanca looks strangely void of all shops/restaurants/normal airport things… until you go outside.  All of the food shops are outside!  It was such a great idea, I would love to grab lunch outside of the airport before being crammed into that metal tube to go catapulting through the sky.  In any case, after looking over this outdoor food court, I found my way to the taxi stand.  I was placed (literally) in a taxi with a nice man named Rada.  Rada told me that the cost of the taxi ride would be 300 Dirham after seeing the address of my hotel, and I agreed, so we went on our way.  On the entrance ramp to the highway, Rada pulls over, asks to look at the address again, and then politely informs me that he misunderstood where the hotel was, and the cost would actually be 650 Dirham.  More than double the originally agreed-upon price!  He asked if it was okay, and I just laughed.  We were on the highway entrance ramp- this didn’t seem like a good time to say no so that I could find out what his next move would be.  After this initial impression, I was grumping pretty hard in the back seat, but eventually Rada and I began to talk (mostly in French, which was an interesting exercise for me).  Sometime during this chat, he asked me out for coffee, and I politely said something to the effect of, “Yeah, sure”, figuring this was some sort of hypothetical coffee.  Again, nope.  Next thing I know, we’ve stopped at a coffee shop on one of the busy streets of Casablanca, and we’re drinking espresso at 10:00 pm.  It was amazing.  I liked talking to Rada and learning about him and his country over a casual nighttime coffee.  Actually, it was sweet of him, because he picked up the bill and then continued driving me to my hotel.  These types of encounters are my favorite, and while I was a bit nervous at this somewhat unusual taxi situation, I was thankful for the opportunity to be invited into the life of a local stranger that I’d met by chance. So all in all, a successful first 2 hours in Casablanca.

This morning, I made my first stop the Hassan II Mosque, located on the coast of Casablanca.  I got there about an hour before the tour I planned to take so that I could find something to eat.  I ended up at a very local café with excellent coffee and pastries (for cheap!), and enjoyed sitting amongst the local café patrons sipping java while looking down the road at the 3rd largest mosque in the world.  What an incredible experience.  Afterwards, I made my way over to the mosque, and began taking an absurd amount of photos.  Really, I’m ashamed.  But the exterior of the mosque was just so beautiful, I really couldn’t stop myself.

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

After about a half hour of that, I went to purchase tickets for the 11 am tour.  It’s difficult to find online, but the Hassan II Mosque allows visitors inside 3 times per day (excluding Friday) at 9, 10, and 11 am.  Tickets are 120 Dirham for adults, and 60 Dirham for students, which includes a guided 45-60 minute tour, and can be purchased on site at the cash desk.  It’s good to arrive about 15 minutes prior to the tour start time, as all visitors of all languages will be lining up to get their tickets.  Tours are offered in English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Italian.  A lot of visitors will only visit the exterior of the mosque, which is admittedly gorgeous, but the interiors are absolutely worth visiting.

The mosque is the 3rd largest in the world after two in Saudi Arabia, and has the tallest minaret in the world.  The structure was built in 6 years because the craftsmen worked in shifts 24 hours/day 7 days per week.  It’s absolutely mind-boggling how incredible this place is.

Morocco: Casablanca

After visiting the mosque, I spent some time walking the coast and watching the mosque fade in the distance while local children swam in the ocean below.  It’s clear that despite this being such a grand structure, and such a highly-visited tourist attraction, it’s still a center of the community.

Morocco: Casablanca

After getting exhausted wandering in the 90-degree humid heat, I hopped in a taxi bound for the Habous neighborhood of the city.  This section of Casablanca is referred to as the “new medina” or “little Marrakech” because of the market stalls lining the streets, but still the medina nature of the architecture and layout despite being outside the old city walls.  First, I grabbed lunch at a local café just outside the medina.  The waiter didn’t speak English, so I was back to communicating in French.  That would have been fine, except I’m so sure that French is slightly different here, and people also speak really quietly.  Even if I could understand him, I definitely couldn’t hear him, so I just agreed to what he was trying to suggest.  I ended up eating a traditional breakfast item of omelette tangine with miscellaneous meat, and it was really good!

After lunch, I began exploring the medina that rested just beyond my café.  I loved walking around this part of the city and checking out what all of the shop owners and vendors were selling.  I found it really interesting that the handful of stalls on the road leading from my taxi drop point and restaurant were incredibly touristy, with vendors trying to convince me to purchase their products.

Morocco: Casablanca

As I kept walking further into the market, the shops clearly became “local” with local women purchasing dresses made from exquisite fabric, and men haggling for new shoes.  These vendors didn’t seem interested in me, and it gave me the chance to just observe this local business- an amazing experience!

Morocco: Casablanca

I also loved that so many of the vendors throughout the medina were selling art.  I didn’t see much of the traditional touristy mass-produced pieces, but rather beautiful oils on canvas of local street scenes, animals, and people.  Every nook and cranny of the market had something interesting- I’m very excited to compare this medina to others that I’ll see in upcoming cities.

Morocco: Casablanca

After finishing up in the medina, I was ready to head back to my hotel to relax a little and clean my clothes.  I went to grab a taxi, and found that 5 other people were trying to grab a taxi back to my hotel!  I ended up sharing one with two girls from Australia, who I came to realize would also be on the tour that I’ll be joining tomorrow.  I’m excited to meet the rest of the group and group leader at our starting point tomorrow evening- I’m sure that this is going to be an amazing adventure, and I can’t wait to get started.

