Time... What is time? By definition time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. You think and hear everyday about the word time, and it feels as if we are racing against the word no matter where we are in life. Although the moments where we "stop... and smell the roses" for me always seem to be the most precious and memorable moments of my life. The last year has been this period for me. It has been that "TIME" to stop and smell the roses, and it has been ever so delightful. I wrote in an earlier blog of my discoveries about myself, and developing new self affirmations and goals. Now with only 2 months remaining of our adventures abroad and preparing for our departure I wanted to feel, process, reflect and share this particular moment. Not to mention my mother, the english teacher, thought this would be a great blog post to aid in finding my inner voice, and passion for writing again. (Thanks mom!)
When we first arrived I had many occasions to think, and although a lot to process, my first reaction was to create more for me to do. I had a conversation with my employer and now one of my best friends Raquel, and I was in tears because I felt like I wasn't "doing" enough. When she said to me, "Chelsea take this opportunity for you, because you will never get this time back." I didn't quite understand at first, but now I can honestly say my perspective on the subject has changed quite immensely.
The element of time had manage to become one of my best friend from my worst enemy. "In my past life" I would stress and complain about not having enough of it. Now I choose to embrace ever moment and do the things I choose to do to continue to work on the best version of me. It's not as easy as it sounds. Of course in many instances, I revert back to my old ways, especially with preparing to go home. I think about all the things I have to do to prepare and get sucked into a whirlwind of unnessary anxiety, but then I remember a little saying one of the Three Amigos and dear friend, Kathryn said to me one day that altered my thinking..."you have to do is so harsh how about replacing "have to do" with you "choose to do". That simple change in phrase made a world of difference. I choose to...
As it gets closer and closer to departure a sense of homesickness lingers. I guess that's a good thing because if I didn't feel all the positives of our future, I wouldn't want to go back, but it has also given me perspective. I have had a period to reflect on my "past life" and change the things that I can control, and I am learning (a constant journey) to let go of the things I cannot. Learning to let go of the past is a challenging, liberating, and life altering practice. In my "past life" I never chose to forgive myself and let go. I would often worry myself and fret over things I couldn't control and remember telling my father on different occasions, "Oh, _____ made me feel so sad!" His response, "Chelsea no one can make you feel anyway other than yourself. Only you can make you happy." Not understanding this, and still to this day I am practicing this mantra. My solution in the past, was to suppress these feelings, and to make myself busy busy busy. Instead of actually coming to terms and accepting my feelings. This opportunity and experience abroad has given me the vision to understand, breathe, learn to accept, let go and work on making myself happy. I'm not sure if it's the Spanish culture, the fact that I am learning the language, that I have had the ability to listen more than talk, or the lifestyle we are leading while here, but I intend to take every bit of what i've learned back with me. Embracing time instead of pushing fast forward on life. This is a beautiful trait the Spanish seem to have figured out and that I value.
Part of the fear of the unknown is when we return. I fear that now that I have learned this trait, will it be easily forgotten? Will I sucum back to the "past life" thoughts and feelings? That however, is just the the thing, I would have done this very thing in the past... feared the unknown. Although, with this era I have left here in this beautiful experience I choose to embrace time in it's exsistance and live in the moment. When I do this it almost feels like everything has slowed down. Like slowing down long enough when you are out on a walk and a rain cloud moves over you. Instead of running for cover, I chose watch the clouds roll in and, feel the large droplets of rain hit my forehead, trickle down face, cooling me down from the warm summer heat. In that moment one might say to themselves "urgh rain again" but I choose to bask in its glory. I have been given the opportunity to feel things I never knew exsisted. One way I learned this was to listen and I mean really listen.
My grams used to ask me after a job interview, "Did you listen? Because I am not very good at it and sometimes I just talk, and don't listen. Truly listening, my darling is a trait everyone wishes they had." It was wonderful advise, and although I said "Yes of course Grams I listened," I never knew the meaning of her words of wisdom, until I have had the opportunity to take notice in what others were saying. Listen inwardly, outwardly, and to my surroundings. Trey is an excellent listener, so is my father, my grandfather, even Trey's father. We women have always been the talkers in my family..."talk enough for the both of us!" Grams would say. I admire the men in my life because they are such wonderful listeners and never understood why at times they would be completely silent and not give feedback. When I would ask in a frustrating tone "Why aren't you saying anything", a simple response from all of them in some form or fashion has been "I'm just listening." I used to think it was cop out, but oh how I was wrong. Not everything needs feedback or a response and sometimes people just want you to listen. While living abroad, not speaking the language has certainly had an impact on me in this aspect. Its amazing how many people will talk to you and carry on a complete conversation with you, even when you can only understand bits and pieces of what it is they are telling you. With a nod a smile and the "time" one spends with an intent to understand can make someones day! Cash our canine companion, is a prime example of this. He may not understand what it is that I am saying. However, when I have a hard day, he sits next to me and lays his little head on my lap,he sighs, and I can't help but cuddle him and thank him for listening. Listening a dog? Why yes, his response is the best feeling and I feel one of the happiest and wondrous ways to really listen.
I of course am not a self-help book writer and don't intend to start (although I am a strong believer in many of them). However, I felt the need to write on this particular subject because I feel it is and forever will be an on going process for myself and for many others like me. When I was mid writing this I told Trey some may read this and think "Oh sure Chelsea was able to live abroad, to discover these things. Thats not reality." One thing a very good friend and fellow expat, Stephanie quoting Picasso, said to me " Everything you can imagine is real!" One thing I have taken from this experience, is all of these things were there all along and that in itself is the reason for my sharing. If nothing else, as a reminder to myself to...
Take the "time" to "choose" to "listen" to what "makes myself happy" because "I will never get this time back"! These are just a few of the realizations that I have come to on this adventurous journey. My fear of the unknown, and whether or not I will be able to continue this way of life and thinking when we return state side, has subsided. How? Why? Because in the end, I simply just need to remind myself to stop... and smell the roses.
7:00 came pretty quick on Saturday morning after a long week of work, but we were up and at em ready for our next trip to Ronda. We boarded the train at 8:30am and would be to our destination by 12:40, just in time for lunch! Trey had read in Hemingway's, Death in the Afternoon, that Ronda was one of the best places in the South of Spain and was a must see! Let me just say Hemingway did not disappoint! Side note when Trey said, we were going to Ronda I couldn't help but sing the song Help me Ronda by the Beach Boys every-time Ronda was mentioned. I must be my mothers daughte,r because my mother used to break into song when she was reminded of lyrics from a song even if it were in the most inappropriate times. It always made everyone around her laugh and still tickles me to think inherited this trait. Anyway I know this song so well because more specifically when my sister and I were children and we ask for help she would sing this very song!)
