Prague Is Bad To The Bone

This winter took me traveling around what I always called Eastern Europe, but which is more Central Europe. But that’s all technicalities as far as I’m concerned. You read previously about why I became obsessed with Berlin, and now I’m going to let you in on the next destination on my winter escape, Prague.

For forever and a day, Prague has been boasted about to me by everyone and their mother in waking life and on the interwebs. You’ve probably heard it too. No one can keep their trap shut about how Prague is the most enchanting city on the planet. And while it is enchanting and stunning and reminded me of Beauty and the Beast at every corner we turned, its people are horrendous, which somewhat overshadowed a bit of Prague’s wonderment. A bit like Paris, they’re damn lucky they’ve got such a visually pleasing city.

With that out of the way, I will get onto the good of Prague, and really one of the coolest things I’ve ever bore witness to.

Jen and I entered Prague on the floor of a train, and after that haggard train ride, had a little tricky situation getting into our Airbnb. Twas a bit of a tumultuous morning, but once settled we came to realize our host was excellent. Martina happened to work for Czech Tourism, so she was a whole wealth of knowledge when it came to must-eat foods to add to my ever growing list, and where to eat them. Based off her recommendations, the two of us ate like queens during our time in Prague.

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Kielbasa my damn Jewish face off.

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Memories of Koko as I greasily ascended up to the castle.

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A nightly tradition of parting the Red Sea. Here we have duck, bread dumplings, red cabbage, schinitzel, and mashed potaters. Oh, and Radler. Yummy!

As for the sites, I could sit here and yammer on to you about the must-sees that Lonely Planet or Señor Rick Steves will tell you to see, but I like the out of the ordinary so I will spare telling you to go see things like…

The Astronomical Clock and Name Day Calendar

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This face isn’t unenthused over the spectacle, but rather of the Chinese tourist I thought to be in my shot.

Prague Castle and its insanely exquisite gothic architecture.

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St. Vitus Cathedral is in the center of Prague Castle. The view from the top of the mountain cannot be accurately depicted. Must be seen with your eyeballs.

The Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the background.

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A wander over this bridge will lead you to Prague Castle. Fun Fact: We spent NYE at the ‘biggest club in Europe’ just next to the bridge.

Or Frank Gehry’s eyeball-tickling Dancing House.

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And of course, the Jewish Quarter of Josefov, formerly the Jewish Ghetto. This deserved much more time as it’s mystical and beautiful and boasts one of the largest Jewish museums.

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The Old New Synagogue, which I fancied to look like a menorah.

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Rabbi on a string.

While you should see all these because they’re spectacular, the highlight of Prague to me lies an hour’s train ride outside of the city in Kutna Hora. I first learned about The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora from a group of girls I met in Berlin on a Third Reich tour. They told me if I did only one thing in Prague I HAD to go there. And I did!

The Sedlec Ossuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a Roman Catholic chapel decorated entirely of skull and cross bones. Yes, you read that correctly. The interior is the most beautiful display of bones you will ever see, and while it’s quite macabre, it’s exquisite at the same time. To think of living the remainder of eternity as the most bizarre artwork is quite a spectacular thing to imagine.

Above the chapel is the cemetery, that holds a special history. In the 1200s, an abbot of the monastery returned from the Holy Land with some holy earth to be sprinkled on the cemetery grounds. When word of this broke out, it became one of the most prized burial sites in Central Europe at the time. In the 1300s, after the Plague swept through Europe, the cemetery had to be enlarged to compensate for all the additional bodies to be buried there. Then, in the 1500s, after the chapel had been built in the center of the cemetery, bodies that were exhumed to make room for new ones were piled up in the cathedral. The bones were later organized in the 1800s into the masterpiece that it is today. It’s strange, and creepy, and extraordinary, and this kind of ish fascinates me!

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Craziest chandelier I ever did see!

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New meaning to human shield…

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The only kind of selfies I take.

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Hello sir.

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And one more for inappropriate measure.

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Crazy, right? If you are intrigued just as much as I, I suggest carving out a morning or afternoon to get your badonk out of Prague to see it. You can either do it on an organized tour or by yourself, which is what we did. Many of the tour companies don’t do it everyday, so you’re left to do it yourself. It’s open everyday except I think Christmas and New Years Day.

Getting to Kutna Hora on your own:  From Prague train station, purchase a roundtrip ticket to Kutna Hora Main for 183czk. From there, basically just follow the herd, but it’s about a 10 minute walk from the station to the Ossuary and quite self-explanatory once wandering. A suggestion is to check the train times back to Prague at the station before you head out to the chapel, because we ended up waiting 2 hours for the next one from the time we were done. When you purchase your entry tickets, you can buy for 1, 2, 3, or 4 of the UNESCO sites. We bought for 3 of them and decided we didn’t want to see the others after the 2nd one (which was a huge let down after the bone chapel). The final 2 are in the city center, so a train or bus ride away.

