Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Praha and Wien

Our good friends, Jen and Dan, had set a date for their European vacation almost a year in advance (Jen is a fellow planner), so as soon as Jeffrey and I found out we would be living in Norway, we promised to visit them at one of their stops!  When we heard of all the great places they were going, we couldn't choose just one and finally decided to meet them in Prague and Vienna.  Jeffrey and I love exploring new cities but being able to experience it with great friends is even better!

Even though Prague and Vienna are only a 4 hour train ride from each other, the two cities couldn't be more different.  Even if I hadn't know of their histories, it wouldn't have been hard to guess that Prague and Vienna prospered at different times.  After a quick Wiki-search, the architectural terms I could use would be Gothic/Renaissance versus Baroque, but I don't think of those terms while I'm staring up at the Astrological Clock or the Hofburg Palace.  My first reaction is more of a feeling.  Prague's architecture is moodier, darker, more dramatic while Vienna's is fancier, cleaner, prettier (in my opinion, of course).  What do you think?

Another big difference was the atmosphere.  I felt like Prague's Old Town focused more on tourist gimmicks like crystal, garnet, and marionettes.  I'm not sure if this is related, but the atmosphere was looser, louder, and more fun.  Vienna had better retail, more cafes versus bars, and fewer peddlers.  The atmosphere in Vienna was calmer, classier, more predictable. 

Prague's crowded streets were filled with character while Vienna's beautiful parks and green spaces made the city feel more open, fresher.

Last but not least... the food!  If we had to choose a favorite place based on food, Prague would take home the gold (yes, I miss the Olympics..).  This surprised me, actually, because I didn't really know much about Prague's cuisine.  Here's what we found out - it focuses on meat (pork knuckle, beef goulash, sausage) and cheap beer - perfect!  I would have probably tired of it if we were there longer, but a few days was perfect.  And Jeff was in heaven.

Such a wonderful trip with the best friends anyone could ask for.  So glad we got to experience these two unique cities with you!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Traveling Tools

Jeffrey and I visited Prague and Vienna for the first time last week (pictures to come soon!).  This vacation had been dreamt about, planned out, and anticipated for months not only because we had never been to either place but because we met up with our very dear friends from Houston, Jen and Dan!

Preparing for a trip is almost as much as the trip itself.  It's true! Becoming familiar with a new city/country via articles, books, and maps is so much fun and it makes sightseeing easier.  Below are some of my essential planning tools for our travels.

1. Tripit: a website/iPhone app that I use to build my itineraries.  I can either manually enter information about my flights and hotels, or I can just forward my confirmation emails to the website and it is built automatically.  I just choose the type of information I want to add (transportation, activity, restaurant) and an easy-to-fill-out form asks for the essential information.  I even add times to my itinerary - not to force us into a schedule but to have a more realistic expectation of what we can see or where we can go in one day.  My favorite part is the Notes section where I can add TripAdvisor reviews, directions, or page references to my guidebooks.

Nerdy? Maybe. Handy? Definitely!  AND as long as I sync the app on my phone right before I leave, all of this information is available without internet.

2. CityMaps2Go: an app that gives you access to the most detailed street maps of any major city you could think of going to.  After I downloaded the app for just a few dollars, I just searched by country for the city I was visiting and downloaded (for free) that city's map.  Because this can be used without internet while travelling, it doesn't allow for GPS positioning but I've found the street finder tool works well if I get turned around.  My favorite function is pinning my own points of interest to the map so that I can find them on the go!

Via - this site has other great tips too!

3. A 4-digit PIN for my credit card:  Since I don't like using my debit card while abroad, I had a 4 digit PIN added to my credit card.  In Europe, credit cards are pretty much useless without a PIN!

4. Comfy shoes: I'm still trying to find the perfect shoe that doesn't make my feet/legs/back ache nor look like a running shoe.  I'm thinking that TOMS are the best option for me right now... but Joanna Goddard has a good list too.

Hours of sightseeing make a girl tired no matter what, though, so the best remedy is lots of cafe/pub breaks!

5. Frommers Day-by-Day and Rick Steves: I have yet to find guide books I like better than these.  The Day-by-Day books are great for a quick snapshot of top sites as well as neighborhood walks and restaurant ideas.  They are also small enough to carry around while touring.  Rick provides an overview of the city's history and culture plus more detail on the top sites and walking tours.  I buy his from Amazon or iBooks so I can reference them on my iPhone while we walk around (the books are generally too bulky).

These are just a few of the resources I use to plan a fun vacation.  Maybe they can help you out, too!