city + travel guide // prague.

about a zillion and a half years ago, i lived in prague.

it's something most people know about me.  but in this world of the interwebs, these days, i don't mention it too much.  new friends are usually surprised to hear that's how i met my husband and ended up with this life i have today.  i always say that moving to prague was the best decision i ever made, and i still firmly believe that today.

when a friend of mine shared online that she was headed to prague and asked for some recommendations, i tried to send her over to my blog.  but when i looked through the archives, it turns out i didn't actually have any recommendations on prague there.  so i rubbed my hands together and got to work, sending her a mile-long email.  and luckily for you, dear traveler, i'm sharing it here today as well.

because this information is just going to waste, sitting up there collecting spiderwebs in my brain.  i don't get to use that part of my brain that much these days.


so.  you're going to prague, eh?  good for you.  i can tell you make good choices in life.  prague is one of those cities that is kind of... i don't know how to say it.  it's not what you think it is.  it's more beautiful than you'll imagine.  it's haunting.  it doesn't leave you.  like kafka said, 'prague won't let you go... the little mother has claws.'  and that's true.

let's start with the basics.  like, it's not czechoslovakia anymore people, it's the czech republic.  slovakia is totally different.  but not really all that different.  all jokes aside, the czech republic is a former 'second world' country formerly under soviet occupation that underwent an amazing transformation to the nation it is today.  it's fascinating stuff, and before you go i highly recommend reading up on the warsaw pact and russian occupation, prague spring and the velvet revolution.


basic info

english is widely spoken, so no worries there.  it helps to know a few basic czech phrases, such as:
     pivo // 'beer' [it's literally cheaper than water]
     prosim // 'hello' and 'please' and 'excuse me' and 'thank you,' kind of a catch-all phrase
     ahoj // 'hello'

country code is +420.

no visa is required to visit the czech republic if you are staying under 90 days.  but do make sure your passport is valid for at least 90 days after your planned date of entry, and that you have enough blank pages to rack up stamps.  for the most up to date info, check with the state department.

you must always carry your papers [read: copy of your passport] with you in case of an encounter by the police.  though it's been decades since the days of the secret police, they can still stop you for no reason and ask to see your papers [it's happened to me], especially if you're off the beaten path.  just stay calm and show the copy of your passport.

the city is filled with pick-pockets, more so than in other major cities in europe.  in prague you'll often find thieves slitting the bottom of your purse to take the contents while the purse is still on you, leaving you clueless for way too long.  keep your belongings close and your arms around your bag when you are in crowds.

while summer is the most common time to go, try spring or fall -- the city is just as beautiful [even more beautiful in spring!] and there will be fewer crowds.  and pickpockets.


getting around 

public transit is the easiest and cheapest way to get around.  between buses, metros and trams there isn't a place you'll want to go that can't be reached by public transit of some sort.

when you arrive at praha ruzyne airport, jump on the 119 bus and take it to the last stop, dejvicka.  from there you can get directly onto the green line metro, which takes you right into the city and you can transfer to other metro lines, buses or trams that will get you to the 10 districts of prague.

it can be tempting to hop on public transport without buying a ticket [public transit is on the honor system], but don't.  plainclothes policemen randomly get on and off transportation to check passes, and will almost certainly check yours if you are speaking english [especially if you're loud].  it's happened to me often and it's not worth the fine.  you can easily buy one or three day passes from any of the yellow kiosks in each metro station, or longer passes for monthly, quarterly, or annual visits from select metro stations.  check dpp for the most up to date rates.

if you plan on taking a cab [great late at night, as metros stop running at midnight and trams and buses switch to limited schedules], only take AAA cabs.  they are the only company with a good reputation and that won't rip off tourists.  even better, you can call ahead for one at 222-333-222.


sleeping

the alchemist hotel // if boutique hotels in old baroque homes steps away from the charles bridge is your thing, then i guess you'll like the alchemist.  the five-star hotel is also a spa, so definitely indulge in a massage after days of exploring the city on foot.  the hotel is located in the middle of mala strana, right next to the american embassy.  hobnob with all the best.  bonus: there's a lovely coffeeshop right next to the hotel with a fantastic view of this quiet, dedicated street.

