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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Salam!

I knew after the first of the year that I would be returning home to Denver and felt the strong NEED to book one last trip before I moved away from London and all the convenience of travelling from here. After having explored Europe quite a bit over the last year, I was really disappointed that I wasn't able to take the photography safari to South Africa that I was tentatively planning for early 2012.  A friend of mine at work had mentioned that she had been wanting to visit Marrakesh for some time and I was quick to jump on board.  This would give me a chance to visit Africa before I left London but also have a travel buddy to join me as well.  I had heard from several people that Marrakesh wasn't the best of places to go as a solo female traveler so I was actually really happy to have someone to join me on the holiday!

Not really knowing much about the area it was so interesting to see the blend of Arabic and French culture that makes up the region around Marrakesh.  Most of the people there were fluent in both French and Arabic as well as some regional dialects as well that were more common with the mountain and dessert people.  Lindsay and I were able to patch together our very poor French enough to communicate with the merchants but it was definitely useful that we spoke and understood at least a bit of French or I think it would have been a real struggle. When I was planning the trip, people that have travelled there before had told me as a female going there I would love it or I would hate it and i have to say I really loved it there!   The weather was amazing, the scenery and architecture was beautiful,  most of the people we dealt with were very friendly and I found the cultural aspect really fascinating.

Me in my 'modesty scarf'
This is the first time I have visited a Muslim dominated city so we took it pretty serious and tried to adapt a bit.  Lindsay and I both wore scarfs around our necks each day we went out.  We began calling them our 'modesty' scarves but really it was just to be respectful of their culture and not to show too much skin in public.  Even though we did cover up most days we went out and were both dressed very modestly the entire time we were there, we were still greeted with constant cat calls and honking horns as we walked down the street as two females alone.  The comments were so over the top that it did start to become really amusing.  It wasn't uncommon to hear a man whisper under his breath 'boobs' or 'nice ass' as we walked by.  With the two of us there together, we kind of laughed it off but I do understand completely why a woman alone there would feel really uncomfortable by the constant attention you get from the men.  While the comments were pretty constant while we walked through the souks and markets, they were never physically aggressive so with the two of us there together it never felt overly threatening.  If anything the women were far more physically aggressive.  When we were in the markets, the women in full face scarves and long dresses would walk up and grab your arm slipping 2, 3 and before you know it 10 silver bracelets up your arm as they start the negotiation for what you will pay.  It is nearly impossible to get away because for every bracelet you pull off to hand back to them they have already slipped three more on!  I finally gave in and paid for the set that I had been cuffed with which did come in handy later in the day when other women came up with the next line of assault.  I'd simply throw my arm up in the air and give them the look of 'defeat that said 'you're too late, your friends already got me'.  The henna women in the square were even worse.  They came at you from all directions and even if you had no interest in henna they would start spraying the ink on your hands with what looked like a syringe as you walked by and then try to charge you for it!  I was pretty aggressive with them and told them no but my friend Lindsay, being English, was far more polite and before 30 seconds were out her entire hand and arm were covered in the brown gooey mess!  The women then proceeded to ask for a fortune in payment for a service she never even wanted in the first place.  We later recounted the story with the Australian girl who was staying in the same riad as us and she had had a similar experience in her travels through Morocco -she had termed the attack a 'henna rape' which in retrospect seemed pretty fitting.  Although it may seem a bit off putting the humor that resulted in all these experiences almost made it all worthwhile.

Aside from the cultural experiences, we were also able to see some amazing sites as well.  Our first day in Morocco, we had booked a trip out of the city to do a short camel ride and hike in the Atlas mountains.  I was actually really excited for the camel ride as I felt like it was going to be a real trek through treacherous terrain on the back of a camel.  It turned out to be a bit less adventurous as we were simply put on the camels while a man walked in front of them leading us up a trail that lead from one village to the next.  It was still a very beautiful and scenic walk.  Camel rides are also nicer to think about then to actually experience.  The wobbly gate of a camel means that you are rolling your body the entire time to maintain balance while riding and at one time I commented to Lindsay that I thought it was probably a pretty good core workout. 





