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10 things to do in Prague

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt tại đây.

Disclaimer: This article has been published in Tiep Thi & Gia Dinh Magazine no. 77, published on 25 Apr. 2016, as “Top 10 things to do in Prague”.

Last March I spent one week travelling alone in Czech. I had three days in Prague before heading to Český Krumlov and stayed there for another two days. Then I took the bus back to Prague for two days and then back to Norway.

For this Czech trip I did an enormous workload of searching, downloading guides, taking notes, etc and etc. This was the best homework I’ve done so far!

So, here is my final list of top 10 things to do, see, and eat in Prague.

1. The Prague Castle and St. Vitus Church

Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle complex in the world at 570m (1870 feet) long and on average 128m (419 feet) wide. It’s also the place where the Czech kings, Holy Roman Emperors, and presidents of the Czech Rep. have had their offices.

The main attraction is St. Vitus Cathedral, an interesting 14th century Gothic structure with gargoyles which can be easily seen from ground level. You can climb to the top of the bell tower, which I unfortunately couldn’t do due to some renovation.

Entrance fees are required for a few selected areas, but you can walk freely through the grounds and into a large portion of the cathedral.

My advice: Buy ticket! The most popular one is Circuit B – 250CZK (≈ 9.5€), includes St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, exhibition “The Story of Prague Castle”, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane & Daliborka Tower.

2. Take a stroll on the Charles Bridge

Strolling this charming 14th century Charles Bridge is everybody’s favourite activity when in Prague. The bridge, which is 516m (1692 feet) long, contains 16 pillars and 3 bridge towers. One of them, the Old Town Bridge Tower, is considered to be the most beautiful bridge tower in Europe due to its rich sculptural decoration.

The place on Charles Bridge, where St. John of Nepomuk was thrown in the river in the year of 1393, is connected with a nice legend. It is said that if you touch the brassy cross here, and whatever you wish will come true!

My advice: To avoid the crowds you have to either wake up early or come late. I did both, and it’s worth all of my attempts to wake up early and come late!

3. Watch the show of the Astronomical Clock

Prague’s Astronomical Clock is one of the oldest and most elaborate clocks aver built. The clock is composed of 3 main components:

  • The astronomical dial, representing the position of the sun and moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details.
  • “The Walk of the Apostles” – a clockwork hourly show of figures of the apostles and other moving sculptures.
  • A calendar dial with medallions representing the months.

You can watch “The Walk of the Apostles” every hour from 9am to 9pm in its upper section.

My advice: Beware of your belongings, since huge crowds gather well here with their heads up, it’s perfect for pickpockets to do their job! Also buy ticket and go to the top of the tower. Even though I din’t do it, I bet you’ll get a stunning bird view from there!

View from the Clock Tower

4. Týn Church

This magnificent church dominates one side of Old Town Square. It has a rich Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque interior. The entrance of the church is through the passage from Old Town Square no. 14.

You may ask who on Earth could think about building houses in front of a church. But the truth is that the church was built behind those houses! The guide from a free walking tour in Prague told us the story, but sorry, because of his strong Eastern Europe accent and the noise from other walking tours I now can’t recall anything from his explanation!

My advice: Take a free walking tour in Prague if you wish have a look into the Old Town and gain some interesting information about the city.

5. Old Jewish Quarter Josefov

(Due to some terrorism warning during my time in Prague, Easter 2016, I just paid a rough visit to this area, not into any of the buildings.)

The Jewish Quarter is a small area known as Josefov which contains the remains of Prague’s former Jewish ghetto between Old Town Square and the river Vltava.

Josefov is quite a heavily visited location in Prague. This area is small and compact, so a fairly thorough tour should take less than half a day.

My advice: Buy ticket for all sites, which cost 480CZK (18€). You then can enter The Old Jewish Cemetery which is 4m higher than the street level and has 12 layers of tombs over time, High Synagogue, Klaus Synagogue and Ceremonial Hall, The Spanish Synagogue, Jubilee Synagogue, etc.

6. Enjoy city’s architecture

If you’re interested in architecture, Prague is for you. Take a day walking around the city center, the Old Town Square, a stroll at Wenceslas Square, you’ll find many examples of different architecture style.

Next to the Astronomical Clock is a Renaissance-era house named “At the Minute” with black and white designs covering its façade. Grand Hotel Evropa at Wenceslas Square is an example of Art Nouveau. Figure them out yourself!

