Italian Getaway, First Stop: Venezia

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“The world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description; one must travel through it one’s self to be acquainted with it.”
-Lord Chesterfield

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Italy: land of redwhite&green, pasta, gelato, talking with hand gestures, canals, ancient ruins, more pasta and gelato, tourism, and more.

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Six of my friends and I had been planning our November vacation to Italy since the beginning of the semester.  I’m pretty sure we had the longest Facebook group message thread in the website’s history.  We spent weeks going back and forth discussing flights, hostels, trains, and tickets for certain sights.
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We decided we couldn’t choose between Venice, Florence, and Rome, so we would just have to go to all three.  In order to do so, we had to make use of a public holiday that fell on a Wednesday and skip classes on Thursday to create our own extended weekend.  I’m usually not a proponent for missing class, partly because it’s a waste of a couple hundred dollars when tuition is as high as it is at Syracuse, however, Italy is a worthy excuse.

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We flew out of Madrid Wednesday morning into Venice.  The above picture was taken through the airplane window soon after take off.  The flat cloud looked cool, but best of all, snowcapped mountains in Spain!  Seriously wish I could go snowboarding.

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We arrived in Venice and took a bus/walked through town to our hostel.  Within the first five minutes, I knew Venice may become one of my favorite cities in Europe.

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Our arduous hostel research paid off.  We had rooms with private bathrooms and no random strangers.  Plus, this was the view outside our window.

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It was after 2 p.m., so we were all ready for lunch.  Apparently Italians are on an earlier eating schedule than Spaniards, so only two restaurants were open on the street the receptionist at the hostel had recommended.  I got a toasty prosciutto panini.  Thus, begins the Italian food fest.

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Venice consists of 117 small islands separated by skinny canals and connected by bridges.  The city is laid out like a labyrinth, so navigating with a map is nearly impossible.  It was a day of adventure.

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Apparently, Venetians really like dogs…

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and dressing them.  This dog was one of many we saw wearing clothes.  I even saw one with a onesie that stretched around its hind legs.

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As we walked toward San Marco Square, we made a few sweet pit stops.

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My friend Kayla looking like a kid in a candy store.

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We didn’t buy any candy, but gelato is a different story.

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As a lactose-intolerant, I had zero expectation to be able to eat gelato in Italy.  I figured I could save the calories and eat more pasta.  Well I was completely wrong.  This dark chocolate gelato was dairy free and oh so delicious.

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Another thing I was surprised to find in Venice were an overwhelminggg amount of masks.  They were seriously everywhere and if Ryanair wasn’t so strict on baggage, I would’ve bought one.  I’ve always wanted to go to a masquerade!

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After weaving our way through dizzying side streets, we arrived in San Marco Square.

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St. Mark’s Basilica

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One of my favorite buildings I’ve seen to date because of the gold decor.

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Town squares are popular all over Europe.  Why can’t we have anything like this in the U.S.?!

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We could’ve climbed up this tower, but we decided to save the money for something else to be discussed later.

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The square is a famous spot for pigeon chasing.

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A nice man gave my friend Eric and I a piece of bread to feed the birds ourselves.

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It was fun, but I didn’t want them actually flying onto me, yuck!

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The sun sets sooner in Northern Italy than in Madrid, so we constantly felt like it was later than it was.  This photo was taken at 4:30.

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Finally, it was the moment we had all been waiting for. THE GONDOLA RIDE!

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We glided through the canals with our awesome 20-year-old gondolalier Marco.  He wouldn’t sing to us, but thankfully he didn’t mind me singing “On Top of Spaghetti”.

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THE Marco Polo’s old house!  Apparently, the swimming pool game isn’t as well-known in Italy as in the U.S. because Marco was very confused when I asked him about it.

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The gondola ride was everything I hoped and dreamed of.

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We wandered around and did a bit of shopping.  Italian Murano glass is famous, so I bought a cute ring with a white and pink heart-shaped Murano glass bead.

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We walked into a small shop and ended up befriending the owner.  He and his employees make all of the products by hand.

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The friendly shop owner recommended a restaurant close by for dinner.  Even the packaged breadsticks were good!

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Spaghetti with clams and spinach.  First pasta dish in Italy, check!