miss sophie's // if your budget is more in the hostel range, or if you're looking for a longer stay and are interested in an apartment, this is the place for you.  miss sophie's rents out apartments in a gorgeous old building across the street [where i once lived!] in a quiet residential area.  you'll be a few blocks from wenceslas square and public transportation is easily accessible.

hotel josef // this design-forward hotel is a must if you're looking for modern digs.  though it's not technically in josef, it's off a quiet street filled with shops and restaurants in the middle of namesti republiky, the city's posh area.  you'll be close to the nightlife scene off a cobblestoned street, and, you guessed it, close to public transport.

the mandarin oriental // the best you can get.  tucked away on a quiet side street a few blocks off the charles bridge, the mandarin is the epitome of privacy, quiet and luxury.  also situated in mala strana, the views are unbeatable.  it's not far from the lennon wall and lovely restaurants, or from public transport.


eating  
note: these are restaurants off the beaten path where i ate regularly when i lived in prague.  they aren't filled with tourists or the kind of food you may be used to seeing.  they are truly places for locals.  also, avoid anyplace advertising a 'traditional czech meal' - that's local speak for 'tourist trap,'  where the food will be mediocre and overpriced.

u sadlu // if you're looking for where locals go for authentic czech food, u sadlu is it.  it can be a little hard to find, but it's worth it once you take a look at the extensive menu.  the kitchen serves up hearty servings of local meats, vegetables and old-world cuisines.  don't miss the croquettes.

cafe slavia // for this one, it's what's on the outside that counts.  the inside might look like a european-style diner, but the authentic czech food in the gorgeous old building with a view.  after dinner, walk across the street to take a leisurely stroll along the vltava.

jama // if you're over the local food, if you can't see one more croquette or plate of goulash, stop in jama for a burger and a pint of pivo.  just off wenceslas square, you'll find locals and expats alike at this pub.  they have late-night grub, too.

cafe louvre // divided between a low-key downstairs coffee shop and internet cafe and lively, vivacious czech restaurant upstairs, cafe louvre is lovely.  make reservations for upstairs and go for dinner, but pop into downstairs for a quick latte and slice of honey cake [soooo goooooood] anytime.   plus, free wifi.

radost fx // off the beaten trail for tourists, radost is the perfect place for a meal if you're tired of heavy, meaty czech food.  radost boasts an entirely vegetarian menu, rich in mediterranean flavors, that changes every week.  the decor is unique -- expect floor pillows and cozy couches.  bonus: there is a downstairs club in the evenings that hosts live shows, so come back on a weekend night and explore the cocktail menu.

bohemia bagel // the best breakfast place around and an expat haven.  this was our 'central perk' of prague, where we'd run into friends and meet up unannounced.  expect fluffy cream cheese, doughy bagels of all flavors, and great sandwiches and salads for lunch and dinner.  though the less touristy locations have closed, the spot off the charles bridge is convenient and has wifi.


playing 

prague castle // duh.  this is at the top of everyone's

the museum of communism // it's the most fascinating museum i have ever seen, hands down.  i recommend going on your first day.  it will give you a better sense of the nation, its people and what they have been through.  all the information you never learned about the cold war will be there.  just off wenceslas square on na knizici.  seriously.  go.

old town square // again, duh.  all the picturesque photos you've seen of prague, the fairytale spires, the astronomical cloch, this is where it all happens.  wander through it as often as you can.  or, even better, find an outdoor table to grab a cafe or pivo and watch the city stroll by you.

the lennon wall // this little known spot is just steps from the charles bridge in mala strana.  inspired by -- you guessed it -- john lennon's encouragement of peace, notes and drawings have been left here since the 80s.  colorful, full of positivity, and unexpectedly modern in the middle of an ancient city.