Well there you go! I hope you weren’t too creeped out and have now decided that you will hop on a plane just to go see this miraculous chapel! Have you been to the Bone Chapel before? Did you go to the other UNESCO sites? What did you think of them? Did I make a stupid decision to throw them to the wind? Were there any other off-the-beaten-path wonderments I should have seen while in Prague? Did you think the Czech people were as rude as I did? Let me know all of your whathaveyous in the comments! 

If you liked these photogs, follow my life through Instagram filters over on Instagram.

 

 

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Island Hopping Off Incheon

2 weeks ago marked the last long weekend I will ever rejoice in during my time in Korea. That’s if you don’t count the one during summer camp in August, but I’ll totally be checked out by then and camp will be donezo! My original plan for the long weekend was to visit Haesindang Penis Park on the east coast, close by to Samcheok, where I got a case of bed bugs when Josh and I went to Dokdo last year. Pretty soon everyone started flaking, and as much as I wanted to still go, visiting a penis park solo seems a little too perverted, even for me. Plus, who would document me atop many a phallus?

With that, I decided to head out on my own and check out a couple more islands that are just off the west coast of Incheon. I went to Muui-do during my first Chuseok in Korea and fell hardcore in love, so thought it’d be nice to add a couple more islands to that list. Ganghwa-do is about 2 hours by bus outside of Seoul, and Seokmo-do is about a 15 minute ferry ride from Ganghwa-do. Both islands are very prominent in Korean history, as they served as a fortress island during several invasions by France, Japan and America. It is also as far north as you can get, as it’s just separated from North Korea by the Han River extending out from Seoul.

When I arrived at Ganghwa-do Bus Terminal, the tourist information guy was SO helpful. I didn’t really have a plan, but knew of some sites that I wanted to see. I had also just planned to find a jjimjilbang (Korean bath house) to spend the night at. The man instead told me that Bomunsa Temple on Seokmo-do offers overnight temple stays for 10,000won. It wasn’t a traditional temple stay, but rather a mat to sleep on in a communal woman room, with meals (and snores) all included. I took his advice and headed out to catch the ferry to Seokmo-do.

The bus to get to the port took FOR-EVER. Many people take their cars over to Seokmo-do, so the traffic was horrendous. What would typically be a 35-40 minute bus ride took over an hour, at which point I hopped off and walked the rest of the way to the port. When I got to the port there were tons of little shops selling shrimp chips and special ginseng makkoli. A specialty of the island is their dried shrimp, and the seagulls that follow the boat over to Seokmo-do are very greedy when it comes to those shrimp chips!

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Here is the only photo of myself from the weekend. Not much for selfies, but seagulls aplenty!

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I finally made it to Seokmo-do, and had to figure out how to get to the temple. The guy manning the bus stop was a little flippant when faced with my foreign face even when I was speaking Korean, but I met a couple girls on the bus who spoke really good English and chatted me up. They figured out that I’d head out on the same bus as them on their way to the beach.

When I got to Bomunsa, the base of the temple was littered with old town Korea, which made me so happy. Tons of old women hunched over their little shops of bowls of nuts, and ddeok (rice cakes), and dried shrimp. Tons of dirty fingers handing me samples that I didn’t want to be rude and not try in front of them, and tons of samplings of makkoli. I found myself using far more Korean than I typically do living in Seoul, which impressed even myself that I could verbalize things I thought I only really knew how to understand.

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Getting up to Bomunsa is quite a job for the ass and calf muscles. But it’s a really beautiful walk up, and the temple itself is lovely.

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What I wanted to see most at Bomunsa were the hundreds of Buddhas! Just as you arrive to the top of the hill to your left is a procession of all these white Buddhas with different faces and expressions. I saw a bunch of people also throwing coins to the big statue in the center, so I’m thinking that’s to make a wish or pray or something.

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The rest of the temple was pretty standard when it comes to Korean temples. Very beautiful, but nothing I haven’t seen before, aside from the massive reclining gold Buddha in one of the temples.

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See that flight of stairs to the right? That leads all the way up to the top of that mountain, where there resides a Buddha carved into the side of the mountain. People who were there on a weekend temple stay were doing their daily prayers with the sea breezing behind them.

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No trip in Korea is complete without a selfie or two, give or take a nice backdrop, or not.

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I was also VERY proud of myself for not pulling a Danielle and plummeting down this flight of stairs during my descent. Pat on the back, me!