Next up: Rabat!


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Diaries of an Expat: Rediscovery

Diaries of an Expat: Rediscovery

After months of having very little time or energy to give exploring the full attention it deserves, I decided to take a trip with my good friend, Ivana, to her hometown of Třeboň. Her hometown is actually a much smaller town next to Třeboň (which I’ll never be able to remember the name of), but we made our way around much of the region over the course of a delightful long weekend. Now that I’ve been living in Prague for nearly a year, I find myself too content to just sit in the city, or my apartment for that matter, instead of exploring all of the beautiful and historic places surrounding me. I guess that’s what having a full time job does for you, right? Well, no longer! My new Fall Resolution (which will henceforth be a thing) is to continuing exploring, trying new things, meeting new people, and truly taking advantage of all that this place in my life has to offer.  Because the Czech Republic is too incredible to ignore any longer.
Now that this grandiose statement has been made, the weekend:
On Friday, Ivana and I drove deep into Bohemia with two of our friends, Rita and Lukaš. Once we arrived at Ivana’s sister’s house, our homestay for the next few days, we all made our way to actual Třeboň to have dinner. We decided to treat ourselves to a wonderful meal at a restaurant whose name translates to “White Unicorn Restaurant”, and given that things are cheaper outside of Prague, it was a truly excellent meal without a terrifying sticker price. I even had a dessert, translated to “chocolate mass”, which was actually a chocolate blob with homemade ice cream- the best thing about going on holiday! Afterward, we grabbed a drink at a local bar where everyone seemed to know Ivana- it was really nice.
The next day, Ivana, Rita, and I made our way to a local castle, which was much different than I expected for whatever reason. The whole area around the castle was magical, it was so lovely to be out in the woods and park surrounded by incredibly beautiful architecture.
Afterwards, we wandered to České Budějovice to have a cup of coffee and grocery shop for our dinner. We grilled meat and veggies on a raclette grill and played Cards Against Humanity, aided by a few bottles of wine. Nights like these really make me feel like I’ve been able to make a life here- it all felt so normal and comfortable, and I realize how truly lucky I am to have these people in my life.
On Sunday, Rita and Lukaš left for Prague, so Ivana and I took the opportunity to explore Třeboň by daylight. I was so pleasantly surprised by this town! In the daylight, the colors of the buildings absolutely glow, and the atmosphere is just that of a small European village- people are friendly and there is just enough to see and do. We started our adventure by walking through the castle grounds, past the local brewery, to the lake. I’m sorry, pond. Well, you see, the definition of this body of water is up for debate because, as you can see from the photos, it’s a lake. Unless you ask Ivana. Anyway, we walked around the lake and enjoyed some autumn sunshine before stumbling upon a small winery which was selling the local delicacy of Burčak. This is a drink which can only be sold from August through November, and is the young form of local wines. It’s very sweet (as the sugar hasn’t had time to ferment yet), and very delicious.
We decided to forgo the mid-day wine festival (complete with an outdated and poorly translated Czech DJ), and continue walking around the lake. On our way, we noticed a tourist train coming around the bend on the dirt path along the water. This train is not an actual train, but one you might find at a zoo meant for moving people from one attraction to the next. We moved over to given the train room, and the next thing we know, we’ve been been hit full-force by the little engine that could. The only way I knew how I was one minute standing and the next minute sprawled across the dirt path was from the crunching sound I heart as the front end of the train hit both of our backs. The conductor said that he’d swerved to miss a child on a bike, and hit us instead. How sweet. Fortunately, aside from some sore muscles and bruised egos, it was a no harm no foul situation. Still hilarious, and still made me wonder how my life has not yet been turned into a sitcom. Anyway, after our near brush with death (or a chilly September swim), we continued along our way, a bit more slowly, as Ivana had been talking about a crypt that we could visit. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I don’t think it was this:
It felt like we’d stumbled across Snow White’s chapel in the middle of the forest along one of the most beautiful lakes I’d ever seen. Saying this is a crypt does the structure a huge disservice, because even if it really is a crypt, it’s also a magical little spot in the forest of Třeboň. We wandered inside and admired the chapel, and then made our way back to the town, careful to avoid any more rogue tourist trains.
Back in Třeboň, we grabbed a cup of coffee, wrote out some postcards, and then took a climb up a tower in the city center to get a view of the rooftops. The climb up was certainly worth it, as the rooftops and surrounding nature of this town were breathtaking. Or I was out of breath from the climb. Regardless, I loved every minute (shout out to Ivana who made the climb despite a sore back and fear of heights- this girl is the best, ladies and gentleman).
Once down from the tower, we made our way out of town, grabbed some dinner and a bottle of wine, and spent the evening drinking that wine while watching Eat, Pray, Love and painting our nails.
I had the best time this weekend, and I’m so glad that I decided to come despite how tired and grumpy I’ve been recently. Finding a work-life balance is tough, particularly when you’ve established your life around your work. And I love my work. I love my work so much, and I am so glad I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to international education. But I also need to practice what I preach, and this excursion into Bohemia was exactly that- a much needed and thoroughly enjoyable weekend with some of the best people I know.