karluv most // perhaps the most well known sights in prague second only to the prague castle, the charles bridge is iconic.  once the only way to cross over the vltava river, the bridge made prague an essential stop on the european trade route.  today it's filled with statues, artist and people.  while it's gorgeous during the day, walk over it at night like a local and you'll find no other people and a city all lit up just for you.

the municipal house // called obecni dum in czech, prague's municipal house is part cafe, part restaurant, part concert hall and part civic building, and entirely gorgeous.  you can tour the whole building for a fee, or just sit in one of the cafes, sip your cocktail and admire the art nouveau around you.

josefov // the city's jewish quarter is tiny and hauntingly beautiful.  stop by franz kafka's birthplace and the quarter's cemetery.

memorial to the victims of communism // beautiful statues.  haunting.  right in the petrinske skalky park.  stroll over most legii after a meal at cafe slavia and watch the statues become more human as communism fades away.

alfons mucha museum // perhaps the czech republic's most famous artist know for his art nouveau posters of sarah bernhardt, this museum is one of my favorites.  the museum is open daily -- and don't miss the shop, where you can take your very own mucha poster home.


drinking

herna non-stops // there is not one of these.  there are a hundred.  you'll see signs all over.  these are bars open 24 hours that allow gambling in the form of slot machines.  they are smoky.  they are dark.  they might smell.  but if you want to have a drink with a local, here's a spot to do it.

tretter's // if you are into cocktails, this is your spot.  dress sharply and grab a table for the night -- no dance floors or crazy crowds here.  a grown-up cocktail bar.

absinthe time // absinthe has been all the rage in prauge for hundreds of years, so don't leave without spending a night with the green fairy.  try it the way locals have been drinking it or the french style.  just trust me -- don't drop your sugar cube on the floor.

nebe // across the street from absinthe time is this underground bar, translated as 'heaven.'  theme nights, loud music and a small dance floor keep things simple.

roxy // dance club where anything goes.  the upstairs is part art gallery and part internet cafe that's open late.  the downstairs is for when the sun goes down.  if you want an eastern european dance club, this is it.


day tripping

karlovy vary // if it's where queen latifah wants to spend the last few weeks of her life, who says it's not good enough for you?  but all jokes aside, czechs, russians and germans alike flock to this quaint spa town known for it's 'healing waters' or hot springs.  it's beautiful in winter and summer alike.  indulge in an authentic czech spa day while you're there... that's the whole point, after all.  the train is long [over four hours], but a bus is more direct and gets you there in just over an hour and a half from the florenc bus station.

*kutna hora //  if you are into buildings made out of bones, this place is for you.  kutna hora is home to the sediec ossuary, which contains teh skeletons of 40,000-70,000 people.  there are other sights there to see, but the ossuary alone attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and is worth the day trip from prague.  trains or buses in prague are easy to come by out to kutna hora.

*cesky krumlov // a castle you say?  guarded by grizzly bears?  count me in.  that's the main draw of cesky krumlov, though the town is idyllic and charming enough to go for the scenery alone.  the historic city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, largely unchanged in the last five [!!!] centuries.  the town is now the country's second largest tourist draw after prague.  at roughly 100 miles south of prague, you can easily catch a train daily from hlavni nadrazi and be there in about 3 1/2 hours.

plzen //  [a european capital of culture in 2015] visit the birthplace of pilsner!  plzen is the home of the pilsner urquell and gambrinus breweries.  but for a lesson on the history of beer, visit plzensky prazdroj brewery.  also visit the lovely st bartholomew's cathedral if you aren't in the bag.  trains are less than two hours from hlavni nadrazi.

*brno // for castles, cathedrals, quaint city squares and far fewer tourists, head to brno for the day.  brno has undergone a cultural rebirth in the last 20 years, and today hosts cultural festivals tat feature local wine, clothing, food and music.  buses and trains leave daily, though it's around a four hour trip.
southern moravia // the region in the czech republic mostly known for it's wine, come for the vineyards and stay for the free wine tasting at the vineyards.  there are four wine producing towns -- mikulov, slovacko, velke pavlovice and znojmo -- so pick your favorite or visit all four for a longer trip.  this trip would be a little better if you can stay overnight before returning back to prague and would be especially lovely to rent a car and drive to enjoy the scenery.  perfect for piggybacking on a trip to brno.

