Category Archives: Travel

A Day in Montauk, NY

The forecast for cloudiness and scattered showers gave way to sunny skies this Labor Day weekend, so my boyfriend and I decided to explore Montauk, NY and see if we could do it in one day. Whether you’re getting up at 4am like we were to catch one of the early trains out of Penn Station, or leaving from the city, the three hour train ride along the coast dissuades some from making a trip to Montauk a day trip, but it can be done and it’s well worth the effort! Get the LIRR Montauk train schedule here.

Montauk is the last stop on the LIRR and the end of the Hamptons, at the tip of Long Island, and so is affectionately sometimes referred to as “The End”. The train station is about halfway between Montauk Harbor and the downtown village area. It’s easiest to get around by car or bike, however taxis and other on call car services are readily available. We took a taxi for $20 to the lighthouse and started our day there.

Montauk Point Lighthouse

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Blatna, Czech Republic

Gazing out at the view of the pond Desolate (Rybník Pustá) from my window, one would think I’d feel melancholy. It did make me long for a past when I visited the Czech Republic as a child – back then there were less people, zero commercialism and the quiet peacefulness that comes with feeling safe with ones family. I felt some of that here in the Czech town of Blatna, a small town in Southern Bohemia about an hour and a half drive from Prague.

I found a two week stay in Blatna very pleasant. It took me a few days to adjust to the slower pace, and where I stayed helped. The Penzion u Rybníka Pustý (Penzion at Pond Desolate) is a bed and breakfast run by the family Sheinherr. A spacious and immaculately clean three story house with Bohemian architectural touches and views of the water and charming neighboring Czech homes.

Hana will make you tea, coffee or cappuccino as you sit down to the generous breakfast buffet that is offered daily at a modest additional charge. It includes fresh rolls and Czech pastries that Hana picks up each morning from the local bakery, and a selection of sliced ham, cheeses, honey and jams, a plate of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, bowls of assorted fruits including ripe plums when in season, cereals and yogurt. While I sip my tea Hana gently asks if I would like a fried egg that day which she will make for you while you wait. There is also lovely outdoor seating.

Well fed you are ready to plan out your day. While it is easy to get bus connections to Prague, and I did so several times, it is a two hour journey each way so exploring in Blatna in between trips to Prague is the perfect way to relax and recover.

Blatna Castle

The must see attraction in town is Blatna Castle, along with the adjacent grounds which are a combination forest and deer garden.

Admissions is free – the baroness who lives in the centuries old castle asks only that you not walk on the grass, and to make sure to shut the wooden gate to the park behind you as you enter or leave the grounds, so that the deer that roam freely don’t escape.

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Southampton, NY

The Hamptons seem mystical to me.  I have visions of the wealthy shopping in pristine villages and frolicking on diamond studded beaches closed to everyone but them.  I think of parties, decades of parties, the Great Gatsby.  I’ve been almost afraid to go there, keeping the Hamptons and their mystique at a distance.

That changed one summer, when my boyfriend decided to run the Southampton half-marathon, and wanted me to come along and cheer him on.  It meant getting up at 3 a.m. to get ready in time to board the Hampton Jitney on 4nd street in Manhattan for the two hour ride that would get us to the start of the race on time.  So I did it, sleeping on the bus, at least until dawn broke and you could see more outside the bus window.  I am always fascinated by how the scenery changes from dingy city buildings, to cramped suburban duplexes, to breezy, beachy villages as one travels east through Long Island.

We got off the bus at Southampton and walked to the middle school, where he picked up his race number and positioned himself at the starting line.  I blew him a kiss good-bye as he started off to run the 12 mile course.  Then I had another two and a half hour wait.  To pass the time, I head off by myself to find access to the beach somewhere.  I always imagined secluded, private beaches one could only gaze at from a distance, if at all.  However, maybe as we were near the downtown of Southampton or near the middle school and in a public area, I found it quite easy to head straight down the runner’s path (after the runners of course!) and turn down Old Town Road which led straight to a public entrance to the beach, not more than a 30-40 minute walk away.

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Beach in Southampton, NY

The view in the morning light was magnificent.  There I was, taking off my sneakers and sinking my toes deep into the soft sand, as I strode down to the shore.  The large expanse of clean, powdering sand was marked only by the treads of beach vehicles that had rampaged in the dawn.

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Dining – Newport, Rhode Island

Following is a list of the places we dined at on our three day trip to Newport, Rhode Island.

Friday

The Black Pearl

1 Bannister’s Wharf, (401) 846-5264   www.blackpearlnewport.com

Good place for lunch, if taken outside at The Patio, located right on the water.  The Black Pearl also has The Tavern, a pub space, and The Commodor’s Room for elegant events.  The clam chowder is notably stated as the best in Newport.  I found it to be delicious if a little heavy on the cream.  I also enjoyed their Swordfish sandwich, a special that day.  The fish was Continue reading

Newport, Rhode Island

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The Elms Mansion

Newport surprised me as being accessible, historic, fun and upscale all at the same time.  I had heard about it being a nice getaway where you can tour some mansions, so I was expecting a quiet, maybe even sleepy, seaside town.  I then heard about the annual jazz festival being one of the country’s best, which sounded like fun as jazz has become a recent interest of mine after going to a few concerts at Jazz at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

That was the initial plan: spend a few nights at a moderately priced B&B, do the jazz festival the first night, and then get to know the town a little bit.  I had no idea what a whirlwind of activity the trip would be, yet at the same time peaceful.

