Tagged Czech Republic

A relaxing week in Prague

After a short stint in Finland (which included a wedding, spending quality time with my mum, eating twice at my favorite vegetarian restaurant and suffering from a ruptured ear drum due to flying while sick), I returned to Prague. I had an entire week in Prague, but since I still felt a bit under the weather after having a bad flu, I made it a calm week. My days mostly consisted of drinking lots of tea and a little bit of sightseeing.

On my first night in Prague, my Couchsurfing host Jan took me to the coziest little tea house! Here you can sit on the floor while sipping on one of the many different tea blends.
On my first night in Prague, my Couchsurfing host Jan took me to the coziest little tea house! Here you can sit on the floor while sipping on one of the many different tea blends.

Prague is a popular tourist destination so it’s very easy to find a walking tour there. I participated in the Sandeman’s New Europe Free Walking Tour. Sandeman’s is a big company that operates free walking tours in several large cities. It was the first time I participated in a Sandeman’s tour and I have to say they live up to their reputation! The tour was interesting and our guide Colin very engaging. The free walking tour takes approximately three hours.

The Sandeman's free walking tour starts at the astronomical clock tower. Every hour you can see tourists getting underwhelmed by the dancing figurines.
The Sandeman’s free walking tour starts at the astronomical clock tower. Every hour you can see tourists flocking underneath the tower to become underwhelmed by the dancing figurines.
Franz Kafka is was born in Prague and in the city there is a monument honouring him.

The highlight of my trip was probably having a massage. In Prague, there are massage parlors in every corner of the city, so you can just pick and choose one. Many of the massage parlors have discounts during weekdays. I went to Shanti Massage, where they have happy hours from 10 am to 3 pm on weekdays. Between these hours, a 60 minute massage costs 490 Kč (approximately 20 €).

At Shanti Massage, I experienced my first ever Thai massage. It was amazing and I felt great afterwards. Still wondering how a tiny Asian woman can have so much strength...
At Shanti Massage, I experienced my first ever Thai massage. It was amazing and I felt great afterwards. Still wondering how a tiny Asian woman can have so much strength…
The Troja Palace is located north of the city. It is surrounded with gardens and vineyards.
The Troja Palace is located north of the city. It is surrounded with gardens and vineyards. The lush Stromovka park is also located just south of the castle.
Another beautiful park in Prague is Vyšehrad, from where you can enjoy great views over the city.
Another beautiful park in Prague is Vyšehrad, from where you can enjoy great views over the city. Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world, can be seen in the distance.
The Saint Vitus Cathedral is the most famous building in the Prague Castle complex.
The Saint Vitus Cathedral is the most famous building in the Prague Castle complex.
Another beautiful park is Vyšehrad, from where you can enjoy great views over the city.
Prague Castle lies high up on the hill and you can see for miles from here.
I also visited the colourful Jubilee Synagogue on Jerusalem Street.
I also visited the colourful Jubilee Synagogue on Jerusalem Street.

The town of Kutná Hora, approximately 70 kilometres from Prague, makes for a good day trip. There are several organized tours to Kutná Hora from Prague, but the best way is to just go there using local transport. The train ride from Prague to Kutná Hora takes around one hour and costs 205 Kč round-trip.

The most famous sight in Kutná Hora is the Sedlec Ossuary. In this chapel, the bones of approximately 50 000 people have been arranged by a half-blind monk.
The most famous sight in Kutná Hora is the Sedlec Ossuary. In this chapel, the bones of approximately 50 000 people have been arranged by a half-blind monk.
The entire town of Kutná Hora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The entire town of Kutná Hora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I already mentioned Country Life in my previous post, but I can’t praise this place enough. Located right in the city centre, this vegetarian restaurant offers a pay-by-weight buffet for 29,50 Kč / 100 grams. I ate here nearly every single day.

