The final stop on our Eurotrip was to Budapest, Hungary. This city was even better than I expected - and I’ve got some recommendations for you!
After scrolling through endless reviews and websites, I was able to narrow down our vineyard stops from a pool of 400 to 4. I picked each one for a specific reason, which is a tactic I would recommend to friends and readers planning trips of their own!
I’m writing this from my hotel room bed, where I have been laying/sitting for approximately 5 hours – rotating between answering emails, eating snacks, accidentally dozing off and consistently cursing when I need to get up to go to the bathroom because I have never felt post-race soreness like I am currently experiencing.
I’m not going to bury the lead on this one - I’ve found a new carry-on suitcase that I absolutely love, and before you roll your eyes and think, “Not another love letter to Away luggage…” stop right there! This is all about CHESTER. A simpler, cheaper, lighter, carry-on suitcase.
Life is in the details, so I’m glad I took some time to remind myself of the little things that don’t necessarily come up in passing conversation.
What started as one gym in Sydney in 2013 has grown to over 850 studios in 22 different countries and “coming soon” locations popping up constantly. So why are so many people drinking the F45 Kool Aid?
If I were to choose a relationship status with Vienna on Facebook it would be “It’s Complicated.” There were a lot of things I liked about it, a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, and overall I just didn’t leave feeling the same way I had about our other stops.
I decided to look back and remember some of 2018’s highlights - it’s always crazy to see how much I managed to jam into 12 months.
The one place on this trip that I had absolutely zero expectations about was Cesky Krumlov. To be honest, I didn't even know what country it was in. At best, I figured it would be a pleasant surprise like my day trip to Girona on my Barcelona trip, and at worst, I figured it was only a quick stop on our way to the next big city on our trip.
I won't bury the lead here - Cesky Krumlov was by far the most magical stop of our trip. Magical meaning it gave me ~feels~ like I got in Stockholm - like this was a place I would be content to stay forever. It wasn't just the quaint cobblestone streets or the beautiful castle or the winding Vltava River that seemed to be giving the city a hug - it was also a feeling of perfect contentedness - of slowing down and not feeling like there were 23842 "must see" things and specific "must eat" dishes. All we had to do for 24 hours was appreciate this incredible little town in the Czech Republic - and appreciate it I did! I wandered its streets when all the day trippers had left, napped in a sun-filled log cabin and hiked to the top of a grassy hill overlooking the picturesque city.
But let's start at the beginning!
We had two cabs waiting for us when we got off the train and they took us to the Krumlov House - a hostel situated super close to the center of the city. After stepping through the elaborate wooden dragon door we were greeted by an American who checked us in and let us know that we would have the hostel to ourselves for the night. Once we got up to our second floor suite, I think it sunk in just how unique this hostel was. Dad had been raving about how much he loved this hostel - and that he was so glad we were getting to go there. And it was immediately clear why he had been so excited. Everything was handmade from wood and it had the most incredible light streaming in. It was so tranquil.
We didn't have too much time at that moment to get comfortable though, because we all headed to the grocery store up the street to buy some snacks for a picnic in a park next to the river. Sitting on a shady bench looking up at the castle I was incredibly zen.
David had set up a tour for us with one of the locals who he promised we would absolutely love. As we walked to the center of town to meet her, David told us stories about different townspeople, stores, restaurants, etc. I loved the small town feel of Cesky and the fact that David was passing people he recognized on the streets. He popped into a restaurant whose owner he knew so we could use the bathroom before the tour started and knew the artist who had made some of the metal-work outside of a bar.
It felt a little bit like we were walking through the "Little Town" scene in "Beauty in the Beast."
Our tour guide was so lovely - she was such an upbeat, happy person and Allison and I loved chatting with her as she showed us around town and promised us that later in the day, things would clear out and we would have the place to ourselves. A lot of day trips come through but leave around 3 or 4.
Everywhere we turned there was cool artwork or beautiful views. There were so many little things that she pointed out to us , like these little paint tube fingers that I loved for some reason.
As we wound through the cobblestone streets, down to the river and up to the castle, we marveled at her ability to conduct the tour wearing wedges.
The views from the top of the castle were stunning and we could have stayed there taking pictures all day. The one thing I didn't love was that there's a bear in the moat of the castle and while there used to be more than one, now he's all alone down there and it made me really sad.
When the tour was finished, Allison and I wandered around a little longer through the streets before heading back to our beautiful hostel. At this point in the trip, everyone other than me was feeling under the weather, and there couldn't have been a more peaceful place to take a nap.
I wasn’t quite ready for go inside though, so I chatted with the woman working at our hostel and asked her what her suggestion was for a short run/hike. She knew exactly where to send me- I went for a nice little loop and when I finished that, I started the hike up to the church. It was a good incline that got my heart rate going (as did the dog that started running at me at one point). I felt totally alone, which was nice after constantly being with people for days on end. At the top, I found a relatively flat area of grass and did a deck of cards workout before heading back to the hostel.
I made myself some tea, an orange, and granola and just sat in the kitchen soaking in the incredible sunlight coming through the windows and making all of the wood work look golden. The woman working at the hostel started chatting with me and it turns out she was from California and had been visiting the Czech Republic when she stumbled upon the hostel in Cesky Krumlov - while she was staying, one of the employees had quit. She was offered the job and took it - and had been there ever since! Talking to her didn’t make it seem so crazy…
I went back up to the room eventually and dozed for a little bit before it was time to get ready and go with the group to dinner at a place Dad promised we would love - for a full “Bohemian feast” at Krčma U dwau Maryí . We stopped for many photo opportunities along the way - it was my favorite time of night, SUNSET TIME.
We were thrilled when they seated us at an outside table along the river. We ordered the chicken version of the feast which comes out for the whole table - it had chicken, smoked meat, millet, potato dumplings, potato cake, potato and vegetables. I didn’t really know what I was eating, but it was good! It was very traditional food from the days of feudalism.
Also traditional to the Czech culture is mead - so I figured sitting outside along the river on a crisp April evening would be a good time to give the warm, alcoholic drink a try. Sadly - I was not a fan of the mead. It was soo strong. It reminded me of back in the day when I hated the taste of every alcoholic drink that I tried because it burned my throat.
At least now I know to never order mead again!
We were definitely full after dinner, so it was nice to walk around and look at the castle and town all lit up. We seemed to be the only ones left in town!
I woke up earlyyy the next morning so that I could get a picture from a wonderful viewpoint as the sun rose and it was a nice, quiet moment but also sad, because Cesky looked so so beautiful and I didn’t want to leave!
But alas, “Vienna Waits for You…..”
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While I was training for a half iron distance triathlon - I had a pretty one-track mind for 14 weeks. Other than my job, most of my mental energy was consumed by working out, recovering, eating and sleeping.
Here are the things that got me through and were my favorite things during 70.3 training!
I ate a lot of dates. I took 3 on every long bike ride, I ate one dunked in peanut butter before many morning workouts (be it swims, runs or strength) and I would occasionally eat them for dessert too.
One of my goals was not to rely on Gu’s or gels, which tend to be tough on my stomach - and to instead eat real food as much as possible. Dates were wonderful. When you consider that my go-to bars of choice are RXBARS and Lara Bars (both made mainly of dates) - I consumed a lot of these bad boys.
Now that training is over, I’m trying to cut back since dates are high in calories and sugar as far as fruit is concerned, but I plan on using them for fueling long runs, races and bike rides again next time around!
(I also tried the Coconut & Citrus flavor of these guys as a quick easy source of energy for early mornings and really liked them!)
This was a game changer - I went from forcing myself to foam roll once every couple of weeks for maybe 4 minutes, to religiously foam rolling 10-20 minutes every day. Part of this was my renewed commitment to staying strong and healthy to make it to the start line, but another big part of is was this vibrating foam roller that made the process seem a lot easier.
Because the foam roller is vibrating, there’s not as much effort required by the user to get into knots and aches and pains. But my favorite part was that once you turn it on, it vibrates for 10 minutes before turning off. Having a timer made me commit to foam rolling until the end of the cycle, or even two cycles, which meant I was giving my muscles a lot more TLC!
This particular vibrating foam roller has 4 different speed settings - though I really only ever use setting two. My roommates may not have appreciated the loud vibrating at 6:00 AM before a run, but my shins held up surprisingly well for 14 weeks!
I’m beyond obsessed with these tortillas. I looked forward to every Saturday long ride not because I was particularly excited to sit on a bike for 3-4 hours, but because my pre-ride meal was always a Joseph’s tortilla with RX Nut Butter and a banana. PB Banana Tacos - motivating me to wake up 14 Saturday mornings in a row <3
When Po Campo sent me their Kinga Handlebar Bag to try - I was over the moon. Prior to that I had been biking with my Spi belt so that I could have my phone and keys, etc.
This bag was a game changer - it holds my Metrocard, credit card, ID, money, phone, sunglasses, keys, handpump, snacks, gloves - and there’s still room. Yet it’s not at all bulky. I love that I can easily access my phone now without stopping. It’s weatherproof so I don’t have to worry about everything inside getting drenched. I even kept it on for my race!
Most importantly, it’s super cute and colorful and matches my bike.
This peanut butter fiend has a new NUMBER ONE favorite peanut butter and it’s RX Nut Butter. I don’t know what it is about this stuff - but it’s crack. And it’s impossible to eat just half a pack.
The texture is heaven. The flavors are out of this world. I might even love the vanilla almond butter best- ME, team peanut butter above all! RX Nut Butter is made with egg whites (yay protein) and sweetened with dates and comes in 5 flavors (I still need to try the maple almond butter which I’ve heard is crazy good). I’ve already gone through 2 variety packs…it’s not a problem…
I can only hope that one day RX sells this stuff by the jar.
I’ve gone to hundreds of group fitness classes, but none have hooked me like F45 training did when I went to my first class last spring.
Since then, I’ve been to over a dozen classes and I still love it as much, if not more, than the first time.
I love that every class is so different, yet in a lot of ways you always know what to expect. Time absolutely flies, you WILL sweat, you WILL feel sore the next day, you WILL learn new exercises, instructors WILL correct your form and you WILL feel like a bad ass at the end of class.
And if you’re like me, you’ll take at least one dance break per class.
Throughout training, I made it a point to go to one F45 class per week - it doubled as strength training which was super important to me to keep in my schedule, and it was also such a welcomed mental break from the constant swim, bike, run cycle.
F45 Training began in Australia and like Orangetheory, the idea is that every F45 studio throughout the world is doing the same workout on any given day. F45 classes use different intervals for every class - one day you might be doing 60 second intervals with 15 seconds rest with 10 different exercises and the next day you might be doing 30 second intervals with 10 seconds rest at 20 different stations.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday is focused on cardio, while Tuesday and Thursday classes are more strength-based. Saturday is an hour long mix of cardio and strength with a LIVE DJ in the studio. There are always two instructors in the class which means everyone is getting some personal attention and form is corrected frequently.
There are two locations in Manhattan (LEW and Flatiron) and one opening in Brooklyn soon and I cannot recommend it enough.
I sampled this at the NYC Tri expo and it was actually very delicious. So I bought some on Amazon! And now I’m one of those people who drinks tart cherry juice to aid in recovery.
Okay - so I would have a few sips every night before bed. I don’t actually think it could have done much to help with inflammation and recovery - but it tasted good and I told myself it was good for me.
If anyone has any recommendations for things that I should be obsessed with the next training cycle - leave them in the comments!
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In December, I signed up for my first half IRONMAN race - in Wilmington, North Carolina on October 13, 2018.
When I clicked register - I knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t make it to the start line. Either a work trip would come along that I had to be at, or my legs (shins) wouldn’t get me through the training. What I really wanted was a summer spent swimming, biking and running with my friends who had agreed to sign up with me.
I was excited for free outdoor lap swimming at NYC pools, Saturday long rides up 9W and on Long Island, and getting myself back to weekend running and brunching with friends. Even if I didn’t become a (half) IRON(wo)MAN I knew that if I enjoyed the training, it would have been worth it.
When I train for something – I tend to get tunnel vision. This 70.3 race consumed most of my spare time and mental energy from June up until yesterday. I did what I had to do to stick as closely to my training plan (this one) as possible – weekend plans meant Thursday morning long bike rides before coming into the office. Monday rest days were sacred. Foam rolling was a daily occurrence. I convinced myself that tart cherry juice was helping with inflammation and I submitted myself to 4 weeks in a row of acupuncture even though I’m terrified of needles.
I swam farther than I had ever swam before (and cried tears of joy) and found myself more and more comfortable in the pool. I biked further than I had every biked before. I PR’d Harlem Hill multiple times. I surprised myself on every transition run off the bike. I showed restraint on my weekly running mileage.
Overall, I trained 1,000 + miles and I continued to tell myself throughout the 14 weeks that THIS was the accomplishment. Whether I made it to the start line and whether or not I crossed the finish line, I was so grateful for 4 months of discipline and dedication and purpose and pride.
I was so grateful for 60 miles on Long Island with my best friends followed by yacht club beers with my parents. I was so grateful for open water swim practice while on family vacation at the lake. I was so grateful for the people of Clinton, NY who found me a bike to train with while I was in town for work. I was so grateful for the Friday night run to the pool followed by dinner and drinks. I was so grateful for a return to morning park loops with Tiffanie. I was so grateful for the once a week F45 training with Abby when I just didn’t want to swim bike or run for once (not as grateful for the box jump injury resulting in my shin being Steri-stripped shut). I was so grateful for vibrating foam rollers and compression leggings and the discovery of Asser Levy Pool at sunset.
So when our North Carolina IRONMAN was cancelled last Monday because of Hurricane Florence, I was in a bit of a dazed disbelief, but I was also telling myself that it was OK. That the 1000 miles I trained were more of an accomplishment than the 70.3 on race day. And I still 100% believe that’s true. That’s what I’ll continue to be most proud of.
But I also didn’t want to be robbed of the proof that my training had worked. That all those hours could get me from start to finish of a 70.3 distance triathlon.
On Friday I happened to see a post on the North Carolina race page that MightyMan Montauk was offering $40 off registration to anyone who could show they had been registered for North Carolina. The race was on Sunday and they offered a half Ironman distance option.
I texted my friends asking, “Is this crazy?” And their response of “Yes, but I’m totally in” is why I love them. I booked a hotel at 5 PM on Friday. I packed a bag Friday night. I got some sleep, woke up Saturday morning, got myself on a train, and at 3 PM I was in Montauk.
I walked myself, my bike and my massive backpack the mile to registration, paid my $200 cash, and was officially signed up 20 minutes prior to packet pick-up closing.
I continued the .5 mile walk to Atlantic Terrace, checked-in, and was told that there would be a wedding happening outside our room until 11 PM. Grrrreat.
Next I walked to IGA, bought a banana, walked to Herb’s, got a chicken cutlet/cheddar/avocado/spinach sandwich on a roll, took a picture of the beach, shaved my legs, put my race tattoos on, organized my stuff and crawled into bed where I sat listening to Armchair Expert until 9.
I also eavesdropped on the maid of honor and best man speeches of the wedding – they weren’t that great. Around 9 I turned off the lights, popped a melatonin and dozed off until Abby and Annelise arrived at around 1 AM.
That’s right, 1 AM. They’re the crazy ones.
We got settled, they filled out the registration paperwork so it would be ready to go in the morning, and we all fell into bed. 3 hours and 45 minutes later, our alarms were going off and it was GO TIME.
I got dressed:
-Favorite Sports Bra
-Voler Tri Shorts
-Wet Suit Legs on, arms tied around my waist
-Garmin (life changing realizing I could wear it for the swim!)
Downed some Stumptown canned cold brew, triple checked my bag, body glided the neck and ankles, triple tried to poop (and failed) and we were out the door by 5:15.
It was a half mile walk to Fort Pond transition area where Abby and Annelise registered and got tatted up. The sky was starting to lighten as we made our way to the second transition area and laid out everything we would need for the run (the course had officially changed on Friday when they announced that they couldn’t hold the swim at Fort Pond due to algae levels – just another wrinkle).
I ate half of my PB banana wrap, gathered everything I would need for the swim/bike and we set off on our bikes (in wetsuits and flip flops) to the swim start/transition one at Navy Beach. It was about a 3-mile bike ride and we were feeling warmed up.