The train ride was exceptionally great with the sun shining, clear sky, and a coffee and Bailey's to get us started right. The train weaved in and out of the hills of the south and we finally reached our destination just as expected. We decided to walk to our Airbnb since it was such a gorgeous day. We walked all through Ronda's artistic and intimate little town stopping in a several little artisan stores and Spanish suvienere stops. We had made it to the center of Ronda where the famous look Puente Nuevo overlooked views you couldn't even dream up, we looked at each other laughed a little giggle smiled and instantly knew this was going to be one of our favorites of Spain.
As our excitement heightened so did our hunger. We decided to get checked into our Airbnb and ask for recommendations. Our little room was perfect clean, comfortable bed, with our own private bath, amazing light, with a million dollar view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The best part was when Marco our Airbnb owner took us up to the roof top and explained the entire city from the terrace. He pointed out the best look out points, and gave us a great lay of the land. The view from our terrace alone was simply breathtaking! We asked for recommendations for a place to grab a bite to eat for lunch and he sent us to the best little tapas bars in town called Bar Convento. Marco gave us the keys and we were on our way.
I do have to brag a little about this conversation with Marco because 2 reasons. One it was a half an hour entirely in Spainsh and 2 Trey and I both spoke and understood 90 percent of the convo! We both have had our ups and downs with learning the language, and when you can carry a conversation with a native it is feeling of pure satisfaction. It feels so good when you can comprehend and natives can understand you! I'm not saying we are the best, in anyway shape or form, and we both have so much more to learn, however, it is rewarding and encouraging to continue when this occurs.
We walked up the street to where Marco told to have some excelente tapas muy rico(very rich or delish). It was packed but managed to get a drink and wait for a spot to open up. We were placed at the bar where we were able to have lite conversation with both the bartender and waitress. We enjoyed some of our traditional Spanish favorites like the pimentos (peppers fried in olive oil and salt) and an incredible dish of roasted asparagus with jamon and a fried egg. The last plate was a small pork roast. I was so full from the first two dishes, but of course with Trey Stone by my side I never have to worry about wasting food! My human garbage disposal was able to finish off every last morsal. I had a nice tento verano(which is similar to sangria but better) and Trey had a few beers so we both were feeling great and almost euphoric like because of the beauty and atmosphere of our surroundings. We decided to adventure out to a really good look out again suggested by Marco. We walked down away from the city into the rolling hills and towards a vineyard in the country side. I remember breathing in deeply and feeling I never wanted this feeling to end! Trey and I had conversations of past and future as we basked in the glory of the present. Once we reach la Casa de Amarillo (the yellow house) we turned to look at the view Marco admired. We knew exactly why this was one of his favorites, there we stood gazing at some of the most beautiful sites in all of Spain. The sun was beginning to set and I told Trey I wanted to do a little shopping before the stores closed and see the sunset from the highest point in Ronda. We began our treck back up to the city along the dirt road and trails that led directly to the city center. We wondered in and out of the quantity leather shops, galleries, and souvoneer stores. We enjoyed the quaintness and originality of Ronda. It was a clean, and artistic city and everywhere you turned there was an unimaginable view. After traveling and walking all day we ventured to look out point to watch the sun set and take a load off before dinner. We had made reservations at another recommended spot, however this time from one of the three amigos and dear friend Kathryn. We had some time to kill before dinner so we decided to take a look at the bull fighting arena and park. It was a beautiful evening and Trey and I enjoyed strolling through the city finding new hidden gems all along the way. We decided it was time to make our way toward the restaurant where we had made dinner reservations at Hotel Montelirio. We entered the hotel where the restaurant over looked the famous picturesk view of Puente Nuevo. We started with a bottle of cava and enjoyed yet another unforgettable meal talking about our love for this experience and country. The food was wonderful starting with soft-shell crab as an appetizer followed by local fresh veggies and a beautiful salmon plate. Since we had such a big lunch we kept it simple at dinner leaving us at a perfect full. Perfect full meaning still room for a night cap of course! We walked the streets of Ronda and the cool breeze filled the air. We visited Ronda when we did because it was a holiday weekend, and we would have some time to enjoy all it had to offer and have time to get back to Madrid to get ready for the work week. Therefore, unfortunately all of the main night life was closed. We wondered into a bar called Duende's (Trey's favorite 20 questions game if you remember form a previous blog post) and purchased a bottle of the same wine we shared at lunch. We decided to take the bottle back to our airbnb and drink it up on the terrace. We stayed up until nearly 4 in the morning talking about anything and everything. It was as if we were in state of Duende! As I write this I enjoy reflecting and remembering how special moments like that truly are. This experience has taken our relationship to another level, and I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity and time with my best friend I call my husband.
The next morning we woke up to the sun peaking through our bedroom window blinds. We showered and packed up the little things we brought with us on our over night romantic getaway. We had one last cup of coffee on the roof top terrace and said our goodbyes to yet another 10 out of 10 Airbnb. We didn't have to catch the train until 4:30pm so we set out in search of a lite brunch. The weather was gorgeous and we were feeling rather refreshed form the evening in the honeymooners paradise. We stumbled into this little garden that overlooked the vineyards and listened to the birds. We stopped there and sat for a moment to take it all in when we both realized something wasn't quite right. We both were a bit restless so we decided, there was still so much we wanted to see in town before we had lunch. We continued walking through the winding steep hills of Ronda, taking pictures and admiring all the generations of different architecture, from Roman to Islamic, to Moorish to Spanish. We went up and down and all around when we finally work up an appetite. We stopped in another little outside courtyard with views you just have to see for yourself to believe how magnificent they really are. We each had a nice wrap and several chilled cocktails to top off our feeling of love and enchantment for the sweet city of Ronda. We walked across the smaller bridge Puente Romano, and Puente Viejo as the sun grew hotter. We ducked into a very interesting museum and hunting lodge. I most definitely have never seen anything like this before and my perspective on it was much different than Trey's. It made me feel sad and I couldn't quite understand why something like this existed, don't get me wrong it was beautiful to see the animals up close and they were so life like it was haunting. I will say it is a form of art I can see is beautiful but a form of art that I may never quite understand. :That is all I have to say about that."(In my best Forest Gump accent). What to do when in a city like Ronda you say? Eat, shop, see, do! We had almost accomplished all of those however, I still had an itching for some more shopping. We made our way toward the main shopping area which fortunately was on the way back towards the train station (how convenient right?). Now we have thought about our loved ones quite a bit on this trip and what we should take back to each of them! Nothing really had struck our fancy on our journeys because we wanted it to be from Spain and not a cheesy shot glass or fan. However, Ronda had it figured out! We went into several stores collecting many little take home items for our friends and family. The other place we will be taking back things from is Toledo and Madrid of course, but Ronda had the true Southern Spanish Flair and artistic originality With many bags and walking nearly another 3 more hours we finally called it quits. We found this perfect little place to stop for a nice cool beverage before we boarded the train. We worked up yet another appetite with all that shopping, so we ordered some fun tapas as well. We hated that we had to leave and were going to enjoy every last minute we could until it was time to depart. That is just what we did until we literally had to run to the train station to ensure we were going to make our train. With a slight buzz and high from shopping, food, culture, romance, nature, and architecture we made it to our platform with 10 minutes to spare.
