I bookended my visit to the lovely Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad Market in the Vinohrady neighborhood of Prague with breakfast at Pastacaffé and a trip to the top of the Žižkov Television Tower. If you're spending more than a few days in Prague, I highly recommend a visit out past the city's tourist center to this lovely neighborhood!
Breakfast was a simple but visually elegant affair. A nicely pulled espresso with a tiny pour of cream and an even tinier cookie. To eat, a buttery croissant and two types of jam, a poached egg with toast soldiers for dipping. Plus a glass of carrot ginger citrus juice, because I needed some vitamins. Pastacaffé was just a few blocks from my guesthouse and is definitely worth a visit for breakfast. I returned for dinner later in my visit, it was just okay.
After fueling up, I took the tram out to the Vinohrady Farmer's Market, Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad. I spent the morning browsing and taking photos before making my way over to the Žižkov Television Tower. Situated on top of a hill, the tower offers amazing wide angle views of Prague. You really get a sense of the city's colorful architecture and diverse topography. The stark metal tower definitely stands out amongst the Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. Don't forget to look up from the base to get the best view of David Černý's amusing yet ominous faceless baby sculptures which scale the sides of the tower.
I spent a few days wandering in and around the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in Paris. I had two fantastic meals plus some extraordinary sweets. Oysters were at the top of my Paris eats wishlist and, after some research, I chose Huîtrerie Régis to make it happen.
It's a tiny spot, six tables inside and a few more on the street. I arrived right after opening, around noon, and the restaurant was almost empty, just one table of three. Reviews indicate it fills up fast during prime time, so definitely come early. The menu is an exercise in minimalism, all oysters, fresh as can be. Sometimes shrimp and sea urchin are available as well, but they're essentially garnish. According to Paris by Mouth, the oysters are shipped in daily from Marennes-Oléron, a famous oyster cultivation region on the Western coast of France.
It was my first meal of the day and my eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach. I ordered a tasting platter of six Fines de Claires and six Spéciale de Claires, plus six enormous pink shrimp. I wanted to try everything! The oysters were truly the very best I have tasted, though, admittedly, my oyster oeuvre is sadly limited. I slightly preferred the Spéciale de Claires, which were plumper and sweeter than the briny, more mineral Fines. But both were excellent. I took mine plain or with a spritz of lemon, forgoing the classic mignonette.
Unnecessary, but also delicious was the sesame studded bread with salted butter. And shrimp, too. On any other day the shrimp would have been the star of the show but in my refusal to waste any food, they left me overstuffed.
Huîtrerie Régis is tucked away on a small side street off of Boulevard Saint-Germain, just a few blocks from my next destination, the Church of Saint-Sulpice. The church provided the perfect respite for my overextended stomach. Though cool, dark, and peaceful, it is very much a working church with a staff and active worshipers. It's a crumbly old building, much in need of renovations, but with an intriguing, tangible sense of history. An interesting contrast to the bustling square outside. Full of tourists, students, nannies and their charges, business people on their lunch breaks-- a great spot for people watching.
There are lots of reasons to visit Amsterdam and I chose probably the nerdiest one-- the art. There dozens of world class museums within the compact city and most of them are covered by the Museumkaart, Amsterdam's Museum Card. I bought my pass at the big one - The Rijksmuseum, the first stop on my self-directed museum crawl. I spent a good four or five hours exploring the museum before taking a late lunch and continuing on to the Stedelijk and Van Gogh museums.
The Night Watch,' one of the most famous paintings in the world. It draws quite the crowd (I preferred the Vermeers, which are almost like miniatures in comparison.) I also made sure to track down the gorgeous Cuypers Library. You can't browse the stacks or study without prior permission, but the view from the balcony on the 2nd floor is a pretty great consolation. Another highlight was the gallery of beautiful and intricate Doll Houses.
I love to visit museums when I travel solo. I can really take my time viewing the art, without worrying about keeping pace with a companion. And if I want to skip a piece, or even a whole wing of a museum, it's totally cool. Though traveling alone can be stressful, especially when things go wrong, at museums I never feel self conscious when I'm on my own. I really appreciate it when cities offer passes that make it easy to visit multiple museums or attractions. But they're an investment. You really have to do your homework to make sure the pass covers the right length of time and attractions you actually want to visit. I chose the Museumkart, but Amsterdam also offers the Iamsterdam city pass which includes public transportation and a canal boat ride, but not quite enough museums for my liking (no Rijksmuseum or Anne Frank House.)
For me, the math on the Museumkaart just made sense. Because I was spending a week in Amsterdam, I made a list of the museums I wanted to visit and researched their admission prices. Once I added the entrance fees up, I knew the €65 Museumkaart would be more than worth it. I would have spent €106 if I had bought each ticket individually. The card also encouraged me to visit smaller, less well known churches and museums like Oude Kerk (The Old Church,) Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Dear Lord in the Attic Museum,) Museum Van Loon, and FOAM Photography Museum. The Museumkaart is geared towards Dutch residents so there's no English website, but I found the Amsterdam.info site to be a great resource for information about the card. It's good for a full month and gets you into museums all over Holland, nice if you're touring outside of just Amsterdam. The card must be purchased in person at one of the participating museums. If you're an art lover, history fanatic, or just spending an extended period of time in Amsterdam, then the card is an excellent value.