My bum was pretty numb by the time the ride ended so I was ready to move on to the lunch/hiking portion of the day! We walked to the top of one of the hillsides looking over the mountains and the villages below.  The setting was AMAZING and just as we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, the call came resounding from all the mosques in the area - it really was chilling to hear the chanting on the loud speakers resonate through the mountains. 


Lindsay and me in the Atlast Mountains



I would say if you do go to Marrakesh, plan in a day to get lost in the souks (the markets).  The souks are really just a series of alleys that twist and turn while motorcycles and bicycles and carts whizz by narrowly missing you.  It is a bit chaotic and its quite easy to just get lost inside them.  Sometimes I think that is what holidays are for though - getting lost - so I didn't really mind.  By the end of the holiday we were actually quite good at navigating our way though them.  When you come out of the markets, you pop out at the main square which in the afternoon into the evening has several different street performers, anything from snake charmers to musicians to dancers.  The square really comes alive and in the evenings several stalls are set up to serve food to to the tourists.  Lindsay, again being far more polite them me, was accosted a second time in the square by the snake charmers who walked up behind her and wrapped a small snake around her neck demanding a tip for a picture with the snake.  We snapped the shot and ran away having given them a nominal tip however not before the snake had pooed all down the front of her scarf and dress.  Turns out that the snake was more afraid then we were I guess.  I think as long as you have the right attitude and you take it in stride it is all just part of the experience of being in Marrakesh really.





 We visited a palace, a tomb, an old school that had been converted into a museum and a huge garden that sat just outside of the walled portion of the city dedicated to Yves St. Laurent.  All of the sites we visited had one thing in common - amazing tile work!  The intricate designs were beautiful and you could turn your head from side to side and from ceiling to floor and still not be able to take it all in. Many of the designs carried meanings and you'd see them repeated in different places.  The mis-match of designs was beautiful when it all came together.  It was easy to get carried away with the feel of the place as it felt like you were stepping back to some exotic time and place.  There always seem to be the scent of spice in the air and the taste of mint tea in your mouth. I ended up buying some pottery and a lamp to remind me of the decorative feel and some spices and tea to remind me of the smell and tastes.  I love that you can take a piece of a place home with you to remind you why you loved being there in the first place!





I think my travels over the last year have opened my eyes to how different people really are all across the world.  Each place has something to appreciate if you go in with an open mind and don't judge others cultures.  The city could definitely be very overwhelming at times but all in all its was an amazing experience and I think a great way to wrap up my travels from my London adventure. I will miss being able to plan my weekend getaways to places that seemed so out of reach when I was in Denver but it has also given me a real appreciation for everything that my home has to offer as well.  I will cherish every memory that I have captured in the last year and look forward to future exploration of my own home when I get back!

Shukran  (Thank you)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Becoming British-ified?

Was rather funny this week when I was talking to another American, a man who relocated to London five years ago from Chicago.  He asked if I had become Britishified yet?  I laughed because although I thought I had a vague inclination as to what he meant, I was curious what his thoughts were.  He said on his first visit home his mother was really worried about him because she thought he was depressed because he used to be really smiley but he just explained that he was becoming more British and they just have more somber dispositions.  It's funny because the opposite is also true, most Brits will comment about how 'friendly' Americans are when they talk about their holidays to the US.   He also commented that when he first moved here, he thought the people were really rude but has now come to accept that its just part of the culture in general to keep to yourself and not really talk to others.  So here are some ways that I feel like I have become British-ified and then a list of ways I am holding on to my American self :




