Prague to Paris

Bridges spanning the Vltava River in Prague

The city of Prague is downright charming. Astonishingly, Prague emerged from WWII with its medieval old town almost entirely intact. Visiting the city is like stepping into a fairy tale. Visitors stroll elaborately decorated cobblestone street and sidewalks, sip coffee in hidden courtyards, and admire the whimsically painted buildings.

Fall colors in Prague

The Charles Bridge spanning the Vltava River

To get to Old Town, we crossed the famous Charles Bridge. Construction of the bridge began in 1357 and finished over 150 years later. The bridge is over 2,000 feet long and is lined with thirty baroque-style statues of saints and patron saints.

Many visitors “pet” this dog on the bronze relief at the base of St. Jan Nepomucky on the Charles Bridge for luck

prague

We climbed the eastern tower of the Charles Bridge to get a birds eye view

What we loved most about Prague was the unique and individual styles and colors of each building

Art Nouveau facades

We spent most of our time in Prague walking around the city in awe. The architecture is unique and each street contains a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings all living in harmony and perfectly preserved.

Speaking of unique and individual architecture, look at all these different windows that Dan photographed over our three days in Prague!

The Old New Synagogue (left) is Europe’s oldest active synagogue, built in the 13th century. The Spanish Synogague on the right, built in 1868.

Near Old Town lies the Jewish Quarter which was formerly the Jewish ghetto. Starting in the 13th century, Jewish people were ordered to vacate their homes and relocate to this area. Over the centuries, Jews were banned from living anywhere else in Prague. This also meant that they had a restricted area to bury their dead. At the Old Jewish Cemetery, the tombs were layered on top of one another as the cemetery ran out of space. This resulted in the cemetery having up to 12 layers of graves with possibly over 100,000 burials.

Top: The walls of the Pinkas Synagogue are covered with the names of Prague citizens deported and killed in the Nazi concentration camps. Below: Chaotic headstones of the Old Jewish Cemetery

Prague is a very walkable city. We spent our days strolling through the cobblestone streets and over the many bridges that cross the river. In the center of the Vltava River sits Střelecký Island, a green oasis in the middle of the city. The entire island is a park surrounded by beautiful trees and gravel paths.

Faces

Strolling through the park on Střelecký Island

Scenes from one of our morning walks along the river

Public art around Prague

The John Lennon Wall. Toward the end of Communism in the 1980s, students started writing John Lennon lyrics on this wall as a way to air their grievances

Prague at a glance

The geometrically cobbled streets of Prague

Old and modern trams

Swans on the Vltava River. There were so many!

Bridges spanning the Vltava River

Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry’s Dancing House, also known as Fred and Ginger

The Charles Bridge at night

Horse drawn carts in Old Town Square

Old Town Square dates to the 12th century. The square is surrounded by beautiful historic buildings with colorful Renaissance and Baroque facades.  At over 80 meters, the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn towers above the square and surrounding buildings.

Looking down at Old Town Square from Old Town Hall Tower

View from Old Town Hall Tower

The Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn towers above the buildings that surround the Old Town Square in Prague. Built in the 14th century, the church’s towers are 80 meters high.

Every hour on the hour, visitors gather in front of the Astronomical Clock, the oldest one still in operation. On the hour, the 12 apostles emerge from the clock and march past the clock as death waves an hourglass.  The show is concluded with a crowing rooster. Built in 1410, the clock displays the time, the moon phase, time of sunset and sunrise, and the placement of Sun and Moon in Zodiac.

The Astronomical Clock

From Prague we left Lina and Joe and headed to Paris to visit our friend Johannes before flying to Iceland. Paris, like Prague is an extremely walkable city. In fact, it is possible to cross the entire city by foot in only a few hours. We spent two days walking up, down, and across the city stopping at cafes for the occasional coffee or beer.

The Eiffel Tower

Strolling the streets of Paris with Johannes

We had a great time catching up with Johannes and having tasty meals and good times with him and his friends. From Paris we jetted to Iceland to start our last adventure before a brief respite back home in the USA. Iceland here we come!

Singapore…..It’s Alright After All!

I’ll be honest…I didn’t think we were going to like Singapore very much. Among budget travelers, the island-city-state has a bit of a reputation for being sterile, soul-less, and too expensive compared to it’s grittier, less wealthy neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia. After spending some time there, however, we’d have to mostly disagree with those opinions.

Supertrees Grove!

