jc travels

I was robbed of my Prague experience almost exactly 2 years ago due to a sticky situation involving a 70lb suitcase and perhaps a bit too much alcohol the night before.

Anyway, it’s about time I went back to finish what I started. And what better time than this particular weekend, when one of my best friends (hi Dustin) from my hometown was visiting this side of the pond?

I went into work at 6am that Friday morning – because 1) I wanted to maximize my weekend, and 2) I was just being stingy with my PTO, haha. There’s something nice about being the only one in the office though. No one constantly hovering around my desk, and I can shamelessly play my music as loudly as I please.

After 8 incredibly sleepy hours and no lunch break, I hopped on a bus and took a glorious 5 hour nap. The next thing I knew – I was in Prague.

We had dinner at a random Italian restaurant close to our place, Cicala Trattoria. Looking in, it appeared completely empty and really didn’t resemble a restaurant at all. It was something more like what you’d imagine a grandma’s living room would look like. Before my doubt got the better of me, an old man led us down into the basement, where a very quaint, homey restaurant was nested – the room filled with warm lighting and the hum of soft conversations. And the coolest part (although random), lots of pictures of Morgan Freeman on the wall – and Morgan Freeman makes anything cool. I guess he likes this place.

Later that evening, a series of mistakes (i.e. following a travel guide written in 2003, and assuming nightlife started around 2am like in Berlin) led us to an extremely kitschy bar-club hybrid. Mostly because it was the only place that was still open. We were easily the youngest people there, which is unusual. Fun night, regardless – or maybe it was that extra shot the quirky bartender poured us because he didn’t have change for our bill. (Clever).

The next morning, we managed to lug our hungover bodies to a very cute brunch spot called Café Lounge. After a few glasses of water (much-needed), coffee, and a disappointingly tiny poached egg tartine (delicious though) – we were good to go.

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It’s summer now, and I’ve got a bad case of the travel bug. And it seems to have spread to a couple of my co-workers as well.

I’ve been taking for granted the fact that Germany is so centrally located in Europe, and that weekend trips are something that I should be doing more often. Is it too late to make my resolutions for the year?

It was going to be the hottest weekend of the year, a whopping 38°C (about 100°F – but it’s about time I try to get acquainted to the idea of Celsius). A week before, a series of mundane work hours led to an impulsive booking of a flight to Zurich. What better way to escape the summer scorch by running away to the mountains where there’s snow year-round? (Although ultimately we didn’t get to the snow because we couldn’t afford it. Surprise, surprise!)

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To be quite frank, I didn’t find Zurich to be so interesting. From what I saw, nothing really stood out or gave it a unique character – except maybe Altstadt (Old Town), the Limmat River, and the areas around it. Or maybe because the extortionate prices were a total enthusiasm buzzkill (7,20 CHF for an iced coffee?? No thanks!). But really, the best part of Zurich for us was the convenience of traveling to neighboring cities, with more things to do and see.

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Copenhagen. The city of all my design dreams – from the architecture of buildings to the decorations they’re dressed in, the monochrome color palettes and sans-serif font faces, the beautifully designed bikeways (Google: Cykelslangen), the street art, and even the food is beautiful (see: Aamann’s smørrebrød). Simplistic yet sophisticated design that is refreshingly pure and unexaggerated. What can I say, this place is easy on the eyes.

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Behind the beauty is efficient, innovative functionality. Driverless metros that come every 4 minutes, protected bike roadways designed with elevated foot rests for cyclists and intercity “cycle super highways”, a contained, autonomous community of alternative cultures and free artistic expression, and more. On top of that, Copenhagen is an incredibly environmentally-friendly city – the first carbon neutral capital in the world, in fact!

The only downside? Everything here is going to tear up your bank accounts. It is crazy expensive. And to be honest, after living in Berlin, I’ve become quite reluctant to shell out more than 3 euros for a beer, let alone 10! But hey, I’m finally in Copenhagen. So we splurged. We’ll recover eventually.

We stayed at a nice flat in Amagerbro, conveniently located by both the airport and the city center. Public transportation makes everything so easy to get to around here, but really traveling on bike or foot are just as easy. It’s a walkable city, for sure.

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May in Berlin has been nothing but great. As the winter starts to make its way out, the days are longer, the skies are sunnier, restaurants are starting to dust off their patio seating, and my boyfriend is in town! And the cherry on top – lots of German national holidays. That means I finally have time to explore the rest of Europe! Which is what I originally intended to do moving here anyways, before my life fell into the hands of my job. Oops.

#1 on my list of travel destinations has been Greece for the past few years now, but I just never found the right opportunity to come along until now. A short, 4 day trip to Thessaloniki. Though only a small part of Greece, it was amazing nonetheless and left me wanting to come back to see the rest of this country. (The views flying above the Grecian islands are incredible. Getting a window seat both ways was one of the highlights of my trip, seriously.)

We took it easy our first afternoon in Thessaloniki, getting to know the city. Strolling along the waterfront never gets old – we did it at least once every day we were here. Along it are restaurants and bars filled with locals, young couples sitting along the edge of the water, a modern but low-key bar situated on the quay with a killer view of the Aegean Sea, and the iconic ‘Umbrellas’ structure standing so brilliantly tall, backlit by the glowing sun setting behind it.

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Had a couple of days off work for Easter, so left Berlin for a little weekend getaway to Chicago. Maybe traveling to the other side of the world for just 3 days is a little over-the-top, but I really needed this vacation. Both for my sanity and just to escape the cold, gloomy weather in Berlin right now. I know, I know – Chicago is usually much colder but we were fortunate enough to catch the small window of spring sunshine these past couple of days.

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Being the nerd I am, I prepared a Google spreadsheet of all the places to go, sights to see, and things to eat – and scheduled it so we could cram as much of it into the 3 measly days as possible. And not going to lie, we were pretty successful in doing so! Although the real champs are our stomachs for bearing through my hefty list of restaurants, bakeries, and cafés.

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When it comes to short periods of travel, I believe both in thoroughly planning ahead but also staying spontaneous. That way, you have a plan to start off on, but when you stumble upon something along the way and it feels right, go with it and see where it takes you. Most of the time, those are the things that turn out the best anyways. Coincidentally, I was reading an Anthony Bourdain interview before bed last night and he gets it – “Everything about it was unexpected, but it came together. The beer was cold, the right song — something by Peter Tosh – came on the radio. It was a happy accident, and it was the best jerk chicken I’ve ever had. There’s something to be said for letting great meals just happen to you.” (There was one particular ‘happy accident’ on this trip that was a total game-changer, but we’ll get to that later.)

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