Though I really enjoyed my time in Prague, I thought it was extremely touristy. I also thought the people were not extremely friendly. My dad made several comments about how the people never smiled. Though I was not that impressed with Prague, I still liked the architecture and the food.
During our first day in Prague, my father, brother and I walked around. We walked through Old Town Square, which is the historical center of Prague. The Old Town Square is beautiful but way over populated with tourists and souvenir/glass shops. We walked on the Charles Bridge,
and to the Astronomical Clock. The Astronomical Clock has been working since 1490. Every hour on the hour (from 8am-8pm), the wooden saints emerge from the trap doors of the clock.
On our second day in Prague we took another tour. The tour was half walking and the other half was on a tour bus. The tour guide was extremely boring. It was really hard to listen to her. We did get to see some beautiful sites, which included the Prague Castle. ”At the center of the castle, its dramatic Gothic spires and flying buttresses visible from everywhere int own, is the imposing St. Vitus’s Cathedral;even the most jaded of visitors will be given pause by its grandeur. Other highlights within the castle complex include the Old Royal Palace, which has excellent historical and architectural displaces; Basilica of St. George; and the Lobkowitcz Palace, which now has a fully fledged museum.” (http://www.timeout.com/prague/features/333/20-great-things-to-do-in-prague)
That night we went to an incredible restaurant for a 7-course dinner at Kampa Park Restaurant. It was sooooo yummy. Then we went for a shot of absinthe, for desert of course! The absinth was mixed with sugar and lit on fire. I am a girl who knows how to take a shot and I did not like it AT ALL!
On the third day, the boys were tired of tours. I still really wanted to walk through the Jewish Quarters and see the synagogues. Instead of taking a synagogue tour we compromised! In the morning we went to the Communist Museum, which was extremely interesting. I would recommend it to anyone who is in Prague. After that, we went to the Old New Synagogue, which is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. It is a medieval synagogue of twin-nave design. “Completed in 1270 in gothic style, it was one of Prague’s first gothic buildings.” It was a beautiful building. We ended up taking a tour of the building and loved it! It was our only good tour of the entire trip. I really enjoyed seeing this synagogue because of how old and special it is.
After going to the synagogue we walked around the Jewish Quarters, which is only a couple of blocks. After that, we went to a kosher restaurant for lunch. We shared some salads and hummus. It was really good!
For our last night, we went to a local pub for Czech food. It was delicious!!!!!!!!! Below are the pictures.
Pictures of scenery and food from Budapest!
My brother and my dad met for three nights in Budapest and three nights in Prague. I had such a great time with them! For the week, we ate A LOT of great food, saw a lot of cool sites, went on a couple of horrible tours and laughed a ton!
When I spoke about my upcoming trip Prague and Budapest, many people responded by saying how much I would love Prague. That Prague was such a beautiful city. They didn’t have anything (positive or negative) to say about Budapest. I was surprised how much I LOVED Budapest. I found the city to be charming, the architecture to be beautiful, the people to be friendly, the food to be mediocre, and the company to be GREAT!
Budapest was originally two cities separated by the Danube river; Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank. In 1873 these two cities unified. On our first full day in Budapest, we took a tour of Buda and Pest. Pest is busier, more commercial and is flatter. Pest is hilly, has more greenery and has more residential area.
The tour showed us the outside of the parliament building. The parliament building is such a gorgeous building! After that we went to the Buda castle and walked around Buda.
On our second day in Budapest, my father and I went on a Jewish tour through The Dohany Street Synagogue Complex. This consists of the Great Synagogue (or the Dohany Synagogue), the Heroes’ Temple, a graveyard, a Holocaust memorial and the Jewish Museum. We also walked around the Jewish quarters. Prior to World War II, there were approximately 200,000 Jews in Budapest alone. On Wikipedia, they estimate that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 Jews in all of hungry.
The tour guide was very unusual. I asked her a question about the use of the synagogue during communist times. She told me she did not want any political questions. I also asked her how many Jews lived in Budapest. She did not know the answer to this question because she believed most Jews in Budapest were scared to be identified as Jewish. She also told us she did not want any pictures taken of her or near her. I think she and many other are still scared and afraid of being Jewish, which makes complete sense after living through Nazi occupation and communism. Yesterday, I read an article on JPost.com about the ADL’s (Anti-Defimation League) recent study on anti-Semitism in Europe. They found that the most anti-Semitic country was Hungary, with 63 percent of the population expressing ant-Semitic sentiments. This is terrifying.