We had an interesting time finding our way back to the hostel that night, but we had fun with it. Finally, we were back in the hostel and headed to bed because the next morning we would already be saying goodbye to Venice and hello to another Italian city.

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Family Fun

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“And that’s the wonderful thing about family travel:  it provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind.”  -Dave Barry

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The Lipman family spent Halloween 2011 without decorations, candy, costumes, parades, etc.  I actually completely forgot it was Halloween until I was standing in the hour long line outside Madrid’s El Palacio Real and happened to see someone walk by with a Halloween balloon, a rarity in Spain where Halloween has only begun gaining popularity within the past few years.

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Although not very Halloweeny, I had yet to actually see the inside of the palace and I thought it would be fun to do with the family.  Once we finally got to the front of the line (who knew there would be so many people there at 10 am on a Monday morning?), we decided to do a group tour.

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The tour guide couldn’t have been more informative.  She took us into areas of the palace that are closed to the visitors who enter without a tour.  We saw many beautiful tapestries, exquisite architecture, and impressive paintings.  The palace actually has 2800 rooms!  Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed, but I happened to take these before I actually knew that.

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That afternoon, we grabbed some lunch at my favorite sandwich place near my school and I went to class while my parents hung out in the library.

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We had special dinner plans that night at El Restaurante de Carmen!  In other words, my señora Carmen invited my parents over for a delicious dinner of gazpacho, tortilla española (the omelette/quiche thing I’ve previously mentioned), and fish.  My parents couldn’t leave Spain without understanding why I constantly rave about my señora’s cooking.

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Carmen doesn’t know any English and my parents don’t know any Spanish, so I had a chance to practice my translating skills.  We actually managed to have some great post-dinner conversation and it was nice to know my parents had finally met the amazing woman I had been living with all semester.

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My parents planned their trip around November 1, All Saints Day,  because I knew I would have off from school and therefore would be able to spend more time with them.  A great part about Spanish public holidays, besides that there are so many of them, is going to El Rastro, Europe’s biggest flea market that I previously discussed here.  I got a pair of purple boots, a purple scarf (I was having a purple day), and flowery “genie” pants, which are really popular over here.

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New camera anyone?

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After our flea market escapades, it was time for the awaited paella.  We went to a restaurant called Marina Ventura near Sol.   We lucked out being able to snag a table without a reservation because by the time we left, it was packed!  We forgot that people actually celebrate All Saint’s Day here.

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Mom and Dad with the bowl of paella mixta. So. Good.

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With our tummies satisfied, we took the metro to Arguelles to ride El Teleférico!

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El Teleférico is a gondola/mini cable car that goes from the outer edge of Madrid to a huge park known as Casa de Campo.

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Here’s a taste of the beautiful views.

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A sign of autumn in Spain!

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We hung out in Casa de Campo for a little while to relax and enjoy the fresh air.

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You can see Madrid’s amusement park above our heads.

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Too soon, the day was over and it was time for dinner followed by goodbyes because my parents had to leave early the next morning.  We had a great extended weekend together and I am so thankful that they were able to come experience a bit of the country I have been living in for the past three months.  I can’t wait to see them again when I get back to the U.S. in just a few weeks!

The Lipmans Take Over Spain

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“Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life!”  -Albert Einstein

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I try to count my blessings everyday, especially since I’ve been abroad.  I’ve always known how lucky I’ve been to have an amazing family and group of friends.  However, when you’re 3,000 miles across the Atlantic and in a different time zone, you realize who is truly there for you even if you’re not physically right there with them.  I feel even more blessed to say that my parents decided to take that airplane ride over the big blue and pay me a visit!

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At 7 a.m. last Saturday morning, I took the metro to the Madrid airport, but for once it wasn’t because I was departing to another European hotspot.   Instead, I was picking up my wonderful parents!  After greeting each other for the first time in two and a half months, we metroed to their hotel, which was located only five minutes from my apartment.  Because it was so early, no rooms were available, so they dropped off their bags and we headed out to find some breakfast.  We ate traditional Spanish churros, tortilla española (egg omelette/quiche sort of thing with potatoes and onions), toast with tomato paired with café con leche for the parents and fresh squeezed orange juice for me.  This turned out to be one of our cheapest meals of the week.