British-ified Attributes :
  • I no longer strike up conversations with strangers standing next to me in public settings.  When I first got here, I did but people either looked at my like I was a silly tourist American or worse that I was just plain crazy.  I learned quickly that Brits in public are not looking for casual conversation to pass the time and that the preference is to keep to themselves.  I have gotten more use out of my iPod here then I did the entire time I travelled throughout the US for work.
  • I have begun drinking tea at least twice a day.  I know that 'tea time' is kind of a cliche way that Americans think about the English but it's a cliche for a reason.  They literally do drink hot tea with milk at several intervals throughout the day.  I find that now I drink tea at least twice a day (and sometimes more), once in the morning when I'm starting my day at work and then typically around two in the afternoon.  The kicker was when I was craving tea at home over the weekend and made myself a cup with no peer pressure at all from my co-workers.
  • I started using the word 'quid'.  Quid is to pound as buck is to dollar.  For whatever reason, when I try to say pound I often slip up and say dollar instead.   So to stop my slips, I found myself saying 'quid' instead because for whatever reason it rolled off the tongue a bit better.  My American co-worker made fun of me last week when he heard me refer to a lunch that we could pick up for 'a couple of quid' - he said he's lost all respect for me as a fellow American expat.
  • I know who Take That is now.  I had never heard of this boy band group which is apparently the equivalent to the Backstreet Boys back home.  They had a come back tour this summer and their music was all over the radio and I have to admit I did download one of their songs from iTunes last week - what have I become?  I didn't even listen to American boy band groups before!
  • I have an automatic top up on my Oyster card now.  One of my co-workers once commented that that's how they can tell American tourists apart from Americans living in London.  Oyster cards are the common form to pay for public transports on local buses, trains and tubes.  Public transport is such at the center of everyday life for me now.  I have the tube map, bus schedule, tfl website and the trainline apps all downloaded on my blackberry.  I have to learn what 'zone 1 - 6' mean and before I go anywhere, I have to ask myself what form of transport I'm going to take, what are my available options for transport, will trains/buses still be running when it's time to come back home,  can I carry anything I'm going to buy while I'm out on the bus/train back home?  I do miss jumping in my car without a thought in the world about planning my journey for the day!
  • I think the two most common topics of conversation I have with people is either about the weather or about people's journey on transport.  The conversations are typically short as neither of these two things changes too much from day to day.
  • I now go grocery shopping several times per week.  I typically only shop for a few meals at a time.  The fact that I only have a college dorm room sized refrigerator and no freezer at all really does stop me from buying anything too excessive.  I do think I throw a lot less food away now though so perhaps this is a good thing.
  • I have become a frequent visitor of the local pub.  Pub crawls, pub lunch, pub after work drinks - the pub is a central point for all British social interaction.  These evenings usually consists of several adults binge drinking from 5:30PM until the Pub closes around 11 or midnight.  The only time when the volume of the English voice seems to rise is when there are large amounts of alcohol consumed, which also incidentally many times also leads to flashing - who knew (not on my part so don't worry Mum) !
  • I have started calling 'cookies' by the more common term here of 'biscuits'.
  • I now struggle with what I mean when I say the word 'football' - I mean soccer, no football, no soccer - you get the gist.
Ways I have avoided becoming British-ified:
  • I still can't bring myself to say 'cheers' or 'ta' as a salutation or a thank you.  It just doesn't even sound right rolling off my tongue unless I have a drink in my hand when I do it (or rather several drinks already gone).
  • I have yet to have a Sunday Roast.  Sunday roast is a English tradition of having a meal of roasted meat, veg and potatoes on Sunday afternoon. 
  • I still have a hard time pronouncing something spelled 'Derby' as 'Darby'.
  • I am horrible bad at pub quizzes.  In my defense most of the questions were related to obscure British topics or shows I had never seen or sports I'd never heard of but still I don't think this is something I will ever become any better at no matter how long I stay in the UK.
  • I don't think I'll ever get into the legging fashion trend, just don't have the butt for it!
I'm sure there are lots more that I haven't thought of but these are my observations for tonight :) If you have any to share about cultural differences - any culture - feel free to add! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Escaping to paradise ...