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View from Rosecliff Mansion

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A Morning in Old Greenwich, Connecticut

I went to Old Greenwich, Connecticut for the first time in April, to cheer on my boyfriend Raj who was running the Greenwich Cup Half Marathon, something he’d been planning and dreaming about.  The day started early at 4:00am, as we rushed out the door in our sneakers to catch the Metro North train on the New Haven line.  We got to the Old Greenwich train station about 30 minutes later, and gazed nervously around us in the cold wondering how we’d manage the long walk to the starting line.  As luck would have it, someone was getting a ride and invited us to jump in.  That’s the camaraderie that is found so often among runners.  We chatted with the driver who had run the half marathon before and gave Raj tips.  We all got to the starting line just in time to register before the start of the race at 7am.

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The race began and ended on the beach on 1 Tod’s Driftway, so I stood in the sand while the runners lined up at the starting line.  Time ticked by as the sun rose, and then suddenly they were off!

I had about two hours to spend by myself, as my honey sweated and toiled up and down a winding path for twelve miles.  I decided against walking back towards the train station; there had been a downtown area on the way to the beach but it seemed too far to walk.  I was wearing a warm coat, but my sneakers unfortunately were not keeping my feet very warm.  Should have worn my Uggs, but too late.  I decided to make the best of things and enjoy the ocean view.  A pair of Adirondack chairs perched nearby welcomed me, and I snuggled into one of them for a peaceful hour.

As the sun climbed the sky, I went for a leisurely stroll along the beach.  Gradually, the runners started coming, their loved ones cheering them as they dashed past the finish line.  I strained looking for Raj, and finally saw him!  I got a great picture of him jumping over a puddle and giving me a thumbs up as he crossed the finish line.  He got his medal and I joined him in devouring the free bagels and orange wedges the race volunteers had set up.

Then we walked together down Shore Road and Sound Beach avenue in the direction of the train station, looking for coffee and breakfast.  We were happy to find a wonderful little bakery in the quaint downtown area called “Sweet Peas’s Baking Company”.  We had a great brunch there, a veggie omelette and smoked salmon toast with capers.  The best part was the take-away:  we got a carrot cake muffin brimming with chopped nuts, bakery fresh donuts, and a crisp baguette to go.

A lovely morning in Old Greenwich.  I would come back to Sweet Pea’s Baking Company just for the donuts!

 

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Prague in 48 Hours

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The golden city of Prague – it is many things to me:  my birthplace, my heritage, the first foreign country I visited as an American, a place to come of age in after the Velvet Revolution, and an old friend that I go back to visit time to time….just to keep in touch.

This past August I made another one of my visits, this time staying two nights in a modest hotel near Namesti Republic and stopping by all the typical tourist attractions.  It amazes me that no matter how often I do the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge etc. it feels like an exploration, a new discovery.  Perhaps because each time I go time has passed, life has happened and I’ve changed so the experience is always different.  To me that is the beauty of travel.  It is much less about the destination than how you weave your experiences back into the journey of your life.

DAY 1

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I’m sure you know about flying into the Vaclav Havel airport, taking a taxi into Prague and the hundreds of hotels in every price range located all over Prague.  I encourage you to get a room for around $100 a night, because that price goes far there and you might as well be walking distance from the places you want to see.  Walking around Prague is half the fun of seeing it.

“Prague – A Guide to the Golden City” by Harald Salfellner is a great comprehensive guidebook which can be purchased at a convenient bookstore on Wenceslas Square that also sells other English title books.  I got a map too.  I like walking around with my map like a tourist, and hopefully getting lost and winding down some unexpected street in the process.

The statue of St. Wenceslas on a horse is a popular meeting spot for those going out for a night on the town, and of course there have been several historic events at this square.  I love the lavish architecture of the hotels lining the square that have stood the test of time.  A walk through a short underpass below the National Museum brings you to Vinohradska street, and for me a passage back into time when I used to live in an apartment in the section called Vinohrady.  My grandmother used to live in Zizkov.  This used to be my life I ponder, as I walk up the incline.  I take a nice break in the park at Namesti Miru, then continue on.  Zizkov is now a trendy place both for living and nightlife.  There is also a new movie and shopping complex by the metro stop Flora.  If you plan to explore either of these, I recommend you take the street cars, which are fun and cheap,

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imageor take the metro, which is also cheap and easy to navigate as there are only three lines (A,B,C) which are clearly marked at every station. Tickets can be purchased at shops or ticket machines in the stations at a flat rate for 30 min, 90 min or for 110 Czech crowns (about $5) you can get a 1 day pass for unlimited public transportation.