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To kill some time before hotel check-in opened, we walked over to El Parque del Retiro, which is five minutes from my apartment.  Mom and Dad attempted to find a comfy bench to take a nap, but that phrase is quite contradictory when all of the benches are made of stone.

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We did find los Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez, which was one area of the park I had yet to venture into.

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And I finally got to see the peacocks my host mom has been telling me about all semester!

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My parents finally got to check in at the hotel and take a nap to curve the effects of jet lag.  We met up a couple hours later and I took them down to the central part of the city for lunch.  We passed by some famous Madrid landmarks on the way including El Palacio Real, which we toured a few days later.

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We arrived at El Mercado de San Miguel, a famous food market, to find it packed to the brim.  My parents decided they weren’t up for the craziness, so we chose the nearest sit down restaurant.

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It turned out not to be Madrid’s finest in terms of dining, so after deciding I didn’t like my seafood salad, I went back into San Miguel and found the empanada above.  No idea what was in it, but it was good.

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I had a long to-do list made for my parents’ trip, so after lunch we decided to cross off La Reina Sofía, Madrid’s modern art museum.

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Photo or drawing?

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I’m not exactly the biggest modern art fan, so finding pieces like this in La Reina Sofía definitely made it worth the visit.

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I’d blame this one on his jet lag, but he would’ve done that at anytime.

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Picasso’s “Guernica” is the most famous piece in La Reina Sofía.  It represents the destruction left in the wake of a Nazi air raid in Spain and is one of the first pieces of art to showcase the tragedy of war.  In case you’re wondering why the photo is so crooked, there were two guards standing in front of the painting yelling at people for taking pictures.  Thankfully, I’ve gotten pretty good at inconspicuous photography and I don’t even have a flash on my camera, so nothing was hurt in the taking of this picture.

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As we were about to leave, I remembered that you can go up on the roof of the building.  I thought of this at the perfect moment because the sun just so happened to be setting when we got up there.

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We taxied back to the hotel and Mom and Dad decided sleep was more important than dinner.  They needed their rest for the busy days that lay ahead anyway.

Thankfully, on day 2 we all slept in a little bit to heal my parents’ jet-lag and my constant lack of sleep.

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In the early afternoon, we walked down the street from my apartment to see the popular parts of Retiro Park that we had missed the day before.  The park is 350 acres, so it’s hard to cover in one day, especially when your parents are jet-lagged and just want to find a bench to sleep on.

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We found the beautiful Crystal Palace in the middle of the park.

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It was unfortunately closed inside for construction :[

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We continued on to the famous pond, known as el Estanque.  I had saved the rowboat experience for my parents’ visit, but little did I know they are not fans of rowboats and opted out of it.  I guess I’ll have to go on my own one day.  We found a sunny, grassy area next to el Estanque to sit for a little while.

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Who knew there are creatures living in the pond?!

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If you happen to remember my post that had a homework assignment from the beginning of the semester, I talked about how Retiro is filled with street performers on Sundays.  A small crowd drew our attention to this guy.  I didn’t take him seriously with that outfit  until he started juggling a chainsaw and knives with a mask on.

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My father felt inspired and decided to put on a little act of his own.  If you know him, this is not a surprise.

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We exited Retiro at la Puerta de Alcalá.  “La puerta” literally means door because this used to be one of the entrances to Madrid.

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The next couple of hours didn’t exactly go as planned.  We walked in the direction of El Museo del Prado, Madrid’s most famous art museum, and thought we’d find somewhere to stop for lunch on the way.  We ended up in what has to be the country’s most expensive sushi restaurant, which we didn’t realize until after we were already seated and had ordered edamame.  It was good sushi, especially considering I hadn’t had any since leaving the U.S., but definitely overpriced.

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We left lunch around 4 p.m. thinking we could see the Botanical Gardens quickly before going to the Prado at 5, when it is free on Sundays.  However, when we walked past the Prado, the long line that wrapped around the block made us realize our only choice was to stand in line and wait.  Good thing we didn’t get in that line 5 minutes sooner because a bird pooped on the people standing right in front of us!  Luckily, a nearly bald guy took the brunt of it, so he just wiped it off his head.  It’s supposedly good luck right?