I love pay-by-weight restaurants. Not only can you choose exactly what you want to eat from the buffet, it's also an extremely fair way of pricing food, as you only pay for exactly what you eat. This colourful plate of food cost me 120 Kč (approximately 5 €).
I love pay-by-weight restaurants. Not only can you choose exactly what you want to eat from the buffet, it’s also an extremely fair way of pricing food, as you only pay for exactly what you eat. This colourful plate of food at Country Life cost me 120 Kč (approximately 5 €).
Another nice vegetarian pay-by-weight restaurant is Beas. They have six restaurants in Prague. One hour before closing, the food is 50% off!
Another nice vegetarian pay-by-weight restaurant is Beas. They have six restaurants in Prague with the food costing 19,90 Kč / 100 g. One hour before closing time, the food is 50% off!
I'm really happy I had an entire week in Prague. This way I could take it really easy and slowly see everything I wanted. I got rid of my flu, just in time for my next stop - New York City!
I’m really happy I had an entire week in Prague. This way I could take it really easy and slowly see everything I wanted. I got rid of my flu, just in time for my next stop – New York City!

Taking a rest in Prague

Hippocrates has been quoted to say: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. The past week has shown me just how food can be either a medicine or a poison. I’ve never understood how one should ruin their body and then try to fix it afterwards with all kinds of drugs. How about trying to prevent sickness instead? I hate being sick, so I try to avoid processed food and eat lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and berries instead. Yes, I indulge occasionally, but usually I prefer the feeling of food giving you energy, not making you lethargic. On the road however, it’s not as easy to maintain a healthy diet. Especially in the countries I’ve visited in the past few weeks (Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Czech Republic), food is often laden with fat, dairy, wheat and sugar. I like to try the local cuisine, and usually it’s not a healthy option (and I feel it would be rude to constantly decline).

Yes, I can find vegetarian restaurants in most cities, but spending the last week in a house, where food is prepared for you, my body really took the toll. I am very rarely sick, but after six days in Oslavice, I feel awful. Even though the family was amazing, the food was so different to what I usually eat, I got very ill. I actually had to leave the volunteering position early.

I decided to rent an apartment in Prague to give myself some time to heal (Trying to sleep in a hostel dorm while sick? No thanks!). The good thing about travelling long term, is that I don’t have to feel bad about just sitting inside watching TV, knowing that I will have an entire week to explore Prague. Right now my priority is to get better.

I rented an apartment through Only-apartments. This studio cost 75 € for two nights. It was a really nice place and I got exactly the peace and quiet I needed.
I rented an apartment through Only Apartments. This studio cost 75 € for two nights. It was a really nice place and I got exactly the peace and quiet I needed.

There are so many vegetarian restaurants in Prague, I could just pick and choose one within walking distance and then retreat back to my Gilmore Girls marathon… I don’t care what anyone says, watching a cheesy teenage drama series is a sure-fire way to get better!

Mmm, real food... Thank goodness for Country Life.
Mmm, real food… Thank goodness for Country Life.
The only sightseeing I did was walking back from a restaurant to the apartment. These amazing musicians played with the National Museum as a backdrop.
The only sightseeing I did, was walking back from a restaurant to the apartment. These amazing musicians played with the National Museum as a backdrop.
I opted for an apartment over a hotel room also because I can cook my own food when I'm too tired to walk to a restaurant. It's also a great way to know exactly what I'm putting into my body.
I opted for an apartment over a hotel room also because I can cook my own food when I’m too tired to walk to a restaurant. Cooking your own food is also the best way to know exactly what you’re putting into your body.

I am flying back to Helsinki tonight in order to attend a wedding this weekend. While I’m not looking forward to the flight (flying while sick is generally not the best idea), I am looking forward to my mother’s healthy cooking :) Mum’s food is always the best. Especially while sick.

Helping out in Oslavice

There is no such thing as travelling for free (or if there is, please do tell). Even if you only slept in tents and train stations, walked or hitch-hiked everywhere and rummaged for food in dumpsters, you would still need a budget – at least to buy a backpack and the clothes you wear.

There are ways to travel though that don’t require you to spend money. How about paying for food and accommodation with your time instead? There are several hostels, B&B’s and farms that provide travellers with food and accommodation in exchange for volunteer work. To find such opportunities, you can contact a place directly or use one of three major websites that connect volunteers with hosts:

WWOOF
WWOOF , or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a website that links volunteers with organic farms.

Workaway
Similar to WWOOF, Workaway connects volunteers with farms but also with hostels, families or even schools.

HelpX
This website has a wide array of hosts, from yoga retreats to hostels and from homestays to farms. To contact hosts, you need to pay a 20 € fee, which gives you a two year membership.