My brother, father and I also took a trip to Szentendre, which is located about 25 minutes outside of Budapest, on the Danube River. Szentendre is supposed to be an artist colony. I found it more like a tourist trap than anything. The tour was very pretty but was filled with souvenir shops, instead of galleries. While walking in an out of stores, I came across a really cool family-owned store that only uses blue dye. As a result, all the things in the store are blue and white.
I had the most amazing trip to London. I met my mother and stepfather for a long weekend filled with good dining, great weather, site seeing and LOTS OF LOVE! We were especially lucky with the weather. Except for the first day, our trip was warm and sunny! I found London to be absolutely charming and the people to be extremely friendly and polite.
Our first full day of site seeing was spent in Notting Hill, Primrose Hill and Hampstead. All three of these areas are charming! Notting Hill was a little more touristy than I expected, but was still very beautiful. The large Victorian townhouses and beautiful terraces were all different colors, which I loved! After Notting Hill we went to Primrose Hill. Here walked to the top of the hill for a great view. Then we walked on the main drag and walked in a couple of cute boutique stores. After primrose hill, we took a taxi passed Little Venice to Hampstead. Hampstead is a great area with tons of shops and restaurants. It reminds me of Bethesda (for you Washingtonians).
After a full day of walking, we decided to check out Harrods. WOW!!!!!! I was extremely overwhelmed. To me, it was like Disney World on crack. The first floor had a huge food market. The food market included already prepared foods, fresh fish, a caviar bar, fresh fruits and vegetables, a bakery, and a chocolate section (which did not include the candy section). They also had a whole other area for wines and cheeses.
After wandering through Harrods food market, we hit the Egyptian area. Next, we went to women’s clothing. I was really surprised how expensive everything was. It was all designer clothes but still! After going to a few shops (including Harrods), I learned that clothing in London was a lot more expensive than clothing in America. A pair of the same pants cost me 1/3 more in London than it would have at home.
After our tiring day, we decided to have dinner at the hotels Steak House. The JW Steakhouse felt just like home! For dessert I had a brownie Sunday! After dinner, we went back to my parents’ incredible hotel room and watched a movie (The Help). I forgot how much I missed movie night with my mommy and my Stevie!
The second day we had a very tourist-filled day! We walked the bridge , saw Big Ben and Buckingham Palace and walked through Westminster. We also walked through Hyde Park. The buildings were so beautiful and old!
After our morning of touring, we went for High Tea. This was SOOOO cool! At 4 pm High Tea started. We started this relaxing and very proper meal by sipping Champaign and munching on strawberries and cream. After our strawberries, we had scones, biscuits, little finger sandwiches (with no crust), and little pastries. It was quite the experience!
We started the morning of our third full day seeing the changing of the guards. I was very surprised how many people were also there. I could not handle the crowd so I sat in the park and looked on from afar. I did notice that the changing of the guards is a big event. There are tons of horses and music! After that, we went back to Westminster to see Westminster Abbey. I only stayed for a little because I wanted to meet my friend Rachel at her families’ house for Shabbat.
I took the tube (or the underground) to Rachel’s grandmothers house. Rachel’s grandmother is a 93-year-old woman from Yemen. She wears a shmata (Yiddish for rag) on her head and looks like she’s 110! The minute I walked in she tried to force-feed me food. A lot of Rachel’s family was at Shabbat lunch. It was really nice to finally meet everyone!
After Shabbat was over, Rachel and I took the underground back to the city for dinner with my parents. We went for yummy Italian food and then had dessert at my favorite steak house!
The entire trip was so much fun! London is a LOVELY city. I had such a great time spending time with my mommy and Stevie! I also forgot how easy it was to travel in a country where everyone spoke English!!
Look above for more pictures of London
At the last minute, a friend of mine decided to come to visit me in Ukraine. We decided to meet in Kiev. This was the first time I spent time in Kiev. Though it was minus 30 degrees Celsius everyday, we had a great time! Kiev is a beautiful and big city. I was very surprised how modern it is. It even has a gap (I was in heaven at GAP)!!!!!!! It also has Tiffanys, Chanel, ZARA, TGIFridays and much more!
During our trip, we visited a banya. “Banya (Russian: баня) in Russian (the word) can refer to any kind of steam bath, but usually to the Russian type of sauna”. It was a very unique and wonderful experience. In the banya, we had a sauna with a cold-water waterfall. I have never experienced such a rush! My body went from extremely hot to being drenched with extremely cold water! The banya also had a hot tub, which was very relaxing after the intense heat. After leaving the banya, I felt completely detoxified, relaxed and absolutely wonderful!