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They began letting people into the museum at 5 and although it was crowded, I really enjoyed the paintings.  Las Meninas  (pictured above) by the famous Spanish artist Diego Valázquez was by far my favorite.  Valazquez painted himself painting the royal family.  The young girls are with their maids, while the king and queen are shown in the reflection in the mirror toward the top.  It makes you feel like you’re actually the king or queen!

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My mom and I both laughed out loud when we saw that this Rubens painting is entitled “The Birth of the Milky Way”.

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Two months prior, I had made dinner reservations for October 30th at El Restaurante Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world, according to Guinness Book of World Records!  We arrived at Botín in taxi and found a mob of people waiting outside the door.  My parents and I squeezed ourselves through the crowd because we already had reservations.

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We started off with the traditional sweet and salty Spanish dish, jamón y melón (ham and melon).  I know it sounds a little strange, but I promise the Spanish know what they’re doing.

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Our chosen refreshment: sangría.  I had been in Spain for two months and still hadn’t tried it.  The verdict: it’s sweet and there’s whole chunks of fruit in it.  What’s not to like about that?  Just watch your cup because my mom apparently likes to spill it all over people’s my lap…

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I decided on el cordero, or roast lamb, for my main course.  My mom ordered an almond chicken dish (on left) and we shared some judias verdes, Spanish green beans.

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Dad went traditional and ordered cochinillo, roast suckling pig.  I was thankful they didn’t serve the pig whole.

No dessert for the Lipman clan.  We walked off our meal in Plaza Mayor and Sol before saying goodnight.

Czech Again!

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“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.”  -Francis Bacon

Woke up for the second day in Prague slightly groggy even though I had been in bed for nine hours. It’s not always easy to sleep when you’re staying in a 26-person female dorm where girls start talking as loud as they can when they stumble through the door at 3 a.m.  Earplugs may have been a good investment.

Thankfully, the accommodations in the hostel itself were great.  Breakfast in the main lobby restaurant/bar was reasonably priced, so I started off my day with a veggie omelet.  Only problem was the speed of the service.  We told the waitress we wanted make a tour that was leaving the hostel at 10:15 a.m. and didn’t end up getting our food until 10:20 a.m.   Guess we were on our own for the day.

We hopped on a tram to Prague Castle.  After about 10 minutes, one of the girls in my group realized we were going in the wrong direction, so we had some backtracking to do before arriving at our destination.

We walked up a big hill and found this spectacular view of the rooftops.

Finally, we were at Prague Castle.

I had to make up for not taking a picture with the guards in London.

Some of the girls I was with didn’t want to spend money to go inside, but you’re only in Prague once right?  Three of us decided to escape the cold and see Prague Castle.

The ticket qualified us for entry into a few different places on the grounds including the church above.

Memory candles.

Next on the list was the castle itself.

Photos weren’t permitted, but I managed to sneak a couple.

Crown jewels! Don’t they look fake?

The best part was this adorable little street called Golden Lane, where people lived just 50 years ago.

I call this photo, “The Mad Scientist’s Lab”.

I wonder how they got up there to light those candles?

My friends and I decided we wish we lived back when dresses such as these were the norm.

View from a window.

Amy sized houses :]

THE DUNGEON.

Amazing smelling traditional Czech dessert.

After finding an Italian restaurant for lunch, we went off in search of the Communist Museum, which one of our friends said was really interesting.

We arrived at what we thought was the correct street after at least an hour of walking, tramming, and metroing.  Another American college student who we had met the day before at the Lennon Wall, Johnny, told us he knew where it was and was waiting for us in the McDonald’s near it.  One problem: there were at least two McDonald’s in sight and no sign for the Communist Museum.

We ended up wandering up and down this street multiple times because whenever we asked someone where the Communist Museum was, they would point in whatever direction we had just come from.  We were frustrated, to say the least.  We ended up telling Johnny to come meet us under a giant sign on the street.  When he arrived, everyone was so cold and exhausted they just wanted to go back to the hostel to rest up.  Being the traveler that I am, I wasn’t about to miss something we had spent so much time trying to find just because I was tired.  I convinced my friend Hannah to come with Johnny and me to the museum.

The museum was actually on a different street and completely hidden inside of another building.  Even thought it made it tough to find, it turned out to be a good thing because it wasn’t crowded.

