Our ski-less winter holiday in Avoriaz

Our ski-less winter holiday in Avoriaz

This winter, Pav and I hit a few travel milestones and some travel firsts (somewhat unexpected). We had originally planned a family ski holiday in Avoriaz, France, which didn’t quite pan out as we imagined it. First, it was just the two of us without the rest of the family and, second, we had no snow to actually ski on. Which made for quite an interesting holiday.

We arrived in Avoriaz on Dec 31st, 2017 definitely ready to greet 2017 with a big hug. We got there around 4 PM after quite a few delays due to freezing fog, which was present across all airports we visited (we flew Prague-Brussels-Geneva). As we were driving towards Avoriaz our transfer driver suddenly pointed to a cliff and said “Up there is where you’re staying.” My first thought was that I’m glad I’m not afraid of heights.

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Immediately after got dropped off and checked in (which took all of 10 minutes), we put our suitcases into our room and decided to go explore. We put on our fleeces (yes, it was too warm for our ski jackets in the mountains) and went outside.

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We immediately got a stunning view of the valley below us, the sunset and the town. Our mission was simple – find a place to ring in 2017. After a couple attempts at finding a restaurant, I finally spoke to the owner of a small pizzeria and he told us to come at 7PM. Not a minute later or he wouldn’t seat us. With that, we turned to go back to the hotel to get ready for our big night out.

That night, we had tartiflette and some sort of potatoes with cheese and assorted hams, saw the fireworks (by complete accident we ended up being right across from them when they happened) and made friends with a couple of the local bartenders. Everyone we met that night made sure to warn us not to ski due to the terrible conditions of ice and artificial snow, so we decided to heed their warnings and reconsider the skiing in the morning.

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We welcomed 2017 with all the glory it deserves, so we ended up spending January 1st in our hotel. In the evening, we took a short walk up to the top of our nearest slope to see what the snow conditions were for ourselves. There was plenty of artificial snow, but we still decided to wait.

Instead we spent the following days hiking, going to the water park, visiting Morzine and doing other mountain activities. Keep your eyes open for more articles, which will come soon!


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Flying with Finnair

When I decided to go to Japan, the biggest concern was getting tickets for the correct dates, price and availability. Seeing as I was buying these tickets less than two days before my intended departure, availability was key and we chose Finnair. It’s also the shortest route from Prague to Osaka, with 2 hours or so from Prague to Helsinki and then 9 hours from Helsinki to Osaka with a brief 3 hour layover.

IMG_6949Pre-Flight

Pre-flight procedures here are pretty standard. You get a reminder e-mail 24 hours ahead of time and you can check in, nothing to remark on. Everything worked as it should have and I was on my way!

Flight

To be honest, it wasn’t one of my favorite flights, the seats are rather small and the place has a cramped feel to it. My return flight was significantly better, as I had two seats to myself and was able to be a little more comfortable. The best part was that the cabin temperature was pretty near perfect and I wasn’t freezing, as is sometimes the case.

Food

Food was decent, although on the way to Japan I didn’t eat much. On the way back, it was significantly better and we even got ice cream half way through the flight! You get a small bottle of water when you walk on the plane, so bonus points for that, even though it’s not enough for the long haul flight. On the short flight, you have a selection of food and drinks that you can purchase. On the other hand, service was great and always helpful.IMG_1193

TIP! Once you’re past security, bring a bottle of water for your long haul flight. I was pretty dehydrated on the way there so I did this when coming back and felt a lot better.

In-flight Entertainment

I was lucky because I travelled there and back in different months, so the movies and tv shows were slightly different. Overall, there’s a decent selection of movies and shows and I wasn’t bored, even though I hardly slept. One tip for you – you get free earphones, but I recommend that you bring your own, along with a converter to the two prong outlet for sound that airplanes have.

Overall, this was a very convenient way to get from A to B with the shortest possible travel time and best departure and arrival times. And for that alone, I would fly with them again. On the way there I was a little surprised, but on the way back I figured out what I need to do to make my flight more comfortable and it definitely was!

Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix

It has been a while since our trip to Monaco (two years, to be precise), but it left an amazing impression. Since the Monte Carlo Grand Prix is to take place this weekend, it’s a good time to impose some wisdom and share our experiences, in case any of you are going.IMG_2990

We made it a long weekend event – flying out on Thursday and coming back on Monday morning. We opted to stay in Nice, France, which is just a short drive away from Monte Carlo. This was a great decision, because the picturesque city was stunning and offered refuge from the Grand Prix craziness that was going on in Monaco. Our hotel was on the side of a mountain, overlooking the city and the coast.

Our first day came with a mission – go to Monaco and pick up our Grand Prix tickets. Simple, right? Well, not really. We found parking and started walking towards the ticket stands. And here comes tip #1:

Tip #1: Carefully look up maps and road closings, navigation during the Grand Prix is difficult and you may end up in a bunch of dead ends!

Tip #2: get GPS for your car or data on your phone for navigation
DSC_5687So, we did a lot of up and down walking to get to the ticket stand. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day and we got to admire the beautiful views that the city offers. We also watched a little bit of the Formula 3 race.