At Navy Beach we racked our bikes, set up what we would need to transition from swim to bike, got our timing chips and most importantly, Abby braided my hair and gave my wetsuit a loopy hookeroo.
The entire time a woman was on the microphone going over the different swim courses and I was just getting more and more confused. We donned our hot pink swim caps and headed towards the water where we asked multiple people, “Do you know where we are supposed to turn?” The general consensus was just keep the buoys on your left at all times which seemed simple enough (foreshadowing – it was not simple).
Everything had moved so quickly that morning that I hadn’t really had time to freak out at the fact that the water was pretty choppy looking.
What I liked about the swim start was that we just waded into the water up to our chest and once they said go, people went as they pleased – once you crossed the buoy your timing chip activated. It was a lot less stressful than a jump start, though there was still a lot of kicking and splashing as people got started.
I had just figured I would follow the hot pink swim caps and figure out the course, but it was evident pretty quickly that most of the pink swim caps were going to be wayyyy ahead of me. I felt the familiar feelings of “oh my God I can’t do this” and then I looked around and for the first time realized that these were no joke WAVES and they were not cyclical, rolling waves – they were choppy waves coming from all different directions and crashing into each other and rolling you around and making buoy spotting next to impossible. My mindset was “I have an hour to get this done – until they force me out, I’m going to keep trying.”
At one point, I looked up and saw Annelise next to me and felt so much relief. Then I saw that she was struggling too and tried to calm us both down.
It was chaos out there – and because they had used the backup swim plan, I felt like most of the lifeguards on paddle boards and jet skis were also confused as to what colored caps were supposed to be swimming where. At one point I was swimming into oncoming swimmers which yes, seemed wrong in retrospect, but I was keeping the buoys on my left like they had said! One of the lifeguards started aggressively screaming at me, telling me to stop backstroking and swim, and generally acting like I WANTED to be swimming off course. It was ridiculous.
Luckily, at that point in the swim Abby and I had found each other and though we were one of only a few pink swim caps left in the vicinity, as long as I had her in my sights I felt OK. We somehow navigated to the turn buoy (me, entirely by backstroking and looking at the sky and trying to calm myself down and swallowing giant mouthfuls of salt water as waves crashed over me) and thankfully once we turned all those waves were pushing us into shore and I could finally put my swimming to use. I settled into a pattern of 10 backstrokes, 21 freestyle, sight, 10 backstrokes, 21 freestyle, sight.
The times I was actually swimming were definitely the best I’ve done in open water. I could exhale this time without panicking about the fact that it was pitch black.
The closer we got to the swim exit the more crowded and stressful it got but I swam as much as I could instead of standing and running on the rock bottom and dragged myself up onto the shore. I like to think I made this look partially more graceful than the others around me not used to rocky bottom swim exits. Thanks, North Shore!
1.2 Mile SWIM: 44:48
I knew Abby was close behind me so I took my time in transition so that we could head out on the bike ride together. I ate the second half of my wrap, put on my arm sleeves, put on my socks and bike shoes, made sure all my things were in my bag so that the race people could transport it back to Fort Pond bag check, put on my sunglasses, did the hokey pokey, turned myself about. Me, Abby and Annelise set off – “Just like any other Saturday ride!” I told myself.
Transition 1: 8:17
The first 15 miles of the bike were awesome. I felt really really good. I ate a date at mile 10 and was cruisin’ even up the very hilly straightaway to the lighthouse. The hills were hard and numerous but I was handling them well mentally. And seeing the lighthouse was so nice and memory inducing!
But around mile 15 I started to get the familiar post-swim cramps. These were like NYC Tri x 128390. I couldn’t sit up straight, I couldn’t take a full breath in, I felt like I was being stabbed in the side and back and stomach and my chest was tight. I honestly started to question if something was seriously wrong.
Abby passed me and I told her what was up and that I was just hoping sometime over the next three hours, the pain would go away.
Even though it was the last thing I wanted to do – I knew I had to keep drinking and eating if I ever wanted to make it through the rest of the race – even though my stomach felt so so awful.
The cramping was really bad for about 45 minutes and then it eased up a little but I couldn’t get out of my head telling myself that there was no way I was going to be able to run.
I knew that thought was not at all useful and I needed to just focus on the bike. I never found the rhythm I had had for the first 15 miles and I knew I was going much slower than most of my training rides. I’m very bad at self-motivating on the bike – if I’m next to someone I can keep up, if I’m alone on a highway – not so easy to get my RPMs up.
This was a course where you were alone a lot.
But I kept going, kept eating a date every 10 miles, had half an RX bar in the last 10 miles, and swapped out my water bottle at the halfway point.
I knew Abby wasn’t too far ahead of me and I kept telling myself to reach her so we could run together but my legs just weren’t having it. Eventually, the bike was over and I ran to my rack where Abby was finishing up her transition and checked on my cramp status which was definitely better than when she had seen me on the bike but also not great.
57 Mile BIKE: 3:33:29 (15.7 MPH)
She headed out and I followed behind, after changing my socks and putting on my sneakers. Last minute I decided to run with my phone in my Spibelt because I fully expected the cramps to make this a loooong, slow, walk-filled half marathon with possible phone calls crying to my parents. I left transition and started the run, clutching a melted half of an RX bar in one hand.
Transition 2: 4:11
I ran with Abby’s advice in mind – run each mile and only think about that mile. I just concentrated on getting to each aid station, where I allowed myself to stop, drink, and walk to the garbage can before starting to run again. My first mile split was 8:25 which was much slower than my usual transition runs but I figured that was safe and smart.
Stomach was feeling OK, right shin was hurting, left glute pain that I’d been worried about seemed numb – all systems were go and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the next two hours were by no means going to be easy but that this was possible and I was going to make it happen.
By the second aid station I realized that Abby was coming from behind me because she had stopped to use a porto potty at a construction site (so resourceful) and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that we could run together.
I had been entering a head space that I did not want to be in – due in part to a lonely bike ride and the almost entirely crowd-supportless course.
We agreed that there was no need to run up “Murder Hill” or any of the other vertical incline hills that the race creators for some reason decided to include on the run course. It was seriously unreal. 806 feet of elevation climb on a run course?! You’ve gotta be kidding me. We had trained for a 56-mile bike ride with less elevation gain.
Even with Abby beside me, there were times I started telling myself that I didn’t want to keep going. That this was stupid hard and I should never have signed up. That I should just walk. That I couldn’t keep up with her. Mainly, I just kept thinking, “I want this to be over, I want this to be over.” And – “HOLY HELL MY ARM PITS ARE CHAFING SO MUCH.”
I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have Abby next to me step after step. In true Abby fashion - steadfast, strong, positive, realistic, random (refusal to put down her orange) – I just kept doing what she was doing and I knew we’d make it.
She waited for my two porto potty stops (there was some GI distress happening), we walked the hills, we drank 6890 tiny cups of water, we cringed at the thought of any form of sustenance, we said things like “single digits left!” and “5K left!” and “this straightaway is going to suck but then it’s going to be the best!” and “Shalane and Emma to the finish!”
And when we crossed the finish line together, it was the sweatiest, happiest, proudest hug ever with maybe some tears - I don’t really know, everything was a little blurry.
13.1 Mile RUN: 2:09:34
We got our medals and towels (which were not soaking wet and cold like I had hoped but still very nice towels) and gave Annelise big sweaty hugs and walked over to the food table where I demolished many many pieces of watermelon which was everything I didn’t know I had been waiting for.
We zombie walked around for a little, took some photo booth pics, took some phone pics, called my dad, got some popcorn (also a great post race snack – yum salt), got our bags, got our bikes and walked back to the hotel.
Things to note: my swim cap smelled like straight up seafood stew. Yuck. I somehow ripped two big holes in my $300 wetsuit. Wonderful. I was very sunburnt. It was a perfect day weather wise! I was proud that I kept myself sufficiently hydrated and fed. I was never hungry and I was peeing clear all day (this is what you get when you read a race recap, sorry).
Overall the race was fairly well organized – the bike and run courses were clearly marked to differentiate between the Olympic and Half distance races. I liked that everything was super close to where we were staying. I liked that it was a small race that kept things from seeming overwhelming.
I didn’t like that the swim was so chaotic, the bike course was almost entirely unsupported in terms of water/mechanics/etc., and there was no crowd support. Oh, and like I said, the run course was just stupid difficult. I would consider doing this course as an Olympic in the future though!
After we all showered we got food at Gig Shack (burger, fries, beet and goat cheese salad, hummus platter with mushrooms, endive, candied macadamia nuts, parsnips – it was phenom) where there was live music and outdoor seating.
Next stop was Montauk Brewery (so glad to have finally made it there!) and there double IPA was so so good. Last stop for the day was John’s (duh) for ice cream (Peanut Butter Blast) and a frozen chocolate covered banana (there’s always money in the banana stand).
Abby, again, is a crazy, wonderful human and drove Annelise and I back to our apartments before driving back to her house late last night.
I don’t remember falling asleep it happened so instantaneously.
Nothing about yesterday's 70.3 was how I had pictured it in my head since I signed up 10 months ago.
There was no careful taper - I spent the week before the race working 12+ hour days on my feet, eating chicken tenders and drinking copious amounts of wine (in what was the most fulfilling work week of my life to date, so no regrets!)
There was no time to stress about my outfit, to carefully pack my bags and to triple check my to-do lists. There wasn’t even time to MAKE a to-do list. 15 hours after seeing that MightyMan Montauk was offering day of registration and a discount for those whose Ironman NC 70.3 race had been cancelled, I was on a train.
There was no expo and practice open water swim and big race night dinner with my friends. I ate a deli sandwich alone at the hotel while a wedding raged outside my window and my friends drove through the night to arrive at 1 am.
We we're supposed to have a down-stream fast channel swim and a flat bike and run course. We got a chaotic ocean swim (ok it was a bay but it opens up into the OCEAN), a hilly bike, and a run with so many hills I stopped counting.
I was supposed to finish with two other incredible women who supported me and pushed me and trained 1000+ miles with me. Knowing that Kayla couldn’t be there and that the unexpectedly wavy swim course rattled Annelise definitely changed the celebratory mood that we had all dreamed of and worked towards. They trained just as hard and are more than capable and beyond prepared to go the same distance.
But there are silver linings to every changed plan.
I had no time to doubt myself or to panic. I felt like this race was truly just a chance to give my training a shot in a scenario where I otherwise wouldn't have gotten to race at all.
It cut training short when I was starting to feel burnt out anyway and it came after a week of relatively low mileage since I had been away for work.
There were no delayed flights or lost bags - just a train ride to one of my favorite places.
I got to complete my first 70.3 on the island that I love so much - I felt comfortable and at home.
And i got to run 13.1 miles with my best friend - something I haven't done since 2016.
Without you by my side for every step Abby- those last two hours would have been a lot less pretty. But your experience and steady determination kept me going and smiling and crossing the finish line with you was a definite life highlight.
To everyone who has exclusively heard me talk about 70.3 training for the past 4 months ITS OVER and I'm sorry I’ve been a broken record and thank you for listening.
(And no, I’m not ready to sign up for a full!!!)
While I was sad to say goodbye to pierogies - so many people had told me that they loved Prague, and we were excited to see what was next in the Czech Republic!
The highlight of the journey from Krakow to Prague was definitely the salad we had picked up the night before from Krakow's Fitagain Cafe.
For the 17 days we explored Central Europe (they don't like being referred to as Eastern Europe!) I ate a lot of bread, a lot of meat and a lot of cheese. I truly cherished every vegetable I consumed.
And this salad from Fitagain wasn't just your average salad - it had all my favorite things like apples and chickpeas and sweet potatoes and sunflower seeds.
When we arrived at the train station in Prague, David took us down the platform to take a look at a statue. It was of two kids with their father and a suitcase, and the story he told about what the statue represents was amazing! It's a tribute to Sir Nicholas Winton, who helped 669 Jewish children in Prague find foster families in Britain to save them during the Holocaust.
Winton never told anyone about the lives he had saved until nearly 50 years afterwards. David showed us an incredible video of Winton unknowingly surrounded by the people he had saved that you should definitely watch if you feel like getting emotional!
That quick little detour upon our arrival in Prague is just one example of why David was the best tour leader ever!
After our stop at the statue, David helped me get some money exchanged for a fair price before leading us out to walk through a park to the tram. We waited awhile in the sun before loading all of our things onto the car. I'm sure locals cringed whenever they saw our group coming - especially Allison and I with our massive suitcases.
After a quick ride, we walked the rest of the way to get the keys to the apartments we would be staying in. I'm so sad I can't remember the woman's name, but a precious little lady walked Allison and I a little further into the center of town and taught us how to get into the apartment - it included the unlocking and re-locking of approximately 80 doors before loading into the world's most terrifying elevator (we screamed 9/10 times we rode it over the weekend).
We didn't realize we would be sharing the apartment with her - so that was a little weird to realize at first - but we very much had our own private space with a bedroom, living room and bathroom. We shared the kitchen and 1/2 bath with our host (and her dog - which was a little annoying since Allison is allergic and they never asked if anyone had allergies).
She had us lock and unlock the door a bunch of times until we figured it out and let us know in her very limited English that if we had to go "ka-ka" we should use the 1/2 bath in the kitchen. Personally, I was trying very hard not to laugh during this entire thing. We were also both reallllly hoping she would speed it up on her whole spiel because we were desperate to eat and get ready before meeting up with the group. (Josh and Heidi were staying in another apartment just a ways down the street).
Finally she left and Allison and I started getting ready.
We met up with everyone back at the rental office and from there, walked into Old Town Square. We were staying SO CLOSE - that was one of the things I loved about this trip and the way it was planned. We were always steps from the center of town which saved so much time as opposed to constantly having to get on subways and buses every time we wanted to get somewhere. We could almost always walk to the biggest/most popular sights.
Prague's Old Town Square was still done up for Easter with lots of stalls and vendors selling all different kinds of foods - entire turkey legs, spiraled potatoes on a stick, candy, etc. Dad gave us some warnings about buying anything from these stalls - they tend to really jack up the prices or do things like weighing the turkey leg and charging per ounce.
You could tell that Dad loved Prague, because he spent a looong time on our orientation tour. He was disappointed that some of his favorite stops were closed on the weekend, and also to find that the Astronomical Clock, one of Prague's most popular tourist stops, was under construction.
Despite that, we still saw quite a lot, including lots of art by contemporary Czech artist David Černý. I've come to realize that I absolutely love contemporary art - and my favorite part of Prague was definitely all of the hidden art throughout the city. I loved stopping and seeing all of the odd little pieces by Cerny and others.
We stopped for awhile to observe his piece "Head of Franz Kafka." This is a giant sculpture made of steel with rotating panels that move around and eventually come back together to create a face. It's mesmerizing to watch!
Of course walked along the water so that David could point out the incredibly famous, and photogenic, Charles Bridge - though it was the prime time of day for the bridge to be overrun by tourists. So we just looked at it from afar and David encouraged us to wake up early the next morning to enjoy the bridge with fewer people. He also told a funny story about a couple in one of his tour groups who got engaged on what they thought was the Charles Bridge - only to find out they were one bridge over, on the Mánes Bridge (a mistake Allison and I also almost made the following morning).
We continued our walk and on the way to Wenceslas Square made a quick stop to see the Cubist Lamp Post and passed the Velvet Revolution Memorial. Wenceslas Square was bustling and seemed to be the Times Square of Prague - it was a little too touristy and crowded for me - at one point we passed a window where people were sitting and having their toes eaten by fish ("fish pedicures") - 10/10 would not recommend. I was fine with never coming back to this part of town.
Our last stop was to see another one of Cerny's pieces - Statue of King Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Dead Horse. It hangs from the ceiling in the Art Nouveau Lucerna Palace (Lucerna is also a big dance club where they play 80's/90's music and music videos on Friday and Saturday nights!)
With that, our orientation tour was done and we were left to do our own thing around town. I had been told to get a drink at the rooftop bar of the Hotel U Prince for stunning views of Old Town Square and while we had to wait about 10 minutes to be allowed up, it was well worth it for the classy vibes, good drinks, and beautiful views. We seemed to have arrived at just the right time, because once we sat down in the hotel lobby to wait, the hostess started sending everyone away! There was such a steady stream of people - this is absolutely a very popular spot and I would recommend making a reservation for lunch or dinner if you definitely want to get in.