So I think most people know that one of the big reasons I moved to London was to give me the opportunity to travel and see more of the world.   I set a goal for myself at the off set of this year that I would travel to at least five countries outside the UK by the end of 20111.   In addition, I sat down and made a list of all the European cities that I'd like to see first.  Most of my travel this year was planned by deciding what weekend I had available to get away and then searching all the cities I was interested in seeing and finding the best deals for the time that I had to go.  The ONE trip that I had planned out from the very beginning was Greece and more specifically the Greek islands.  When I finally had a full week off work, I knew exactly what the destination would be. 

Greece for me held the mystery of ancient gods and cities, the crisp, clean waters of the Aegean Sea, the white washed domed villages, not to mention the amazing food. To be honest, my goal for the holiday was truly just relaxation.  I wanted a slow paced, chilled vacation where I wasn't stressing out or waking up early to rush around and see all the tourist sights.  Having said that, I didn't think I could go to Greece without at least spending some time in Athens.  I settled on 3 days in Athens and 4 days in Santorini for my week long holiday.

I booked at a hotel in Athens that was right in the center of the Plaka with is the old town area within the city.  Most of the key tourist sights are within walking distance and since I was only going to be in Athens a short time, I decided that location was probably the most important factor for this hotel.  It was an amazing location.  The hotel itself had simple, clean rooms and pretty friendly staff but the location was well worth it.  I would recommend it to anyone that really wants to be in the center of the sights as well as having great access to the tavernas and shopping in the old town area (Adrian Hotel http://www.douros-hotels.com/view_hotels.asp?hotel_id=2).  Breakfast is included in the room price and is served each morning on the rooftop terrace, from which you can see the Acropolis and ancient ruins of the Parthenon.

I have found that if I have a limited amount of time in a city, I really do enjoy joining a tour group to hit the key sights.  If I have a lot of time to wander around on my own I enjoy that as well, however, tour groups do allow you to see the most important points and the guides usually will give you tidbits of information or point out specific points of interest that you would have likely missed having seen it on your own.   My tour included entrance into the Acropolis which is in all fairness one of the core sights that everyone sees when visiting the city.  It is amazing to wander around the site of the ancient city and imagine all the different forms that is has taken in its evolution over the centuries.  Each culture, leader, invader putting their own fingerprint on the history found within the ruins.  There is a lot of work to restore parts of the debris so it does take away a bit from the viewing however there is definitely something special about Athens.

The people were really friendly in Athens.  Each night the waiters would take the time to talk to me, asking where I was from and how I was enjoying Greece.  Each meal come out with a complimentary shot of Ouzo at the end (ouch!).  One evening I was even invited out for drinks with a nice Greek gentleman who left me laughing so hard at his cheesy pickup lines, I had to excuse myself and go back to my hotel.  But it's all part of the experience right ? And he did buy me a few drinks and rose so it wasn't a total waste.... Thanks for the story Marco.

Off to Santorini! This has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world!  The unique architecture with the towns built right into the wall of the volcanic caldera make exploring so much fun. Once again, I found hotel paradise.  The B&B I booked at in Oia was in the perfect location for watching the sunset each night and was built in the traditional style of a cave!  I had a terrace right off my room that was the perfect spot for reading, drinking my wine and watching the sun go down.  I intended this part of my holiday to just be a relaxing escape and that was exactly what I got.  I haven't been to the other Greek Islands but I would definitely recommend Santorini to anyone that wants to get away a bit and enjoy some amazing scenery.

Greece was amazing!  The pictures just do not do it justice to be honest.  I'm so thankful for the experiences I have had this year and Greece was definitely a lifelong dream come true and didn't let me down at all!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Never miss a chance to linger in the moment ...

This may be a strange post for me but I was writing in my journal one night in Santorini at sunset and thought I would share it here :) If it sounds a bit sentimental, keep in mind I had already had a few glasses of wine by this time... I will post more about Greece this week when I get a chance to jot it all down...