The man who started it all.

Examples of the many brainwashing mechanisms.  The museum showed how communism worked through the utilization of fear.  For example, the government would conduct random drills in which people had to put on gas masks and practice what they would do if the U.S. used chemical warfare on them.

Communist tea party?

Peace.

We went straight from the Communist Museum to dinner because we had reservations from the night before at the Thai place.  All ten of us ordered pad thai and it sure was delicious.  For dessert, I ordered something made from rice, coconut milk, and mango. Worth every sweet calorie.

That night, I decided to actually go out for a little bit as long as I didn’t have to walk far in the cold.  We found a bar nearby that was filled with people in costume.  We realized we didn’t get the memo on proper attire, so we left.  We stumbled across a really cool looking bar right across the street that was playing SPANISH MUSIC!  A little taste of Spain in Prague :]

The next day, we went to the Jewish Quarter, which was the last spot to visit on our list.

Names of people who were transported from Prague during the Holocaust.

Old Jewish Cemetary.

My last name in one of the museums!

Beautifullll temple.

The ceiling. Literally had my camera next to my stomach and pointed it up to get this photo inconspicuously.

Oh my god, this lunch.  We went into a vegetarian restaurant with reasonable prices and a good sounding menu.  I ordered the “burger”, which consisted of goat cheese, spinach, and eggplant.  Best decision ever.

We did a bit of souvenir shopping and I bought the coveted and oh-so-touristy “Czech Me Out” t-shirt.  We went back to the hostel to grab our bags and headed off to the airport for our 8 pm flight.  Delays and turbulence created some frustration, but we got home safely.  It was a wonderful weekend in what I like to call the Fairytale City.

Czech Me Out!

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“Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness.” -Ray Bradbury

(more on that quote later)

Not even five days after returning from Morocco, I got got on yet another plane to yet another awesome place, Prague, Czech Republic.  It was an early start to the day, i.e., 3:45 a.m., in order to board a bus to the airport by 4:30 a.m. to catch my 7 a.m. flight.  Needless to say, I was exhausted when we arrived in Prague, but there’s no time to sleep when there are sights to see!

We dropped our belongings off at the hostel, grabbed some lunch nearby, and hauled our tired selves onto the streets of Prague.  We stumbled across a pretty church and took a peak inside on our way.

We continued walking up a street that we thought was bringing us to the Old Town Square.  Such begins the relevancy of the opening quote.

Instead we stumbled across yet another church to look at since that’s practically all there is in Europe.

This picture shows just how nice the weather was the first day in Prague.  Clear, blue skies, but a little crisp for my body, which has gotten too used to the warm weather of Madrid.

To keep my fingers warm, I ended up buying some fun mittens!  They’ll probably be my most useful Europe souvenir when I return to the North Pole Syracuse in January.

After visiting the church, we found out from some friendly Czech kids that we were in a completely different area than we thought we were.  Thankfully, the pointed us in the right direction.

The National Museum.

Solid friendship (HAH get it?)

Finally, we came across Old Town Square. It’s quite reminiscent of a fairy tale.

Sweet snack from a food stand at a flea market. Mmmm berries.

If only I had had room in my backpack to take home Pinocchio.

The astronomical clock.

According to Wikipedia, “The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the only one still working.”

St. Nicholas Church in the Old Town Square.

We continued our long loop around the old side of town.

When I had blisters on my feet at the end of the day, I realized we should’ve opted for one of these.

Beautiful Gothic architecture.

We walked along the river toward the famous Charles Bridge.  The highest, pointiest building in the top right corner of this photo is the cathedral at Prague Castle, which I visited the next day.

The colors of dusk set the stage for some great photo-ops.

View of the Charles Bridge.

View from the Charles Bridge.

It was lined with vendors selling artwork, jewelry, souvenirs, etc.

Funny story: we saw a man wearing a Syracuse University hat when we were walking along the bridge, so my friends and I went up to him to tell him that we attend there.  His son is also a junior at Syracuse and lived on the same floor freshman year as one of the girls that I was with!  Such a small world.

At the other side of the bridge lies more cute stores/restaurants, the Prague Castle, and the Lennon Wall.

