Prague photos for my parents and advice on foreign cash withdrawals

imageThey didn’t ask for them, but we did talk about their possible future Prague trip yesterday. So, here are my photos from a trip to Prague last August. And you’re welcome.imageimageimageI had long wanted to visit Prague, even though I really knew nothing about the city. The inspiration came from my cousin who had visited something like ten years ago. There was something about the idea of a short holiday in Prague that sounded so completely European I filed away the intention under ‘things to do when I have a chance’. Last summer we had that chance, between going to Poland for a wedding and Matt attending a conference in Vienna. How very international.

I have an actual physical memento from that same ten-years-ago trip, my cousin, who is a much better gift giver than me, bought me a pair of earrings that I not only still own, I actually have them here in Italy with me. Because they’re so nice! Despite that, I did no jewellery shopping of my own on this trip. In fact, I don’t even think I bought anything.imageThis was somewhere near our apartment in Žižkov, on a hill and a tram ride/long walk away from the old city centre. We liked it a whole lot. imageimageimagePrague has just a little of the same feel of Budapest. A river runs through it, there are many  bridges and a large castle complex on the hill. We tried to visit the castle but arrived at the ticket office too close to closing, and they wouldn’t let us in.imageMore impressive than Munich’s nouveau ancien glockenspiel, Prague’s astronomical clock is actually from the middle ages. And the pieces still move! They were being cleaned on rotation while we were there. In this photo the top left two are missing, the next day they had been replaced and another two were gone.imageWe were in Prague in August and it was hot and crowded and hot. I do not recommend it, unless you like heat and crowds.

Also, advice from a walking tour guide for cash conversions and withdrawals in Prague: do not use the money exchange bureaus to buy Czech Koruna, they will rip you off. Nice! We needed cash as soon as we arrived at the train station and got a baaaad deal. Instead, use a reputable bank ATM to withdraw cash and, here’s the kicker that I guess applies everywhere and we didn’t know until then, when the bank machine asks if you want it to exchange the money for you (or convert it or change it into local currency, whatever it says) or somehow offers to do the conversion to your home currency, say no. What happens if you say yes is that the foreign bank/ATM owner will do the cash conversion and they will use a less-favourable rate. When you say no (which, at the time, seems like the wrong thing to do based on the wording and the fact you want some money) you let your home bank do the exchange, with a better rate.

This is apparently called Dynamic Currency Conversion. We were able to compare rates a couple of times, because the ATMs would say how much the withdrawal would cost us in euros if we chose yes. Our bank sends an SMS for any large cash withdrawal we make so we could instantly compare the Czech bank rate to our bank’s rate when we chose no, and our bank always gave a better deal. I’ve noticed when using my Italian bank card in the UK that a number of shops will offer to let me pay in euro (amazon also does this) and I assume the good rate/bad rate applies here too. Always choose to pay in local currency and let your bank do the conversion!imageimageimageFrom the Vysehrad cemetery, where each headstone is rather like a work of art. imageimageimageFrank Gehry’s Dancing House on the riverfront in Prague. The design was chosen to optimise the small space available.imageHere Matt tries to escape the heat with an ice cream and the shade of a street light.imageimageThe end!


19 hours in Warsaw (of which most were spent sleeping)

WarsawWarsawWhen you edit one set of photos, you may as well edit them all..

Last month, during that high-heat August when we intelligently decided to travel, I spent 16 hours in Warsaw. Admittedly I slept for quite a few of those, and spent another hour shlepping and sweating my heavy bag from the hostel to the station (or arrive I downed an entire bottle of tea-infused beverage (thanks Marks & Spencers) because that heat was energy sapping and my hands were shaking). But, for a few hours in the morning, I was one of the first tourists poking around the (technically quite new) old town.

Warsaw old townWarsaw Old TownimageAs well as a Marks and Spencer, Warsaw also had grape Fanta, which I ill-advisedly bought to drink with breakfast. Lunch was more successful, I found a collection of food trucks parked in the shade of some trees and had a vegan burger (Warsaw for the win!) and fries.

Warsaw August heatWarsaw water hosesIt was *that* hot last month that sprinkler systems had been set up in the streets. This is in the old town, where you could walk close enough to the outer reaches of the hose for a light spritz. Unless you were under 10, and then you could run right over the hose, clothe(les)s and all.

WarsawWarsaw Old TownI love this giant ship over the main door. Another building, of which I have a photo somewhere, had a swarm of pigeons, which was rather more elegant than the subject matter would suggest.

Warsaw Centre Palace of culture and scienceThis building is the Palace of Culture and Science and it isn’t in the old town at all. It is massive, and almost like the Empire State building? Just a little more squat.

Thanks, Warsaw, for showing a girl a great time.

Travelling in August

Prague: isn’t she beautiful?