We enjoyed a cheese plate and drinks and shamelessly took tons of pictures until we had the perfect Instagram shot. This is the kind of place that just begs to be 'grammed.
When we felt we had outstayed our welcome on the roof, we headed out in search of my first doughnut of the trip at a place called Donuterie. When we arrived, there was ONE DONUT LEFT in this adorable little shop which she gave us at a discount and we all enjoyed a few tasty bites of. I honestly don't remember what it was - but it was fruity/citrusy and I was very content.
Next stop was the Prague Beer Museum which was...an experience. The museum itself seemed like it was a joke - first of all, it was empty. Second of all, it was dingy and everything looked like it hadn't been touched in 100 years. We sped through the laughable exhibits in the dark, musty basement in the hopes that the entrance fee would be worth it when we got our free samples of beer. Turns out, it was - we got 4 free beers and were seated in the most bizarre drinking environment ever - we dubbed it the "Communist Bar" as there was propaganda playing on the television screens and mannequins wearing uniforms. I think the picture below accurately portrays the room. We were sharing the space with a bachelor party from Germany which made for a funny hour or so while we drank our beers. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a must-do in Prague (OK, I definitely wouldn't) but it didn't end up being as horrible as we originally thought when we first stepped into the museum.
On our walk back to the apartment we realized just how many bachelor parties were walking around Prague - the streets were just filled with European men and Allison and I committed to going out having fun. But first - we needed dinner.
We ended up going to a vegetarian restaurant around the block from us that was pretty good - but the quiet, tranquil vibe of the restaurant left us struggling to find that "Let's go seize the night" attitude we had had an hour ago. Maitrea was a much needed break from meat, potatoes, bread and cheese.
After, we mustered up the energy to go to a bar that David had pointed out during our tour - saying that it would be filled with hockey-loving locals. Sadly - when we got there it smelled like chicken wings and all we saw were other women...so we halfheartedly looked around for a more poppin' spot only to decide bed sounded like the best option.
It was a good decision - because the next morning we were up at the crack of dawn - literally, it was still dark out when we set out for our own private exploration of Prague and it was the best decision ever!
Old Town Square was completely deserted, the air was crispy and cool, the moon was still hanging in the sky, and we were one of only a few people when we reached the Charles Bridge.
The sun was starting to rise and we decided we would sit on the bridge and watch for awhile. It was slow, and we got a little antsy, but everything turned the most amazing golden color. People were lined up across the bridge taking pictures - but it was still so much emptier than any other part of the day.
After enjoying the sunrise, we crossed over the bridge to Malá Strana ("Little Side of the River") where we wound our way up look around at the churches and castles (and saw the Starbucks with the world's most impressive view). It was so crazy how empty it was up there - it was us and the guards!
We walked back down and along the river for a picture of The Dancing House ("Fred & Ginger") which I was really excited to see. It was designed by an American-Canadian and Croatian-Czech architect duo. It would have looked better in the sunshine, but I still really liked it!
We also loved the colorful buildings along the Vltava River.
We walked back through Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, where it was still very quiet and stumbled upon a cubism-themed restaurant called "Černá Madona" where we enjoyed a delicious breakfast. I was overjoyed by a yogurt parfait with granola, honey and fruit after days of bread, cheese and meat for breakfast (I will never get used to a ham and cheese sandwich being breakfast). Ah, the simple things.
Afterwards, we went to see the Jewish Quarter ("Josefov") and the Old Jewish Cemetery - there were really long lines but we were able to peer through the fence to see the headstones dating back to as early as 1439. Jews living in Prague were given so little space, that the cemetery holds 100,000 bodies - some piled up to 12 deep. Insane.
On the walk back to the apartment we stumbled upon a sculpture that I loved by Jaroslav Rona - it supposedly depicts beloved Czech author Franz Kafka.
By now it was 11 AM - and we had been walking around for HOURS. Part of the deal I'd made with Allison for getting out of bed at 5 AM was nap-time! So we got comfortable at our apartment and passed out for a few hours. I love naps. I am also GREAT at naps.
Eventually we got ourselves up and walked around in search of some lunch/dinner to bring back and eat while we got ready for our drinking tour.
We stumbled upon Country Life Restaurant which had a salad bar that I thoroughly enjoyed. We ate and got ready and set out in search of the Prague Riverside Party we had signed up for - with a quick stop to take a picture of Heidi on her princess balcony! We had a lot of trouble locating the actual start of the tour - a fratty, dark, dank basement bar called the "Recovery Room."
The Prague Riverside Party had come recommended to me by a friend and I have mixed feelings about it. Overall, I like it and would recommend it - but I would only recommend it after letting people know what they're in for. The premise is that you get a tour from a bunch of foul-mouthed/comedian type "tour guides" while drinking free alcohol. The guides are your typical bar-crawl leading/hostel working types - you're not sure if they're homeless and you're not sure why they're acting like 16 year old's when they're clearly approaching 30 but at the same time you kind of wish you could live their carefree, travel the world life. We called ours drunk Jesus.
The Recovery Room bar where we started smelled like mold. I was fairly certain we were all going to leave with a disease. The "free alcohol" was really really bad beer, or really really sweet/poisonous "sangria." We sat down and were immediately greeted by a man who stumbled out from some back room and was fifty shades of fucked up. He let us know he had been out sine the previous night, which was 100% believable. Soon, he was joined by his girlfriend and they proceeded to make out and tell us about all the sex they had been having. Heidi, Allison and I laughed along with them but inside we were all cringing and couldn't wait for them to retreat to their back room.
Eventually Drunk Jesus started the night by explaining to us that we would be using Exacto knives to create stencils of whatever our hearts desired. He was definitely under the impression that saying "fuck" 3 times per sentence made whatever he said hysterical, and most of the people in the room seemed to agree with him.
We made our stencils and handed them in and soon were lead outside to start the tour. I was very happy to be out of the Recovery Room and into the fresh air. At that point the tour got better - we stopped at the glowing embryo on the side of a building (Cerny, of course!), and the Rudolfinum where our tour guide told us the plot of Weil’s Mendelssohn Is on the Roof as if it were fact and not a novel.
All the while, guys biked behind us with carts filled with endless supplies of shitty beer and sangria which we happily sipped on because #FREE (well, we paid for it, really).
Another stop was the Winged Lion Memorial before walking across the Charles Bridge where we learned that many of the statues are not, in fact, the originals. The originals were taken down to preserve them and replicas were put up - after attempting to make them look aged and worn out.
At this point in the night we were desperate for a restroom - and luckily when we got to the other side of the bridge they let us into a restaurant that the group clearly has some sort of agreement with. After that, it to the pleasantly named "Piss Statue" - literally a statue, complete with running water, or two men facing each other and pissing. We were all encouraged to take inappropriate photos with the statue which many people were more than happy to do.
The pack of us continued along the streets, probably irritating everyone we encountered as more and more beer and sangria was consumed. We got to a bridge and sat down under it and were served our meat pies - no joke - dinner is included in the tour and dinner is homemade meat pies that honestly were out of this world good. Even our Aussie friend agreed. While we ate we finally took some time to talk to other people on the tour - including two guys from Canada who knew people killed in the tragic Humboldt crash that had happened that day.
The grand finale of the tour was getting to spray paint our stencils on the John Lennon Wall - which was honestly pretty damn cool! The wall is owned by Malta, and it's pretty awesome that they have kept it open to the public for spray painting all these years!
Afterwards, we took a group picture and were invited back to the Recovery Room where for a small fee of 10 euro or something, you could drink for another hour before starting a bar and club crawl. The thought of having to ingest any more horrible beer and having to breathe in more of the mold from the Recovery Room was enough for me to vote hell no on that proposition.
Instead, Heidi, Allison and I slowly made our way back to our apartments - eyes peeled for some place that pulled us in for another drink. But, as often happened to us, our bed's seemed to call the loudest!
Overall, Prague didn't do it for me. I'm not sure what exactly it was. Just how I felt! It was the weekend, it was crowded, it was touristy - by far my favorite part was getting to walk around in the early morning hours before the streets were filled! But there will always be some great Prague memories - communist bars, a twerking T-Rex, our host barging in while I had no pants on, and proudly looking at the Islanders logo spray painted on the Lennon Wall.
We didn’t have to arrange for our accommodations for this portion of the trip, since Geckos (now Intrepid Travel) set everything up for us - but here’s an article with some of the best hostels in Prague! One of the spots on their list, “Hostel One” Prague, is the same chain that I stayed at in Barcelona and absolutely LOVED.
Next up, Cesky Krumlov!
We began the first of many journeys by train from one country to another – and this is where it was extremely helpful that the group was only the five of us. It was a lot easier to stay together while navigating crowded train stations and subway cars with our luggage than it would have been with a larger group.
Despite having a suitcase that weighed 50 pounds and a wonky wheel – I think I did a pretty good job managing it the entire trip (although I’ll be happy to never carry it up a flight of stairs again if I can help it). The only time I really needed help with it was loading it on and off some steep train stairs.
To get from Berlin to Krakow we first took a train to a small town on the border of Germany and Poland. Usually, a tour group would have about 15 minutes to catch the overnight train to Krakow but the way that our trip was scheduled, we had a few hours to enjoy the town of Szczecin.
After getting off the train we had a chance to exchange money (going from the Euro to the Polish zloty) and store our luggage in lockers at the train station before heading out to explore. We did a nice walk around the center of town and were all excited to find that we had the place to ourselves AND that it smelled overwhelmingly of chocolate. We couldn't figure out why it smelled so richly of chocolate but when I got home I looked it up and there's a chocolate factory in Szczecin and the streets' smell of chocolate is a well-known fact.
Once we felt we had seen the sights that Szczecin had to offer, we stopped into a local brewery for drinks and dinner since we would be spending the next 10 hours or so on an overnight train ride.
The interior of Wyszak Family Brewery was beautiful and while I didn’t order any food – I did eat plenty of bread and butter and ordered a flight of their three beers (which were giant). I really liked them all – even though none of them were my typical beer preference. I even liked the dark one!
It was a really nice night and I feel like we could have sat there all night drinking and talking but soon it was time to get back to the train station and continue our journey to Krakow.
I’ve always wanted to take an overnight sleeper car train and now it’s officially crossed off the bucket list. The cabins were not luxurious in any way – no mahogany paneling and red velvet headboards. This was not the Hogwarts Express. Instead, each sleeping cabin had a small closet, a little sink in the corner, and three beds stacked one on top of the other. If I were claustrophobic, I would not have done well on this train.
We had kind of assumed there would be a place to sit before we were ready to get into bed – but nope. As soon as you board, you’re in that tiny room in a bed that you can’t sit up in. Yikes.
Thankfully, it was Allison, Heidi and I and we all knew each other. But I can’t imagine how awkward the experience would be had I been in a cabin with strangers. There’s no privacy and I would have felt even more trapped in my bed.
We sat on our suitcases, perched on the sink, in the window frame – anywhere we could to feel like we were still up. David and Josh stood in our doorway and we drank wine and the conversations got more and more interesting as the night wore on. I think it was one of my favorite nights with the group – lots of laughs and interesting perspectives but unfortunately, at a certain point the conductor told us that it was time to be quiet and close our doors.
Of course, that didn’t mean that three girls who just drank a bottle of wine were able to immediately settle down and fall asleep. We were definitely the conductors’ least favorite cabin. At one point, he tried OPENING the door on us – yelling in Polish while we all screamed back in fear.
Once I was laying down, the movement of the train started to rock me to sleep but damn it was LOUD. Luckily, I can sleep through anything, especially on moving vehicles, so I got a decent amount of sleep that night. But I continually woke up because of the banging and train whistles and train station announcements every time we stopped.
We could have closed the window to help with the noise, but then it would have been stiflingly hot in our cabin.
Around 8 AM or so I finally got up for real even though we still had 2-3 hours left. We managed to figure out how to flip the top two beds up into the wall so we were left with a bottom couch we could sit on. I will admit that this part of the trip dragged a little, especially when David came to tell us that we were running 45 minutes behind schedule. But eventually we pulled into the station and walking off that train felt a little bit like walking out of prison (I’m exaggerating – I actually kind of liked the experience).
We had made it to Krakow! And I was so excited to be in the land of my ancestors and more importantly the land of PIEROGIES.
We were able to walk from the train station to our hostel – which couldn’t have been any closer to the Main Square (Rynek Glowny). Our hostel (Heynow Hostel) was very dated, but the fact that we were able to check in and get a shower upon arrival made them winners in my book.
Within 20 minutes Allison and I had both showered and changed (this was a trip of approximately zero down time) and met the group downstairs to walk over to Stary Kleparz. Stary Kleparz is an 800 year old food market.
Read it again. 800 years.
It was by far the most authentic food market we visited during the trip with the most variety. I wandered around for a little while before buying a loaf of grainy, seedy bread that reminded me of Swedish bread (I couldn’t communicate that I just wanted a few slices so – loaf of bread it was!) and the most incredible tapenade I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Dad!) from a vendor selling all different hummus and dips. He was incredibly nice despite the clear language barrier.
We took our food on the go with us and headed back towards our hostel and the Main Square to meet David’s friend who was a tour guide and had agreed to give us our own private tour (with the understanding that we would tip him at the end).
It was a great tour and we stopped at a lot of places that had been on my to-do list.
Rynek Glowny is the main square of Krakow and has two “centerpieces” – the Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica. Both are beautiful – especially lit up at night!
Our tour guide started off by having us guess how many churches are in Krakow and the answer is nuts – 120! Poland is still one of the more religious countries in Europe.
He then told us about the story behind St. Mary’s Basilica – two brothers were each tasked with building a tower on top of the church and when the younger brother realized his brother’s tower was taller, he murdered him. Later, he was so filled with guilt, that he stabbed himself with the same knife and fell from the tower into the square below.
According to our tour guide, the silver knife hanging in the doorway of the Cloth Market is the very knife that the younger brother used. Throughout our tour, he told us stories that are legends but in a way that made us question whether they were fact – he was extremely sarcastic which I personally loved but I think some people were like, “Wait – can you actually tell us the truth? You had to take most things he said with a grain of salt.
Another fun part of St. Mary’s Basilica is the trumpeter that plays a song from the highest tower to signal every hour. The song is called “Hejnal” (pronounced “Hey Now” – the name of our hostel!) He plays it once from each corner of the tower. There are many legends surrounding the Hejnal – including a tale of invaders shooting the trumpeter with an arrow – lending to the abrupt-sounding ending of the tune.
Another building of note in Rynek Glowny was St. Adalbert’s Church. While it appears to be sunken – it was once on ground level which shows how much the surface of the square has risen over the centuries. (Layers and layers of garbage…)
Cloth Hall was basically just filled with touristy stalls - the best part of walking through was trying to pronounce all of the Polish town names that line the halls. The Polish language has additional letters and difficult pronunciations – for example “ł” sounds like “w” and they don’t use q, v or x!
Our next stop was to the Collegium Maius – just the college building where Copernicus studied, no big deal! We happened to arrive right in time for the courtyard clock to go off (every two hours) and a crowd gathered to listen to the song and watch the wooden figures circle around. Thrilling stuff.
David pointed out his favorite little souvenir shop filled with a local artists’ clever comics where I later picked up a deck of playing cards and a postcard. As we walked, I loved this little corner behind the city walls that was filled with beautiful hand painted canvases and made a mental note that there was a 24-hour pierogi place.
A stop on our tour included Piwnica Pod Baranami – a bar that’s been around since the 1950s when it was used as a literary cabaret! (Shows still happen every Saturday night at 9 PM). It was a really cool place to look around at all the old relics, strange art, and random knickknacks covering every inch of the space. It didn’t hurt that the unfiltered beer we had was ice cold and delicious!
Our tour continued up to Wawel Castle which was gorgeous and includes a gold dome on one of the chapels.