By contacting a few places through HelpX, I got the chance to spend six days with a family in Oslavice, a small village in southern Czech Republic. I got my own room with private bathroom, plus food as much as I could eat. It felt like I was treated more as a family member than a volunteer.

Oslavice is a small village with a population of approximately 600 people.
Oslavice is a small village with a population of approximately 600 people.
I spent one week for free in a 500 year old house in a small village in southern Czech Republic.
I spent one week for free in a 500 year old house in the small village in southern Czech Republic.
In exchange of helping around the house, I had my own room with a comfortable bed.
In exchange of helping around the house, I had my own room with a comfortable bed.
My work mainly consisted of playing with two adorable girls.
My work mainly consisted of playing with two adorable girls. I immediately connected with the children despite the language barrier.

I also helped with various tasks in the family’s large garden, did some ironing and made magic wands out of glass beads! The parents of the family run an e-shop and the magic wands are sent as presents to the customers.

The house I stayed in felt like it had been cast a spell upon with one of these wands! It was full of laughter and love.
The house I stayed in felt like it had been cast a spell upon with one of these wands! It was full of laughter and love.
Unfortunately the rainy summer had ruined all the plums and I helped to clean up the garden.
Unfortunately the rainy summer had ruined all the plums and I helped to clean up the garden.
The garden was full of butterflies.
The garden was full of butterflies.

On my day off, the family was heading to the nearby city of Jihlava and they dropped me off in the city centre so I could do some sightseeing.

Jihlava is a nice city, and one of the oldest towns in Czech Republic.
Jihlava is a nice city, and one of the oldest towns in Czech Republic.
Composer Gustav Mahler grew up in Jihlava, and there is a park named after him in the city.
Composer Gustav Mahler grew up in Jihlava, and there is a park named after him in the city.
The town hall is a symbol of Jihlava.
The town hall is a symbol of Jihlava.
The Gate of Holy Mother is the only medieval portal in Jihlava that is still standing.
The Gate of Holy Mother is the only medieval portal in Jihlava that is still standing.

Volunteering is a great way to get a very in-depth look into the lives of locals. With so many different options, only the sky is the limit!

Three cities in a week

After an amazing time in Warsaw, I continued my trip to Poznań. Since I had such a good experience with BlaBlaCar, I used it again to get from Warsaw to Poznań. The trip cost me 25 złoty.

Poznań is a big student city and I actually couchsurfed in a student dormitory! My host didn’t have too many classes so we had a chance to spend some time together.

Colourful merchants' houses and the Ratusz (Town Hall) are some of the main sights on the Old Market Square.
Colourful merchants’ houses and the Ratusz (Town Hall) are some of the main sights in the Old Market Square.
The Town Hall is even more beautiful at night.
The Town Hall is even more beautiful at night.
Lunch at Bioway - definitely the best food I ate in Poland! Bioway is a buffet style restaurant inside a shopping centre built in an old brewery. All food is vegetarian and paid for by weight (3,29 złoty / 100 grams).
Lunch at Bioway – definitely the best food I ate in Poland! Bioway is a buffet style restaurant inside Stary Browar, a shopping centre built in an old brewery. All food is vegetarian and paid for by weight (3,29 złoty / 100 grams).
The oldest cathedral in Poland sits on an island in the Warta river.
The oldest cathedral in Poland sits on an island in the Warta river.
Rowers going up and down Lake Malta, just east of the Old Town. The calm surroundings of this artificial lake are the top spot to wind down after a day in the city.
Rowers going up and down Lake Malta, just east of the Old Town. The calm surroundings of this artificial lake are the top spot to wind down after a day in the city.

From Poznań I took the train to Wrocław (33,90 złoty). In Wrocław I couchsurfed with a fun couple and their beautiful husky. As I was in Wrocław during the weekend, I could spend a lot of time with my hosts.

Couldn't have asked for a better room mate!
I couldn’t have asked for a better room mate!
There are more than 300 of these small dwarfs around the city. You can spot a dwarf with a map outside the tourist information or a dwarf with pills outside the pharmacy. Here's a dwarf withdrawing money!
There are more than 300 of these small gnomes around the city. You can spot a gnome carrying a map outside the tourist information or a gnome taking pills outside the pharmacy. Here’s a gnome withdrawing money!
Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) is the oldest part of the city.
Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) is the oldest part of the city.
The Japanese Garden (Ogród Japonski) is situated in Park Szczytnicki, just east of the Old Town. Entry to the Japanese Garden costs 4 złoty.
The peaceful Japanese Garden (Ogród Japonski) is situated in Szczytnicki Park, just east of the Old Town. Entry to the Japanese Garden costs 4 złoty.