*these indicate UNESCO world heritage sights in these villages.

the post where i share part of my book.

things have been busy lately.  you know how it goes... after thanksgiving comes the christmas season and all that goes with it -- shopping for the right presents, wrapping, prepping for our party, getting ready to host family and our first christmas -- it's been a little insane.  some major house projects are being finished up before all of our company arrives on saturday for the big party.  our bed is in the process of being constructed [in our bedroom by the way, as in it is being constructed in our bedroom], the bathroom is being finished, and our little panda bear is nearly crawling. 

but despite all the holiday stuff going on, the most exciting thing that has happened here has been that i have started writing again -- for the first time since julian was born.  it's hard to work out childcare for a good chunk of time for me to get into the 'zone,' but finally philip and i have worked out a schedule and it could not have come at a better time.  my mind has been swimming with words and i have been needing to get them down.  so i'm sharing a little bit of what i've been working on.

it's a first draft people so go easy on me.

a little background: the book, loosely put, is about a twenty-something's experience during a year studying abroad in prague [sound familiar? haha. it's fiction people!  kind of].  this excerpt is near the end of the book, our heroine is on a trip to vienna during the christmas season with four of her friends -- one couple, one friend from school, and one of whom she is falling for -- hard and fast. 

enjoy.

     It was only 5pm but dark had descended upon the city.  The cold reached over the necks of our sweaters, under the tops of our hats, into the fingers of our gloves.  It was visible in little crystals of ice that sat lamp posts, fences and statues we passed as we quickly made our way toward Rathausplatz.  Noelle insisted on stopping in every Starbucks we passed — there were none in Prague — “just to warm up,” she’d reiterate before standing in line again. 

    Among Europe’s Christmas markets, Vienna had the best reputation by far.  A dozen were set up, scattered throughout the city, the little wooden shops lit up with lights and gifts and local foods begging to be sampled.  The whole city smells of sweet roasted nuts, and warm cups are handed out to gloved passers-by.  Traditional Austrian Christmas music fills the streets.  We had passed by one of the city’s Christmas markets during the day, but at night — we were not going to miss out of the lighted spectacle that was the market at Rathausplatz, no matter how cold we were.  I could hear Nicole and John laughing behind us, lagging as John would stop to make Nicole laugh in any way he could. 

    I’d stopped in Innsbruck for a day on my way from Munich to Milan when I was in Europe with my French Club back in 2001, but that had been my only time in Austria.  The Christmas market in Old Town Square back in Prague hadn’t been set up yet, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Anticipation filled each step on the sidewalk.  Christmas was easily my favorite time of the year.  My family had what I was certain were the best Christmas traditions of any family, anywhere, and I looked forward to them with more joy each year. 

    With my grandparents on each side split between two states, for as long as I could remember we switched off Christmases.  One with my mom’s parents in Colorado, the next with my dad’s parents in New York.  It was always a wonderful time, but the magic that filled Nanny and Pop Pop’s home in December was something I couldn’t describe and I hated to miss.  Plastic holly came out by the trash bag full, the same pre-decorated tree set up in the same corner of the apartment with decades-old candy canes hung and gold ribbon strung abundantly.  The same tree skirt wrapped around the base, red felt that caught every rogue piece of glitter from the ornaments above and a white fur trim.  It was wonderfully familiar, the decorations, the plans.  Though it was all the same every single year, I never thought of it as boring. 

    Christmas Eve and Christmas morning always competed for the title of Christmas Main Event.  Christmas Eve was held at my great-grandmother’s home downstairs from Nanny’s since well before I was born.  Her home filled with all of the people alive because of her — her three daughters and their spouses, which included Nanny and Pop Pop, and each of their children, her grandchildren (eight of them), and their children.  The total number of people for our “family dinner” was around thirty every year.  Close family friends who had nowhere else to go always came, usually my Godmother’s friends who were given the titles of Aunt and Uncle because they were so close to us. 