As we looked out at the Vistula River below the castle, our tour guide told us about the dragon statue which has lots of folklore and legend surrounding it – he also mentioned that there’s no way of knowing when, but every so often the statue will breathe fire. To our delight, we go there at “the perfect time” as fire burst out of the dragon’s mouth…
Yeah it breathes fire every couple of minutes. We were that gullible.
The next day when I was out for a run I passed the dragon statue for a closer view – 7 heads and all. In the summer, a small cave behind the statue is opened as the “dragon’s cave.”
After our tour wrapped up, Allison and Heidi and I walked through the church before heading our separate ways. Allison and I walked back towards the main square and sat down at the tour-guide recommended Café Camelot for a coffee (some Amaretto might have found its way in into my cappuccino) and to rest our feet.
We shopped our way back towards the hostel (I needed one of those canvases, obviously) and made a stop at Jama Michalika – an extremely historic café filled with old art that you can just pop in to take a look at. By the time we got back to the hostel, we had just a few minutes before meeting the group for dinner and drinks.
We walked to the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) to get a traditional Polish street food – Zapiekanka! If I had to describe it in three words it would be loaded Texas Toast. It’s like a cross between in open faced baguette sandwich and pizza and you can load it with tons of different toppings – but all of it has melted cheese! The bread was airy and crispy and while I would never crave this again – I’m glad I got to try it!
The stand was in the middle of “New Square” with a bunch of other street food vendors and I believe it was called “Mr. and Mrs. Zapiekanka.”
After we finished eating in the street, we went to a bar right across the square called Alchemia. They had an extensive list of cocktails, but I stuck with wine. We found a table in the smoking section – which required us walking through a wardrobe modeled after the Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. We settled into Narnia and enjoyed our drinks on the quirky furniture. I really liked the vibe!
Our final stop of the night was to a bar filled with old Singer sewing machines – aptly named Singer Bar. Our tour guide from earlier in the day had joined us for the night out and said we all needed to try a shot of vodka flavored with Orzech Laskowy (Hazlenut) to close out the night. Dad (tour leader David) said, “Well, I was supposed to buy you guys an obwarzanek – but would you rather a shot instead?” to which we all said SOUNDS LIKE A DEAL.
I was really not excited to take a vodka shot but with the hazelnut flavoring it was actually pretty tasty! Never did get to try obwarzanek though…
The next morning, I woke up early to go to the 24-hour pierogi restaurant – we were scheduled to take a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau and we’d need food for the 6-hour excursion.
I walked in the crisp spring air to the nearby restaurant and wasn’t surprised that I was more or less alone in the streets and most definitely alone in Przypiecek. I got two different variety orders – the traditional fillings (meat, cabbage & mushroom and “Russian” which is what I grew up eating – potato & cheese!) and a mix of “fancy” pierogies (broccoli, more Russian, and spinach). I really loved the meat pierogies but still, nothing beat the classic potato and cheese!
I had to laugh – when my pierogies they came out on a real plate - as if I were going to sit down and house two dozen pierogies at 7 AM. I was luckily able to communicate that I wanted them in a to-go box!
Of course, I had to have some with my free hostel breakfast…breakfast of champions right there.
Allison and I set off to walk to where we were getting picked up for our tour – but we were running behind schedule thanks to a stop at Starbucks and were panicking that we were going to miss it. We had set the pick-up location before we knew where we were staying, and luckily once we arrived our driver came up to us and asked if we were part of the tour. It was a small van with about 8 of us – much smaller than I had been expecting which was nice (I booked through Viator!)
It was about an hour and a half drive to Auschwitz, and though I had a full nights’ sleep the night before, I found myself dozing off in the front seat. I slept the entire journey. Something about moving vehicles just knocks me out!
When we arrived we had some time before our tour was scheduled to depart so we used the bathroom (you have to pay – like most places in Europe) and waited around. The weather was a little chilly and gray which seemed fitting for the occasion.
There were tons of people, but Auschwitz is very organized in terms of when they allow tour groups to depart/how many groups at a time/etc.
When it was our turn we met our tour guide and another van of people and went through security where we got a headset. I really liked that as we walked, our tour guide just spoke quietly into his microphone and everyone in our group could hear it in our headsets. There were so many other groups as we made our way through the different sections that it never would have worked if they were all competing to be heard over one another.
The tour was very well done – our tour guide was soft spoken, solemn, and factual without a lot of superfluous language. Honestly, being at Auschwitz and walking through a former concentration camp really speaks for itself.
For me, all of the museum-like displays weren’t as powerful or impactful as just being there. Of course, seeing artifacts that were taken from prisoners as they entered was disturbing – but I had seen a lot of those things at the museum in Washington D.C. already. Plus, it’s hard to even comprehend when you’re looking at hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes that they only represent a small portion of the lives that were lost.
What stood out the most to me was walking down a long hallway filled with pictures of prisoners with the date that they were taken away from their homes and the date that they died. So many of them were a shockingly short period of time – sometimes, just one day.
I think a lot of the time we hear the amazing stories of survival. Survivors can tell us how horrible life in a concentration camp was, but their stories have somewhat happy endings because they made it out. But walking down that hallway was a really striking reminder that those stories we hear from survivors are the vast vast minority. It was hard to find even a handful of people on that wall who lived more than a year from their imprisonment, let alone until the end of the war.
Another part that was shocking was seeing one of the prison blocks where they punished misbehaving prisoners – as if it was possible to be punished more than they already were. They would be forced to stand in miniscule cells for days on end – it was impossible to sit down or really even move at all. Sometimes there would even be more than one prisoner placed in these standing cells. Seeing it in person sent shivers down my spine.
Outside of that block was the “shooting wall” where prisoners were killed. That was another part of the tour that made me stand still and just stare in disbelief and shock.
Moving through the blocks was a little frustrating at times because it was sooo slow moving and packed with people. But the tour ends going into Crematorium 1 and at that point I felt like our group was pretty much on its own.
As we approached, I saw people standing outside looking shocked and sad and I took a deep breath before walking in.
But nothing could have prepared me for the feeling that overcame me while I was standing there. I had remained stoic throughout the tour, all things considered, but the second I was inside Crematorium 1 tears just started pouring down my face.
It was like nothing I’ve ever experience before – there were barely even any thoughts in my head I just knew I felt so sad and shocked and there were tears coming out of my eyes and my chest was tight and my throat burned and it didn’t even feel real. I tried to take in the gravity of where I was standing. All the books and diaries I’ve read about World War II. The class I took in college with a Holocaust survivor. The documentaries and movies. And I was standing where it happened.
I couldn’t stay in there for very long – but it was even more moving than I could have imagined it would be.
That was where the Auschwitz portion of the tour ended, and we walked back in relative silence to the van to drive over to Birkenau for the second part.
Walking into Birkenau was another surreal experience because it’s such an iconic picture – we walked down the train tracks where cars full of prisoners were “sorted” – the vast majority being sent straight to the gas chambers while those that were capable of work were sent to the camps.
A lot of Birkenau is just remains, as the Nazi’s destroyed much of it before liberation. We walked around, saw the remains of one of the Crematorium which is now a big monument/memorial, and then finished the tour by going into one of the barracks where it hit me for the first time just how cramped the quarters were for prisoners. Sometimes there were 3-4 people in a “bed” and the ones on the bottom were so tight that you had to slide into them on your side. People couldn’t sit up in them in the slightest. It was horrifying to see.
I'm so grateful that I had the chance to tour Auschwitz and Birkenau. It sounds like a weird bucket-list item, but it's always something I've felt I needed to do and it was absolutely worth the time, emotional discomfort, money, etc. It was actually one of the reasons I found this tour group - I knew I wanted to go to Berlin and Budapest but it seemed like a waste to be so close to so many historically relevant Eastern European cities and not get to them. I started researching a trip to Auschwitz from Berlin or Budapest, and eventually found this trip that was all planned out for me.
The van ride back to Krakow was a somber one, and I smelled up the whole van with pierogies. And slept, per usual.
We got dropped off closer to our hostel than we had been picked up which was nice. And I almost immediately changed into sneakers and headed out for a run. I needed to work through all the thoughts and emotions of the day and what better way to do that than a run? Moving meditation.
I loved running in Krakow - there is a park that surrounds the entire old city (Planty Park). It's just crazy to me how rarely you see people exercising outside in some of these European cities. I only passed two other runner's the entire time.
I set out at half past the hour for my run, and just planned on running around the old city until the Hejnal played signaling that I'd been running for 30 minutes. I finished at the door of the hostel just as the trumpeter started! It was the perfect little run.
It's crazy how a few solitary minutes running around, discovering a new city always end up being some of my favorite memories from different destinations. You can ask me "How do you like Nashville" and I'll vividly remember my early morning run down Broadway and the smell of BBQ at 6 AM. You can ask me, "How was Barcelona?" and I can tell you about the farmer's market I passed on the run or that there were tons of other runner's out along the water.
After my run, Allison and I went to a bar/cafe I had read about called Bunkier Cafe in the middle of the Planty Gardens. They have a huge outdoor area and it was nice to sit outside in the beautiful park with a cold beer! We also ordered flavored syrups which you pour in your beer - I got passionfruit! It was delicious - and it reminded me of college when I would use Mio to flavor my cheap beer. I was really just doing the European thing.
Afterwards, we stopped at a cute salad shop I had passed on my run and got ourselves something that we could eat on the following days' train ride (we got the most amazing salads from Fitagain Cafe and they were everything that I ever wanted!). On the walk back to the hostel, we couldn't refuse a photo shoot in the square since it was the perfect pre-sunset lighting.
For dinner, we met back up with David ("Dad") and Heidi to the somewhat hidden Kuchnia U Babci Maliny which had been on my "to eat" list. You need to go through a courtyard and library to get into it, and once inside its a quirky little place. You order at the counter and then they'll call your number and ring a bell when it's ready.
At Dad's recommendation, I ordered the beet soup and OMG IT WAS SO GOOD. Actually, every time I ordered soup this entire trip I was obsessed with it. But this one might have been the winner.
For my main dish I ordered the pork with oatmeal porridge - the meat was amazing but I had been looking forward to "oatmeal porridge" and it was dry and bland and pretty disappointing.
After dinner, we couldn't get the energy to go out, so we bought a bottle of wine and went back to the hostel where we realized a) we apparently weren't supposed to drink and b) we didn't have a bottle opener.
This resulted in us struggling to open the bottle of wine with a knife which turned into push the cork through into the bottle and the red wine resembling a volcano science project all over the kitchen.
Once we cleaned up...we played a few rounds of cards as we drank the wine and eventually headed to bed.
The next morning was another early one but our trip was done in style - a van was waiting for us outside with a driver dressed in a suit! He drove u to the train station where we would catch a train to our next destination: Prague!
PS: My favorite fun fact is that in Polish, one common insult translates to calling someone "potato face."
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The flight to Berlin was nice and short, and they even gave us a little chocolate Easter egg. When I landed, it was a pleasant surprise to see that each gate had there own baggage claim right at the end of the jet bridge. I only had to wait about 5 minutes until I had my suitcase and followed the signs to public transportation.
Even though I was tired, I was determined to get to the hostel using the buses instead of taking the easy way out and hailing a cab.
It was actually super simple - transfer and all. The weather was cold and rainy which was unpleasant, but even the bus stops have countdown clocks for how long until each bus will arrive.
A theme of the trip was - "NYC public transportation is really archaic and horrible and I feel bad for any tourist trying to navigate the city." I would never recommend that a tourist get on a NYC public bus - I have enough trouble myself since there's absolutely no way of knowing what stop is next, they skip half of them, and you could be stuck waiting 20 minutes in between buses.
By around 8:30 I made it to Wombat's Hostel and was greeted in the lobby by Allison!
TIP: I really enjoyed our stay at Wombat's Hostel. Though the rooms weren't huge, the double room had it's own private shower. All of the common spaces were super chill and seemed to encourage socialization. There was self-service laundry, a bar with happy hour every night, a cafe attached, and a rooftop with a beautiful view of the TV tower! Free WiFi, luggage storage, towels included, and a decent area with plenty of bars and restaurants around!
Finally united in Europe, Allison and I set out to find our first dinner and beer.
We ended up at Weihenstephaner Berlin at the Neue Promenade mainly because I recognized it as a German beer and all the other restaurants in the area seemed pretty deserted (to be fair, it was Easter Sunday at 9 PM).
I ordered the Ofenfrischer Schweinsbraten - "Fresh from the oven pork roast with crackling - from the shoulder – in original Weihenstephaner dark beer sauce, sauerkraut and potato dumplings."
Not a very light meal - but very, very delicious.
We walked back to Wombat's and made our way up to the "WomBAR" since we had received two free drink vouchers at check-in. The bar was packed with people and we found a spot to sit with our red wine.
I wish we could say we were social and joined the groups playing beer pong (since I am an International Beer Pong Champion and all) but we just sat by ourselves in a corner chatting up a storm and catching up on life. We quickly changed the game plan from "just one drink" to "might as well get another - it will help us fall asleep."
The wine was a good call - we both fell asleep before our heads hit the pillows on that first night.
I was up early on Monday morning and excited to attend a class at BECYCLE - an English speaking fitness studio a quick half mile walk from our hostel.
I had pre-registered and used their new student deal, so I had two classes for the price of one! Monday's class was HIIT and as soon as I walked into the studio I felt at ease. It was GORGEOUS and everyone was incredibly sweet and welcoming (and spoke fabulous English).
There's an adorable cafe attached, the lockers have USB chargers in them, and everything is ridiculously clean.
Our instructor was upbeat, friendly, communicative, and the workout itself was great. We did a tabata-style workout and to end the class, we partnered up to complete a ridiculous number of burpees, push-ups, lunges and sit-ups. My partner and I crushed it, if I do say so myself!
After class, Allison and I got ready at the hostel and set out for our first full day of sightseeing in Berlin.
We leisurely strolled to the Reichstag (I must confess we stopped for coffee from Dunkin Donuts along the way) where we had a 12:45 PM tour booked (it's free, but you have to apply online!)
Headphones were provided which could tell where you were in the building and pointed out interesting information about the structure as well as lots of facts about the skyline and buildings that you could see outside of the glass domed building.
The Reichstag building that stands now was built in 1999 after being destroyed in WWII. The concept behind the design is transparency of the new German republic. From inside the glass dome, you can look down on the German Bundestag (Parliament) when they are in session.
As we continued our sightseeing we strolled a little bit through the Tiergarten and stopped for a picture at the Brandenburg Gate.
Next was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe - which you should definitely walk into the middle of to get the full effect.
It doesn't look like much when you first arrive, but once you make your way into the labyrinth of tall concrete towers, you realize that the ground undulates and the 90 degree grid of the columns gets pretty trippy.
The line was long to get into the museum underneath the memorial. but it's free if you've got the time!
Next up was the site of Hitler's Bunker. It was only recently that they put any type of plaque up signifying this spot - but now there is some information and pictures and there were quite a few people there when we arrived.
I never realized how huge the bunker was! It was like an underground palace!
Another stop on my DIY walking tour (it was more of an unintelligible route weaving back and forth across the city due in part to the fact that Allison and I could only pronounce the first three letters of any given "strasse") was to Bebelplatz.
Bebelplatz is a square in Berlin where the Nazi book burning took place in May of 1933. Now, the square has an understated memorial that would be easy to miss if you weren't looking for it! There's a glass plate built into the ground, and when you look through it, you see down into a room with empty, white bookshelves, which would have held 20,000 (the number burnt by the Nazis).
When we arrived, a tour group was also walking up to the memorial and we were all saddened to see that the glass was so dusty and dirty that we couldn't see down to the bookshelves. We pooled together our resources of water and tissues and the tour guide cleaned off a portion of the plate, joking that he was pretty sure he wasn't defacing a historic monument. I'm glad we got to look down - I thought it was a perfect commemoration.
Later, I read that the plaque in Bebelplatz reads, "Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen." This is a line from Heinrich Heine's play "Almansor" which translates to, "That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people." So fitting, and so chilling.
As we made our way back across Museum Island and across from the stunning Berlinerdom, we noticed a group of people setting up balloons and rose petals and stopped to watch an incredibly "extra" proposal. Extra, but still made us AW and clap along with the rest of the crowd that had gathered.
