Weekending: Prague

While I’m living in Istanbul, I try to take advantage of all the amazing destinations a few hours’ flight away and travel there as often as possible. I like to focus on destinations that are harder to access from the US for just a few days (such as Turkey’s beach town Bodrum) and places best explored while I’m still relatively young and unencumbered (to wit: Beirut). Traveling as an expat takes on a different flavor as well, seeking culture and cuisine not found in my new city.

The place: Prague, Czech Republic

I really had no intention of going to Prague. Not that it doesn’t interest me, I’ve heard it is enchanting and a must-see city, but this particular weekend we were all set to go to Kosovo, one of the world’s youngest countries (by self-declared independence as well as population). A series of minor events caused us to miss our flight by minutes, but as we were already at the airport and ready to travel, we asked to be re-booked on the next international flight somewhere, which turned out to be Prague. We arrived in the Czech Republic with no reservations, research, or plans and through the magic of social media (and the Prague Airport’s free wifi), I was greatly assisted and reassured by the great advice and insight from travel writers and friends Evan Rail, Alexander Basek, and Gadling’s own David Farley. Turns out it’s not an overrated country and I can now say, “Oh, I’ve been to Prague.”


  • Two words: pork and beer. Ask any meat-eating expat in a Muslim country what they miss most about home and they will invariably say pork. While it’s available in Turkey, it’s scarce and pricey. Alcohol is easier to come by, but anything imported will cost you and while Turkey’s national Efes satisfies, it tastes like watered down Bud Light after drinking Czech beer. Arriving in a city thronged with sausage carts and beer halls was like visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The beer isn’t just tasty and cheap, it’s available anywhere, pretty much anytime. For tips on the best pubs to drink at, trust anything by Evan Rail – Tony Bourdain did earlier this year. My last night in Prague was spent at the lovely Meduza Cafe, a near-perfect spot to have a coffee or glass of wine, write in your journal, and revel in Bohemia.
  • The city’s beauty is well-known, and one of the greatest pleasures is just strolling the streets and bridges and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s interesting to contrast the romantic castle and ornate Old Town Square architecture with some of the old Soviet buildings, like the modern art Veletzni Palace museum, and the wacky sculptures of David Cerny. Small but worthwhile attractions include the Museum of Communism (if only for the darkly funny posters such as “Like their sisters in the West, they would’ve burnt their bras – if there were any in the shops”) and the Museum of Decorative Arts, featuring a fascinating collection of costumes, design, and knick-knacks – as well as a great view of the always-crowded Jewish Cemetery from the bathrooms (a tip from Evan, thanks!).


  • Even after seeing Paris, London, and New York, Prague is the most touristed city I’ve been to yet. Long after being discovered as a “budget” European destination (it’s still cheap by Europe standards, but not quite the bargain it was in the ’90s), the streets are packed with package tourists from all over the world, backpackers, and worst of all – pub-crawling college students. True story: one night a shirtless American kid walked in a mini-market, talking on his cell phone about how drunk he was and how he tried to hook up with some other girls in his hostel. He hung up and told his friends he was talking to his MOM. By day in the areas around Old Town Square and Prague Castle, you’d be hard pressed to hear anyone speak Czech and it’s difficult to find a spot not mobbed with tourists, which all takes a bit away from the city’s authenticity.
  • Not quite a downgrade but perhaps due to the aforementioned tourists, service at restaurants can be brusque and some less scrupulous taxi drivers have been known to take passengers for a ride. If possible, let your hotel book taxis to ensure you get a fair price and find out what approximate prices are around town. Other than a few waiters having a bad day, I’d hardly condemn the Czech people as being anything other than friendly and helpful. The bigger deterrent is the disrespectful, entitled, and obnoxious tourists.

Getting there

Delta flies direct from New York to Prague Airport, and British and American Airlines fly via London Heathrow. Budget carriers bmiBaby, German Wings, easyJet, and WizzAir service Prague from Europe. It’s an easy and cheap bus and metro ride into the city center from the airport.

Make it a week

Prague is surrounded by beautiful countryside (remember the sunflower fields in Everything is Illuminated? Filmed outside Prague) and the city is well connected to towns and cities around the Czech Republic. Spend a few days in the capital and then get out and explore Bohemia.