My advice: Invest on a good guide book. Although you cannot get lost in Prague, it’s better to know where you’re heading to.

7. John Lennon wall

The Lennon wall is actual just an ordinary wall in Prague, and John Lennon didn’t even visit it in real life. However, since his death, Prague’s youth have covered it with John Lennon inspired graffiti and the Beatles’ lyrics.

My advice: Feel free to paint your own graffiti at the John Lennon wall. I personally can say #7 is the most gimmick thing to do in this list, but it’s still fun to play a little bit with colours and sprayers,  isn’t it?

8. Visit Vyšehrad Castle

Tired of the ultimate crowds in the Prague Castle? Then just visit Vyšehrad Castle instead, which I did on the last day I was in Prague, which turned out to be a huge mistake as it takes about 3 hours to visit this complex thoroughly, which is a reason for me to visit Prague (and Vyšehrad Castle) again!

Vyšehrad Castle was built during the 10th century on a hill over the river Vltava. Within the castle grounds is the Church of St. Paul and St. Peter, as well as Vyšehrad Cemetery, containing the remains of many famous people from Czech history.

It’s easy and quick to visit the complex from the city center. Take the tram line C to Vyšehrad (2 stations from the National Museum). From there, you can walk about 10 minutes to Vyšehrad Castle’s main gate.

My advice: Don’t forget to buy a map of the complex. And if you wish, bring your picnic lunch. Not many areas in Prague are as quite and green as Vyšehrad.

9. Czech food. Duh!

I assumed that everybody knows about Czech beer. I drink beer but not a great fan of it, so I have no beer preference. But food is another thing. I fall in love with these Czech food: roasted duck with potato dumplings and cabbage (kachna s červeným zelím) and roasted pork knee with mustard (pečené vepřové koleno). Both of them go well with a pint of beer, or two, or maybe three.

My advice: Don’t go for schnitzel. It tastes better in Austria. Don’t go for goulash either. It tastes better in Hungary.

10. Trdelník

Originated from Hungary, yet trdelník is one of the most common pastries to find on Prague’s streets. It’s a kind of cake and sweet (yes, very sweet, indeed) pastry made from rolled dough and wrapped around a stick, then grilled on charcoal and topped with sugar, walnut mix and/or filled with Nutella!

Trdelník

My advice: Try trdelník with sugar coat and Nutella filling.


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Nao minh cung fika nhe_thumb
Sweden

“Let’s fika!” *

Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt tại đây.

Disclaimer: This article has been published in Travellive Magazine, issue of March 2015 as “Fika: A Swedish Cultural Experience” (translated by the Editorial Team).

If you’re looking for something that authentically distinguishes Sweden’s way of life from that of its Scandinavian neighbours, it’s fika. Fika is related to the Swedish concept of the lagom lifestyle, which (roughly) means “just enough” in English.

Swedish people consider lagom a guideline for their lifestyle, behaviour, etiquette, and even cuisine. They are not as icy as Finns or as bustling as Norwegians; nor are they as laid-back as people in Denmark, known as “Italy of the North”. It’s the lagom lifestyle that makes Sweden the only nation in Northern Europe to offer a distinctive way to enjoy coffee – fika.

Nao minh cung fika nhe_01

Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se

Aspects of fika

Swedish fika is not only away to enjoy coffee, but also displays the arts of social etiquette and enjoying life in this peaceful kingdom.

It does not include as much ritual as the Japanese art of drinking tea. It is different from the way Americans drink takeaway coffee – the industrial pace of life in the US rarely affords the time to sit down and appreciate a hot drink. Fika is not ordering a Starbucks takeaway and drinking it hustling down the street. It’s interesting that descendants of the Vikings could include so much subtlety into a simple word. In this respect, Swedish is a little like Vietnamese.

In Sweden, you can hear, see and feel the atmosphere of fika everywhere and at any time, from luxurious cafes in classy city centre hotels to small places in narrow lanes that only the locals know, in homes and offices, from sunny summer days to rainy, snowy winter. Fika appears on every corner.

Nao minh cung fika nhe_02

Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se

If you are invited to a Swedish house, you can enjoy fika with aromatic cakes baked by your hosts. In Swedish businesses, you can fika with colleagues during breaks to improve your relationships, which can be quite superficial in this country famous for its individualism. Even a shy guy can make a date with his girlfriend by inviting her for fika. The Swedes have many reasons to fika with each other.