Ronda will always hold a very special place in both Trey and I's heart as it was one of our favorites here in the South of Spain. I know I say that on nearly every post I write and honestly when we visit the North I am sure we will say it again. BUT Ronda is a magical city full of life and we will return! Thank you Hemingway for the recommendation and thank you Ronda for memories of a life time!
After an unbelievable 4 days in Paris the Stones were off to join Trainwreck for a glorious 4 day stay in Prague, Chez Republic. I received an email just a few hours before our departure from the owner of our Airbnb stating he upgraded us to his newest property because the one we had booked unfortunately was needing work, because the hot water heater broke. We weren't too disappointed considering it was a two bedroom and brand new everything. When we arrived around 8:00pm we took an Uber into town. Rick and Troy were already in the apartment waiting for us to arrive. They were just as excited about the upgrade as we were and gave us the grand tour starting with the doggie water and food bowl in the entry filled with treats and bones for little world traveler, Cashman. Then into the grand living room with fresh flowers and fruit in every common room with little chocolate Easter treats all over the apartment. It was a very thoughtful and hospitable treat from our host Brandon. We all felt like VIP guests. After getting reacquainted with the traditional Prague liquor drink Betrovka, we all set out to find some food and drinks. Our location was perfect! I told Troy when planning this trip that I wanted to see Frank Kafka's moving head and lo and behold, we stayed in the plaza with the head. We could even see it from our bedroom so we were able to enjoy it our entire stay!
We made our way to a near by Cuban Bar where we had our first cocktail in Prague. This bar was full of personality with speciality cocktails, Cuban cigars, and the decor like an old library feel where you drink Scotch and enjoy a cigar. We all ewwed and aweed over our cocktails mine with a refreshing floral flavor, Rick's was a smoking drink, Trey's had a feather and was called the Hemingway, and Troy's was the most memorable because of the name and garnish...the cholesterol served with a bacon garnish and the glass was inside a little fast food french fry container with sweet potato chips. After we all began eyeing Troy's garnish we realized we all needed some food. Off we went into the night in search for food. This became more and more challenging as we all would get side tracked by all that there is to look at in this magical city, which we hadn't even started to scratch the surface. Trey began to tell us his story of his last time in Prague when he first arrived with his dad 12 years ago. Long story short the only food open at 12:00 at night was the KFC and that's what they ate there first night in Prague. I try to avoid all fast food in the states so we tend to steer clear of it in Europe as well. Just as Trey had finished the story, and we had concluded that everything in the city was closed, directly in front of us was a KFC. At this particular juncture any food would have done the trick, exactly like Trey and Trotte's first night in Prague 12 years ago. I don't know if it was the fact that I was extremely hungry, or the fact I was with my American friends eating American fast food, but KFC chicken never tasted better! With full bellies, we decided it was time for us to head back to the flat for a good nights sleep. We didn't have anything special planned for the first day, but those tend to turn out to be the best days.
We all woke up around 8:30 am, had our coffee and showers and headed out on the town in search of shoes. If you know me I walk very hard and tend to go through shoes very quickly. In Paris I had completely worn out my flats to the point they had holes in the soles. Rick was in desperation for a hair cut, so we made a pit stop in one of the coolest "Man Malls" ever, just as it was beginning to rain. It had a ton of men's clothing stores, mens shoes, mens cologne, a vintage record store, and the barber shop. While Rick got his hair cut he enjoyed a nice glass of bourbon, Trey, Troy, and I made our way through the mens wonderland. While I went into the cologne store to smell Troy's selections, Trey went into the disneyland of clothing and found the most beautiful Italian shoes. Trey is an excellent shopper and when he told me he found some amazing shoes I said," Lets go look at them." He directed us to the amazing shoes and I told him we should get them. 30 minutes later we had a very happy Trey and a very happy Rick. Trey and I had no idea Prague was so fashion forward and there were so many things to look at throughout this entire city. From fashion, to art, to furniture, to cool vintage toy stores I mean this place had it all. Our next mission was to continue the search for shoes. Cold feet aside I was going to be very picky about these shoes because I needed them to be practical and fashionable, I never knew this existed or at least never searched for such a thing until this year...must be because I am now thirty and my feet can't bare walking in heels 24-7 anymore. We probably went into every shoe store in Prague and I couldn't find what I was looking for. Rick and Troy even found some fabulous shoes in our search. Finally, on the top floor of a 6 story shoe store I found my match. However, I didn't buy them right away. I thought looking more would be a good thing and going back if I couldn't find any others. WRONG oh so wrong if you find a pair that you love do everyone a favor and buy them. We had all worked up quite an appetite. We went for some Chez street food which was out of this world. Trey had a huge bratwurst sandwich, and I had a langos, which is a giant elephant ear type of fried dough, cheese and homemade ketchup. It tastes way better than it sounds I promise its a must try for sure! Trainwreck had haluski which is a basically a glorious mixture of sourkraut, homemade dumplings, and ham . They generously shared there bowls with us and we had reached a food coma once again. We went back to the apartment to drop off our recent purchases and have an afternoon cocktail before we headed back out to return to the store, where I initially found my shoes to purchase them, I even bought a pair of socks to wear them out of the store.