That morning, we had passed a long strip of restaurants with outdoor seating right along the water at James-Simon-Park and made our way back there to find lunch. We chose Olla - Grill & Orient Lounge where I feasted on a delicious platter of falafel and grilled vegetables with tahini and tzatziki.
The service was typical of most European cities - disinterested at best and what would normally have been a 45 minute lunch in the states was a leisurely hour and a half ordeal but we couldn't complain much considering the fact that we were sitting outside in the sunshine in Berlin.
Allison headed back to the hostel to do some work and I continued my somewhat aimless wanderings in the direction of Hackesche Höfe - a giant courtyard complex of absolutely stunning building facades. On a typical day, this would have been packed with tourists visiting the various restaurants, shops, cafes, galleries, and offices housed inside Hackesche Höfe - but since it was Easter Monday (apparently a holiday in many European countries - and...North Carolina?) almost everything was closed.
This was good for my wallet, and my camera - though I wouldn't have minded checking out some of the shops! One store that was open was "Ampelmann" and I'm so glad that it was. It put a name to the funny little men on the crosswalk signals that Allison and I had immediately noticed! Prior to the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany, West German streetlights used a generic human figure while those in Eastern Germany featured the Ampelmännchen - a male figure wearing a hat.
The Ampelmännchen is one of the few East German features to survive the end of Communism and has since been adopted across the city.
After weaving my way through Hackesche Höfe I headed towards Haus Schwarzenberg - a really interesting area to walk around. Referred to as a "street art gallery" - Haus Schwarzenberg is a ~bohemian~ hold-out in the heavily gentrified area. Upon further research, I learned that Haus Schwarzenberg is run by a nonprofit organisation.
It's definitely worth a visit - and I highly recommend stopping at the free exhibit about Otto Weidt and his efforts to save Jews from persecution during the Holocaust. Weidt ran a factory which employed the blind and deaf- they made brooms and brushes. When Nazis started deporting Jews, Weidt used his factory as a hiding space. The museum now exists in what used to be the factory! It was myself and two other people when I stopped by!
On my walk back to the hostel, I noticed my first brass cobblestone in the ground. These Stolperstein ("stumbling stone") are placed outside residences of Holocaust victims. Each plaque lists the names and life spans of individuals killed by the Nazis. The project was started by German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992 and since then, Stolperstein have been placed in 22 different countries worldwide.
It's interesting to note that Munich has not allowed Stolperstein to be placed in the city.
After a quick refresh at the hostel Allison and I headed out for the oldest beer garden in Berlin - Berliner Prater Garten. Thankfully, it was open, but the fact that it was Easter Monday meant that we had the typically lively beer garden almost entirely to ourselves.
Despite the chilly temperatures, we decided to sit outside and enjoy our big mugs of Hefeweissbier. I can't imagine how awesome it would be to sit outside in this beer garden in the spring or summer with hundreds of people!
A very strange thing happened while we sat on the patio - a girl walking by with headphones on suddenly started yelling like she was performing a monologue and then promptly collapsed onto the ground.
To Allison and I it was pretty obvious that she had done it on purpose, but then a group of people walked by and saw her on the ground and panicked thinking something was wrong. We looked like uncaring asshole Americans. As they gathered around her to see if she was OK, she started freaking out and eventually stood up and screamed at them. They, rightfully, got really weirded out and just kind of walked away.
It was the oddest thing.
Brushing that off - we walked back in the direction of our hostel but made a stop at one of my favorite finds of the trip. Weinerei - a pay what you wish wine bar!
Allison had the genius idea upon entering to ask the bartender if she spoke English before we just started speaking at her in English and the woman was SO RECEPTIVE! She couldn't stop saying how nice it was that we asked instead of assuming (a tip we would take with us the rest of the trip). From that moment on we were in- which was great considering this was definitely a place that seemed to be filled with locals.
For 2 euro we each got a wine glass and then we were free to sample the wines of the night. They just ask that you pour a little taste to make sure you like something before pouring yourself a full glass. We sat and enjoyed three glasses each in this lovely space (there's also food you can help yourself to) while wishing that we had a deck of cards.I was so excited that they had a Portuguese red wine!
When you're ready to leave, they ask that you pay what you think the night was worth (there are recommended prices on the bar as well).
I don't know that this concept could ever work in NYC - but it was such a unique Berlin experience!
On our way our, we asked the bartender how to say, "Do you speak English?" in German and spent the entire walk back working on our dismal pronunciation of "Sprichst du Englisch?"
The last stop of the day was at the late night Middle Eastern spot (Luxa) around the corner from the hostel where I utterly confused the employees by asking for cauliflower, eggplant and beets. They couldn't understand why I didn't want a pita - so eventually I just got a pita with meat, cauliflower, eggplant, beets and hummus. It was BALLER - pretty sure they fried the pita or something because it tasted like crack.
I think they were entertained by us, and the feeling was mutual as they tried to get Allison to reach for her food THROUGH the glass counter.
We enjoyed our food in the Wombat's Hostel kitchen before another night of immediately falling asleep.
The next morning I was up and at it again early for my second class at BECYCLE - this time, a 45 minute spin class.
As I was getting ready for class, my partner from the day before sat down next to me and said hello which made me feel like a ~local~ and was a super cool moment of the trip. This is why working out everywhere I go is always on my to-do list. You meet the best people!
Class was great- the music was fun, varied, and the instructor was upbeat. The bikes were SO SMOOTH and they even had gears that altered the resistance when you turned them left and right.
After class I showered and got ready at the studio before heading back to the hostel where we paid the affordable price of 4.50 euro for an amazing breakfast spread! They even had a panini press.
We packed our things and navigated the U-bahn to bring our luggage to the next hostel, where our tour group would officially begin that night.
TIP: U-Bahn = urban rail and S-Bahn = suburban rail. The U-Bahn is the subway and the S-Bahn goes outside of the city)
At Cityhostel Berlin, they were able to give us our rooms even though it wasn't the official check-in time which was a pleasant surprise.
Our next destination by way of the S-Bahn (which was incredibly easy to navigate) was the East Side Gallery.
TIP: When you purchase metro/subway tickets in many European cities, you'll need to "validate" your ticket - this is a machine that stamps the date and time on your ticket and while you don't need to present your ticket to board the subway - officers may board at any time and ask to see your validated ticket! If you haven't validated your ticket, don't have a ticket, or are using an old ticket - you'll be fine!
Digression: The woman from California who was working at our hostel in Cesky Krumlov told a story of getting caught on a bus without a validated ticket and getting out of the fine by listing as many NHL hockey teams as she could!
The East Side Gallery was an Instagrammer's dream. Sure, there was the historical significance of seeing a remaining portion of the Berlin wall in what is now the world's largest open air art gallery - but the real delight was in taking pictures with the murals.
And we shamelessly made our way down the wall stopping for photo shoot after photo shoot.
When we made it to the end, we decided we might as well start walking back in the direction of our hostel since it was such a nice day outside. We may have accidentally walked through a construction site - which became glaringly obvious as a bulldozer crashed to the ground just as we passed.
For the past few days we had passed a lot of places that looked like part playground, part tree house, part homeless shelter. We had begun to affectionately refer to them as "shanty towns" and on our walk we happened to pass one that lured us in to take a look around. Turns out, it had a bar, a bakery, a hair salon, and a beautiful view of the water!
There was no question as to whether or not we were staying here for a drink - it was simply way too cool of a spot to leave. I was especially happy to find that they had a local beer that was hoppier than anything else I had managed to find. And they served Somersby! My European obsession which I basically forced Allison to order.
Sitting in the shanty town, drinking our drinks on the water, the sun shining down, wondering where the hell we were - was one of the highlights of Berlin for me.
When we finished, we wandered around for a bit and decided this place would definitely have been a little creepy at night but during the day it was just plain awesome. We discovered a slide, a trampoline, and tons of other oddities on the property.
Post-vacation I looked up where we were - and it turns out that it was part of Holzmarkt which The Guardian describes as and "alternative cultural complex, "on the banks of the Spree river in Berlin." This "urban oasis" is a MUST SEE while you're in Berlin!
The entire area is just really out there and as we continued walking back to the hostel we even passed a door under a highway overpass that clearly led to some kind of secret club because there was music bumpin' through the door.
Foreshadowing: we would end up exploring a similar shanty town in the evening hours later that day and it didn't disappoint!
After a long walk, we made it back to our hostel and freshened up in anticipation of meeting our tour group - the people we would be spending the next 11 days with. Would there be 14 of us? Would we be the only 2? All girls? All younger than us? We had been talking about it for the past 3 days and were excited to finally find out.
We got to the lobby and weren't exactly sure where our "orientation" was taking place but made our way to some comfy looking couches where we quickly spotted another guy who looked like he was searching for a group.
"Are you here for the Gecko's meeting?" we asked and sure enough - it was Josh. Our first Aussie tour-mate. We chatted for a little bit about our few days in Berlin and what we had discovered and then another guy appeared and we asked if he was in the group - turns out this was David - our tour leader.
He let us know that we were just waiting for one more person - and that we would be a small group of just 4 people. Soon enough, Heidi joined us and our group of two Americans, two Aussies and a Scottish tour leader was complete.
We went over a bunch of information, told some fun facts about each other, and pretty effectively broke the ice with talk of doughnut obsessions, dreadlocks, and food allergies. I very quickly could tell that we would get along as a group when we unanimously decided that dinner would be a trip to a street side currywurst window.
Allison and I grabbed a beer from the hostel lobby to take on the road with us (just because we were exhilarated by the fact that we could drink beer on public transportation) and we all headed to the celebrated Curry 36 (right next to the cult-favorite Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap whose line looked like Halal Guys in NYC!)
David talked us through what we should order, and Allison and I decided on splitting both the classic Curry Wurst (two sausages with curry ketchup and french fries) and Curry buletten (think of a burger/meatball combo) also served with delicious curry ketchup and more fries.
This was my favorite street food of the entire trip (and we ate a lot). I am fairly certain that I ate more than anyone else.
I'm still not sure what about this made it so delicious - all I can say is that you cannot leave Berlin without eating currywurst! I will also say that I was not as opposed to mayo on my french fries as I had anticipated.
Please observe the below picture for my feelings re: currywurst.
After stuffing ourselves silly at Curry 36, we chatted about a bar crawl we had seen advertised in our hostel and decided we would all go and check it out. David said he would bring us there to make sure we made it OK since it was about a 20-30 minute journey by subway to the starting point.
When we arrived at the first bar, it was completely dead. The bartender told us to hang out and that the guy in charge would show up soon. So - we thanked David for accompanying us and waved goodbye through the window yelling, "Bye Dad!" It was a nickname that would stick for the remainder of the trip.
It was an awkward wait for the bar crawl to get started but slowly, people started showing up and though the bartender acted as if this was the first time something like this was ever happening in the establishment (it supposedly happens 6 days a week...) eventually we settled into a table in the back with a fun group of people from all over the world.
The most memorable parts of this conversation had to have been learning that the translation of "Cheers" in Indian is "Take it in the mouth" and the group's chant of "Prost" devolving to yelling "Prostate!"
Eventually the bar crawl got under way and we left the first bar with giant beer bottles in hand as we walked to the next stop. We milled around in a park finishing our "roadies" and talking as a group (and realizing that the bar was about to close and our bar crawl leader was in the midst of trying to talk them into staying open a little longer).
TIP: In Berlin, people leave bottles and cans on the ground around garbage cans so that people can collect them and make money on returning them. So if you're drinking in a park, it's totally acceptable to leave the bottle on the ground next to a garbage can instead of actually throwing it out.
The next bar started with a shot a palinka which we would again encounter in Budapest. It's a Hungarian liquor fermented from fruit and it was strong as hell.
The group mingled outside the bar until we realized there was a back room that was Breaking Bad themed so everyone went in to check it out.
Next, we headed towards another shanty town for a more "club" like atmosphere - only to find out that the club was closed (our bar crawl leader was striking out left and right, and was also getting increasingly intoxicated as he drank his hidden bottle of jägermeister).
Luckily, the shanty town had other options, and he talked the group's way into Cassiopeia which we ended up absolutely loving! Once we got through the bouncers, we were expecting to walk into a building, but instead walked into a tree house/courtyard. Beyond that lay the bar, a dance floor, and an upstairs with people playing video games and foosball. It was bizarre in the best way and we spent a decent amount of time dancing there.
It's worth noting that this "shanty town" was actually the RAW complex - home to many bars, restaurants and clubs in the trendy, artsy, up and coming, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg neighborhood.
The last stop of the night was the famous nightclub Matrix that I had heard so much about, but unfortunately we were very disappointed. The worst part was that it felt like a heater was blowing on us on the dance floor! And the fact that the bar crawl leader had reached peek creepiness and would not stop dancing with us.
At that point, we decided to call it a night and got an Uber home.
We woke up feeling pretty decent the next morning and made it down to the hostel lobby for the included breakfast buffet. Then, we made the executive decision to be lazy and get an Uber to our destination for the day - Teufelsberg. On the ride to Teufelsberg we marveled at the size of Tiergarten - we seemed to be driving next to it forever (although, I have since confirmed that it's smaller than Central Park).
I had seen tons of pictures on Instagram of Teufelsberg - an abandoned United States spy station about 8 miles outside of the city center that has been turned into a graffiti artists playground.
Situated on the top of "Devil's Mountain" we were grateful that our Uber could drive us straight to the top. We paid for our tickets and started wandering around - in awe of how unique and strange the place was.
Of course, we had many photo shoots, and a lot of laughs at the "sassy cat" graffiti and random things we discovered. One of the coolest parts was a big dome shaped room that created the craziest echos - it really messed with your head!
There's really no way to describe this place - except to go explore and experience it yourself!
It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the walk down the mountain and took the U-Bahn back to the hostel.
That afternoon we would be leaving Berlin and starting our journey to Krakow so we wanted to get in a decent meal. We walked to Chipps, a vegetarian restaurant where I ate some of the best soup EVER.
We picked up some provisions for our overnight train ride (peanut butter, corn cakes, avocado, baby carrots - the usual suspects) and met the group at the hostel, sad to bid Berlin adieu but ready to see where this adventure would take us next!
If you have more time in Berlin - here are a few other places I would have liked to check out!
Berlin Wall Memorial which accurately shows what the wall looked like - including the grounds behind it.
Mauer Park is a destination in itself - and on Sunday's, Berliner's flock to the park for the popular park karaoke sessions!
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I recently went on a whirlwind vacation with my best friend - visiting 6 Countries in 17 days. These are the stories, the must-sees, the must-eats, the tips, and the things I don't want to forget about a once in a lifetime trip.
The first part of my trip was a flight to Amsterdam, where I would have an 8 hour layover. Because the airport is such a quick train ride from the city center of Amsterdam, I had plenty of time to get out and explore a bit of the city.
My first interaction with a Dutchman was the customs agent whose line of questioning ended with, "Are you meeting a boyfriend?" My response was, "No, just a friend" but I probably should have added, "When is your shift over?"
Getting onto the train was a breeze - I had pre-purchased my ticket but it definitely would have been just as easy to buy it when I landed. After a pleasant 15 minute ride (where I marveled at each seats' personal mini trash can on the wall), I was at the city center, making my way out into the chilly, rainy streets. Yes - the smell of weed hit me almost instantly.
I was immediately greeted by a canal but the further I wandered the more quaint and charming the canals became. Passing a church on my way to find a cafe (I had slept a little on the plane, but also watched Greatest Showman and listened to some podcasts), it dawned on me that it was Easter morning!
It was strange being in a foreign city by myself on a holiday when I'd normally be at home surrounded by family...but what was even stranger was that as I opened my phone to write myself a quick note about the chiming of church bells and the sound of rain drop on my umbrella I looked up and spotted my first Amsterdam prostitute in a window. 9 AM on Easter Sunday morning. What a sight.
As I walked through the still sleepy streets of the Red Light District, I noticed a few places that we have in NYC including Le Pain Quotidian and Van Leeuwan's - the beloved vegan ice cream shop! I passed by De Koffieschenkerij - a gorgeous little cafe with outdoor seating but the rain made the garden a little less inviting. Instead, I settled in at De Koffiesalon - which satisfied my needs of WiFi, a bathroom, and caffeine. An added bonus was the fact that it was pretty and bright inside.