History of fika in Sweden

Coffee was imported into Northern Europe from the 17th century onward. Not until the 18th century did it become a favoured drink of noblemen and the rich.

Unfortunately, King Gustav III of Sweden did not like this delicious drink. He promulgated many strict rules to oppose the consumption of coffee, including high taxes, penalizing those who dared drink coffee. He ransacked his kingdom to seize coffee making equipment.

Nao minh cung fika nhe_04

Tove Freiij/imagebank.sweden.se

However, coffee addicts knew that once they had tasted coffee, it was very difficult to give up their fascination. Just the aroma of coffee in the air would bring to mind that vein-stretching caffeine buzz. Nowadays, it is marvellous to drop by a small bakery (konditori) in the city centre, order a hot cup of black coffee and press your hands around the cup to feel its warmth. It feels like holding your sweetheart’s hand.

Today, fika has become an indispensable characteristic of Swedish daily life. Aside from the coffee itself, an interesting variety of cakes is served with fika. All are called fikabröd, which means “cakes accompanying fika”. The most popular cake is rolled kanelbullar. Kanelbullar is so famous that the Swedish spend the whole of 4th October celebrating it.

Nao minh cung fika nhe_03

Magnus Carlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

For St Lucia’s Day in mid-December, kanelbullar is replaced by lussebullar. In April, when Europe is preparing for Lent, semlor made with fresh cream, is served.

A friend of mine from Hanoi was used to drinking Thai Nguyen green tea in Vietnam. After six months living in Sweden, she has become a fika addict. Even Swedish people, who are accustomed to fika from an early age, smile like a child in a candy shop when they talk about fika outdoors in the summer. The simple invitation “Let’s fika!” makes them beam with joy.

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Malaysia

Quick travel tips: Malaysia (updated in 2014)

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt tại đây.

– If you travel to Malaysia from any other South East Asian countries or from China, check for the best flight tickets with AirAsia – the famous Malaysian low-cost airline headquartered in KL. There are 2 international airports in KL, including KLIA (KL International Airport) and LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal).

– The best time to travel to Malaysia is from April to late August if you wish to stay away from the crowds. Although it’s quite hot, at least it’s not that rainy as you may think. Anyway, if you like to visit the country during peak season, just take it between November and March.

NB: All the information, prices, exchange rates, etc. are updated until April 2014. Please check other sources for more up-to-date information!

– Use this site to convert Malaysian ringgit to your currency. A basic lunch (for example nasi lemak) in any food court in KL costs from 10MYR.

This is a basic nasi lemak aka my favourite meal in Malaysia.

– The most popular and also the cheapest sim-card for tourists is DiGi, which costs 21RM including 16RM in your account and 150MB of free internet. Once you arrive at LCCT, after checking in, just follow people to go out, then you will see a yellow DiGi booth on your left side.

– From LCCT, you can take the bus to KLIA, and then from KLIA you will have access to different kind of public transportation to the city center. However, it’s not recommended as I personally think it’s kinda complicated. The easier way is to take bus directly from LCCT to KL Sentral, the biggest bus/monorail/LRT station in KL. It takes ca. 1 hour from LCCT to KL Sentral. Bus ticket price (one way) from LCCT – KL Sentral is 8MYR. From the international arrival gate of LCCT, go along the corridor until you see the domestic airport. Then look at your right side, you’ll see a bus station. Go there and ask for bus to KL Sentral.

– If you wish to take taxi instead, be ready to bargain. There is of course taxi meters, but it’s mainly for… decoration! Check the distance with Google Map first, and compare the price online before you take a cab. FYI: From Bukit Bintang area to LCCT it may cost ca. 80MYR.

– For your convenience, buy a travel card. You can buy it from the vendor machine at almost every station. Or you can buy single ticket, which is a blue plastic “coin” and costs 2 –3.5MYR/one way.

– If you don’t have much time to travel in KL, take Hop On Hop Off. Waiting time is 30mins for each new bus. For adult it costs 45MYR/pax, and the ticket can be used within 24 hours.

– The living standard in Malaysia is relatively low (in comparison with the one in Singapore). If you just use money for the sake of travel (all kinds of tickets, sim-card, meals…), a 5-day vacation here may cost up to 400MYR, flight tickets and hotel not included.

I hope you can find these information useful for your planning. If you have any question or need any advice, just leave a comment below. I was also in Penang and Melacca (Melaka), so just feel free to ask about these 2 lovely cities, too 🙂

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