As we continued to walk around the city all in our new shoes we made it just at 6:00pm to watch the Astronomical Clock strike 6:00pm. This was really neat to see everyone gathered around waiting for the little figures to move and dance on the clock. Next, we set out to window shop, walk, take pictures and go into anywhere we thought would be fun. Around every corner was another treasure. We were like the talking dog with ADD in the movie Up,"Eww shiny ball, squirrel!" We stopped in several art galleries and took in all the different forms of art, drawings, paintings, sculptures, you name it Prague had it. Strolling through the Jewish Quarter we stumbled upon a Fashion Outlet. This store was like finding gold it had everything from Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, to Valentino, to Couture. It was absolutely EVERYTHING. We all had a blast touring this amazing store of two warehouse size floors of pure art. Somethings we tried on and considered, but when coming back down to reality decided it was time to leave when they turned the music off in the store. Honestly, it is places like this that you wouldn't find if you had every moment planned, that you come across in a random gander around the city, that can seriously can change your life and perspective. There is nothing more exciting than going down an unknown alley or road and finding a treasure at the end.
After a complete shopping high we came across a Restaurant called Lokals. Since our friends and favorite restaurant owners, Mike and Petra Petrillo, of Crave International Foods and Catering and Lokals Seafood in Charleston, SC have the same name we knew it had to be good because of two reasons. One, because Lokal in Chez means watering hole or gathering place and our Lokal's in Charleston is just that but with the famous Mike Petrillo's unbelievable chef abilities that turned this watering hole into a culinary wonderland of fresh local seafood. Two, Petra being from the Chez Republic came up with the name. With her creative, artistic, fun loving, hospitable, knowledge of incredible food and delicious drinks I knew the name of this place had to be ligit. We went in and it was absolutely packed wall to wall with locals. We had hit the jackpot. Unfortunately, we were not able to eat there that night so we made reservations and went back the following night for a real traditional Chez meal. However, Lokals was known for there Pilsner beer so we all had a huge mug and stood outside and enjoyed watching all the locals. We were all feeling right and continued our journey. Again, with no plan in mind other than to stop where we felt looked good. I saw a big sign that said wine and gastro bar so in we went. There was no-one in this bar except for the bartender which made it even better because we could have it to ourselves. We walked in and the bartender asked us what we wanted. We ordered wine which was served out of taps. We had never seen this before. The bartender was in his late 60's and wearing an awesome cowboy hat. He told us in his broken English that his friend made it for him. He asked if we liked Johnny Cash since we were from the states. We all replied, "Of course!" With a huge smile on his face he smiled and turned around to the computer to put on Johnny Cash throughout the entire bar. He then turned back around started to dance and little and as he tilted his hat he said, "Me, I Johnny Cash only for one night, OK?!" We all laughed clapped and enjoyed our drinks with Johnny Cash. I tried to tell him we named our dog after him but he didn't understand. He wanted to communicate very badly so he handed me a piece of paper and a pen and we played a bit of charades with Mr. Cash for some time. Before we knew it we had bought a bottle of some kind of storage Chez Liquor and Johnny Cash was drinking with us. We went through a few different music genres and told our new friend goodbye. We were all feeling right and it was time for some dinner. We found a cool Thai Restaurant called Remember ( the irony of this restaurants name is I had to look at a picture to remember), and enjoyed some authentic ethnic cuisine. I had the best Pho and after yet another unforgettable meal we were all ready to head back to the flat, walk the Cashman, and get to bed for another day of adventures.
Again, we all did our morning rituals and made today our official tourist day unlike our booze and shoes day. We stopped at a local bakery for some breakfast and bought a day pass on the tram. Our mission was to head up the funicular to take us to the Strahov Monastery and Library. The trip up was amazing and the weather was perfect. The sun was shining and all the flowers and landscape were just starting to bloom. We came at such an amazing time of year and it felt as if we were in OZ. Trey of course snapping away and me repeating over and over "oh look at that" we had made it up to the funicular, our first time on a fun method of transportation like this (which is super cool by the way, I strongly recommend to do this if you are ever in Prague). We were all feeling a little thirsty and a there was this sweet little lemonade stand with right on the path with Fresh juices. I had lemon and ginger and it was the perfect thirst quencher. We made it up to the Strahov Library and it was closed until 1:30pm so we had about 45 minutes to kill. We turned around and there was the cutest path that lead to this really neat restaurant with outside seating that overlooked the city of Prague. We stopped there for some amazing brick oven pizza and charcuterie. The day couldn't have been written out anymore perfectly. We made it into the library and it was everything and more than I expected. This amazing library of the Premonstratensian monastery at Strahov is one of the most valuable and best-preserved historical libraries – its collection consists of approximately 200,000 volumes. The oldest part of the library, the Baroque Theological Hall, was established between 1671 and 1674; the main Classicist vaults of the Philosophical Hall date from 1794 and are two storeys tall. Both halls are dominated by ceiling frescoes by Siard Nosecký and Anton Maulbertsch. I felt very moved in this building with all of the incredible wisdom that surrounded me. It also made me think of my mom a lot. I know this is a place that she would absolutely adore, perhaps one day we can all return together. The other neat things about this library were the numerous cases of taxidermy. They had them of insects, underwater life both fresh and seawater, and many many others. Many of the places that we have traveled to on our European adventure have moved us in ways that is indescribable. The beauty and wonder we have experienced I wish I could better explain but some things you just need to experience for yourself. Prague was full of these feelings.
Next stop was the Monastery and it was again like nothing I had ever seen before. It was very neat to listen to Rick tell us his knowledge of the Catholic religion and what certain things meant and represented. The church jewels were magnificent and the murals and different places to pray were tranquil and made Trey and I feel very safe and calm. We spent close to two hours touring this amazing piece of architecture. One of the things that Trey and I found very interesting was a room that had these jeweled pieces of art that enclosed different Saints body parts. For example there was a thumb or a hand. The story is that back then churches would create these pieces to attract people to come to see their artifacts and the more beautiful and detailed they were the more people would come from all over to pray and admire these monuments and donate more money to there church. All in all the day of touring had been a success and it was time for us to head back to the flat for a siesta, Cash walk, and to get ready for our traditional Chez dinner.