Outside of the coffee shop, I noticed some stalls being set up and wandered through some absolutely gorgeous art! I'm kicking myself now that I didn't purchase anything.
My next stop was for a cookie from the famous Van Stapele Koekmakerij. They hand make one kind of cookie and one cookie only - chocolate stuffed with white chocolate. Walking into the small storefront, the sweet smell of chocolate was absolutely heavenly. My cookie was placed in a sleeve and sealed with a silver sticker - a nice touch, but did they really think I was planning on saving it for later?
Despite being 10 AM - a Van Stapele cookie begs to be devoured immediately upon purchase because they're STILL WARM. Not only are they fresh out of the oven, but you can see the women rolling the next batch as you pay.
Van Stapele is open every day from 10 AM - 6 PM, but consider this your warning: they sometimes run out by 4 PM.
I continued to meander my way through Dam Square and various canals until it was time for my 12 PM ticket to the Anne Frank House. This was by far the most important thing on my list of things to accomplish while in Amsterdam and I was happy to take my time walking through the museum.
TIP: As of April 2018 - you MUST pre-book a specific date and time for entrance to the Anne Frank Museum!
When you enter you receive headphones and a small remote that's activated when you get to each new room. It was quite crowded, but still surreal to be in such a historical place. Anne Frank and Anne Frank's diary were both fascinating to me as a kid and I loved that this exhibit/memorial to Anne Frank and her family and friends who hid in the secret annex of Prinsengracht 263 had so many personal touches that made you feel like you were really getting to know them.
The part where it really hit me was stepping through the false book case, which you have to bend down to get through. Once inside the secret annex, it was sad to see the blacked out windows and realize that this family was unable to see the light of day for their entire time in hiding (two years).
Small details like the growth chart etched on the wall and the pictures that Anne hung in an effort to make the place feel like home were the most moving part of the exhibit. I felt a kinship with Anne Frank when I read about her great desire to be a journalist, when I saw the picture of chimpanzees having a tea party that she taped on her wall, and when I saw the notebook where she copied down her favorite quotes from books.
The saddest part was hearing about their eventual discovery. I cannot imagine being found and seeing other people and knowing that they want to kill you - even though you have done nothing wrong, have never even met them before.
What's even worse is the realization that the Frank's and the others they were hiding with were on the final transport to Auschwitz.
After finishing the tour at the Anne Frank house, I stood in the lobby using the museum's free WiFi to figure out where to eat lunch. I was determined not to pay $10 a day to activate Travel Pass on my phone if it wasn't necessary. Usually my attitude is, "Eh, it's $10 for piece of mind" but this was 17 days and $170 isn't chump change.
I would have loved to explore the "bohemian" De Pijp neighborhood, which I'm fairly certain I would have loved, but it was just a little too far of a walk considering I had a flight to catch.
Instead, I found a place called Vegabond that was absolutely perfect and right around the corner. You order from a counter and sit on couches in front of a big street-facing window. Vegabond is also a health-food shop with a large communal table in the back that I imagine would be perfect for people who work remotely (or blog!)
I ordered the acai bowl and it was picture perfect, and tasted even better!
After lunch I slowly started to make my way back to the train station, stopping in stores along the way and taking my time. At one point, I passed three guys on a side street laughing as their friend stripped down to his boxers. It was so random, and we were the only people on the street, making blatant eye contact, that I had to comment. "A little cold for that, no?" They just cracked up.
At this point the streets were coming more alive, and as I got closer to the train station I started to feel a gritty/seediness that I hadn't detected at 8 AM. I must say, I preferred having the streets to myself!
I felt that I needed to do something, "Amsterdam" and since I wasn't about to gawk at women in windows or light up a blunt, I stopped into a super sketchy "casino" with 5 slot machines and 5 video poker machines and threw away $5.
Back at the train station, I was FLOORED by the sheer number of bikes parked. I guess everyone in Amsterdam really DOES use their bike as the main mode of transportation. Just look at this madness!
Inside, I went to use the bathroom before remembering I was in Europe - and public restrooms are not free. Seeing as I didn't have any coins/change yet, that was a no-go. This is something we would huff and puff about the entire trip
The journey back to the airport was again super easy and smooth and the only thing of note from my trip from Amsterdam to Berlin was the pat-down I received while going through security! WOW! the TSA agent full-on pulled up and snapped the front of my bra and stuck her hands DOWN the front of my pants. Very thorough.
If you have more time in Amsterdam than I did, here are a few more ideas!
I'm fairly certain this was the OG avo-only restaurant!
(REALLY sad I didn't get to do this. After my incredible experience with Hey Captain in Copenhagen I know I really would have enjoyed a ride down the canals with a smaller boat company run by personable people!)
English-speaking spin classes in a foreign country! If you're anything like me - that's a JACKPOT.
Next Up: BERLIN!
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As someone who enjoys training for the occasional triathlon - I do not swim nearly as regularly as I should.
There are a number of reasons for this - but the biggest reason is that I am quite possibly the slowest swimmer on the planet. I like to refer to myself as the sea-sloth. Would swimming more regularly help me gain some speed? Novel concept!
Anyway - when I do go for a swim - it sometimes helps if I have a workout written out (and stored in a plastic bag so it doesn't become an illegible pile of mush - made that mistake once or twice).
However - all of the swim workouts I find online are written for and by people who swim in normal sized pools - not people who live in Manhattan are are stuck swimming in 15 and 17 yard pools that are the aquatic equivalent of a hamster wheel.
I've added a section to my main navigation bar that will take you to some swim workouts I've used that are great for my fellow small-pool-swimmers.
Please keep in mind that I am incredibly unqualified to give any sort of swimming advice.
As someone who travels 5-6 months out of the year for work, I've seen the full spectrum of hotel gyms.
I've been in a 6x6 room with just a treadmill and elliptical and I've also been in massive fitness centers with rowers, pools, medicine balls, spin bikes, sliders and resistance bands.
Is it frustrating to be trapped at a hotel with a shitty gym for 2 weeks? Absolutely. But it's also a fun challenge to come up with creative workouts that use minimal equipment in unconventional ways.
I'm lucky that I have some great friends/coworkers and when we join our fitness minds together, we can come up with some killer workouts!
Now I actually look forward to developing these workouts. I write them up the night before so that I don't have to think about anything in the morning. Just need to get up and get it done.
Here's one that Sabrina and I collaborated on in Annapolis - using just a bench for a total body workout! You don't even need weights to get in a major sweat - but there's always the option to add dumbbells if you want to many of these exercises.
- Hands Elevated Mountain Climbers (example)
- Hands Elevated Push-Up (example)
- Shoulders Elevated Hamstring Walk (example)
- Feet Elevated Donkey Kick (example)
- Plyo Pushup to Plank Transfer (example)
- Hands Elevated Burpee (example)
- Bench Squat Sit Jumps (example)
- Split Squats (example) *add a hop at the top if you're feeling crazy (example)!
- Feet Elevated Push-Up (example)
- Feet Elevated Mountain Climbers (example)
- Step Ups (example)
- Tricep Dips (example) *IT ME!
- Reverse Crunch (example)
There are a number of ways to structure the workout. Personally, I did each exercise for 10 reps and went through the circuit 4X. You could also do:
Exercise #1 for :30, Rest :10 - Repeat 4X
Exercise #2 for :30, Rest :10 - Repeat 4X
Etc. through Exercise #13
Exercise #1 for :30, Rest :10
Exercise #2 for :30, Rest :10
Exercise #3 for :30, Rest :10
All the way through Exercise #13, then repeat 4X
The options are endless!
The hope is that one day I'll figure out how to photograph/film these workouts so that I don't have to use examples from the most random sources on the internet! But until then...this is the best I can do.
If you want some more difficult bench exercises - watch this video from Men's Health that showcases 57 bench exercises! A lot of them are in this workout - but there are also a number that I was a little intimidated to attempt.
What's your favorite exercise using the bench? Let me know in the comments!
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Once upon a time I wrote mainly about running and workout classes and restaurant reviews. Lately, all I've done is write about my travels - running isn't a thing I've done much for the past year+
It's a touchy subject.
But how about something new? How about a "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" post? Also known as "Loving Lately," or "Fave Finds." Call it what you will - I'm just going to ramble about a bunch of things I've been feelin' these days and catching you back up with my real-life here in NYC (as opposed to work-life and travel-life!)
I've read some DAMN GOOD books lately.
The Fiddler In The Subway by Gene Weingarten
One of my neighbors put a bunch of old books they were getting rid of in our lobby and I randomly scooped this one up. It was one of the best things I've ever read.
The book is a collection of feature stories written by Washington Post journalist Gene Weingarten. The subjects are all over the map - but each story is brilliantly written, insightful, creative, clever, moving. I cannot explain how incredible Gene Weingarten's writing is.
As a journalism undergrad, I'm disappointed I was never made to read this book because I honestly think that it would be convinced me to continue down the path towards becoming a writer.
Please pick up this book! It's great because you can just read one story at a time - not too much comittment!
When I was younger, you couldn't find me without a book. I brought books out to family dinners - sat in a booth at a noisy restaurant and just kept on reading.
Nowadays, there's not as much time for uninterrupted, full-on face-in-a-book reading. But with Beartown - I found that 12 year old ability of mine to shut out the world and travel into the story.
I read for an entire flight and an entire Sunday afternoon because I just couldn't put the book down.
From the author of A Man Named Ove - Beartown is incredibly timely and is also about hockey and Sweden - two things that you could say are somewhat pertinent to my life. Backman's ability to describe human nature and to create characters that really come to life are what made this book so compelling.
If you've read it - comment who your favorite character was! I want to discuss!
The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir
If you don't utilize your public library's ability to lend eBooks - what are you doing?! So easy and also, free! That's how I came to find The Sound of Gravel.
This is the story of Ruth Wariner as told by herself - about growing up poor in a polygamist family. It's a fascinating look into a culture that I knew very little about before reading the book.
2. Romantic Comedies
I don't watch movies, as a general rule of thumb - unless I'm on a long flight.
But for some reason a few weeks ago, I found myself watching a different romantic comedy on Netflix every night of the week. Huh? You're all going to laugh - because I'm only about 15 years late to the party on one of them and the other two are garbage.
Bridget Jones' Diary
Sleeping With Other People
So tell me, what's your favorite romantic comedy?
That's right - it's happened everyone. I can officially say the words, "I like yoga!"
WOW. It took me years and years but I've finally learned to appreciate a good, sweaty, yoga class. I've even learned how to view it as a damn good workout, not just a stretch. (Read this post from April of last year where I wondered if I was starting to like yoga!)
It's mid-March and I've been to 16+ yoga classes already this year, which is probably more than the combined number of classes I had taken in my life prior to January 1, 2018.
Like so many runners out there - CorePower was my gateway drug. I had taken Core Power classes in Denver and Raleigh - but it was my class in Boston with Kayla that was a game changer. The instructor was phenomenal and I took my Free Week back with me to NYC and went NUTS. I took 5 classes in 7 days!
I also tried the Yoga Sculpt class without realizing it's basically heated barre - and I liked that too!
Y7 has an intro package that gets you 3 classes for $45 which I did when my CorePower free week was up.
I wasn't expecting to like Y7 as much as I did - hip hop isn't exactly "me" but I loved the classes that I took. My favorite part is how the class is set up - you know what to expect and there's no opportunity for laying on the mat wondering, "are there 10 minutes left or 50? How much more do we have?" (Because let's face it, I still have that moment about halfway through each yoga class).
At Y7, you go through 3 separate flows. For each, you go through once slow, once "one breath, one movement" and then the third time the turn the music up and let you go on your own. I loved this because it kept me super focused the entire time so that I could remember the flow - keeping myself mentally focused on yoga is a challenge and I found that this really helped me.
There are multiple Yoga Vida locations, but I took all of my free week classes at the NoHo location (no showers, which is a bummer considering this is the studio that offers heated flow!)
All the instructors here were amazing, the space is HUGE and you can't beat a free week! Plus, they have a bunch of community classes each week that are donation based. Holla!
Favorite class? The one taught by my friend Bertha! Getting to see her do her thing was so cool! But even better was the fact that she is an AWESOME instructor.
When Abby and I requested a class with lots of hamstring stretching and an arm balance - Bertha delivered exactly that. The whole class I didn't even realize we were working towards side crow and then WA-BAM all of a sudden it all made sense.
I'm not sure what the shift was, but I'm very glad that I've come to value more low-impact exercises like yoga and barre (and I'm trying out a Pilates class this weekend!) I've been very unkind to my body in terms of how I've exercised for the past 4 years, and I'm really digging some days without burpees and jump squats and wall balls.
4. Live Music
Hearing someone with an incredible voice belt out a good song is probably one of my all time favorite things. I get chills. Every time. And wish that I had been blessed with some vocal chords that can SANG. Alas, I cannot. But I have been doing lots of listening.
My family and I recently went to Don't Tell Mama in Hell's Kitchen and though we waited over an hour to be seated, and they tried skipping over our name on the list - it ended up being such a fun night. Singing along is highly encouraged. They sing a great mix of classic, show tunes, popular songs, oldies - and the singing bar and wait staff are out of this world good - they're all definitely Broadway actors and actresses.
My other favorite piano bar in NYC is Brandy's on the Upper East Side - both of these are really small venues with two drink minimums but every time I've gone it's been more than worth the pricey drinks. These aren't your average piano bar wannabes - they're extremely talented performers.
If you go to Brandy's - order a Tequila Cosmo!
I had been to Rockwood Music Hall a number of times for various concerts but none of them at Stage 3 (around the corner on Orchard Street). It was such an intimate venue - everyone gets a seat which I hadn't been expecting.
We were there to see Wakey!Wakey! aka Michael Grubbs of One Tree Hill fame. He performed an hour-long show with his piano and damn is his voice powerful.
For a $15 ticket and a $10 glass of wine (everyone has to buy a drink - but you can get a soda or coffee) it was the perfect Friday night and I was still in bed by 10:30!
Always my favorite form of live music - I am of the belief that there is nothing like a Broadway musical. We recently went as a family to see the new Jimmy Buffet jukebox musical "Escape to Margaritaville."
While the production was far from artistically groundbreaking, damn was it FUN. Maybe we had a little too much fun. It seems that my "FINS TO THE LEFT, FINS TO THE RIGHT" dance moves may have interfered with some lighting. And apparently the somewhat stuffy audience wasn't on board with yelling "Salt! Salt! Salt!" during the title song. But c'est la vie - not everyone can be a Parrothead.
My family and I thoroughly enjoyed the show - despite the incredibly forced references to song lyrics and predictable plot line. It certainly helped that our margarita cups were always filled (thanks, Dad!)
The best part was my dad finally realizing just how much he must have listened to Jimmy Buffet when we were kids - my sister and I seemed to know more words than anyone else!
Next up for live music is a concert this week at City Winery! We'll be seeing Joshua Radin and while I haven't been to a show at this venue yet, I have a feeling I'm going to like it. Bar stool + acoustic music + wine seems like the recipe for a wonderful Thursday night.
5. Rock Climbing
I've loved rock climbing for as long as I can remember - I was a total monkey as a kid. Climbing trees, climbing the rope faster than anyone else in gym class.
I finally got myself belay certified and asked for a 10-climb pass for Christmas - so if anyone wants to go rock climbing at The Cliffs in LIC let me know!!
It's such an adrenaline rush and I love the fact that by the end of a day at the climbing gym - my arms are actually shaking they're so exhausted. I still get a little nervous while belaying - the fact that I'm actually in control of someone's life is slightly terrifying - but practice makes perfect?
6. Argan Oil & Chakra Oil
My moisturizing game has never been stronger thanks to these two products.
My coworker bought us each a bottle of this in the Copenhagen airport after we used the tester and fell in love.
The smell is dreamy, and putting this on after the shower makes me feel like I'm treating myself to a spa day. I'm almost out, and I can't find it online, and I'm having a slight meltdown.
Want your hair to feel super hydrated and luscious? Use this stuff.
I take terrible care of my hair. I get it cut about once a year. I straighten it, blow dry it, curl it - and half the time I'm showering at New York Sports Club whose shampoo I swear doesn't actually do anything.