I do feel very fortunate for the life I have been blessed with.  I have been given a many great opportunities to see some absolutely amazing places.  I like to think that when life has given me a chance I have taken it more often than I have passed it by.  Tonight I am in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and i think about the trade offs.  My life certainly isn't everything I had hoped it would be by this time in my life.  I like to think I have made the most of the life I have.  And even now after watching an amazing sunset over the Aegean Sea, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to jazz in one of the best B&B's I have ever stayed in ... I think about how I would love to be sharing this experience with someone else.  Every place I go I think of my friends and family and how each of them would enjoy pieces of this place for different reasons.  Why are people so afraid of taking chances I wonder? Every time I have offered to share experiences all I get in return is "no money right now" or "just don't have the time right now".  There is never the perfect time to run off I suppose.  I'm definitely not under the perfect financial circumstance right now and probably spent far more on this holiday then I can afford but WHO CARES? What if I never got this chance again?  And never got to experience this amazing place?

When I'm old, looking back on my life, I will not remember that I spent too much money going to Greece.  I will remember the amazing blue water, the remarkable villages, friendly people and the AMAZING sunset that I am seeing right now ...

Life is short, never miss a chance to linger in a moment because right now is the perfect time





Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Joyeux anniversaire à MOI! (Usually I butcher the translation so giving it one more go!)

So I have a bit of a confession to make...


While I know many of you think I have it all together and that I am such a go getter, I must admit here and now that I am CRAP at updating my blog - there I said it.  I think we all feel a little better for having gotten that out in the open and we can move on from here :)


I must apologise as it has been a long time since I have posted on my blog but as is often the case with life, mine has gotten away with me and one day has turned into a week which then turned into a month and there you have it - life just slips away from you one moment at a time.  I am back on track though, back in the moment and thought I'd share some of my experiences from the past month.


Probably first and foremost was the celebration of my 24th birthday (maybe that's just a typo but I'm leaving it there as I like the sound of it).   I knew that I had wanted to do something fun for my first birthday away from home as it was a bit of a depressing thought and what better way to avoid a sad weekend on your own wallowing in self pity about being alone on your birthday thousands of miles from your family and friends then to run away to Paris!   I had played with the idea for the weeks before but didn't really settle on going until the day before I packed my bags and boarded the train.  In all honesty I was really excited to take the Eurostar for the first time as it is the high speed train that goes though the underwater tunnel connecting England to France.  I was all worked up for an extraordinary experience but in reality it's just like most other trains with the exception of riding in the dark for a few miles.   If I had designed it, it would have been built as a glass tube with lighting on the outside so you could enjoy sea life whilst on your train journey - engineering limitations be damned! At any rate, it was still pretty amazing that I left the station in central London at 7:22AM and I was in Paris at 10:47AM (a one hour time difference).  By noon I was checked into my hotel and strolling around the grounds of the Louvre and the gardens leading up to the Champs Elysees!  By late afternoon I was enjoying a hot coffee and looking up at the Eiffel Tower!






I had been to Paris before luckily so I didn't feel the pressure of seeing all of the big tourist sights.  The queues were outrageous since it is a big attraction for family holidays during the Summer months.  I walked around to most of the main sights to take pictures but didn't really bother with fighting the crowds to get inside.  I did have an awkward moment with a snobby French woman in Notre Dame but what would Paris be if the people weren't rude to you at least once - all part of the experience in my opinion :)







Paris was actually the first city in Europe I ever visited and I think was the first time I fell in love with the history and beauty that Europe had to offer.  I couldn't wait to order a crepe from one of the street vendors in the morning for breakfast as it reminded me so much of my first trip to the city.  In a strange way the nostalgia of that original visit concreted for me that my first holiday to Paris may have been the first step in a journey that eventually led me to living in London.  It was then that I feel in love with traveling and creating a life from experiences.  At the time, I definitely didn't have the path laid out but in some ways it was the spark that lead to the eventual fire.   Funny how one small change in direction can lead to big changes in your overall journey.