Dubrovnik: Pearl of the Adriatic

Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and see Dubrovnik.
– George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Prize winning writer and playwright

A bright star perched along the Croatian coast of the sparkling Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik looks more like the inspiration for the Disney set for Pirates of the Caribbean than any other real place on earth. Constructed as a series of fortresses to protect against centuries of invasions from pirates and other nations, Dubrovnik is guarded by massive stone walls and hefty cannons butting up against the sea-a sight like no other and a city worth visiting.

The Old Town
Looking out over Dubrovnik’s Old Town, the traveler sees a charming jumble of red-tiled roofs and stunning towers rimmed by two kilometers of thick white walls. The walls have been necessary-though the city of Dubrovnik began in the 7th century as a major cultural and commercial influence, countless enemies have attacked Dubrovnik for its white flag bearing its simple ideal: Libertas (Liberty). For centuries, Dubrovnik’s city and republic fought and thrived despite opposition. Because of Dubrovnik’s significant contribution to world history, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

Even since then, Dubrovnik’s legacy was severely threatened when more than two thousand shells hit the city in the 1990’s Yugoslav war. Mortar marks can still be seen today, walking through the city. Despite the scars of war, Dubrovnik’s architecture reflects its rich history of varied influences-Greek, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German, and Slavic.

The Sea
Formed of a coastline jagged with dark rocks and dotted with sand and pebble beaches, the area around Dubrovnik makes a memorable place for a dip in the green Adriatic Sea. On a rough day, waves crash along the walls of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, but on a calm day, the shimmering Adriatic beckons travelers out into its natural beauty.Venture out on a day cruise boat for a trip around the nearby islands, or swim out from one of the local beaches. Dine or walk along the shore for an unforgettable sight of the sun setting above the rough-hewn islands and sleepless lighthouses.

Where to Eat
As with every tourist center, Dubrovnik offers its fair hand of tourist-type restaurants. Club Nautika features top views of the city accompanied by an elegant menu at higher prices. But if you venture a bit off the worn cobblestone path, more authentic fare can be found.

My personal favorite, for the intimate setting and long wooden bar: Pizzeria Mea Culpa, only a few alleys from the main Stradun.

What to do
Beginning at Lapad Beach, walk a kilometer along the coast of the Lapad Peninsula to enjoy spectacular views of the Bay and the Adriatic, and three working lighthouses. Venture through the Old Town, and down the wide stone alley called Stradun. Duck into galleries and museums, shops and churches, and envision the 1400 years of existence of the fortress town bordered by mountain and Sea.

Nicknamed “the pearl of the Adriatic,” travelers cannot resist Dubrovnik’s enchantment. Again and again, I return to lasting impressions and vivid memories of the Pearl-like Fortress mounted against the Emerald Sea: Dubrovnik.

Jennifer Lyn King, a native Texan, lives in the Czech Republic, where she writes from her home near Prague. She is the author of The One Year Mini for Busy Women. Read her blog on Red Room. All the photos above are copyright Jennifer Lyn King.

Budget Travel: Albuquerque

Summary: Albuquerque, founded in 1706 by a group of Spanish colonists on the banks of the Rio Grande, has grown into a sprawling southwestern city that creeps up the Sandia and Manzano Mountains to the east and out onto the mesa to the west where it meets the National Petroglyph Park Monument. On the southern end, Isleta Pueblo halts it’s sprawl, and to the north is Sandia Pueblo.

If you drive into the city at night from the west, it can look like stars. From a distance during the day, Albuquerque can look like an oasis. For an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or someone interested in the arts, there is an array of things to do that won’t break the bank or bleed your wallet dry. With the airport right at the city’s edge, and the train and bus stations close to downtown, Albuquerque is quite accessible, however, don’t stop here. I’d use Albuquerque as a stepping off place to see more of New Mexico, but take a few days to enjoy what it has to offer on your way in or out.

Getting In: Bus, train, plane, car, bicycle–you pick. Albuquerque is an accessible city with inexpensive travel options. Airlines have much competition which helps keep the prices down. Continental and Southwest are the best bets. Amtrak also has a stop here, as does Greyhound. Albuquerque is on the way to other places, so why not spend time here if you’re making a cross-country jaunt?

If you do arrive without a car, I’d rent one. It would make life easier and give you more options of places to go in the city in the quickest amount of time–as well as take drives to Santa Fe, Acoma Pueblo or Bandelier National Monument. In 2008, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express opened. It’s the communter train between Santa Fe and Belen and points in between.