But ever since my mom got me a little tube of hair oil in my stocking stuffer - I've been using it non stop and I can see a huge difference in the look and feel of my hair.
There was awhile there where I seemed to be on a doughnut hiatus. Thank God that ended.
East Main & Main - Port Jefferson, New York
Long Island is finally get involved in the doughnut game!
Dilla's Delights - Detroit, Michigan
Citrus old fashioned! GET IT!!!
Kane's Donuts - Boston, Massachusetts
This was Kayla's introduction to doughnut tasting and I was so happy that she got totally into it with me. We started with one - but that was just a lie we were telling ourselves.
Dough - Tampa, Florida
More than anything, what I appreciated about Dough was that they gave me the opportunity to have a ridiculous doughnut photo shoot with my friends portrait mode. And the fact that their creme brulee dooughnut was ridic.
Stuffed - New York, New York
Ice cream + doughnut ice cream sandwiches. Yeah, I went there.
(And in the same day, after brunch, we ate a Dun-Well doughnut AND two scoops at Davey's Ice Cream. Still unsure how I have avoided diabetes thus far).
Talk about strange combos - Carlson's was a MUST VISIT while I was in Annapolis. I mean, when I hear that there is a run down shop that serves doughnuts from 5 AM - 11 AM and then becomes a Thai restaurant for dinner - you couldn't keep me away.
The best part? These doughnuts were ridiculously good.
I didn't really expect to like podcasts, but now I listen to them almost daily during my commute. They're great on the stationary bike. And sometimes I even just lay in bed and listen to one! I sound like I'm a podcast junkie but in reality, there are really only two that I listen to at the moment, so please send your recommendations my way!
*Also very interested in any podcast that has had JK Rowling as a guest.
I think Ali was made to have a podcast. She's a phenomenal host who is clearly passionate about her guests, the subjects and the project in general.
What I love about the Ali on the Run Show is that there's a structure to it, but depending on the guest each show is obviously very unique! I absolutely love the "Sprint to the Finish" portion of the show when Ali asks each guests fun questions like "Where was your first kiss?" and "What would your last meal on earth be?" These questions really help humanize the incredible (running-related) guests that she has on the show.
Unlike the Ali on the Run Show - Dax Shepard's new podcast has almost no structure whatsoever yet somehow I keep finding myself listening to to 2+ hour episodes where he interviews fellow celebrities and digs into some serious topics like anxiety, depression, addiction and has really candid talks about being a celebrity and what that's like for your psyche.
By far my favorite episode was the first one when Dax had his wife, the wonderful Kristin Bell, on as a guest. I immediately started stalking them on Instagram and it's safe to say that I would like them to adopt me into their family.
I also love the end of each episode when their family friend/podcast fact-checker Monica Padman comes on to call-out all of Dax's erroneous statements from the show.
9. New Workouts
Like I said - running is still a thing that my body doesn't seem to be interested in. Actually, it seems very disinterested in it. And finally, I'm listening and I'm saying "That's cool - let's do some other stuff!"
Normally I would write a full review for each of these classes but in an effort to make up for the past, oh, I don't know, year that I neglected to do class reviews, I'm going to keep it brief.
I checked out two OTF classes while I was in Tampa Bay and I gotta say - I didn't like them as much as I was expecting to.
The first time, we didn't even get heart rate monitors, which was a complete bummer (I'm a numbers girl when it comes to a workout!) and the second time, I was just very frustrated at how hard it was to get my heart rate into the "Red Zone."
I like the concept - and I like switching stations to do both cardio and strength - but it just wasn't the "OH MY GOD AMAZING" workout that I was hoping for.
To be fair, I may actually have been asleep for the second class as evidenced by this photo.
This boxing studio, owned by George Foreman's son, started in Boston and recently opened up in NYC.
Whenever I take a boxing class, I leave feeling like I got my ass kicked and Everybody Fights was no exception! It's a really big space that offers a bunch of different kinds of classes and I definitely wouldn't be opposed to returning!
Curious about boxing? You can check out my reviews of some other NYC boxing studios using the links below!
My friend Bertha is a badass babe who regularly goes to Kings Thai Boxing.
I said I would go as long as she was there to help me - and I'm so glad I did! It was definitely out of my comfort zone - I felt pretty lost most of the time - but the instructor was SO helpful and friendly and by the end of class I was a) drenched in sweat b) sore as hell and c) feeling like a total badass.
Abby came to class too - so we got to work as partners which helped a TON. I felt less guilty every time I made a mistake holding the pads (which was very very frequently - sorry, Ab!) To be honest, remembering the sequences was harder as the person holding the pads than as the one doing the punching and kicking (at least for me).
Can we just talk about the ~casual~ way this class ended? A ladder of DEATH, that's how.
1 Left Kick
1 Right Kick
2 Left Kicks
2 Right Kicks
Up to 10. Back down to 5.
I have never come closer to throwing up (or collapsing during a push-up).
Saturday's at noon Kings Thais has a Beginners Class if you feel like feelin' fierce!
When I started getting targeted ads for this new fitness studio on my Instagram feed I was instantly intrigued.
It looked so unique and mainly it just looked plain fun! Also, it seemed to be somewhat low-impact which I could use some more of! So I signed up for their intro deal (2 classes for $20!)
When Bertha, Abby and I went to this class - there was only one other person there. Normally, I would think, "GREAT it's like a private class!" But instead, our instructor was super robotic and unenthusiastic the entire time. Even though we were clearly new students, and clearly the studio isn't batting people away.
Despite that - I really did like Spiderbands just because it was so different than any other class. There's a TON you can do with these giant resistance bands which is evident when you realize they offer 6 different classes ranging from bosu ball to kickboxing to HIIT.
We took the "Signature Spiderbands" class but I will definitely be using my second class to try something new!
Come prepared to take an epic Boomerang after class, and plan on staying a bit after to enjoy their BEAUTIFUL showers/locker rooms.
I have a feeling Fit House is about to be all the rage in the NYC fitness world - especially now that ClassPass has become too expensive for a lot of people.
The concept is pretty simple - a $99/month membership to attend classes at Fithouse studios across the city (right now, there is only one, but they plan to expand quickly to at least 3 more neighborhoods).
While the membership doesn't gain you access to a typical gym space, it does grant you access to a bunch of different types of classes. This includes HIIT, Yoga, Strength and Barre.
I found a discount code for a FREE two week trial when they first opened, but unfortunately, the Bowery location was pretty inconvenient for me and I only got to attend two classes.
+Big studio with lots of equipment for different types of exercises
+Automatic lockers (no need to bring your own lock)
+Close to subway station
-No showers at the Bowery location (they are hoping that some of the other studios will have showers, but TBD)
-No spin or boxing classes (personally, two of my favorite kinds of classes!)
-The one bathroom stall is INSIDE the studio - so if you arrive before class and need to use the restroom but there's a class going on inside the studio - you can't. It's a weird set up.
I took two of the higher intensity classes - Strength Station and Slam. Bother were 45 minutes long. They were good - but not great. Hard, but not killer.
The best part of Fit House was the instructor Mark - he was great!
I think as more studios open, as they hire more staff, as they add more classes, Fithouse definitely has the potential to be an affordable option for people who like to take a lot of classes as opposed to belonging to a gym.
They're currently running a $19 deal for a 2 week trial! (Just be sure you cancel if you don't want to sign up or they'll automatically start charging you at the end of the two weeks!)
It was sweaty, it was yoga. It was a yoga class I took before I liked yoga - so not much to say about it!
Who woulda thunk that my first Barry's Bootcamp class would actually be in SWEDEN?
That's right. While I was in Stockholm for work, I went to a Barry's class! I ended up finding a class on the schedule that was taught in English and thank God for that. I don't know why I had been thinking it would be no problem taking the class in Swedish - I definitely would have regretted it as we did some pretty complicated moves with the stepper and resistance bands for the strength portion of the class!
This isn't new - but it's a workout that I have been LOVING and doing very frequently. Each year, Chris runs a Facebook group that challenges you to do a deck of cards workout every day from Thanksgiving to New Years' Eve. I've done it the past 3 years and at the end of it, I'm always in SUCH GOOD SHAPE.
It's a strength workout, a cardio workout, an ab workout, and uses a lot of the exercises that I normally let fall to the wayside that are actually super important (glute bridges, donkey kicks, etc.)
He keeps the group running throughout the year - so if I'm ever feeling uninspired at the gym I'll check the page! We were lucky enough to have Chris in NYC a few weeks ago and got to do the deck of the day live and in person in Central Park which was awesome :)
You can also follow along on his Instagram account.
Instagram sponsored ads are my best friend and my worst enemy. They can show me an ad enough times and I'll 100% start to think that I need it. Like that damn Quip toothbrush they keep pushing on me.
But Billie is one that I barely even hesitated before purchasing. Essentially, it's a month subscription for new razor blades. The concept behind it is basically my internal monologue of:
WHY IS IT SO DAMN EXPENSIVE TO BUY REPLACEMENT RAZOR BLADES AS A WOMAN?
WHY DO I ALWAYS END UP JUST BUYING A NEW RAZOR BECAUSE IT'S HALF THE PRICE AS A PACK OF BLADES?
SHOULD I JUST GET THESE SHITTY DISPOSABLE ONES?
I thought that maybe my whole life I was missing something - but nope, apparently the founders of Billie were on the same page.
Razor blade prices + laziness + my travel schedule ensure that I am almost always using razor blades that are far too old and dull to effectively shave my legs. In fact, they're probably downright dangerous.
The ratio of the amount of time I spend at a gym in shorts and how often my legs are well-shaven is not socially acceptable.
So I ordered a Billie razor in a cute coral color. It came in the mail with a super ~minimalist~ magnetic holder that takes up zero space in the shower. It came with two razor blades that are smooth and wonderful. Every 3 months I'll get 4 NEW BLADES FOR $9.80. In the mail.
I don't know why this is so exciting to me but it is. I wrote an email to all my female coworkers the day I found out about it and group texted like 20 girlfriends.
WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.
They also have a super cool message about the "Pink Tax" which they define as -
PINK TAX: the extra amount women are charged for certain products (*ahem* razors) or services. For no reason. Unless being female is a reason.
So, help a sista out - if you use the link below to order your Billie razor I'll get some coupons or somethin'
Not much to say on this except I have been LOVING everything from the Gap and it's getting to be a problem.
I online shop with my Gap Cash because, "It would be a waste not to use it," and then I tell myself, "There's a Gap right near the office, just order it and it if it doesn't fit you can return it." Except can you guess how much I have ordered and decided to return? That's right, none of it.
On any given day, you can find me wearing multiple items from the Gap. Most recently, I have purchased not only clothing from them but undergarments and workout clothes as well - so that my entire wardrobe is beginning to resemble the store.
THAT WAS FUN!
I feel like we're all caught up, and now I can start pushing out some new, relevant, timely posts! Thanks for stickin' around.
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Spending over 2 weeks in Stockholm this year was unexpected in many ways.
First, that I got to go for work was an incredible opportunity to be there longer than I normally would have.
True, it meant a lot of time spent working and not as much time exploring and sightseeing - but I liked the chance to feel as if I were actually living there as opposed to vacationing.
It also gave me the opportunity to experience this modern, beautiful city in both summer (August) and the start of the colder, darker winter months (November).
I fell totally in love with Stockholm - and what was surprising was that I loved it just as much in November as I did in August.
On my first day there in November I called my parents, smiling from ear to ear and told them that I just had this incredible feeling of being exactly where I was supposed to be the entire day I had been walking around.
It's a feeling I sometimes get when I'm home in NYC - I'll be walking down a particularly cute side street in the West Village with the sun hitting the brick buildings just right and I think to myself, "I LOVE IT HERE." But I had never experienced that same feeling of "rightness" anywhere else - until Stockholm.
I've struggled to write about Stockholm because my "list of things to do and see and eat" really isn't very long. My favorite part about my time in Stockholm were the days where I just wandered around the streets for hours. Everywhere you look there's another beautiful building, aesthetically pleasing home goods shop, cozy looking cafe or new waterfront view. Not to mention the people watching is on point - I swear everyone who lives in Stockholm is straight-up-model-status.
I could keep going about how the city made me ~feel~ but I really think you should book a flight to the capital of Sweden and experience it for yourself by walking around and getting lost. Stockholm is seen as expensive and cold and for those reasons it's probably not at the top of your travel list. I thought all of those things before I got there too. But I promise you, it's magical! Here are a few of my favorite things.
1. Wandering Stockholm's Unique Neighborhoods
I know this is annoying and you're looking for a list of places to go, things to do, restaurants to eat at. But seriously - walking around the different neighborhoods is an absolute MUST when you're in Stockholm. They're all totally different!
"Gamla Stan" or "Old Town" is the most charming, iconic place in Stockholm. It is filled with stores, restaurants, cafes and bars - set in a scene straight out of history books. Cobblestone streets, winding alleyways and beautiful buildings that are filled with history.
This is one of the oldest medieval city centers left in Europe and it's where Stockholm was founded in 1252. I'm just going to let you think about that number for a minute.
It's definitely a popular area, but I never felt like I was in Times Square while walking around. The main streets of Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan tend to be the most crowded and most filled with souvenir shops - so make sure to explore some places further off the beaten path.
Don't leave Gamla Stan without stopping for a picture in the iconic Stortoget - the oldest square in Stockholm (there's a Christmas market in the winter that I missed by just a week! I can imagine that it's crowded, but incredibly worth it.)
I absolutely loved my walk through Sodermalm or "Soder" (South). It's filled with trendy stores, fun restaurants and green spaces. During my walk, I found myself passing through a cemetery and suddenly the most gorgeous, golden church appeared. With the fall leaves scattered all around, it was picture perfect. Turns out, this was Katarina Kyrka.
While in Sodermalm, you should also walk down Hornsgatan, a super bustling, popular street that's also really pretty! It was while walking down this main thoroughfare that I decided to make a detour and found myself climbing up to the scenic overlook of Skinnarviksberget. Say that 10 times fast (or just try to say it once...)
After scrambling my way up some rocks, I was rewarded with an absolutely stunning view. Who knew that I had happened to find the highest natural point in Stockholm?
If you're headed back towards Gamla Stan or Norrmalm, walk on along Söder Mälarstrand - scenic and along the water, you'll see some adorable boats that double as restaurants and bed & breakfasts.
This walk gives you view across to Kungsholmen - where the iconic Stockholm City Hall building resides.
Once you're on the Kungsholmenside of the water, you can look across to Sodermalm for one of my favorite views I found the entire trip:
This is considered the "City Center" and it's where I stayed during my time in Stockholm. The main train station is here, along with tons of shopping.
Drottninggatan is a pedestrian street jam packed with tourists and stores.
This is where the rich people live - and walking along Strandvagen, you can tell! The buildings, facing the water, are absolutely beautiful.
In August, there were tons of floating docks that were bars - and sitting out at one, sipping a glass of rose, was a definite highlight of the trip.
Because of the long winters, dark days, and cold weather - the people of Stockholm really know how to embrace their summers!
This island is a popular spot because many attractions like the Vasa Museum, Gröna Lund amusement park (my one regret is not getting to go here!), the Abba museum and Skansen - but it's also just a very beautiful place to walk around!
2. Embracing Your Sweet Tooth
If you had asked me before my trip to Sweden what my favorite candy was - my answer surely would have been something chocolate.
But while in Sweden, my appreciation for sweet, fruity and sour candies SKYROCKETED. They really love their candy in Sweden - in fact, they import and consume more candy than anywhere else in the world!
In August, we stopped at a stall on the side of Strandvagen for a piece of "licorice" and I was instantly hooked. It wasn't the black licorice flavored stuff you think of - it's soft, sweet, and comes in hundreds of flavors!
I really cannot describe the texture of Swedish licorice - but I can promise you that it's nothing you can come close to getting in the US!
Licorice was my gateway drug to the Swedish candy craze - but when I landed on October 31 I found myself shoveling a bagful of Halloween sweets from the corner store in what would become an increasingly consistent habit!
I'm sure there are a TON of amazing candy shops in Stockholm, but my two go-twos were Jam Jam and Karamellaffären.
Another fun candy story from Stockholm? My coworkers' and I got a kick out of the chocolate bar named, "Plopp."