    Roman Catholic tradition dictates no meat on Christmas Eve, so we celebrated the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  It was a meal not to be missed.  The women of the family filled the kitchen, ran by my godmother the chef, who shouted out instructions to aunts and grandmothers who made use of the kitchen upstairs and in the basement.  Wine bottles made their way into the kitchen only to be returned empty, and as cooking neared it’s end songs and laughter could be heard from anywhere in the home. 

    After we all sat down to eat, crammed in every corner of the apartment where a person could fit, it was time for presents.  Despite the number of us, Uncle Franco made a show of handing out presents one by one.  He’d don his Santa hat and stand in front of the tree with a tambourine, Charlotte by his side as his elf.  She’d hand him a gift, and Uncle Franco would shout it out.  “Jack!”  He’d shake his hand and toss the present to my dad, as family would clap and cheer. 

    “Who gave him a gift this year?!” 

    “Is it a lump of coal?”

    The gift would be placed at each person’s feet, everyone accumulating their own little pile of Christmas presents.  And when the last gift was handed out, we all opened them,  At once.  The tearing of wrapping paper was all that could be heard, followed by ooohs and ahhhs and squeals of joy.  People would step over one another to hug one another, kissing on the cheek, explaining that they had been given the one gift they really wanted that year.  Great-grandchildren brought toys into the hallway to share, parents looking everywhere for batteries. 

    It was the energy of the house that I loved the most.  The bustling of people with plates.  The front door opening every few minutes, more uncles and aunts and cousins pouring in with packages stacked up high in their arms.  You couldn’t move in the apartment without bumping into someone else.  Someone who cared about you, who wanted to kiss you and hear about school.  My father’s contagious laughter could be heard from any of the apartments.  The basement was always the gathering place for those of us who needed a drink — the tequila bottle always stashed in the same spot, between my godmother's cookbooks under the counter. 

    When the mayhem died down and the last of the wrapping paper had been shoved into a trash bag, coffee was brewed.  Plates of sugary, colorful cookies were set out along with Panettone, saucers of cream sloshing over the sides on their way to the table.  As everyone settled down, at the table and on the couches, children on parents laps or playing together on the floor, my uncle — Charlotte and Kim’s dad — would read a poem.  Every year it was a spoof on ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, written about the various goings on in our family from the last year.  How my godmother dated a guy in Pittsburgh and toys with the idea of spending Christmas with him in Pennsylvania, leaving all of us to fend for ourselves in the kitchen.  How my family had moved away.  All written in rhyme, each line eliciting more laughter than the one before.

    After the last cookie crumbs had been picked off the plates, coats would be found.  Gloves would come out and hats straightened.  Carpools would be configured to Midnight Mass, the younger children staying at the house with Pop Pop, the only adult excused from Mass.  It was strictly pajamas and bedtime.  James and I would sleep in Nanny and Pop Pop’s bed, while my cousins all retreated to their own homes.  Once I was in college I was allowed to attend Mass with the adults, a row saved for James, Kimberly, Charlotte and I.  We’d get the giggles during the service sometimes, and others we’d hold hands and get teary, overcome with the emotion of the Ave Maria. 

    I still felt the emotion of the holidays far more than any other time of year.  Every feeling seemed to be so magnified at Christmas.  The joy of family, the pain of my parents being apart all so big inside my heart it felt as if it would burst.  This Christmas would be no different.  Our first Christmas without Pop Pop, but the first with my parents together once again.  James had brought out with him the news that Mom was flying out to New York with us to spend Christmas there.  I wanted to look forward to it all so badly, but all I could feel was a knot in my gut as I looked toward the end of the semester.  It was too much for me to think about Christmas without Nicholas after just having spent the best Thanksgiving of my life with him. 