We’ve spent the past week city (sometimes small town) -hopping through our sumer holidays. Four cities in three days, in fact. We’re busting through Central Europe as if it wasn’t 35 degrees outside, and as if those trains we were taking and that hostel we spent four nights in had air conditioning. As well as Inowrocaw, where we stayed a few days to attend the wedding of friends’, we whirled through Torun – birthplace of Nicholas Copernicus, did you know – Dresden and now we’re cooling our heels in Prague. 

Travelling in the middle of August is something I know you shouldn’t do – it’s hot, Prague especially is ridiculously crowded and it becomes blindingly obvious that you should have just gone to the beach instead. Or at least booked someplace with a swimming pool. 

Because it is still so hot. I may have made vague promises about not discussing the weather, but it’s barely dropped below 30 degrees in more than a month, something has to give. That wedding we went to? It was the hottest day of the year, perhaps even in a century, and we were trying to look put together and wedding guest worthy while wearing layers of clothes and makeup in 37 degree temperatures. 

Last week I spent a few hours in Warsaw where fire hoses had been set out in the main squares, sending a cool spray over anyone who wanted to get close. Matt got a sprinkling from a similar set up in Prague. And everywhere, any kind of fountain or running water display has become a waterpark for children, who run through the jets in whatever level of clothing or bathing suits to hand. 

Hot hot hot hot hot. We arrived home yesterday evening covered in that sticky layer of dried sweat and sunscreen so beloved of summer holidays. My hair was flattenend and matted against my head from the straw hat I had worn all day. And of course our legs were worn out and tired, because despite this heat we still walked all over the city. 

And today we will likely walk all over it again, because there is a skeleton in a church that I want to see and I got its resting place wrong yesterday. And because it’s both only our second and second-to-last day here in Prague. And this city isn’t going to see itself.

The summer shutdown

photo (1)

It is very nearly ferragosto, the nationwide summer holiday that officially falls on 15 August and that unofficially can include anything from a single weekend to all of July and August. I jest, but not really. And while I’ve been sweating it out here in Trentino, dragging my sweaty self to and from work for a small handful of students each day, envious of everyone relaxing beach and mountainside, I’ll be having the last laugh once they’re all back at work at August’s end and I’m starting a whole new kind of non-working holiday. Ahahahahahha.

But back to Italy. This sign is from our once-favourite spot for a post-music lesson dinner. They have mini bottles of lambrusco! And tigelle! At some point during the three weeks of intensive heat, they removed their original ‘summer closure’ sign, with its set days and planned reopening, and replaced it with this one. Simply, they’ll open once it’s less hot.

The library, my air-conditioned refuge before said music lessons has also taken its summer holidays, leaving me stranded one, thankfully cloudy, afternoon. I had been spending some time each week working from an Italian language book, and instead I suddenly found myself seeking shops for shade and shelter. I don’t particularly like anything they sell in the shops, so it’s a dull but harmless way to waste some time.

Even some of the water fountains have been shut off around time. There has been very little rain, particularly in Trento, so I imagine it was to save the water supply. And in response to that I would point out that the ornamental fountain in the middle of the main square in Trento is still running. Though you can, of course, fill your bottle from this water source as well.

All that is pointing to some kind of summer holiday, isn’t it? It’s almost (but not quite) time to escape these ever deserted cities, at least for a week or two.

How to recognise a Trentino at the beach

Portofino, italian boats

Just for fun: a translation attempt of of an article from the local l’Adige newspaper, that covered off a few stereotypes about locals. Featuring a lot of help from Google, with a little proofreading and editorial assistance (and a pinch of artistic licence, I’m pretty sure there was some dialect in there, and I couldn’t make out much from it! plus, grammar is hard) by yours truly. Some of the claims here seen a little harsh, in the defense of all people living in Trentinto: I have never once seen anyone in socks and sandals, nor have I seen any sunscreen applied to the skin of a child.


Dear readers, now that you are about to go to the beach, here is a small handbook to help you identify if your umbrella neighbor is from Trentino. Sure, you might discover it for yourself as you watch one approach in Birkenstocks and socks*, but some more information could be useful. Here are the main identifying points of a Trentino at the sea.

1) He arrives at the beach and stretches out an Alpini towel.

2) He stakes out the towel with four anchors and then uses a spirit level to even the surface.

3) Thirty meters of barbed wire is unrolled around the towel. “Because this territory is mine!”

4) He installs his defensive weapon: the canederli catapult. To assemble: place the grandmother in a deck chair with a canederli in her hand. Attach the elbow to the armrest, fasten a rubber band to her wrist and then pull back. As soon as someone approaches the territory – pamm! The canaderli is launched. “Because I’m here to relax!”

5) If the defense arm of the grandmother jams, he prepares the reserve weapon: the Adige newspaper. Because under the umbrella, the newspaper becomes a weapon of deterrence to neighbors wanting to make conversation: “They will see that I am not to be disturbed.”