When we arrived we started with a pint of Pilsner and some fried Cheese. Oh my goodness this incredible ewe gooey piece of heaven was like a giant cheese stick but oh so much better. Rick and I ordered the goulash with steamed dumplings. Trey and Troy had a pork Shnitzel with potato salad, and cabbage. We all were full up to our ears and had to walk off our delicious and ever so heavy meal. We made our way to a little outside venue with some live Jazz. We enjoyed the music for almost a set while letting our meal settle. We left when the Jazz saxophone player and singer went on break and headed to a called Cash Bar. It had a vintage prohibition era atmosphere with speciality cocktails and great Jazz music. Trey and Rick ordered the Absinth and Troy and I got the lavender vodka, cosmo. It was the perfect way to end a fun filled day in Prague. We were right by the famous Charles Bridge and thought it would be a good time to cross we started to and changed our minds to save it for the day time because there were so many people and we weren't feeling like fighting any more crowds. On our way back to our flat we found a place that made the famous cinimonroll like cones with chocolate inside with two scoops of your choice of ice cream. I chose the pistachio and we all shared this delightful treat, not like any of us needed it after the meal we had but it was worth every bite. We finally got back home walked Cash around the revolving head and called it another fantastic night in Prague.
Each time we go to a new city with Cash we try to make it a point to have a Cash day. Today was that day. We all headed out the door around 10am and headed to the popular Choco Cafe. They let us bring Cashman inside and gave him a little bowl of water while we all decided which cup of chocolate we were going to enjoy as our sugar high, I mean breakfast! It was remarkable and drinking chocolate an experience everyone should try at least once in there life. The tingles on your tongue and the warm in your belly will leave you ever so satisfied. After a piece of quiche to soak up all the chocolate we made our way across the Charles Bridge, where we experienced the street venders and musicians, over to the park. We walked past a little midivil festival under the bridge where they were selling hats, knifes, hand made crafts, and jewelry, and midivil costumes. Cash enjoyed some off the leash time while we were in the sculpture park admiring all the large art in little nick and carneys all over. It was the perfect weather with a slight breeze. Even being on the river we weren't cold so again we were very please with the time of year we came to Prague. We walked through the park past the crawling babies and headed back to our flat to drop off our very tired little pup. He went right to the sofa for a nap and we headed out to continue our tour of Prague.
We hopped on the tram once more and headed to the Cathedral and Castle. We walked through the gardens and made it up to the Cathedral. This was something else to see. We have visited a lot of churches and cathedrals while traveling in Europe but it never ceases to amaze me these incredible pieces of architecture. This gothic style was remarkable and the details in the stone were stinkingly beautiful. When we entered the Cathedral I am always in awe of the beauty of the stained glass. We had gone in just at the right time to see the sun shining through the windows to give the entire stone cathedral a warm and homey feeling even for a building of that size. The Crpse under the Cathedral was neat to see as well. We headed on down the hill out of the Castle walls when we came across another little festival like setting. They had food venders, crafts, and artisan work with music playing and a fun vibe. Rick and Troy needed a little snack pick me up and Trey and I found a neat hand blown colored glass ball that we will be bringing back to the states with us. We were looking at art and we decided that this piece was art and perfect to remember our trip not to mention it is small and easy to fit in a suite case.
Back on the tram we went and headed to this Arabic cafeteria that Troy was Jonsing for. He had seen it the last time he was in Prague and desperately wanted to check it out. Well Chef Troy knows his food, and has never steered us wrong and this Arabic food did not disappoint. We headed out for some more wondering to see what we could see and stumbled into yet another hidden treasure in a corner of an alley called Fear House. Rick and Troy love creepy crawly scary things and noticed this advertisement on the wall for Fear House. It has zombies eating human flesh on the outside of it and honestly really grossed me out but Trainwreck thought it was cool! When they looked up they noticed the sign and began walking in the direction of the entrance. I told Trey if it is a haunted house they can go I really don't like to be scared. Rick told us to come on... and began walking down the stairs into the dark dungeon. When all of a sudden creepy music began to play and images of batts flew onto the wall. We continued and a very nice zombie greeted us and told us to enter if we dared. We walked in a the room, me very hesitantly with my heart ponding we walk into a haunted bar. There were body parts hanging from behind the bar and tombstones as the bar stools. The Bartenders had on make up and the drinks were served out of skulls. It was by far one of the most creative bars I have ever experienced. We had a blast with the vampire waitress as she walked around the room giving us shots out of syringes, and Kiss playing in the background. We laughed and enjoyed our "deadly cocktails" and took in this RIP experience.
We wondered back to the flat to catch a late afternoon siesta before we painted the town red for the evening. I searched several bars for lives jazz or live entertainment and everything had been reserved for the evening. Rick came across the Velmont Club and said he thought it looked to be right up our alley. We all dressed up and made our way to the velvet roped entrance of the Velmont where we were greeting by a lovely lady. She took our coats and welcomed us to the club. In the main entrance there was a velvet victorian sofa with an all glass bar and fresh flowers, she directed us to go down the black spiral staircase. Down we went into the club and Chandiliers and mixologist awaited us. She showed us the two different rooms, the back room which was more a club setting and the front room which was more like your high end lounge. We chose the ladder and she told us we could wait for a private table or sit at the bar. We were all happy to sit at the bar and soon met a new best friend Phillip. Phillip was from Slavina and chatted with us the entire night. He was an excelled mixologist who made us refreshing cocktails and entertained us with his whity humor. As more and more people began to enter the club it really began to come alive. A women dressed in a glowing outfit with wings and a giant headdress began to walk the two rooms of the club. They told us that the show would begin shortly. We all stepped outside of the Club for a quick stroll of the city for some fresh and and to see if there were any other gems.
We followed this group of people back to this hidden alley with a hidden entrance to another bar. Unfortunately, it was full so we decided to go back to our cozy underground club. On the way back we noticed the window of the most beautiful vintage clothing in all the land. When I looked closer I realized it was all Channel. Troy and I starred in this window dreaming for close to 10 minutes when Trey and Rick brought us back to reality and guided us away from the window. When we arrived back to the Velmont there was a line out the door. We waited and the girl who showed us to our spots the first time remembered us. She took us right back to our spot where we were the first time and asked a few people to move so we could all sit down. It was awesome, talk about VIP! Now the club was heating up we watched a women with fire do a dance and another women who had her face painted swing from a swing in the back club, we even had a magic show from a magician. It truly was quite an entertaining experience and when the crowd died out we decided it was time to call it quits. Leave it to Trainwreck and Trelsea to go out of a city with a Bang and that is exactly what we did. We went back to the house for a late night snack and Cash walk and soon there after lights were out.