    Ahead of us, the Christmas market and come into view.  We had walked into right into a real-life snow globe.  At least a hundred wooden shops were assembled, rooftops covered in snow.  Austrians and visitors alike filled the walkways between shops, lingering at shopping stalls and enjoying the Christmas music coming from a band I could not yet see.  The windows of the church up ahead had been converted into an advent calendar, each window alight with the number of days until Christmas.  Bright white lights on blue backgrounds showed us it was less than twenty days to go.   Christmas lights were strung above us and around each wooden shop, giving everything a warm glow.  A Christmas tree to rival Rockefeller Center’s stood in the middle of it all, every branch glimmering with lights.  I noticed there weren’t any ornaments on the tree — but it didn’t seem like anything was missing.  The lights were all it needed with the festive Christmas scene around it. 

    We walked past a nativity scene reenactment, hay swishing underneath our boots.  Somehow Noelle had already found a giant gingerbread Christmas cookie and was happily munching on it ahead of us. 

    Up ahead, I saw a stand with CDs laid across the front.  Nick and I stopped to browse.  I didn’t recognize most of the names, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Frank Sinatra’s familiar face. 

    “Look!”  I picked it up and turned it around to show Nick.  “Christmas music for the ride home,” I said, reaching for my wallet.  The price tag said ten euro.  I handed the merchant a twenty and waited for my change.  John and Nicole had nearly disappeared into the crowd, Nicole pulling John towards a booth across the way that housed nesting dolls. 

    Nick had pulled his turtleneck sweater up over his mouth and nose, so just his eyes were visible. 

    “What are you doing?”  I laughed. 

    “It’s fucking cold!”  I could almost hear Nick’s teeth chattering. 

    “How am I supposed to kiss you like that?”  I smiled up at him. 

    Nick pulled his turtleneck back down below his chin.  His gloved hand reached up below my chin, tilting it towards his face.  His lips were cold, his breath hot.  "All you had to do was ask," he grinned at me mischievously.  His hand dipped back down again, searching for my hand. 

    Through the rows we wandered, past the wooden shops, stopping where we wanted.  One stand sold hand-poured beeswax candles, in varying shapes.  Each shape had a different scent.  Pine, lavender, honey, rose… we stopped and smelled them all before making our way to the next stand.  Freshly baked pretzels and spiced mulled wine greeted us.  Another stand boasted hand-carved ornaments depicting different Christmas characters.  Nick picked out a gold necklace for his sister, and I found a beer stein for James.  For at least an hour we ambled through the snowy  walkways, laughing and admiring the local crafts. 

    “I’m frozen,” Nicole called across the walkway to us.  She and John had reappeared just a few shops down.   

    “You guys want to grab something to eat?” John asked.

    My stomach had been growling for a while now.  “Yes, please!”

    Noelle pulled out her map.  “There’s a pub not far from here that Karl recommended,” she said, leading the way.

    Snow crunched under our feet for a few block before what we arrived at the pub a few blocks down.  A small, wooden sign hung above the door and candled flickered in the window.  It looked like a locals-only spot, and as we opened the door we were greeted by a fire burning in the back corner.  We grabbed the table nearest to the welcome fire and sat, savoring the heat.  We spent the next few hours eating, drinking, and sharing Christmas memories. 

    It was late when we crammed back into our hotel room.  We took turns in the bathroom, pulling on pajamas and washing the day off our faces.  After everyone was finished, I pulled my laptop out. 

    “A little Sinatra, anyone?”  I waved the CD I had purchased from the Christmas market earlier in the evening. 

    “Yeah, I could go for some carols,” John said.  Noelle and Nick agreed, and I loaded the disc into my laptop and laid it on the floor between the two twin beds.  Nick hit the lights as Sinatra began crooning. 

    “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…”

    John and Nicole settled into their bed, John singing along with Sinatra.  Noelle was laying on her couch bed, reading the paperback she’d brought along for the trip. I sat on the floor in front of my laptop.  It was the first Christmas carol I’d heard all year.  My mom always started the season off with The Carpenters, the gold standard of Christmas carols, but this year was going to be a little different.  Sinatra’s voice instantly made me feel at home and melancholy all at once. 