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When I successfully landed on flat ground, I checked into the temple for the night and went to eat some dinner before it closed. The dinner was my least favorite Korean food, bibimbap, but I liked knowing that since I was at a temple there was no need to worry about any weird meats finding their way into my bowl.

For my slumber, I was given a mat, blanket and a rectangular pillow that I laid out in the middle of a bunch of ajummas for the night. As the only foreigner, I was quite the attraction amongst these women. There were two sisters that I was sleeping next to, and they showered me with Korean melon, candies and ddeok for days. Through my broken Korean and their broken English, we established that one of the sisters has 2 granddaughters that are half whities and were born in America. She then proceeded to call her granddaughters to have them translate all the burning questions she had for me. She even asked if she could come to my house because “she wants to see how I live.” I had a good laugh about that one with her 7 year old granddaughter, Grace.

That night I fell asleep at like, 10pm, after a failed attempt to read my book because they kept tapping me to ask another question. So I just fell asleep instead so I didn’t have to deal. I can’t even remember the last time I went to bed that early. I also had to sleep with my headphones in because there were so many ajumma snores. It was pretty unbelievable.

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At around 5am I was jolted awake with pieces of candy being thrown at me. It was like I was a little sugar animal or something. The sisters were trying to wake me up to have breakfast with them, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up that early, let alone eat kimchi for breakfast. So I continued sleeping for most of the morning. At around 10, after 12 solid hours of slumber, I woke up to them staring at me and asking to have lunch with them, but I wanted to jet out. And jet out I did.

After a quick rinse, and by rinse I mean taking the shower nozzle and wetting my legs and arms, then slathering myself in lotion, I was off. I felt so dirty but I was not about to take a legit naked shower in the communal shower area with flies and weird smells aplenty. So I probably smelled pretty potent.

I grabbed some free fried vegetables for the road, a bottle of ginseng makkoli for later, and admired the delicious kimchi being made. Gotta get me a baby kimchi pot before I leave.

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I also found the ajumma hott spot.

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I caught the bus back to the ferry, and the ferry back to Ganghwa-do, where I popped off to go see the ancient dolmens with these fashionable travel companions.

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The dolmens are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and serve as grave markers for past rulers or high-up people. To me, they looked like a Korean version of Stonehenge on a much smaller scale. I was not impressed, so this journey took me all of like, 15 minutes to get through.

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After seeing the dolmens, I thought I’d go to the Peace Observatory to wave hello to Kim Jong-un, but I was a bit pooped and in desperate need of a bath, so decided to call my little trip over after a wander around downtown Ganghwa-do. I checked out a little flea/produce market, and saw enough garlic to keep all the demons away. It smelled so delicious.

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If you’re looking for a quick, cheap, and easy getaway out of Seoul for a couple days, this is a lovely option. To get there, grab the 3000 bus about a 5 minute walk from Sinchon exit 5 (green line). It’ll take about 1.5-2 hours to get to Ganghwa-do, and busses leave every 15 minutes. Once arriving at the terminal in Ganghwa-do, the tourist information man is extremely helpful. I believe I used busses 1 and 30 on Ganghwa-do, and there’s only 1 bus you need to use on Seokmo-do. You can also use your T-Money card for all busses, and I probably spent about 6,000won in total for all transportation on both islands. Not too shabby!

Happy Birthday Buddha, With Love From Gyeongju!

I sit here a week after returning from a very much anticipated long weekend jet out of town with a visitor I just couldn’t wait to be in the same time zone and touchable space with for the past 5 months. A very digital age meet-and-greet story short, Jerry came back to the Koko on a very big leap of faith after we spent a Valentine’s Day in the airport, and many a month Skype cavorting. Well, Skype doesn’t always translate into shooting stars, but I think a snarky and oftentimes brutally honest friendship came from a southern boy’s internet stalking efforts.

I have been wanting to get the heck out of Seoul for a bit now, my lungs have been pretty desperate. Top of my list on the main land has been Gyeongju, which was once the capital of Korea, and is where you can learn about the Shilla Dynasty of Korean history past. It is the cultural epicenter, and where you go if you want to walk in Korean history, not to mention, breathe glorious fresh oxygen.

So, as soon as Jerry Berry arrived from Shanghai, we hitched a KTX train ride down south from Seoul Station to Gyeongju, with a quick transfer to the Mungunghwa slower train. I love train travel, and we wanted a little longer jaunt on the way down. On the return we came direct from Singyeongju station, which is slightly more out of the way from Gyeongju, but has a direct KTX line to Seoul.