After nearly two weeks in Poland, it was time to move on to Czech Republic. Even though Wrocław is located close to Czech border, I found out that it’s not easy to find a good connection to Czech Republic from Wrocław – unless you want to go to Prague. If you want to visit another city first, the best bet would be to go by car. I couldn’t find a suitable ride so here’s what I did:

Step 1: Take the tram from couchsurfing hosts to Wrocław bus station.

Step 2: Take a bus from Wrocław to Katowice. I used Polskibus, who only sell tickets through their website. The trip from Wrocław to Katowice cost 25 złoty.

Step 3: Take the train from Katowice to Ostrava in Czech Republic . Since it’s an international train, the price is much higher than regular trains (70 złoty).

Step 4: Take a trolley bus from Ostrava train station to a pre-arranged meeting point.

Step 5: Carpool through BlaBlaCar from Ostrava to Brno (12 złoty).

Step 6: Get dropped off at IKEA, take bus to city centre of Brno.

After I got to the city centre I walked into Hostel Eleven and luckily they had some space. A bed in a four bed dorm cost 390 Kč (approximately 15 €). Hostel Eleven is a clean and modern hostel right in the city centre. When I checked in, the receptionist gave me some ear plugs as a welcoming gift. Unfortunately I needed them. As the hostel is so centrally located, there is a lot of noise from traffic, people and construction sites just outside your window. The loudest noise though, was a snoring room mate… On my second night I had the entire dorm to myself, which felt like such incredible luxury.

I was only in Brno for one full day. It was quite a cold and rainy day so I mostly spent time inside, sitting in cafés and visiting churches. I was in Brno on a Monday so unfortunately all the museums and art galleries were closed.

Brno is the second largest city in Czech Republic.
Brno is the second largest city in Czech Republic.
I ate lunch at the macrobiotic restaurant Zdravý Život. The food was quite bland but the atmosphere was pretty neat.
I ate lunch at the macrobiotic restaurant Zdravý Život. The food was quite bland but the interior was pretty neat.
I continued to Kiwi Raw Food for dessert. This is the first raw food restaurant in Czech Republic.
I continued to Kiwi Raw Food for dessert. This is the first raw food restaurant in Czech Republic.
From Špilberk Park you have good views of Brno. The 17 hectare park is the most significant park in Brno, with the massive Špilberk Castle located in the middle of the park.
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on Petrov Hill rings its bells everyday at 11 am to commemorate Brno's success in being the only city to repel the Swedes during the Thirty Years' War.
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on Petrov Hill rings its bells everyday at 11 am to commemorate Brno’s success in being the only city to repel the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War.

I found a small yoga studio, Yoga Lokah, close to my hostel. I had attended a few yoga classes in Poland, but they were all in Polish. Nada, who is the owner of Yoga Lokah, runs weekly yoga classes is English for medical and veterinary students. She was kind enough to let me participate in the class.

A 60 minute class at Yoga Lokah cost 100 Kč.
A 60 minute class at Yoga Lokah costs 100 Kč.
At the yoga studio, Nada also sells this delicious chocolate, handmade in Brno.
At the yoga studio, Nada also sells this delicious chocolate, handmade in Brno.
The organic restaurant chain Rebio has four locations around Brno. I ate in two of them. The food is quite basic but you can pick and choose from the buffet and then pay by weight. I recommend going here at lunch time, when the food is still warm and fresh.
The organic restaurant chain Rebio has four locations around Brno. I ate in two of them. The food is quite basic but you can pick and choose from the vegetarian buffet and then pay by weight. I recommend going here at lunch time, when the food is still warm and fresh.
My last stop in Brno was the Capuchin Crypt (entry 60 Kč). All the bodies here have been naturally mummified. This place is creepy, yet interesting.
My last stop in Brno was the Capuchin Crypt (entry 60 Kč). All the bodies here have been naturally mummified. This place is creepy, yet interesting.