After enjoying lots of good French cuisine, amazing wine and boutique shopping in the Latin quarter, it was time to end my one night stay in Paris and head back to London and work on Monday morning.  I will say that my weekends are far more adventurous here then they were back home - but now I wonder if there were adventures to be had in Colorado and I had just overlooked them because I wasn't in the mode of taking advantage?  Was I just lazy in the monotony of a life I had become so accustomed to that I missed opportunities to enjoy my weekends just as much as I have since I have lived here?   Maybe this experience will teach me to live every day as though I could be sent packing at any time!


On to the next adventure - Barcelona this weekend :) Will report back once I return home next week!

Monday, July 18, 2011

There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home...

Going home was a bit strange for me ... I know this is my new home and that going back to Colorado was just a holiday but it felt quite the opposite.  I felt like I was going home and now I'm back in England on my extended holiday.  I wondered on my flight back when that would change?  Will the day come when on my flight back to London, I will feel like I'm coming 'home'?



I think I have changed since I have moved, I may not have realised how much until I went back home.  In many ways it seems as if I have just left and in other ways it seems like I have been gone quite a long time.  It was interesting that in many ways it was so easy to go home and slip right back into my old life and old routines.  Before I left it was that routine that was driving me crazy but now that I have completely changed my life, it seems like a nice break from my life here.  Funny how perspective can change the way you see things.

Speaking of perspective... It was funny seeing things back home now that I have had to change my lifestyle to adjust to European living standards.  There is so much SPACE back in Colorado!  I suppose because I do live near the city now, I have become accustomed to the rows of buildings and houses, narrow streets and lots of pedestrians.  In London, it can take an hour or more to travel 10 miles but when I'm back home in Colorado I can typically travel that distance in 15 minutes or less in my car.  There aren't many pedestrians on the streets back home either because most people own or travel by car.  I was also blown away by the big retail stores and the variety of products that we have at our disposal in the US.  I was shopping with my mother one day in Target and had to stop and marvel at the fact that there was an entire aisle dedicated to toilet paper!  How many toilet paper options do we really need?  Apparently there is a vast difference of opinion amongst American consumers which toilet paper they prefer to purchase.

I did do quite a bit of shopping when I returned home because London is quite expensive so I do think you get better prices and better quality products back in the States.  I guess I'm specifically speaking of clothing in this instance.  I also have been plagued my entire life with the horrible affliction of having ginormous feet (I would like to say that this is an exaggeration but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't won a 'big foot' contest when I was in 5th grade - very proud moment for me I'm sure you understand).  In my defense I am quite tall so large feet are needed to keep me upright but I digress.    I rarely find shoes my size in the UK (size 11 US, size 9 UK), so when I returned home I did pick up a few pairs of shoes as well as a pair of my favourite Silver jeans as well.  Luckily I had gone to the pub the night before I returned home which caused me to pack 'light' the morning of my flight when I awoke on only two hours of sleep to pack my luggage.  I guess that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. 

Seeing my family and friends did make me home sick.  Going home and hanging out with them made me feel like I was slipping back into my own skin.  So many times in the UK I feel a bit out of place or out of sorts working to figure things out.  I know it will get better with time but I would say I'm just now getting past the culture shock of my initial move.  I understand that it was a very big move so I take it in stride.  It was funny that all my friends thought that I would come home with an accent.  I know that some Americans do pick up the accent as I have heard it when I have met up with other American expats living in London.  I really don't see myself picking it up to be honest.  I have a hard time even faking the accent so I'm guessing it won't ever come naturally to me but I guess only time will tell that as well.  I do feel out of touch with what is going on back home and it has prompted me to start reading the US news more this week.  I need to stay abreast of what is going on in my own country and ensure I don't fall out of touch.   This was a tip that was offered to me by another American living here and I see now how right he was that it is important to stay informed about what goes on in your home country.