6) Bring out the iPhone with music of the alpini choir (SAT) playing at full volume (it was part of the agreement to receive the free towel).

In the meantime, the Trentino’s wife and children arrive. The son plays on the sand with an inflatable tractor. Because the Trentino child does not build sand castles like other children; he establishes wine cooperatives. And if a wave comes, he goes to the lifeguard to ask for contributions. The wife coats the son with SPF 80, which is like covering him with a quilt. Children mistake him for an air mattress and jump on him – he is more likely to tan during a lunar eclipse.

And while she reads a beach magazine (Bazaar) and the grandmother sits on the deck chair with a canaderli in the barrel, he snores with a newspaper over his face. And sure enough, a minute after he has fallen asleep, the daughter arrives. “Dad, there are rides!” “Ok, have 2 euro.” After five minutes, “Dad there are meringues!” “Okay, have 2 euro, but after you’ve been swimming.” After five minutes, “Dad there are jellyfish!” “Ok, take 2 Euros but that’s the last I’ll give you.”

* if not Birkenstocks then Lizard sandals (those walking sandals with the velcro). But always with socks.


The original article Come riconoscere un trentino in spiaggia by Lucio Gardin, from l’Adige:

Any translations errors are all mine (also Google’s).


Sarajevo tram








Some photos from our four nights in Sarajevo last month. I flew to Belgrade to meet up with Matt, who had already been there two weeks attending the Guča Trumpet Festival and exploring Kosovo and Macedonia. He may or may not post a little about that here, too.

The very next morning we jumped on a bus to Sarajevo, and took a loooong bus ride that had only one (one!) toilet stop and a bit of drama at the border when a woman seemingly lost her ID card. Once we were over the border in Bosnia and Herzegovina the scenery was beautiful, so lush, so green! We had only two full days here because of a side trip to Mostar, and they were spent in a bit of a daze from all those buses, but we liked Sarajevo just the same.

We were in town at the same time as the Sarajevo Film Festival and managed to see an outdoor movie on our final night there. My annoyance at having to use a separate, back entrance to all the ‘VIPs’ and having our (empty) water bottles confiscated at the gate was tempered somewhat by the event being sponsored by coca-cola, who provided free cokes and popcorn. I’m easily bought. We saw Wild Tales, a freaky little oddity of a movie involving six different stories of revenge.

Signs of the 1992-96 Siege of Sarajevo are still present, in bullet holes in buildings and whole buildings that are just shells. We saw one of the ‘Sarajevo roses’ – plastic resin was poured into scars in the pavement caused by mortar shells. As the concrete is replaced the roses are disappearing, the one we saw (picture below) was in its own little square of original concrete, surrounded by newer pavement.


A few other quick notes about Sarajevo:

The many tourist maps available are all a bit shit. The one available from the tourist office is among the worst. The compact little streets of the old town receive particularly little care, it is so small the streets usually aren’t named on maps, nor on addresses when looking up restaurants, etc, online. We were working from three different maps until we finally found the one map to rule them all.

There are no smoking bans, meaning people smoke in restaurants, on trains, etc – though not as many as you would expect, especially in tourist areas. Most of tourists have been conditioned to not smoke inside, I guess.

Taxis are super cheap in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so are a handy way to get around if arriving at night/when its really hot/if you’re carrying a lot of luggage. Of the three taxis we caught (one when a little lost after our late night arrive, another when changing hostels in the hot sun, the other getting to an early morning bus), only one driver seemed to rip us off.


I also posted about what we ate and a side trip to Mostar


Lago di Garda

Oh hello September. In New Zealand this would be the first official day of spring but the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t seem to follow the quite convenient pattern of using first of the month to welcome a new season. A pity, as it makes it so much easier to remember (even if, in reality, it doesn’t reflect the actual weather).

This month we are:

Giving up the sugar (chocolate, gelato, biscuits and cake being the main ones) for a second month (the first was in January) for the double positive of saving money and improving concentration skills.

Contemplating a cold winter. We received our first gas bill last month – €650 for the past year. Is that a lot? It feels like a lot. We had noticed a few months ago that we had seemingly only received power and water bills, but to actually receive this one was still a shock. Lucky we’re heading away for a month during winter as something tells me we’ll be cutting down on our heating usage a lot this year.

Readjusting back to a normal routine after much of the past month away. For Matt this means doing all the work at uni and for me it means picking up my rag tag assortment of English teaching, babysitting and proof reading. I also have lofty goals of doing a little yoga every day, relearning the keyboard (possibly even the harmonica) and, as always, mastering some more Italian.

We have also decided to stay on in Rovereto for another  year, as if that decision hadn’t already seemed a foregone conclusion. So assuming that Matt’s visa renewal all goes well, we’ll be here until 2015. woo! Giving us all the time we need for mastering our new language, seeing all the Italian cities and regions that are yet to be explored and for hiking (and admiring Lake Garda, as Matt is doing in the photo above).