At first when I heard people talking about this, I thought it was the “Lenin” Wall as in the Marxist Soviet ruler, Vladimir Lenin, considering Czechoslovakia used to be a USSR satellite state.  When I arrived and saw Beatles quotes, I was happy to find out I was wrong.

Love locked to a bridge, like in Paris.

We headed back to the hostel to rest up a bit.  That didn’t last too long because we were all starving, so we asked the receptionist where we could find a Thai restaurant in the area (Prague is known for having good Thai food).  She sent us to a restaurant a block away that looked great, but it was full for the next hour.  We decided to make reservations there for the following night.  It took a while to find a restaurant that would seat all 10 of us, but we eventually made our way into a foggy-aired pub-like eatery.  Much to my dismay, smoking is still permitted inside of buildings in Prague.  Besides choking on fumes for the entirety of the meal, my dinner was absolutely delicious.  Unfortunately, at this moment I failed at complete documentation of my travels because I was too hungry to remember to take a picture of the meal.  I forgot that I had taken a picture with my friend’s camera because mine was back at the hostel!  I was looking through her facebook pictures and came across it this morning. Better late than never!

Potato gnocchi with ham and sauerkraut paired with a salad.

Most of the group went out that night, but it was around 30 degrees outside and I was drained from sleeping three hours the night before, so I decided to head back to the hostel and rest up for another long day of touring.

 

Vlogging

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Welcome to my shortest post ever!  I spent the entire day after I returned from Morocco glued to iMovie making a photo slideshow (or vlog/video log, hence the title) to commemorate the unforgettable trip.  I can’t load videos onto wordpress, so click the photo above to watch it on youtube! Enjoy :]

Morocco: Last 18 hours

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“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced – even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it”       -John Keats

Oh, Chefchaouen.

Picturesque periwinkle perfection.

We drove into this amazing city as the sun was setting, which made for some great out-the-bus-window photos.

We dropped our backpacks off at the hotel and had two hours of free time, which we dedicated to spending the rest of our dirhams (Moroccan money).

It wasn’t too difficult when there was henna to be had and an enticing number of scarves, flip flops, jewelry, etc. to buy.

Best part of the Moroccan shopping experience, bargaining.  I didn’t purchase anything for over 10 dollars.

That night, I ate a farewell dinner with the group.

Chicken, almond, and prune tagine, which is a traditional Moroccan stew.  The sauce was so sweet, I would’ve licked the bowl had I not been in public.

As for dessert, orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon…why hadn’t I thought of this sooner?! Simply genius.

We made the most of our last day and awoke early to take a morning walk through the town.  Myself and my roommates were especially exhausted because we had been the only ones lucky enough to wake up to the twenty minute call to prayer at 4:45 a.m coming from the mosque right outside our window.  Muslims pray five times a day, one of which is at sunrise, and at these times someone sings from a mosque to alert people of the time.  We had heard the call to prayer in other towns earlier in the weekend,  but I had yet to experience it at the wee hours of the morning.

We embarked on our tour at 7 a.m. and weaved our way through the labyrinth-like streets

until we reached the end of the town

where a river played host to women doing laundry.

With the introduction of a mountain and a dirt path, our leisurely morning stroll turned into a hike, but if I turned my head to the right, I could see the view.

When we reached our destination, the group sat on the ledge catching our breath and taking it all in.

I loved how half the city was still dark, while the other half was light.  It made me think about how so many people are in the dark about other cultures/people and end up making assumptions based upon false information.  My trip to Morocco helped me move toward the light in my understanding of Islam, Arabs, Africans, and third world countries.  Nobody can ever take that away from me.

I continued taking pictures as we descended, but this one topped them all.  I happened to snap this shot of this beautiful little girl at precisely the right moment because one second later, she was in the shade and then in her house.

Breakfast was waiting for us at a restaurant when we got back into town.

Soon enough we were back at Tangier Airport

and then in the air looking at the coast of Spain out the window once again.

Besides these blog posts and three Facebook albums dedicated to the weekend, I decided to make a video slideshow.  As my Spanish host mom says, take a trip to Morocco in 6 Minutes.  But seriously, if you ever have the opportunity to visit Morocco, DO IT!  I learned more in a few days than I would’ve in a full semester class.  It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.