Be on the lookout for Marabou chocolate bars! I was SHOCKED at how many different flavors/fillings they have! Everything from Oreo to coconut to toffee. Bring some of these bad boys home as a quick, cheap, delicious gift for the fam.
It's words like this that had me convinced I could easily pick up and move to Sweden and somehow get by. Chokladbollar - chocolate ball! (Kind of like when I looked at a map that said Du ar harr and exclaimed, "YOU ARE HERE! I SPEAK SWEDISH!")
These desserts are EVERYWHERE in Stockholm and good lord are they incredible. Rich, chocolatey, melt-in-your-mouth decadence. They are unbaked - which makes them super moist (I know, I know - it's a gross word).
It took me awhile to realize that these are made with OATS so they're basically an energy ball/practically HEALTH FOOD.
As such, eat them often on your trip.
Other odd delicacies you can pick up at these shops are Dill chips and Wasa Sandwiches (crispbreads sandwiched together with things like hummus, sour cream & chive, and peanut butter in between!)
I was pleasantly surprised by both!
3. Swedish Spa Days
Sweden caught on to the spa and health resort craze over 300 years ago - such trendsetters!
Sweden is synonymous with sauna - and while I'm not one to sit around luxuriating all day - I'm way too antsy for that - if there's ever a place to treat yo self to some steam rooms and cold showers it's in Sweden!
I was spoiled rotten by the fact that I got to spend a day at the Grand Hotel's spa - it was truly a "somebody pinch me" afternoon.
This five star hotel opened in 1874 and is absolutely stunning. I got to stay here in August, and then in November we were treated to our day at the spa. Unreal.
They even gave us the Nordic Bathe de Luxe package which came with some fancy products and a free glass of champagne or a smoothie from their cafe.
The Nordic bathing ritual (which we enjoyed post-gym - ahhhh) involved dry brushing, a nourishing hair mask, a shower, sitting in the sauna, and plunging into a cold pool. I was proud of myself for repeatedly managing to switch between the toasty warm sauna and the painfully cold pool.
We met the nicest woman ever in the sauna - she was originally from Texas, grew up in Michigan, but had lived and taught in Sweden for over 20 years! Talk about a hard to decipher accent...
There are many more affordable saunas and spas around Sweden, and it's a very Scandinavian experience that I highly recommend indulging in!
4. Not Your Average Museums
If I haven't mentioned it enough in my travel recaps - I'm not a big museum person. Or maybe I'm just not a fan of museums when I'm walking around with other people. Then I feel like I can't spend as much time on some things as I'd like, and that I have to spend more time on other things than I want to.
The two museums I visited in Stockholm, however, I adored.
Fun fact - my goal is to write a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. A la Boys in the Boat and Seabiscuit.
The entire time I was walking about the Vasa Museum, I was thinking that it might be the perfect topic for my future book.
The Vasa museum tells the story of a warship that capsized and sank in Stockholm in 1628. It remained underwater until 333 - when it was brought to the surface and has been meticulously preserved.
It's incredible that 98% of this ship is ORIGINAL! Original, from 1628! The water preserved much of what was on board when the vessel went down. Including bones, women's purses, and more. Archaeologists worked tirelessly to get Vasa in the condition it's in today - and they continue to work on its preservation.
I was fascinated with the Vasa story and no trip to Stockholm is complete without a visit to this piece of history.
The photography museum in Stockholm was wonderful - and I think I enjoyed it so much because I was on my own and able to amble through at my own speed. Skipping what didn' interest me, and lingering to read every last word about the pieces that moved me.
During my visit there was a large display by a photojournalist, an exhibit that chronicled "Last Night in Sweden" after Trump's now infamous remark, and a gallery of photograph contest winners.
I loved every single exhibit that was at the museum when I visited. The photojournalists images and accompanying accounts were raw and moving and difficult to get through. "Last Night in Sweden" offered a multifaceted look at the nation I was visiting. And the final exhibit was full of different pieces.
With constantly changing exhibits and incredible hours (Sunday - Wednesday 9 AM - 11 PM and Thursday - Saturday 9 AM - 1 AM!) - Fotografiska is a museum you can come back to time and time again. I'm so glad someone suggested it! (A friend of the couple who rescued us in Copenhagen!)
5. Eating. Obviously.
Duh, I visited many restaurants in Stockholm. However, I found one of Bill Bryson's quotes from "Neither Here Nor There" to be all too true -
The food wasn't atrocious - but it was, overall, a disappointment. Or just not my cup of tea. No matter how many times I gave pickled herring a chance - or tried to be OK with the amount of mayonnaise used in Swedish cuisine - I couldn't get behind it.
No matter what I ordered, it didn't come out the way I had anticipated - maybe it was lost in translation, maybe that was me just not being open minded enough (though I think I am very open minded when it comes to food!)
That being said - the Swedes really kill the mashed potato game. I think the ratio must have been something like 1 stick of butter and 1 cup of cream for each potato.
I did have a few standout meals though - so here are my restaurant recommendations!
Pom & Flora
Looking for a brunch spot with healthy options, bright colors, and a made-for-Instagram aesthetic? (I mean, that's what I typically look for...) Pom & Flora is for sure your spot. We waited a bit for a table, but I knew that I needed to eat here.
Everything was fresh and delicious - I ordered the banana split and avocado toast while my coworker had a delicious bowl of oatmeal.
Sally Voltaire & Sisters (Sally Voltaire & Systrar)
I came here to pick up lunch one day and was pleasantly surprised by the bright colors, fresh ingredients, and healthy options.
There are little shrimps everywhere in Stockholm!
This is a trendy, seafood heavy restaurant that was one of my favorites, no doubt. It's one of those places where you instantly feel cooler just by dining there. It's in the Stureplan area - aka clubbing central. And the menu was top notch!
Another super cute interior, an open kitchen, and "Modern Nordic Cuisine." I absolutely cannot tell you what I ordered here - but it looks like it was tasty!
Take a look at this picture and you'll surely fall just as in love with Falafelbaren as I did.
Had this been closer to work or my hotel, I definitely would have eaten here every day of the week. And I'm not the only one who loves it - it's definitely one of the more popular spots in Stockholm!
Another hip spot, this was one of the most frequently recommended restaurants. I'm sensing a trend where if the interior of the restaurant had a good vibe and was aesthetically pleasing - I could forego the fact that I didn't love Swedish cuisine!
Riche was gorgey (hello, giant chandeliers) and had a great mix of classic and modern dishes.
My coworker ordered the Biff Rydberg - which was a dish I learned about too late in the game to ever order out, unfortunately.
Diced and fried tenderloin with potatoes, onions, grated fresh horseradish and egg yolk - it's basically steak and eggs for dinner.
I recommend coming here mainly for the ambiance! Nestled in Gamla Stan, the downstairs of this restaurant is like a beautiful cave - if that makes any sense? It's been serving food since 1722 and is filled with different rooms and an antique vibe that really brings you back.
This was one of our nicer dinners out - the staff were wonderful, the bar upstairs had a lovely bartender while we waited for our table, and the food was delicious (if still not particularly my style).
The Opera Bar / Operabaren
Operakalleren is one of the most famous, fine dining experiences in Stockholm. But they also have The Opera Bar, next to Cafe Opera (a nightclub) that serves more traditional Swedish meals.
We were lucky enough to snag a table at The Opera Bar one night in August. The stained glass ceiling made for a beautiful backdrop to a standout meal!
I loved the concept behind this restaurant - where you walk up to the counter and pick out your piece of fish or meat, then head back to the table to order your small plates and accouterments!
This was a really fun place for a group - and again, super hip inside, friendly service (everyone in Sweden is friendly) and fresh food! Definitely recommend.
You guessed it - hip, trendy (though possibly the one waiter of note on the entire trip who seemed entirely uninterested in serving us) and good food.
The standout dish was one that my coworker ordered - Ox Cheeks! I was so proud, and also very impressed with the dish!
And to answer your question - yes, I ate Swedish meatballs and yes, they were delicious - but I can't say that the restaurant I ordered them at was anything to write home about. And my Gran still makes the best Swedish meatballs - it's a nostalgia thing.
6. The Subway is Gorgeous
The subways in Stockholm have been called the largest art museum in the world. That's because each station really is like a giant art installation/work of art.
You could spend a whole rainy afternoon riding the subway, getting off at different stops, and taking pictures of each unique station.
One morning, when we got to the subway - the floor had SOAP BUBBLES on it. As in, THEY CLEANED THE SUBWAY FLOOR.
7. Hotel Breakfast Buffets
It sounds strange, but if you want to live like a local, do it up BIG at a hotel breakfast buffet. According to the friend we made at the sauna, Swedes usually go once a year and pay for a hotel buffet.
I was spoiled rotten at both the Sheraton Stockholm and the Grand Hotel - eating at a breakfast buffet every morning is what we call, "Living My Best Life." Heaven absolutely has a breakfast buffet.
And that breakfast buffet most definitely has cream of wheat with all the accouterments + croissants and jam and giant blocks of brie.
Fika is the Swedish cultural tradition of a "coffee break" but it's more-so the concept of taking a moment out of your day to sit and relax at a comfy, cozy cafe.
While I was working with American coworkers and we didn't necessarily make fika part of our daily routines while in Stockholm - it's definitely something you should do on your visit. Like a siesta when you're in Spain!
There are endless cute coffee shops in Stockholm - with incredible pastries I might add! Stop for a snack and some caffeine and don't take it to go! (Like I did, from Joe & The Juice, repeatedly. This place employs only the hottest male models, I swear).
9. Homeland of IKEA & All The Aesthetically Pleasing Shopping
There is something about Scandinavian design that is so modern, so clean, so clever, so useful, so beautiful, so hip - you're going to have a really hard time not buying everything you see.
Like me, coming home with a roll of doughnut wrapping paper.
My favorite shopping story is that I bought myself a little vase in August and when I got home, realized that the copper stem, which made it cute in the first place, was missing.
I happened to pass the store again in November, stopped in, told the woman working my story - and she took the piece off of the display vase and gave it to me!
This epitomizes the Swedish people that I met.
This is also shows how easy it is to communicate in Sweden - most people speak better English than Americans.
10. A Fun Nightlife
Enjoy the nightlife in this city - I've heard the clubbing is great. Sadly, I was there for work, people!
We stuck to casual bars and I highly suggest The Liffey if you're looking for a casual Irish Pub that has live music and trivia nights!
Another night we got classy cocktails at Vau De Ville - which was bumping!
I didn't like the food at Yuc, or the cocktail I ordered necessarily, but if you're looking for cocktails and guacamole, check it out! Hands down the coolest ice cube I've ever received.
So there you have it - my Stockholm guide. I didn't think I would have nearly this much to write, but turns out this post made me fall in love with the city all over again.
I leave you with some more pictures - in case you weren't already convinced that it's absolutely beautiful.
No one you know wants to go to Sweden? It's probably the easiest place to travel on your own. Everyone speaks English. I even took a Barry's Bootcamp class in English! And the public transportation is a BREEZE.
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I have to admit, our day 4 trip to Sintra was a bit of a disappointment. Not because the Pena Palace wasn't beautiful - but because this is a highly touristy area, with a lot of waiting in line, a lot of confusion, a lot of jam packed streets, a lot of disorganization and a lot of tourist traps.
1. Pena Palace
After a helpful employee at the train station showed us how to purchase the right tickets, we boarded the first train to Sintra in an attempt to beat the crowds.
The train was uneventful, and soon we arrived at our destination.
The signage wasn't the best I've ever experienced, but eventually we found our way to the shuttle/bus stop and pieced together how the tickets worked. We waited in line for a good long while until a bus pulled up and we were able to board.
We rode the shuttle up and up and up - probably the scariest bus ride to date - until we reached the base of Pena Palace.
There, swarms of tourists in haphazard lines stood outside broken ticket machines and closed gates - milling around with no one seeming to have any idea of what was going on. I got increasingly more frustrated as the minutes dragged on and on and still, no direction was given. My mom and I decided to divide and conquer - jumping onto two lines that we weren't even sure were where we needed to be.
Eventually - the ticket windows opened, the gates rolled back, and we made it inside. I immediately needed to find a bathroom and some sustenance and luckily both were located at a little shop right inside the gates. We sat down in the sun and ate some horrible microwave-oven sandwich that kind of tasted like a piece of Elio's pizza (but nowhere near as good).
After that, we started making the climb up to Pena Palace. As it came into view, I got really excited about the bright colors and bizarre architecture - it looked totally out of place!
At this point in the day, my mom and I decided we were content to not wait on any more lines, and instead of touring the inside of the castle, opted for walking around, taking pictures, and enjoying the sights on the exterior of the castle. The tickets we had bought at the start allowed us to walk all over the castle, and we didn't feel like we missed out on anything by not going inside.
The castle was extremely unique in it's design and I did really enjoy photographing it. Not to mention seeing the incredible views from it's turrets.
2. Lunch & Shopping In Sintra
The shuttle ride back down into the main part of town was another long and winding ordeal. A couple of times we thought we might have gotten on the wrong bus since it was taking so damn long!
But eventually we found ourselves outside of the Sintra National Palace. We stuck our heads into some shops, but most of them seemed to be glorified souvenir stores.
We were pretty grouchy and didn't feel like exploring all too much for our lunch - so we plopped down at Restaurant Cafe Paris where we had an overpriced lunch (but it was a pretty place with outdoor seating). I ordered a salad and a crepe - neither of which impressed.
After lunch we continued our walk down to the train station and all along the way there were local artists and vendors selling crafts and jewelry along the sidewalk. We also found some nicer shops closer to town, and I loved stopping to take pictures of the buildings covered in beautiful flowers!
By the time we made it back down, I was warming up to Sintra, but also more than ready to get on the train back to our Airbnb.
3. Sunset Shopping
When we got back to Lisbon, we walked around and did some final shopping - I bought a pair of pants I absolutely love from United Colors of Benetton. We chased the sunset a little ways until we realized we probably weren't to get a great view and wandered back to our little neighborhood.
4. Portuguese Wine at The Little Wine Bar
We wandered around for awhile hoping to find a place to sit out on the sidewalk and have a drink - but most places were packed or only offering tables to those that were ordering food. Portugal made a wine drinker out of me - so we stopped in a little wine bar (quite literally called The Little Wine Bar) for a final glass. This place was adorable and the wine was fabulous - highly recommend if you're staying in the area!
5. Last Supper at Restaurant Duque
I am happy to report that we ended the trip with perhaps one of the best parts - dinner at Restaurant Duque.
All week we had passed this tiny restaurant on the corner of our street and I had gazed longingly at the sweet potatoes in the window (true story).
On our last night, I convinced my mom that we had enough cash left (it was cash only) to go for dinner and a glass of wine at this local spot.
Who would have thought that the cash-only place across the street would turn out to be our absolute favorite meal of the trip? AND that we would be seated next to a lovely couple who we talked with throughout the meal?
It was the perfect end to the trip and I urge you to go eat here!
We ordered the Oven Roasted Octopus (with sauteed sweet potato!!!) and the Sea Rice (basically a seafood paella with fish, clams, mussels and prawns).
6. Goodbye, Portugal!
The next morning we woke up, packed, and said goodbye to our Airbnb home away from home (not before stopping for a coffee and pastry from a corner cafe).
I had used MyTaxi to schedule a cab pick-up at the AirBnb and it worked out perfectly. Our taxi driver was there right on time and was such a lovely person. We chatted the entire way to the airport - about tourism, rent, the European outlook on lunch breaks, Airbnb, and why the Portugeuse don't get angry at traffic. I was sad when we pulled up to the terminal to end our first real in-depth conversation with a local.
I was also, obviously, sad that the trip had come to an end.
Saying goodbye to my mom after such an amazing bonding experience was difficult - but I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity.
I now know that my mom and I make GREAT travel partners and I can't wait to plan another trip for the two of us to share again soon.
To anyone considering a trip to Portugal - book it! The area has so much to see and do - it offers a European feel, cobblestone streets, museums and churches galore - as well as having plenty of cool, hip places like the LX Market, Time Out Market and Pink Street. Not to mention the beaches, National Parks, and day trips that are at your fingertips.
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