I do believe that living abroad has expanded my view of the world.  There is so much to see and people are so different every place you go.  I want to experience as much of it as I can in my short lifetime and maybe in the end I will better understand my place in this world.  I think the only way to truly get to know yourself is to push your limits, take yourself outside of your comfort zone and see the ways that others live so that you can learn to appreciate the life that you have.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Stepping back in time ...

Time is passing me by here people!! I really gotta step up my game, get down to business, kick butt and take names, insert additional cliche phrase of your choice here ...

I have now been in London for five months today!  I've travelled to quite a few cities around England as well as Holland, Belgium, and this past weekend to the Czech Republic.  I'm well on my way to hitting my goal of five countries by the end of 2011.  I really am getting a great appreciation for the history that all of these European cities have that is so different from my own countries beginnings.  I think Prague is probably one of the most picturesque cities I have visited.  It was one of the only cities that survived the war relatively unscathed and the buildings definitely reflect that.  Many of the streets are the original cobblestone, complete with narrow passageways and sculptures on every corner. 

I've decided that I'm always going to at  least try to take public transport whenever I visit a new city.  Granted it's not always easy when you're trying to read signs that are in a foreign language but I think its worth giving it a shot.  It's far less expensive then trying to take cabs everywhere and if you can master it you can really widen the scope of your visit because its so much easier to get around to all the sites.  I easily navigated from the airport to my hotel via the 119 bus and a few changes on the Metro.  I stayed on a boat hotel on the river, the Boat Hotel Matylda.  The room was small but very modern and the hotel staff was really helpful and friendly.  Breakfast was served on the other boat and was great each morning to get me started and then a LONG day of walking until it was time to go - BACK TO THE BOTEL (not sure if anyone else has the song I have in my head when I say that! ha ha).





I thought that I might have run into more issues not speaking the language in Prague but as in most tourist centers of major cities pretty much every one I came into contact with did speak at least enough English to communicate.  Almost makes me feel guilty being in their country and not having mastered at least the basic phrases but the Czech language is not exactly the easiest to master.  I did try a word here and there but I think I only succeeded in completely butchering their language (my apologies to the Czech people by the way).


I spent most of my time wondering around, although on my second day I did join one of the many free tours that you can pick up off the main square in Old Town.  They basically work for tips and the one I joined was a three hour walking tour mostly around the sites in Old Town and then ending at Prague Castle.  I'm not sure how accurate all the historic facts were but the guide was great and I loved the way she told the cities stories and legends.  One Czech tradition that she seemed to love telling is of "defenestration" or throwing people from high windows to their deaths.   The incidences that have been recorded throughout history were instances of revolt but it is interesting how it does repeat itself in the history of the city.  From my tour I learned two lessons: 1.  Stay away from windows on high floors when in Prague and 2.  Anything was possible in the 1400s which was the time of magical happenings.

I spent the last day in Prague visiting the sites around the Jewish quarter.  I paid 200 Czech Crowns to get a pass to visit several of the sites around the area.  The first was a memorial center where the names of all the Jewish people that died written on the high walls of three rooms.  A voice is on the speaker reading through each of the names and the recording takes three days to read off all the names.  There was also a room of children's drawings, some that depicted typical scenes of any childhood artwork and others showed scenes that were unique to the Jewish ghetto from the time period- it was very touching.  I also visited the Jewish Cemetery that was also a very interesting site, with tombstones stacked one on top of the other.  Since they were only allowed the small plot of land for all their burials, the bodies were stacked many high to make room. 

With each city I visit I feel like I learn more about the world but also a better understanding of my place in it.  It makes you realise how different people are and how we each come from our unique place and time in history.  I'm very lucky for the opportunities I have been given in life and even though I have loved taking every step of my journey I am so fortunate to take, I also know there's a lot to be said for going home.  And where is my next holiday you may ask --- well there is NO PLACE LIKE HOME! Happy Independence Day!