DSC_5704After picking up tickets (and buying team merch), we had plenty of time left in the day to explore. We hopped into the car and drove back to France, along the coast. We went past Nice, drove by Cannes, and into the small city of Frejus. Our initial goal was St. Tropez but that ended up being a bit too far. In Frejus, we visited the ruins of an ancient amphitheater and took a stroll on the beach. The coast was absolutely beautiful and if we had time, we definitely would have loved to visit more of the coastal towns. In Frejus, we got hungry, so we stopped by for drinks and tapas, which tasted great.

We then ended the day with dinner in the rooftop restaurant of Radison Blu Nice, which, again, had great food and views.

On Saturday, we went back to Monte Carlo to watch the qualifiers for Sunday’srace. We checked out our seats – Grandstand O, above the water and facing the city. We could see the pit lane, as well as parts of the finish line.DSC_5806

We decided to go for lunch in the immediate area, which proved to be a mistake, as everything was full and restaurants were not up to speed.
Sunday was race day! You could feel the excitement in the air. We got there early to see all the pre race events, including the drivers’ parade. Then we had lunch on the stands with food that was sold there (lines insane, but it wasn’t worth it to go back into town again).

TIP #3: bring tanning lotion! You’ll need it so that you don’t end up looking like a crab.

And then the race began! Since it was my first race, I was initially worried about recognizing the drivers, but it wasn’t an issue. It was so much fun to watch and hang out there. We loved it. When the race was over, we got to walk across the race track and as we were leaving, we heard that Benedict Cumberbatch was meeting the drivers and congratulating them! It was almost hard to tell who was more starstruck. Sadly, we didn’t see it happen.DSC_5875

After that, we left Monaco, went to the hotel to change and for dinner. This time, we got dinner in a small restaurant in a village on the other side of the cliff that our hotel was on. There were very few people and the food was, once again, amazing.

Sadly, that was it for our trip and we left early in the morning on Monday. We absolutely loved this trip and definitely recommend it to anybody!


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Prague Zoo

The Prague zoo has had some pretty exciting news as of late and so we decided to pay it a visit this week. A few weeks ago, a baby elephant was born, making it the first elephant to be both bred and born here. And a little while after, a surprise baby gorilla was born. Surprise  because nobody knew the adult gorilla was pregnant. And yes it would be easy to blame the caretakers for not knowing, but if you factor in the fact that the gorilla was old, had been treated with hormones in the past and was never able to carry a baby to term, it makes it for a highly unlikely event. Alas, the baby was born and is now one of the Prague zoo’s prized possessions. And we just couldn’t pass up all the cuteness.IMG_8963

We decided to go on a work day to try to avoid crowds – and we partially succeeded. When we walked into the zoo, there were only about 3500 people. We immediately made our way up the hill, into the upper portion of the zoo and towards the elephant enclosure. On our way, we stopped by in one of the newer and cooler pavilions – the Indonesian jungle. You walk in and you’re transported into a jungle – you see the monkeys, walk through a path between ponds and around tree trunks. The walk ends with a walk through a darkened “cave” where they have bats flying freely.

Between the Indonesian jungle and the elephant enclosure, we stopped by to see polar bears. First, we saw two, who were just lying there, one using the other as a pillow. We honestly had doubts whether or not they’re alive, but then they shifted slightly. Around the corner was a third polar bear was significantly more active. It was swimming around, then pacing. We were surprised how crazy fast its fur dried.

We then finally made it to the elephants, where it was crazy busy.  We managed to snag a pretty good spot to watch the baby frolic around its mother. It’s still too small to go off on its own, but it definitely wants to. We stayed there quite a while, watching.

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From here, we went across a bridge, towards the giraffes and meerkats. The giraffe viewing area was crowded, so we continued along the path to the meerkat enclosure. It’s open on top and glass all around, so you can see the meerkat’s clearly. Since it’s definitely a favorite of the little kids, the open top makes it nice for adults to look over and see things nicely. We couldn’t tear ourselves away because the most recent additions to the meerkat family were born on April 1st, so they were still tiny and cute. We then slowly made our way back around the giraffes and elephants and stopped by for food.

Right next to the elephant enclosure is a restaurant with outdoor seating. You go up to the counter, order and pay and then carry your food to a designated table. They have a great selection of food, so even we, both picky eaters, were able to chose something. They have european, middle eastern, and typical Czech food. A tip for non-Czech speakers – the boards on top of the counter are written in Czech, but they have english menus near the register, so keep an eye out for those. We got an order of fried cheese and fries (a staple in Czech food establishments) and gyros and were pleasantly surprised at how good both meals were. Finally, if you have more people in your party, decide on your orders and have some people stand in line, while other scout for a table. We were there on a weekday off-season and had trouble finding an open table outside (there were tables inside, but we didn’t want to sit there).

 

FullSizeRender 2Tip # 2: Go for the draft drinks – beer, Kofola or Malinovka (a local raspberry flavored soda).

 

From here, we continued to circle the elephants and make our way towards the lonely big cats in the back. Warning – there are two locations for the big cats, so keep an eye out on where you’re going. The zoo is pretty big so you might have to make choices on what you see and what you skip. We saw the leopards and tiger (which was far) and walked back past the wolves and other animals.