I had never stayed in a love motel (which is exactly what it sounds like) since being in Korea, so I booked us a room at the swanky Sugar Motel on the sexy love motel street. Since we were planning to be total tourists on this getaway, we took the free pick up from the train station that was provided, and the lovely Miran fetched us upon our arrival. Ajumma visor modeling was provided on-the-house from the backseat.

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We were greeted with elevator Astrology. Are Aquarius and Libra compatible? I guess we were to find out.

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After settling in and finding horrendously disgusting Korean ramen slurping-esq porn on the tele (which we watched for far too long), we went out for a nice long wander around town, where we mocked the giant political poster-men, noshed on a snack (which he fucked up and needed assistance), and inhaled some dakgalbi. We also enjoyed a heaping serving of miserable couples not talking to each other all around us. Jerry was very happy to be back in Korea.

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We had one full day in Gyeongju, so the next morning we had a leisurely sleep in, and went off to rent some bikes for a couple hours. I think I always mention that biking in foreign places is one of my favorites ways to see a city, and this was no different, except that there are people EVERYWHERE in Korea, and add a holiday weekend. So, there was lots of swerving. I even saw a woman plummet straight for a curbside lunch. For once I wasn’t the one eating shit, and Asians suck at driving in all its forms.

Gyeongju is scattered with these spectacular rolling green hills which are actually tomb mounds, and they’re all over the city. They are stunning! We visited Cheonmachong, meaning Heavenly Horse tomb, which is believed to house one of the Kings of the Shilla Dynasty. This particular tomb was named for the horses that were found painted on a saddle that was found during excavations in the 1970s.

It also proved to be a spectacular setting for selfie-stalking (or as Selena Meyer would say “Ussie” stalking), which also happens to be another of my favorite pastimes in the country of narcissism.

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We stumbled upon some gangsters who were climbing a trail up to the top of one of the mounds, and just as I was about to shlep our asses up there, the ajussi police came and ran them off. So instead of rebelling, we biked some more in search of a park that we soon realized was far too far for our little bicycles. So we forded a river and followed this little lady down her alleyway. 

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I also found what resembles a massive menorah downtown. L’chaim!

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That night, after getting a tad bit lost, we got a jeongsik (정식) dinner, which is a meal comprised of a bunch of sides. It’s super delicious and usually comes with soup and tons of plates to cover your table. Our first one happened to be a baby jeongsik. I believe this one cost around 5,000won/person! Not too shabby.

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After stuffing our bellies, we oriented ourselves and walked across town to Cheomseongdae Observatory, which is claimed to be the oldest observatory in all of Asia. Glory glory Korea! I wasn’t super impressed, but I did read that this observatory is built of 361.5 stone slabs, which is equal to the number of days in the Lunar calendar. Ok, so some scientific thought went into the construction.

We took this horrendous selfie as a souvenir.

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And this one of these people with their asshole arm extender.  Then we peaced on out to Anapji Pond, which disappointingly enough, we got there too late to see in its illuminated glory. Sadface.

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Tuesday was actual Buddha’s Birthday, so we got up at the crack of the morn and hit the road to make the most of our half day before shlepping back up to the ol’ concrete jungle. Before hopping a bus, we needed to caffeinate, and he needed to continue documentation of the horizontal stripe phenomenon in Korea for the mind-blowing science project that he’s conducting.

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Stripes taken, we popped on a bus headed for Bulguksa Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is about 35-40 minutes outside of the city center. We took this ussie where Jerry continued to practice his smile.

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Bulguksa is beautiful, and there were some prayers and speeches going on while we wandered the grounds. I think all temples in Korea look the same, but they’re still quite perty to see. I especially love the lanterns they use to adorn during Buddhist holidays.

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We made some friends.

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This Jew is always trying to find beauty in a Buddhist symbol turned disgusting.

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I stalked a bit, per the usual.

IMG_3370We were going to head out to Seokguram Grotto, but alas there was no time. Seokguram was also recently declared a UNESCO site, so I’d like to see that at some point.

Our last meal in Gyeongju was another jeongsik, this time much bigger and with a lot more variety. We were actually on a sardine cramped bus headed back to the city center when we passed it, jumped off and bolted across the street. This place was really cute and traditional, and we got to sit in our own private little room on the floor instead of standing pressed up against the man’s farting ass next to us.

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I really really loved Gyeongju and am so glad I finally got to visit. It’s so quaint, and I’d say one of my favorite places I’ve visited during my time in Korea. Living in Seoul, it’s so easy to get swept up in the big city life where things can become mundane and sort of easy once you get the hang of life, even while still being in a foreign country. However, this weekend I felt like I was out of my as-of-late element for the first time in a long time, and I needed that in a bad bad way.

Have you been to Gyeongju? Any must see places or tips should I take another wander down yonder? Let me know!