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Prague: Unexpected Jewel of Europe

From the desk of Matt Vanni: runs slower than a bullet, can leap over …some small people, super-cool husband, and all-around awesome guy.  I hear he even writes blogs for his wife when she gets too busy!  Oh, and of course, amazingly handsome.  At least that’s what all his students yell (appropriate word) at him daily.

A few years ago I took an amazing trip to Europe with my best friend Joe.  We hopped from city to city, trying to get in as much of what Europe could offer in the short time we were there.  It is my favorite vacation (so far).  We went to many of the same cities Andrea has already written about here, but I’d like to share some photos and comments about one she missed out on: Prague!

Outside of Rome and Paris (maybe), Prague is the most beautiful city I’ve been.  Joe and I went in the spring of 2009 when the Czech Republic was part of Euro zone, but was still trying to meet criteria to become a full member (using the Euro, etc..).  Regardless of what the outlook is for the Euro now, back then it meant (at least for tourist) that the Czech Republic was making huge investments in public infrastructure and doing everything they could to boost their economy (I guess that’s what EVERY country is trying to do…but they seemed to be really putting in the effort at the time).  For us this meant great transportation and hotels, while still being really cheap!!!

The mix between the Gothic buildings and red clay shingles was amazing.

Saint Vitus’ Cathedral

The city was astoundingly beautiful.  I had never imagined that we would find castles and churches that dated back to the 9th Century; I thought everything would have been lost in the many wars that have torn apart that part of the world.  It seemed like no matter where we went, there was something amazing to see!  And after traveling through most of Western Europe, the architecture so strikingly different.   More than once we found ourselves just standing and staring.

The Prague Orloj is a medieval astronomical clock. Yeah, we sat infront of this at least once a day, every day we were in Prague.

When not walking around, we were eating.  Of course.  The food was so good at one restaurant we found that in the 4 days we were there, we ate there 3 times.  And the beer was delicious too!!!

Here’s the place to eat! I don’t think I’ve ever had more fresh tasting food. And yes, Joe did pose for every picture on our 1 month trip with his eyes closed.

Proud to say this was not posed or photoshopped at all! Just an incredibly cute old couple, and the amazing photo skills I have with my trusty point-and-shoot PS A540. Take that big camera junkies! (Yeah, I know Andrea’s one.)

Why I Love Amsterdam (It’s Not Why You Think)

The land of (legal) weed and prostitutes has gotten a bit of a bad reputation as a place that lacks morals and class, but actually, I beg to differ.

Amsterdam is the single most adorable place I have ever been.

I know the words “Red Light District” and “space cakes” don’t usually conjure wholesome up images, but I promise you, Amsterdam is clean, efficient and ridiculously quaint.

When I went to The Netherlands in 2009 with three of my girlfriends, I couldn’t get over how picture-perfect Amsterdam was. Flower boxes on window sills! Cats on cafe tables! Girls in pretty sundresses riding beach cruisers through the city! Couples on boats in the canals! It was like one picturesque postcard after another.

Amsterdam is my kind of place–it has everything I adore. The food is amazing, the people are friendly, the city is clean, the public transit is efficient, and the whole city is drenched in history.

We spent our days perusing the museums–museums of all varieties, like the Anne Frank House (which was equal parts amazing and heart wrenching), and the Sex Museum (which may have been the single most disturbing place I have ever been). We took two amazing bike tours with Mike’s Bike Tours, one through the city to learn about Amsterdam’s history and culture, and one through the countryside, where we saw Amsterdam’s last working windmill and went to a cheese and clog-making farm. So Dutch, so adorable.

When it comes down to it, I’d actually say Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s so livable–I could easily see myself falling into a routine there of riding a bike through the city, sipping coffee in one of the many adorable cafes, napping in the shade in the parks, and having wine on the canals.

Plus…the Red Light District is actually really fun, and not nearly as raucous as you might expect. (I would even venture to say the nightly parties we saw on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand rival any night in the seedy Red Light District for overall wildness!) All in all, it is an amazing city, and you should definitely venture through if you’re ever in the area!

Have you been to Amsterdam? What was your experience?

Beautiful and Complicated Berlin

I’m reading a book right now that’s set in Berlin in 1933, and so my 2009 trip to Berlin has been on my mind.

I loved Berlin–it’s clean, it’s cheap, the public transportation is efficient and easy to understand, the food is great and the locals are really friendly and helpful. It’s hard to rectify the images of Berlin as it is today with the horrors of its past, but in a way, that’s what makes Berlin such a fascinating city. When I was there, I stayed in a hostel in what was formerly East Berlin, and the fact that wouldn’t even have been possible twenty years before was pretty amazing to me. The reunification of Berlin within my lifetime also gives me hope for the future of the Korea’s. Who knows, maybe in another 20 years I can come back to Korea, and safely stay in Pyongyang…

My Love Affair with Roma

“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” — Pico Iyer

This quote pretty much sums up how I feel about Rome. Six years ago, I went to Rome to study abroad. It was my first time to really go out of the country (not counting Canada, where I’ve been many times), and it blew my mind.

Everything about Roma is perfect to me. I love the food, the culture, the sites and the smells. I love the grittiness of the city. Rome isn’t perfectly clean–but that’s not due to neglect, it’s just because it’s ancient. I love the flowers on balconies and in windows, the cobblestone streets, the smell of baking bread and the noise of the boisterous locals. I love the early morning markets, the terrifying mopeds, the sweet gelato, the ridiculously amazing cheese, and the way the whole city is simply steeped in history.

I truly could go on forever about the reasons I love Rome. Even now that I’ve been to twelve countries and probably hundreds of cities, it’s still my favorite, hands down. My heart contracts when I think of Rome, and I get butterflies in my stomach.  In six years I’ve only been back once, but I still think of it as my city, a place I can always call home. I hope I never stop loving Rome.

Dreaming of Paris

Since we both took some really cool trips back before we were blogging, we’re going to devote every Friday (Korean time) to sharing some photos, memories and stories from those trips!

Today, I’m missing Paris. I went to Paris in 2009 with some of my girlfriends, and while we only spent a few days there, and it wasn’t even my favorite place on the trip, lately I have been reminiscing about my time there. I just keep remembering how beautiful it was, and seeing as how it’s supposed to be one of the most romantic cities in the world, I think Matt and I need to go there together! Here are some snapshots from my time in Paris:

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?