Last day and Prague and we all had a slow morning. We were to be out of the flat at 12 so Trey and I packed up our bags, showered, walked Cash and were ready for some grub. We headed out the door around 11 and went across the street the an amazing Indian Buffet. It was exactly what all of us needed after a late night out. After a tray full of food the only other thing we needed was a nap. Our flight didn't leave 6 so we had plenty of time to take a nap at the airport. We said our goodbyes to our host Brandon and thanked him for the hospitality and upgrade. We gave our hugs to Rick and Troy. I tried to make it a quick one because I am never good at goodbyes. Now reflecting back on I can honestly say this was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Rick and Troy are such very special friends and I am so thankful that I was able to experience this with them! Never a dull moment when you have those two around and I will cherish these adventures forever. In a nut shell Prague I can honestly say was one of my favorites of our Travels thus far. I felt right at home and felt as if we fit right in with every aspect of this treasure of a city! Thank you Prague and the Stone's shall return!
To start off, I have been told Paris is a beautiful city but the people are rude, they expect you to speak French, and will try to rip you off. I have heard the same stereotype about people in New York as a Southern boy. I am here to tell you after now twice actually going and exploring these Meccas of art, culture, history, and style that none of the stereotypes regard merit. It all comes down to how you treat people and how you express yourself.
We loved Paris and the Parisians were more than accommodating in sharing their beautiful city with us. I feel like we experienced a true European gem at the perfect time of year and saw and did the best of what the city had to offer in our four day adventure into the myth, the legend, Paris!
We flew out of Madrid early, with our Cashman in his doggy bag, and set off for the eight day trip splitting time between Paris and Prague. We arrived at the Paris airport, with no complications, just after noon. We were going to grab a taxi to our apartment, but were immediately turned off by this mode of transport to the city as they wanted 60 euros to drive us in. Deciding to save that money for our trip we opted for the alternative and took the bus. Without clue of what was going on we hastily purchased a ticket at one bus platform then walked to another. We purchased tickets for the rail and went on the bus. Being herded into the bus like cattle we quickly realized we purchased the wrong tickets for our transport but with the number of people that boarded just went with it and off to the city center we went. We arrived at the center of Paris where all lines were accessible and the city life all around us. The people were bustling around like in Madrid and we were focused on the task of getting to our apartment. We found the metro line to lead the way, were guided by a polite Parisian, and informed to keep our metro tickets, and got closer to our apartment. When we got off we weren't exactly where we needed to be and after walking in a circle decided to hail a cab. Finally, after getting in the taxi, we were only 5 minutes from our place, or so we thought. I had been researching the city and the big monument, the Eifel tower, was getting farther away and we were crossing the river we weren't needing to cross, so I explained we weren't going the right way and the driver realized his mistake and righted his path. It was a nice introduction to Paris to see the river, the street art, the people, the restaurants of one of the posh districts before finally arriving at our destination. The cab driver properly deducted our out of the way fare and we had arrived at a beautiful building that housed our four day Parisian love nest!
Our Air B&B host, Robin, was at the place to greet us. We toured his place and made sure all our questions, including how to get back to the airport by rail, were answered and left us to it. Wow! That is what we had to say about this place, it was everything we could have asked for and more, a rare find to be in such a gorgeous place in such a gorgeous city in such a great district! We were first taken back by the amazing light that shown into the bedroom and living room from the ceiling to floor, windows that looked out over the street. Our pad had a full kitchen, large comfy bed, vintage style decor, a full bath, wifi, and all the comforts of home and then some. We quickly unpacked, refreshed ourselves and then off to get a bite to eat.
We stepped out of the front door of our building and Chelsea said we were at our destination. We walked across the street and found our table outside in the sunshine with Cash delighted to be out and about in the city with us. We got ourselves situated in the sunshine and were greeted by a fresh faced waiter that got us setup with an amazing lunch of salmon and tuna bowls with fresh vegetables and rice accompanied with white wine. We savored the dish, took in the scenery, had great conversation and enjoyed getting recharged. The waiter commented on how slowly we ate for Americans and then began to befriend us, talking to Cash, and giving us valuable tips about the Parisian culture, the districts, the nightlife, and learning about us while he also explained his life. My favorite piece of information was that in Paris the wait staff treat their restaurant like their home. When you go to eat even if you want to sit outside go in and let them seat you. This gets you started off right with them and allows them to help you best enjoy your dining experience with them. We found that advice useful and had great service throughout our time in Paris.
Full and having setup intention for the day we took about 50 steps and were then surrounded by a spring time neighborhood tradition, the vintage markets! We walked through and saw amazing furniture, art, clothes, and endless vintage Persian treasures. We mingled with the locals and were made to feel right at home in a new city. Chelsea did manage to find a headband that she couldn't leave behind and found us bread, cheese, and meat from a local vendor that we planned to snack on later.
We then headed back to our apartment for a nap before getting ready for our fancy dinner out we had planned. A dear friend of mine, Max, from university exchange program in Austria 12 years before, was living in Paris and had made us reservations at 20 Eiffel. He said the restaurant had fresh local ingredients prepared in traditional Parisian fashion close to our place at a good value.
We took the short ten minute walk up the street, the Eiffel Tower guiding the way, and arrived in traditional early bird fashion in Europe at 7:30 in the evening we were the first to be seated. We were seated right by the window with the art, smells, and champagne to get us comfortable in our dining room of the evening. I ventured for the escargot appetizer, they reminded me of mussels only cleaner without the salt and occasional grit. Then had a lamb dish and vegetables followed by creme brûlée for dessert. Chelsea had tiramisu. Satisfied but not stuffed, the best way to eat in Paris, we ventured to the Eiffel Tower to take it in at night with a nice wine buzz and the lights and sounds of Paris. Holding hands and walking through the the magical park we decided we had a wonderful first day and retired home for a glass of Rose, compliments of the host before lights out.