There is an extensive city bus service and many tourist sites are accessible by foot from Central Avenue, the Albuquerque’s main artery that goes from east to west. Bring water along if you’re walking. It gets hot if you arrive after April and before October. It’s a dry heat, so if you perspire, you won’t end up soaked.

Although, I haven’t done this option, if you arrive with a bicycle, you can hop on a bike trail at the airport. Here’s a link to the details.

Where to Stay: As the largest city in New Mexico with the major airport located here, there is an abundance of places to stay. Think of a chain hotel, and you’ll find it. If you’re looking for funky, stay in one of the independently owned hotels on Central Avenue, part of historic Route 66. As a word of warning, choose carefully. A friend and I thought it would be fun to stay in one when I lived in Albuquerque and I think it might have been a flop house. Let’s just say one of the TV channels offered more than I anticipated and one didn’t need to pay extra. To find a recommendation, contact Route 66, the organization dedicated to keeping this historic road thriving. Stay close to Nob Hill, University of New Mexico or Old Town.

Where to Eat: Albuquerque is where you can eat your fill of Mexican food and never get bored. You’ll be asked if you want red or green chilie. Try green chilie at least once. One place to dry a dose of the good stuff for breakfast, lunch or dinner is at The Frontier across from the University of New Mexico. You can’t miss it since it takes up almost a whole block. Try the cinnamon rolls. I repeat. Try the cinnamon rolls. They are legendary.

Two other inexpensive places for great Mexican fare are Garcia’s Kitchen and Los Cuates. Garcia’s Kitchen started out in one location across from Old Town. Now there are seven. I’m partial to the original. There are two Los Cuates on Lomas directly across the street from each other. The south side of the street is the original. The north side has margaritas. Whichever Mexican restaurant you head to, enjoy the sopapillas with honey. Oh, how I miss those.

For a Route 66 dining experience, eat at the Route 66 Diner. Although the original burned in 1995, the rebuilt one reflects the time period.

To pick up food to take along on a bicycle or hiking outing, head to the La Montanita Co-op Market in Nob Hill.

Things to Do:

As a centerpiece to your visit, head to Old Town which is the oldest part of the city, but has been transformed into a area rich in shopping and things to do. The plaza is at the heart of the area and is where the 300 year old San Felipe de Neri Parish church, still stands. The church has a museum and a gift shop which reflect the Spanish influence.

You could browse Old Town’s shops for hours. Things to buy range from ticky tacky to high-end gorgeous. I’d browse before you buy. One thing to pick up that I think is a hoot is an adobe house incense burner. For wonderful arts and crafts, check out Amapola Gallery. It’s a cooperative that showcases the work of about 40 artists.

Also in the Old Town area are Rattlesnake Museum, Turquoise Museum, Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, and Explora, a museum that integrates art, technology and science. Also, there’s the National Atomic Museum. which gives a nod to Albuquerque’s military and nuclear science connections. This spring, the museum will change to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.

Not far from Old Town is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, perhaps my favorite attraction. There’s a museum that covers the history and life of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. The gallery and gift shop is superb, plus the restaurant is a wonderful place to get a Tewa taco and green chile stew. If you want authentic Indian jewelry, this is where to get it. It’s high quality and reasonable. Take time to look at the murals on the outside walls of the building that surround the courtyard. For dance performances and other events check the calendar.

If you’re museumed out, Albuquerque is made for outdoor exploration. Bicycling is incredibly popular and something that’s doable in any season. Trails are extensive. For suggestions on where to bike, check out this page of RideThisBike.com. Here’s a link to bicycle shops to help you scout out a rental.

Test your mettle by hiking up Crest Trail in the Sandias. The trail goes up one of the mountainsides in a series of switchbacks. If you want to get to the top an easier way, take the Sandia Peak Tramway and hike back down. Bring a windbreaker or a sweatshirt, even in summer. At the top you can get chilled if you’ve hiked up. Trust me. I know. Although hiking in the Sandias offers the stunning views of the city and the challenge of pacing your climb to not poop out before the top, hiking in the mesa around the Petroglyph National Monument is also satisfying. Imagine who walked here before you.

In winter months, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing in the Sandias is another outdoor option. Because the temperatures in the city are much higher than the backside of the mountains, you could conceivably ski and golf on the same day. For the best and least expensive thing to do in Albuquerque, head away from the city and watch the sunrise or sunset.