There has been a ton of development around Singapore’s city core in order to transform the “Garden City” into the “City in a Garden”. Essentially this is an official plan to make the city more green, literally – with parks and greenspace, and figuratively – with environmentally advanced architectural design, utilizing rainwater catchment and cooling systems, solar energy, etc..  One of the centerpieces of this plan is Gardens by the Bay, with it’s award winning conservatories and dramatic Supertree Grove. The Supertrees consist of massive tree-like structures with hanging ferns, epiphytes, bromeliads, and flowers cascading down their sides. The Supertree Grove is a very public greenspace – open, free and surrounded by gardens and endless walkways.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

The elevated walkway through the Supertrees

Nightly light show in the Supertree Grove

In the Supertrees canopy

Singapore proved to be a great place to walk and get around on your own. The inner harbour is situated so you can walk a large loop taking in Singapore’s downtown skyline, the space-age Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Helix Bridge and many other architectural sights. The public transportation system was one of the best I’ve experienced…anywhere. Clean (no food, drinks, or gum allowed!), efficient (didn’t have to wait more then ten minutes for the bus or train the entire 5 days we were there) super easy to use (top up your transit card and use anywhere) and equitable (fare was based on actual distance traveled). After being in a few Indonesian cities over the last month where walking anywhere was hazardous, it was refreshing to be in a urban area that you could move around independently in.

The Helix Bridge and Marina Bay Sands Hotel by day and by night.

Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories at Gardens by the Bay.

Singapore’s ArtScience Museum with the city skyline in the background

Rhino

A random Salvador Dali (!!!) sculpture on a city sidewalk

There was also great public art all over the city.  Kate and I walked by this crazy animal sculpture (with giraffe legs, rhino body and head, with sea urchins stacked on top of it) for 3 days before finally looking down at the info plate to realize it was a Salvador Dali sculpture…not exactly what we were expecting.  The Ritz-Carlton Hotel also houses an impressive collection of (mostly pop) art that you can check out for free (they encourage it!).

A sampling of the dozens of orchids at the National Orchid Garden. The one at the top left is Singapore’s National Flower.

One of our best experiences in the city was the Singapore Botanic Gardens. This large (free) park is home to a huge array of tropical plants and is a great place to retreat from the concrete and steel of the city. It is also home to the National Orchid Garden (not free) which we also were pleasantly surprised with. The garden hosted the widest array of orchids I have seen in one place – both cultivated and native – as well as many other fascinating plants (and lizards – see below). We spent half the day roaming around SBG before hopping on a train to Little India for lunch.

Torch Ginger flower

Video below: A meter-long monitor lizard roaming the Singapore Botanic Gardens

An inquisitive Green Crested Lizard in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. These lizards can change color (like chameleons) if threatened.

Singapore is a very multi-cultural city. The country has four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. These languages represent Singapore’s colonial past(English) as well as most of it’s current inhabitants – Chinese, Malaysians, and Indians. These demographics spill over into an eclectic mix of religions as well as some awesome food.

Eat like a local – the hawkers center in Little India

The food was the best part of Little India – cheap, plentiful, spicy, and delicious!

The city has tons of hawkers centers, where dozens to hundreds of food carts operate on a daily basis. Kate and I sampled many of these but our favorites were the ones in Little India and Chinatown, which also happened to be the most colorful parts of the city. The food at the hawkers centers was cheap, delicious and as authentic as it gets (thanks for all the suggestions Laura!). We are not going to China or India on our trip so we were pretty excited to get the culinary experience of being in those places.

Ganesha on a Hindu Temple in Little India

Colors and clothes in Little India

Window in Little India

The colors of Little India!

Flowers for sale in Little India

Chinatown

Colorful Chinatown

Getting ready for a party in Chinatown

The verdict:

Sterile: – ok, maybe a bit, but it was really nice to be in a clean place that was not covered in plastic rubbish (like much of Southeast Asia).

Soul-less: definitely not – just take one bite of fresh noodles or masala from a hawkers cart and it will fill your soul. Sometimes, though, it felt like other parts of the city were one big interconnected shopping mall (but a wonderful, cool, air conditioned shopping mall…..with ice cream).

Too expensive: other than lodging, Singapore was pretty cheap – this all depends on what you do while you are there, though.  Public transportation and walking – cheap, eating from hawkers centers – cheap, checking out public art, parks and gardens – totally free.

Overall, we had a really good time in Singapore and would recommend to anyone traveling long-term around Southeast Asia.  After being in mostly rural Indonesia for the past month, it felt like we had stepped into a futuristic land. We even stayed an extra day (to get a few more tasty meals in) before heading north to Malaysia.