 

Day 2

I stayed at the Clarion Hotel located on Hradelbny and practically around the corner from Starometske (Old Town), so I saved the Old Town for my last day and spent day 2 trekking to the Prague Castle and Charles Bridge.  I started out the day with breakfast at “Opapa” on Revolucni 7, a modern and tourist-friendly place where you can get breakfast or lunch at good prices and even pay with your debit card.  While the Czech Republic is part of the European Union, it does not use the Euro, so you need to either bring Czech crowns (Koruna) with you or scale the many exchange places scattered throughout new and old town for a good exchange rate.  Most hotels and restaurants, such as Opapa, also take credit cards so that makes it easier on the traveler as it’s never a good idea to carry around a lot of cash on you.IMG_1632

Here is a more complex than usual, but exciting, route for heading out for the day to see the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle:

  1. From Old Town head down Karlova to the Charles Bridge.  One of the best statues on the bridge to see is the one of St. John Nepomuk, who was famously thrown off this bridge to his death.IMG_1751
  2. Cross the Charles Bridge.  At Malostrana, make a right and visit the Kafka Museum on Cihelna.
  3. Have lunch somewhere here – restaurants with scenic views of the river are everywhere, with prices pretty much the same at each.IMG_1747
  4. Using your map, wind your way left through Mala Strana, a romantic neighborhood in the shadow of the castle not often explored by tourists.  Find your way to Ujezd and the place where you can take a ride with a trolley car up to Petrin Hill.IMG_1727
  5. You will need to buy a ticket for the ride up to Petrin Hill, however your reward is that you did not have to climb a hundred steps up to see the castle.  Enjoy the beautiful view of Prague from Petrin Hill; take pictures.IMG_1732
  6. Visit the Strahov Monestery and maybe take a coffee break at a nearby cafe overlooking Prague.  Then make your way in the direction of the Prague Castle; there will be signs.IMG_1720
  7. Enjoy the amazing Prague Castle; you will need to purchase tickets. Hopefully by now it is around 3pm.  The castle grounds will close around 5pm but there are less crowds now.  The lines for the tickets will be shorter, you can get an audio guide and take your time touring the church,IMG_1737
  8. as well as the Golden Lane, the old Jewish ghetto where Kafka used to write.IMG_1738
  9. The best part:  walking DOWN the castle stairs back to Malostranska.  Return across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town where you began.

Day 3

This is fun shopping day and wandering around the Old Town.  Plenty of time to browse all the gift shops, outdoor markets and modern shopping malls that have sprung up all along Namesti Republik and down Na Prikope towards Mustek.  I was in the mood for pizza for a quick lunch, and I recommend Pizza Nuova, located right on Namesti Republic.  It is a modern pizzeria with wood-burning ovens and excellent customer service.IMG_1621

Ham and Artichoke Pizza, at “Pizza Nuova” on Namesti Republik

 

 

 

Now that I was fueled up, I could tackle the many historical sites of the Old Town:

The Astronomical clock, dating from the medieval times when the clock mechanism was considered a modern day marvel, and it still works.

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The Jan Hus monument, leader of the Hussite revolution:

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The Church of our Lady before Tyn, where the Hussites would gather, The inside of this church is gilded with gold and extraordinary; it can be viewed by the public for free (closed on Mondays), but no pictures are allowed of the interior.

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and the site of the 27 crosses, where 27 Protestants were executed after the Battle of White Mountain.

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The Old Town Square is lined with outdoor cafes.  While on the pricey side, it is worth stopping by at one for a refreshing Czech beer and to do some people watching.  I did so to wind down on my last day and also to have one of my favorite traditional Czech foods, a hearty goulash with knedlicky (bread dumplings).  The sauce is beefy, savory and just a little spicy – so delicious and the bread dumplings are perfect to soak up every last bit of the sauce with.

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Beef Goulash and Knedlicky (bread dumplings) – Czech traditional speciality

 

 

 

I finished my trip with a concert at the Municipal Hall.  Concerts play every afternoon and evening here, and tickets can be easily purchased inside the day of the concert for a reasonable price (around $35 for mid-range seating).

Before the concert I browsed through the Kotva department store, which has been around in Prague from Communist times (although certainly renovated a few times since then!), and snacked on one of my favorite traditional Czech snack foods, “Chlebicky”, which are open face sandwiches made of various combinations of potato salad, ham, pickles, roasted peppers, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, herring etc.

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and then I stopped for a refreshing cup of tea at a new cafe that has become very popular with expats, “Cacao” on Celnici 4 about 1 street down from the Municipal building.  It has a large tea, coffee and snack menu plus free wifi.  Then it was off to the concert.

The municipal hall is located at Namesti Republic, where you can see the Powder Tower, and the Mucha mural at the top of the Muniipcal Building itself,

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At this particular concert, which lasted about 45 minutes, they played J. Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5, J. Pachelbel’s Canon, A. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and some gypsy tunes that seemed to play to the heart of the lead violinist.  It was an intimate concert hall filled with only about 40 people, so you had a great experience of hearing classical music in a salon setting much like it was originally heard in.

I went to sleep that night in my hotel with the melodic notes of Vivaldi’s concertos playing in my mind, and dreamed of another season when I can return to this magical city.