Day two began early, we were to be at the Louve by 12:30 and needed to first find our crepes we had been Jonsing for and navigate there. We decided to start to the museum and find breakfast on the way. We found a great crepes place and sat outside with machiato and cafe with Baileys watching the Sunday pass by in Paris waiting on our crepes. I got mine with chocolate and Chelsea got hers with Nutella. Both were exceptional and after settling up with the waiter off we went to the Lourve. If you haven't been and you like art then this is a must see. I have been to many museums now over the years and this one is the best I have ever experienced! The Renaissance oil paintings had colors I had never seen before on canvas. The building itself an amazing work of architecture and detail, the statues from Greek and Roman origin, the collection of French art, the Egyptian tablets from BC, the South American and African wood sculptures, the Asian oriental furniture, the collection of palace furniture, pocket watches, every art form imaginable was displayed there, you could even take a selfie with the Mona Lisa, if you were so bold. My imagination ran rampant and the sheer excitement of being able to experience such great masterpieces and priceless artifacts made me so humbled and really creates a more worldly and balanced view of art and creation. After spending 4 and a half hours in this wonderland and experiencing art overload it was time to move on, after all we had reservations to skip the line at the Eiffel Tower and still needed to play with Cash before we went. We went into the center of the Lourve and took in the beautiful sights of the outdoor section of the museum then sadly said goodbye to the largest, most comprehensive, and amazing museum I have ever had the privilege to attend.
We knew the trip to Paris wouldn't be complete without a chance to ascend the iconic Eiffel Tower. Thanks to Chelsea's experience of the city and thoughtful planning she setup for us to skip the god awful line that exists. To avoid this mess we had to sign up for a tour. As we were walking to the meetup Chelsea expressed interest in meeting new people. We began the tour and about 20 of us are walking together. I started chatting up the tour guide and Chelsea joins in. He explained his connection to Spain, how he speaks four languages, and how he started giving the tours last week. It was nice to take the tour with him. Meanwhile Chelsea was off to her usual of meeting other people and striking up conversation with them. We skiped the line, yeah!, and began our ascent. We got to the first level and were taken around by our guide and shown various buildings, the history, the river, the park, and neat facts about it all. We then were left to roam freely with tickets to the summit. We waited in line to take the elevator and Chelsea began to start up a conversation with Ryan and Sara, a couple originally from Miami and now living in LA, Chelsea began conversation with while we walked around the first level, while I began to speak with Siobhan another new friend Chelsea had befriended from Scotland. We all got along so well and all enjoy each other's company. We instantly all become friends and as the elevator took us to the summit we continued to talk and stay with each other. We got up to the summit and spotted the champagne bar. Chelsea shared our plan with the group, that we were there to see the sunset! Everyone was on board, we got a round of champagne, and continued the conversation on for hours until the sun set. I enjoy, "bro time" and Ryan, IT guru, was the perfect guy to shoot the breeze with as the evening slowly got brighter and cooler. Of course Chelsea was with the girls and paid us no attention except for the occasional, "you remember so and so, or how did this go?" Until the sun began to set and we were privileged to a perfect sunset atop the Eiffel Tower with our new friends! Once the sun set we decided it was time to go but the new group didn't want to split up yet. We were enjoying each other's company too much. We decided to head back closer to Chelsea and my place since we were closer and get a bite to eat. I walked back and picked up the Cashman and we ate dinner outside at a traditional Parisian restuarant. The meal was excellent and we decided to move the group one more time to share a bottle of Bordeaux from France we picked up the day before. We went back and were able to host in our best Air B&B yet, and went in the wee Parisian hours getting to know our new Floridian and Scottish friends. As all good things, our evening had to come to and end, and as our new friends went to catch the taxi and metro home. We planned for our next adventure, reuniting with my great friend from 12 years ago, Maxime Chanoine during his lunch break the following day.
The best of friends are able to pickup right where they left off no matter how much time has passed. I was over joyed to have the opportunity to meet up with my closest friend from the before Chelsea semester abroad in Austria. While getting ready I told Chelsea fond memories of Max and couldn't wait to see him. The time finally came and we met at a close train station to his work for a lunch. We reunited with big hugs and formal introductions before being wisked by Max into a local restaurant he frequents and were seated with warm welcome by the waiter. We felt very at home and local as Max explained the specials and we thoroughly enjoyed our reunion with my long friend and was so proud to introduce him to my wife, catch up with the ten years that brought him a wife and three new children, and share what we could of updated events we could in the hour we had together. Max then walked us over to the posh Parisian shopping district to continue our day and headed back to work. What a guy! Max I miss you already and look forward to our next meeting, hopefully sooner than 12 years from now.
We walked into our first of many high end fashion centers that completely changed my way of seeing clothing and fashion. We were introduced to all of the designer labels with awesome displays of the cutting edge trends of the highest quality. I have been to many stores but these had clothing that inspired you and actually made you want them. I know this sounds vain but I was there and you have to see to believe what I am talking about! Chelsea and I wandered through viewing designer labels at their best and took it all end, we even brought a souvenir home!
Back home we got some rest for the big event of the evening, our visit to the Moulin Rouge! We got dressed to impress so as to not stick out in the best cabaret in the world and off in the Uber we go for a pleasure for our senses. The experience begins to turn me off in the beginning as we wait for 45 minutes to be seated as we are herded through the practice area and back through the front before being seated. Once we got to our seats the entire perspective changed. We were seated, a waiter popped a bottle of champagne, and then we had a moment to take in the ambiance, not a bad seat in the house, 150 people dressed to impress drinking champagne and getting ready for a spectacle that has been a Parisian tradition that has wowed and impressed generations of guests, including Chelsea's grandfather Joe! When his wife Wanda asked him what he saw there he said they did nothing but the can-can and he was right! In his time I could see the can-can being the big finale. It has probably been the greatest show of it's time throughout it's existence to develop a reputation as it has. In our show we saw dancers, both men and women, dressed in the most amazing costumes, performing various routines with talent and class. The music pumping through the first rate sound system was excellent, and the singing we saw was great too, or as great as you could expect with all of the dancing and jumping around happening on the stage. We were awed for an hour and a half as we were mesmerized by the show. The occasional bump by Chelsea to fill up her drink or the occasional comment about this or that were all that broke my concentration of the spectacular. The acts were incredible, performed with wonderful choreography by a group of women that shared a very particular body type, weight and ability, in numerous costumes that were over the top but very tasteful, accompanied by a group of attractive but no so syncopated or rhythm-gifted men, and setup in front of a multi-dimensional stage that included revolving sets and even included a pool filled with anaconda snakes! The costumes were very pleasing to the eye as most were designed without tops and the body style of the women was something to be admired and enjoyed! Even though the set performances were amazing Chelsea and my favorite parts were during the intermissions. During the time the performers were changing and the next set getting into place there were individual performances. We witnessed a muscular acrobatic dude perform gravity-defying feats on glass tables and use bars to lift his body in ways uncomprehendable to most. We also saw a couple dance inside of a ring together so beautifully and with much ease. Also, from what appeared to be the most veteran of the crew, a performance with each other that made Chelsea think they were using wires, but I prefer to believe the guy was just that strong, experienced, and talented to be able to pull off the stunts he was doing with his gorgeous partner. The scene that I remember the most was when a pool elevates from below the stage floor and a girl jumps in and starts to swim and dance in the water with anacondas swimming all around her. The girls dressed like various birds, in bedazzled everything, different genres, glamorous, and wearing hardly anything at all, but don't get me wrong, while I enjoyed viewing their bodies it was the dance moves and talent they were showcasing, more than the lack of clothing, that sparked my interest. Just when Chelsea and I polished off the last of our champagne the spectacular ended, the lights came on, and we were left in awe in wonderment. If you are ever in Paris don't let the ticket price stop you, dress to impress and attend, this show should not be missed!