We then took the cableway down and didn’t have to stand in line (since most people prefer to take it up and walk down). It can be a bit daunting if you have a problem with heights, but it’s completely safe.

FullSizeRender 6The lower part of the zoo seems smaller, with everything closer together. We saw monkeys (where we stopped by for quite a bit, watching them climb trees and seeing how far up they can go).

When we finally made it to the big cats, it was feeding time. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t feel too well watching the tiger devour the giant piece of meat he was given. In a separate enclosure was a different tiger, who received food last and you could tell how nervous he was by his fast pacing and general reactions to the people watching him. I normally like big cats, but this was too much – I preferred the snakes and lizards on the other side of the building.

 

 

Because the weather was nice, the lions were in the outside portion of the pavilion. The lion and two lionesses were clearly done with lunch by the time we got there, so they were significantly calmer than the other cats. The lion was asleep and while the lionesses were awake, they were just sitting there, watching the goings on.IMG_9088

After a short break by the lions, we went to the gorilla pavilion, which has a restricted entrance right now because of a recently born baby. One of the gorillas gave birth a couple weeks ago without anyone knowing she had been pregnant (due to old age, past fertility issues and her being overweight). There was a ZOO employee at the entrance, letting in groups of five or so at a time, warning visitors to be quiet and telling everybody to move on if they lingered too long. So we only stayed for a little bit, but still saw the baby and it’s mother, which was adorable.

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From there, we walked through the water world and monkey gardens, where you walk on wooden paths between ponds and see stuff like ducks and flamingos and everything else that lives in or around water. This is great for kids because they can run around and have fun. You can also go inside a small pavilion and see gavials, which were scary looking.

If you have kids, there’s a petting zoo nearby, which we decided to avoid, but it should be worth visiting.

Our last animal viewing stop was for the penguins, which were being their adorable selves. You can watch the time lapse Pav took to see their shenanigans. Unfortunately, the seals weren’t in their enclosure due to cleaning, but normally they’re great to sit down and watch.

 

We were then in desperate need for refreshments, so on our way out, we stopped by a food stand, where we got iced coffee and ice cream, which was a perfect way to end the day. We rested our feet a little, went up to see how many visitors there now were (at that point 6624) and headed out to the bus. Warning! The exit is near the entrance, but not exactly in the same spot, so watch the arrows pointing you there, you can’t leave through the entrance. A great thing is that the buses are outside the zoo, between the entrance and the exit, so you don’t have to walk far.

We definitely had a great day at the Prague zoo and recommend it to anyone who’s visiting Prague, it’s no surprise it’s been ranked 4th best zoo in the world by TripAdvisor.

Final tip: it’s better to take public transportation than to drive to the ZOO, the traffic gets pretty crazy and you have to walk pretty far.

 


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Czech Traditions: April 30th


Czech traditions: April 30

Today’s post will divert from the recent reviews and trip tips and go into the Czech culture a little bit. April 30th and May 1st are traditionally significant dates here in the Czech Republic…and you’re about to find out why.

So, what’s the deal with April 30th? Well, it is the night of the burning of the witches., one of the oldest Czech traditions. The closest thing you can equate it to in the English speaking world is Halloween, I guess (even though we also have a version of Halloween in the fall, go figure). But take away the kids in cute Disney masks and add witches being burned at the stake. Quite literally, although not to worry – the witches are made of hay and twigs.

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This night is an old pagan holiday that became ingrained into the Czech lifestyle. It’s the celebration of the beginning of spring (Maypoles sometimes make an appearance). The night between April 30th and May 1st has always been considered to be magical and there are many myths about it. People believed that on this night, witches would fly on their broomsticks to gather and perform rituals. And so to protect against these witches (ghosts and demons also), people would set fires on hills. Eventually, people added “witches” – the aforementioned puppets or broomsticks – on top of the fires to see the witches burn. During this night, people also took precautions to protect themselves, their fields and their cattle with special twigs and holy chalk.

Nowadays, the spiritual reasons for the holiday have long been (mostly) forgotten, save scary stories by the fire, but the tradition remains. While we no longer carry around holy items for protection, we still gather and make bonfires and “burn witches.”

IMG_8928After being gone on this day for quite a few years in a row, Pav and I decided to rediscover the holiday this year and go see a bonfire in a small Czech town. We arrived after the fire had been started (although we did see preparations earlier in the day) and watched. First of all, there were a lot more people than we anticipated. Second, it’s interesting how this night has evolved into something more resembling a music festival, rather than a pagan holiday. There were stands with beer and food, even a small stage with a folk band. It was a great gathering – what seemed like the entire town was there: little kids running around in witch costumes and with broomsticks, their parents drinking beer, teenagers pretending to be too cool to take part, yet sitting on the sidelines and the ever vigilant local firemen, watching to make sure nothing happens. Yet there were still aspects of the holiday that remained intact. And that’s what matters.

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If you watch Gilmore Girls, this event would be right out of the Stars Hollow book and I believe even Taylor would approve. So what do you think? Would you want to come and witness this?


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