Banyas have great health benefits. “Excessive heat stimulates sweating, thus removing unwanted materials from the blood and improving the work of the kidneys. Sweating also releases excess water and salt from the body and opens the skin pores, cleaning it and making it softer and fresher. The process helps rid the muscles of excess lactic acid. Dilated blood vessels increase the flow of oxygen to muscles, reducing swelling and aids in the repair of tears. Steam bathing also stimulates protein circulation,improving digestibility of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and mineral elements. Because harmful bacteria and viruses can only survive within a narrow temperature range, the use of banya to create an “artificial fever” may aid the body in protecting against them””(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banya_%28sauna%29).
During the entire trip, I really wanted to see one of the two synagogues in the city. As we were walking to the banya, we passed by the side of a beautiful building. My friend looked at it and was convinced it must be a Jewish building. We went around front and to our suprise, it was the one of the synogoues! After the banya, we went back to this synogogue.
It was a unique and wonderful experience visiting and praying in the Brodsky Synagogue. The synagogue was built between 1897-1898 by a merchant name Lazar Brodsky. Brodsky financed the construction. “The building was devastated during the Second World War by Nazis and was subsequently used as a puppet theatre…” during Nazi occupation and during communist rule. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brodsky_Synagogue) It was only given back to the Jewish community in the last 15 years. In 2000, it was renovated to look exactly like the old building.
Attached to the synagogue is a delicious kosher restaurant, a kosher café (with bagels!!!), and a proper kosher market. I was taken back by how nice and welcoming a few of the community members were. They invited us to Shabbat dinner, asked me tons of questions about my work and even gave me an English siddur (prayer book).
LVIV or LVUV!!!!!!
The JDC-Kharkov Office went on a retreat to the Carpathian Mountains and the city of Lviv. All 15 people in my office went on the trip. We took a 22-hour train ride to Lviv. Then got in a van for another 3-hour ride to the Carpathian Mountains.
Many Ukrainians have told me that I have not completely experienced the Ukraine without an overnight train ride. Well now I know why they said this! I had such a great time on the overnight train with all my colleagues. I shared a compartment with my roommate and another one of the girls that works in the office. After the train departed, my colleagues and I had a huge picnic! Many of them cooked really delicious Russian cuisine.
Once we arrived, we had a very nice Shabbat dinner at the hotel. The next morning, we woke up and went skiing. WOW was it cold!!!! I have never felt anything like this before. It was -33 degrees Celsius, which is approximately -20 degrees F. After a couple of hours of skiing I could not feel my feet! I went back to the hotel for lunch and then hit the slopes again. After two hours of afternoon skiing, my feet were hurting so bad that I had to go home :( For the next week my feet continued to hurt and tingle. I think I had a mild form of frostbite.
After skiing, we had an art therapy class. Each person picked out a picture and attempted to paint it on a canvas with oil pants. This was extremely fun. I never knew how artistically talented some of my colleagues were (this does not include me!)
The next day, we were supposed to go on an excursion to see a castle. Unfortunately, the trip was cancelled because the roads were closed, as a result of too much snow. We also were advised not to go skiing because of the freezing cold temperatures. So I spent the day lying in my freezing cold room reading “The Help”. I would recommend the book to anyone and everyone!
On Sunday we packed up our bags and headed to Lviv or Lvov (Russian pronunciation). Lviv or Lvov is a city in Western Ukraine where the majority of the people speak Ukrainian, not Russian. It is located 70 km from the Polish border. Lviv is a beautiful city with old buildings and cobblestone roads. It has a very European feel.
“The city is regarded as one of the main cultural centers of today’s Ukraine. Historically it was a major Polish and Jewish cultural center. Poles and Jews were the two main ethnicities of the city until the outbreak of World War II, the Holocaust and Polish population transfers (1944-1946)”, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lviv).
I took a Jewish tour of Lviv. I learned that Lviv had one of the largest Jewish ghettos. The city was home to over 120,000 Jews before the outbreak of World War II. By the time the Nazis occupied the city in 1941 that number had increased to over 220,000. Many Jews had fled from Nazi-controlled western Poland into the then relative safety of Soviet-controlled eastern Poland pushing up the population. Currently, only two functioning Synagogues remain in Lviv.
After our tour, we had a late lunch at a mid-evil themed restaurant. The ambiance was very cool. The bathroom had one gigantic candle on each side of the toilet. The toilet looked like a throne! After a wonderful lunch, we went to the train station to take an overnight train back to Kharkov.
The office retreat was so much fun! I really enjoyed spending time with my co-workers and seeing more of Ukraine. Ukraine is a gorgeous country!!!!! Please check out more of my picture from my trip to Western Ukraine, which are above!