11/24/2007 0 °C
So the travel blog has been on hiatus while I've been attending to more mundane things like Stats and Accounting. But, as we had the week off for Thanksgiving this year (something which apparently does not normally happen at Stern), my roommate Julie and I decided to take advantage of cheaper and shorter flights from New York to Europe (at least as compared to San Francisco).
We started our trip off in the beautiful town of Prague. Upon arrival, and after a quick power nap, we braved the weather to get out and see the town. Despite the cold and rainy night we arrived to, it was quickly easy to see why so many people love this city. We crossed over the famous Charles Bridge and headed into the center of town. Just when we thought we could no longer take the rain - I saw off in the distance a mirage that appeared to say "HOT WINE". As we would later find out, hot, spiced wine is a regular winter treat in Prague and can easily be found at stands throughout the city - but coming upon that first stand unexpectedly was indeed a warm welcome to Prague!
Emboldened by the warm beverage, we were able to carry on to our intended destination - the U Fleku Beer Hall. Listed in "1000 Places to See Before You Die" (a great book by the way!) - U Fleku is supposedly Prague's oldest and most famous beer hall. Upon entering the hall, we found a place to sit in the middle of a long table and were quickly approached by waiters carrying steins of beer and small shot glasses of Becherovka, a national cinnamon tasting liquor that Julie declared tasted like Christmas. I likened the experience to Czech Dim Sum - if you so much as made eye contact with one of the tray bearing waiters he immediately deposited a drink on your table and made a mark on a little piece of paper which would eventually become your bill. Luckily, you can also order a hearty meal of Gulas and Dumplings to go with the drinks. The beer hall came complete with a brass oompah band and soon everyone around us was singing along - which is slightly ironic because I think the only Czech's in the hall were the ones working there. We quickly made friends with the Italians and Germans sitting around us, and were later joined by a Chinese couple who were studying in Sweden.
The next day we had big plans to take the train to the town of Kunta Hora to see the famous Bone Church as well as the local silver mine. But, jet lag (and Becherovka) got the best of us, and we got off to a bit late of a start. We had been told the day before we could take an hour long train at nine or ten, so we correctly assumed that there was a train every hour or so. What we did not realize was that not all of the trains were express - not until we'd been on the 1 o'clock train for over an hour. Three hours and many, many local stops later, we arrived in Kunta Hora and made our way to the Bone Church just in time to watch them lock the front door. At that point, there was nothing we could do but head back to Prague (luckily this time on the express train!). However, the day was not completely lost as we met a fellow traveler on the way who recommended the restaurant at the Klub Architecture and we ended up having a fabulous dinner that night.
On day two in Prague, we made up for lost time and packed in as many sites as we could in a short winter day (the sun sets at 4:30!). Below you'll see some of the highlights from the Prague Castle and around the city itself. It is an amazing city - even the man hole covers are beautiful!
I even got to try my hand with a crossbow. Needless to say, I wasn't very good.
We were also lucky enough to stumble upon a lunch spot that was deep in the cellar below a monastery and thus named "Hell". It was a great meal - even if the candle lit meal for two in a cave wasn't exactly what two friends were looking for on our vacation! We also stumbled upon an old building adorned with the NYU flag, and later figured out that NYU has a campus in Prague (who knew?!). Ironically, the flag was hanging above the bar that the Germans took us to on our first night. (Please don't blame us for accidently going to a "Coyote Ugly" bar in Prague - it really sounded like they were saying "Kioti Bar". . .).
That night we had another fabulous dinner (by candlelight nonetheless - Czechs are very good at conserving electricity) at the Blue Duck, which I highly recommend for anyone travelling to Prague.
Then it was off to Budapest! Julie's Austrian friend Martin joined us midway on the train ride into Hungary. Once again we arrived as the sun was setting, but managed to see a good deal of downtown and the river before the day of travelling caught up with us. The next morning we were up and off across the river to visit the famous Gellert Hotel and check out our first potential option for trying out the Hungarian version of Turkish baths. Then we made our way uphill to the former Royal Palace which is now the National Gallery, full of quite impressive art from Hungarians throughout the century. My personal favorite was our next stop, the Fisherman's Bastion which was a series of white stone towers and bridges that was somewhat reminiscent of Parque Guell in Barcelona.
Of course a visit to Budapest wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Gerbeaud coffeehouse for one of their famous desserts - which was the perfect way to recoup from a day of site seeing. That night we had another great dinner at the "For Sale" Pub, where Julie was able to add her NYU Stern Business card to the countless memorabilia tacked to the wall. As we had heard, the food in Budapest was fabulous.
Our final full day in Budapest was Thanksgiving, and Julie and I decided to give the Turkish baths a try (get it, turkey, Thanksgiving . . .??). We opted for the Szechenyi Baths in Varosliget (Budapest's Central Park). After paying our entrance fee and changing into our suits (for those who were wondering, they weren't THAT kind of baths) we braved the steam baths outside (mind you, it was freezing outside!). Once you got across the courtyard and into the bath it was quite pleasant, and the people watching was definitely interesting. While there were quite a few tourists, the baths are really frequented most regularly by local Hungarians, many of who think the baths are a good cure for rheumatism and other ailments. There were a lot of old men in speedos - one group even had several games of chess going around chess boards that were built into the baths! It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, and when we left we were conveniently close enough to the famous Gundel Restaurant to stop by for a drink. The restaurant itself wasn't open yet, but they sent us around the corner to their wine cellar. Once again, we had a candlelit table in a cave - but it didn't matter because we also had the most charming and entertaining waiter "Gary" to keep us company. "Gary" (which is how he introduced himself, though he told us his name in Hungarian was something that sounded like "Gare Gare") was so much fun that we decided that this was where we should have our Thanksgiving dinner. There was only one problem - Martin was back in the hotel. Soon enough the entire wait staff was involved in helping us try to call the hotel so that we could tell Martin to come meet us. But, for all their good help, it turned out that the number they had looked up for our hotel was off by one digit (which we figured out later) and we couldn't get through. By that time we were committed to having dinner there, so we got in a taxi, went clear across town, got Martin, and came all the way back. It was worth it - we had another great meal, and Gary continued to entertain us all night. It wasn't turkey and stuffing - but it was close (I had a famous local dish of grilled goose liver that was ridiculously rich - but also came with a side of "chestnut souflfe" that tasted a lot like stuffing).
The next morning, we bid goodbye to Martin, had our last meal in Budapest (yes, if you haven't figured it out already, pretty much all we did was eat!) and headed back to New York. And now, I am once again faced with reality - finals are looming and I really need to start looking for a summer internship - but it was a great trip!