High on life and a bottle of champagne Chelsea and I weren't finished with the night quite yet. Our great waiter had informed us of some bars we should attend to we headed that way. We decided to order a pizza and get a drink at a swanky bar next door while we waited. There we met a man from Africa who made us some excellent martinis, which is a luxury since they don't shake for you in Spain, and we met yet another friend as we enjoyed our nightcap waiting on our pizza. With another evening drawing near an end we enjoyed our late night snack and prepared for yet another action filled day in Paris to come!
We took advantage of the planned break on Tuesday and slept for a few extra hours. I then cooked us a nice breakfast and we got ready to meet our new friends Ryan and Sara to go to the Palace of Versaille. Both us and them were about an hour behind and we leisurely made our way to meet them to head to our destination for the day. Once we got to the train station it was apparent we weren't the only people to visit Versaille that day. Once we arrived to the exit we were glad to get off the train but the long lines had just begun! We spent the next two and a half hours waiting in line to view the palace! This was by far the longest we have had to wait for any attraction. This was made okay and tolerable by the fact that we had our new friends with us. The time passed effortlessly as we all got to know each other. If we hadn't had people to get to know Chelsea would have gotten very bored of me telling another story she had already heard at least twice already! Finally, we got to the front of the line! We walked through and saw a cool palace with great chandeliers, furniture, artwork and views. The only problem was that there were so many people and you felt rushed and didn't get to take in all the views you wanted to see. Once we got through the palace we all needed a break and some caffeine. We stopped at Angelina and got some coffee, macaroons, and water. I have always heard how fancy macaroons are and this place makes some of the best in the world. I had never tried them before and we got some to share. My favorites tasted like fruit loops. If you ever want to share macaroons with me I'm down, they are so good! While we were relaxing Ryan wanted to get another bottle of water. When he returned much later he was red and looked flustered. What he was about to explain next was probably the best story I have heard while in Europe. He went to the cashier to purchase a 3 euro bottle of water. He had a 2 euro coin, a fifty euro bill, and his debit card. He ordered his water and went to pay with the card but she wouldn't accept the card for such a low amount, then he asked if she would take a 50 euro bill, which she said she would take. He then proceeded to get his bill that was in his waist pouch under his shirt. He presented the bill to the woman and she gave him a blank stare and asked, "do you feel shame for your Fannie pack?" Ryan couldn't believe it and said he didn't until now. She then asked him if he was afraid of pick pockets and he said yes. She didn't understand him she said and stated she could not break a bill so large. She then decided to allow him to use the card. The Fannie pack distraction caused her to run his debit card for fifty euros instead of the three euros for the water. She got the manager and then gave him the change back in cash. She told the manager she was so distracted from the Fannie pack, made Ryan show it again, they both laughed at him together in amusement while handing him change. All of this took at least 10 minutes for a bottle of water and the line behind him was backing up. Moral of this story, don't flash your change belt in Paris unless you want to get called out by a young waitress, Feel the shame!
After laughing about that for a few minutes we were off to the next part of the Versaille Palace, the gardens. It had taken so long to get through the line and palace that it was late afternoon. We walked though the garden trails taking our time and enjoying being outside and away from the crowds. We were having such good conversations and enjoying the weather so much that we walked past the Palace grounds to a public park where they were renting boats. We purchased some wine and planned to take a paddle on the water but the rental company was packing up for the day. We decided instead to sit on the green grass, enjoy the sunshine and continue our conversations. Hours later the sun began to set over the palace giving some wonderful light, the ducks were getting out the water for the day, and we began the long walk back watching the colors change minute by minute as the day gave way to dusk and we watched another sunset and had the gardens to ourselves. It made me think of golf cart rides in Ravenel with Pops and Shakey Sue, while appreciating the great colors and weather of spring.
We caught the train back, said our goodbyes, picked up Cash and headed for yet another fantastic culinary experience just minutes walk from our apartment. I dined on the spagehtti bologna accompanied by a glass of red wine and enjoyed watching Paris pass by my little family sat outside and took it all in. Life is so good!
Our last day in Paris we packed and cleaned up the house, finished off the breakfast food in the fridge, and then went on a riverboat cruise through the Seine River. We saw the must see buildings, the Eiffel Tower from the river view, and the numerous bridges that are works of art themselves with statues and ornate decorations abounding in exquisite detail. The weather again, perfect! The company, perfect!
We were leaving the boat and decided to keep the group together, get Cashman, and have a picnic in the Champs de Mars park overlooking the tower. We shared a bottle of champagne, various tasty lunch snacks and sandwiches while soaking up the sunshine one last time before heading to the airport. Cash chased after the pigeons and stretched his puppy legs to the delight of the crowds around us. People video taped him and pet him and it felt so good to let him be free before going on our flight.
We then grabbed our gear and navigated back to the airport this time properly by underground. We were even assisted yet again by a very friendly Parisian who helped us through the maze of walking and buses to get to the airport terminal. Yet another dream come true, full of adventure, romance, fashion, food, culture and people. Paris was an unforgettable place that will always be a special place in the Stone's book of adventures we will forever have a Passion for Paris!