    “Are you coming up here?”  I felt Nick’s hand on the back of my head, stroking my hair.  I felt warmth spread through my shoulders as his hand made it’s way to the back of my neck, rubbing it softly. 

    I climbed up into the bed with him. 

    Sinatra made his way through the Christmas carols, one fading into the next, the album apparently a recording of a one-time radio special.  About halfway through “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Noelle’s light clicked off.    

    My mind wandered.  How could it already be Christmas time?  Didn’t I just arrive in Prague?  It seemed like just a week or two ago I was on the Charles Bridge with Mom and Dad, watching them make their wish to return to Prague.  I drifted back to everything that had happened since then.  That kiss at the five story club.  Celeste’s birthday with the spaghetti.  Brno, Budapest and the stars.  Nick’s epic birthday party.  Meeting the guys on the bridge in Venice.  My steamy night with Nick in Rome.  Halloween and the costumes Nicole and I wore.  Coming home from Poland to what I never thought I’d find.  Our incredible Fakesgiving.  It was happening so much faster than I ever thought it would.  I was learning more about myself with each new experience.  What would happen to me, inside of me, when our adventure was over?  It was now less than a month until we all started to fly home, one by one.  When each one of my new friends left, they would take a piece of me home with him, and replace it with a piece of themselves.  I closed my eyes, not ready to think about leaving.  Especially not what it meant for me and Nick. 

    “Merry Christmas,” Sinatra’s voice cracked over my laptop speaker as the last carol ended. 

    “Merry Christmas Frank,” I whispered.  But it sounded much louder than a whisper.  Noelle, John, Nicole and Nick had all said the same thing at the same moment.  Laughter echoed through the room immediately.  Smiling, I rolled onto my side, turning into Nick.  He kissed my forehead and pulled the covers up.

    “Merry Christmas, Adriana,” he said before closing his eyes. 

    “Merry Christmas, Nick,” I replied softly, then kissed his cheek. 

    I continued to stare at him.  His light brown hair fell over his forehead, It needed to be cut, he kept saying, but I like it long how it was now.  His eyes fluttered as he fell into sleep.  I couldn’t close my eyes.  The freckles that dotted his nose and cheeks were staring at me.  I didn’t have enough time.  I hadn’t counted them all.  I didn’t know what his favorite Christmas memory was, or what his favorite gift of all time had been.  I hadn’t heard his favorite Christmas carol or heard about when he stopped believing in Santa.  All I want for Christmas, I thought, unable to finish the sentence.  My eyes filled with tears.  I was nowhere near ready to be done with this semester, this adventure, this relationship that was just beginning to bloom.  I was falling for him, fast, unable to stop myself.  It was in the way he grabbed my hand when we ran across the street.  The way he told me what he was thinking, all of the time.  It was in the impatience of his kisses.  The way he seemingly knew everything, from soccer players to Austrian history.  He was the most interesting person I had ever met and it just wasn’t enough time.   We had hardly scratched the surface.

    The hum of my laptop silenced as the battery died.  Noelle was softly snoring from the couch.  Soft whispers were coming from Nicole and John’s twin bed next to mine and Nick’s.  I matched my breathing to Nick’s to quiet my mind and let sleep wash over me.

on the importance of lifelong girlfriends.

because sometimes you meet people at just the right moment in your life.  because sometimes you aren't really the best version of you until you are flanked with bffs that bring out the best side of you in yourself.  because sometimes you need a friend who can not just complete your sentences, but knows what you are going to say when you shoot them that look and you don't even have to say it.  

this is a brief history of my two girlfriends, my people, that i met in prague. just a few weeks of meeting, we became totally inseparable.  we roomed together.  we ate and drank and shopped together.  we studied and skyped our families and reminisced about home together.  we did stupid things together.  we drank too much at wine tastings and beer gardens.  we hated the ex-girlfriends of boys we liked for no apparent reason.  we have been there for life events, like engagements and weddings, and traveled across europe together.  we were affectionately called 'us three' because of our tendencies to ask our other friends, 'can you take a picture of us three?' and the name kind of stuck.

we've been able to get together a few times - four, actually - since coming home from prague.  but last weekend we flew off to houston for a little reunion, and ohmygoodness was it so awesome.  we talked, we laughed, we reminisced on how much lives have changed for all of us since we first met over seven years ago now.

since these two girls were such a huge part of my life in prague, it's only fitting that i have two characters based after them in my book.  so, for your enjoyment [or skipping over], are two very short first draft excerpts of my first impressions of my girlfriends.

after fifteen minutes, our tram slowed.  as we pulled up to malostranské náměstí (the tram stop for our university), i was able to make out our group immediately, standing on the corner by an outdoor café.  they were all different; one tall, very masculine looking guy; a girl with very long straight brown hair and big, rosy cheeks; a beautiful blonde girl laughing with a few other students gathered around her; a tall, sullen looking girl with pale skin and dark hair; a small-framed guy with lots of dark, curly hair; a plain-looking girl with long dark hair who wasn’t talking to anyone else.  seventeen of us, all together.  how different could we all look on the outside – the list of superficial differences was endless.  and, i thought to myself, was the list of ways we were different inside, too.

but how different could we really be?  sure, there are plenty of students who study abroad; millions a year, probably.  but where do they go?  rome, paris, london, maybe australia.  what kind of student goes to prague?  seventeen of us; that was it.  when i had first signed up for this adventure, i thought maybe there would be hundreds of us.  i knew our study abrod company was huge, who knew how many students had signed up for this?  but i had learned, when we all started emailing each other through the generic email address, that this was the company’s first semester in prague.  we were the guinea pigs, we were the test babies.  seventeen.  how different could we possibly be to all end up in prague at the same moment in time?

there was something inside of me that made me choose prague.  everyone else went to those western european cities – sure, they wouldn’t speak english, but it was different enough from home.  a rush, an adventure, a thrill without having to give up those american conveniences.  eastern europe was the only place that seemed uncharted yet close enough to forge connections.  i had to be different.  i’d inconvenience myself and build my life around that fact – and obviously, so did these sixteen other students standing with me outside in the chilly prague morning that august day.
"...i just want to find someone i have a connection with. and, if after this semester i only have a connection with myself, that’s ok.”  i smiled at my new friends as they raised their glasses to toast to what i’d said.  both girls laughed easily, something i quickly came to enjoy about their company.  the rest of the welcome dinner was spent laughing and swapping stories, many of which were strikingly similar to one another.

i hadn’t really yet noticed these two girls before and hadn’t spoken to them at all.  but the more we got to talking, the more i realized how strange it was that out of everyone here the three of us together were alone at this table getting to know one another.  we had the strangest things in common; and with each passing moment i started to feel as if these two were my guardian angels, and someone had sent them to prague just for me, for me to love and learn from and help me learn who i really was.  they were there simply to help bring out the best in me.
the very first picture of 'us three' - prague, aug 06
margarita night! prague, september 2006
prague in the rain, september 2006
getting into trouble wine tasting - one of us threw up right after this picture.  moravia, september 2006

yeah... more wine.  moravia, september 2006

budapest, september 2006
budapest, september 2006
prague, october 2006
leaving for our backpacking adventure through italy, october 2006
st mark's square, venice, october 2006
florence, october 2006

florence, october 2006
florence, october 2006
at the coliseum, rome, october 2006
wishing at the trevi fountain, rome, october 2006
wine in plastic cups - class all the way.  rome, october 2006
spanish steps, rome, october 2006
walking the path of love, cinque terre, october 2006

beach day in monterosso, october 2006

oh, inside jokes. prague, nov 06

prague, november 2006
christmas in prague, december 2006
saying our goodbyes. last night in prague, december 2006
accidentally matching at my engagement party, august 2007


vail, september  2009
wedding!  ft collins, october 2009
reunited in houston, november 2013



seriously - best. girlfriends. ever.