Munich Springfest: PROST!

Springfest 2012 in Munich, Germany

Springfest, modeled after the famous Oktoberfest, is not just a festival of drinking beer into oblivion. It’s a giant, culturally-themed fair with rides, foods and German traditions.

This attraction is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in my life. The children are put into giant balls and then sent afloat to struggle like hamsters who can neither gain any momentum nor maintain any stability.

Groups of attendees in elaborate costumes would spontaneously spring into traditional music and dances of the old German culture.

I was so impressed to see even young adults embracing the cultural traditions. They clearly planned with large groups of friends to coordinate choreographed dances and matching costumes.

The theme decorations were so cute!

You could get your schnitzels and bratwursts at every few stands, including a half-meter one!

And there were cutely decorated sweets all around as well.

And, of course, BEER. Beer served in these giant steins. This is the Radlermass–the most refreshing beer I’ve ever tasted. It apparently involves lemonade, which wasn’t distinguishably tasteable, but certainly added a little sweetness.

The waiters serving beers in the tents were kept VERY busy. I wonder how many giant barrels of Augustiner were consumed ๐Ÿ˜ฎ …What was even more amazing was seeing the waitresses carry up to ten filled steins at a time!

This is what the Augustiner tent looked like during the day–pretty family-friendly.

But from about 7-11pm (when it closed), the Augustiner tent evolved into “the routy tent.” When the band started playing, everyone ascended right up to stand on the benches of the table and remain up there for the remainder of the night singing, dancing, cheersing and drinking.

After the first night, I woke up with a swollen hand from holding my heavy stein all night ๐Ÿ˜ฎ PROST! (“Cheers!”)

To me, the most awesome aspect of this tent and the college-age Springfest experience is how innocently jolly and cultural it was. Yes, it was crazy in there–beer spilling all over the place, everyone being loud and routy, people jumping up and down on the benches, sometimes someone falling–but in a way that I don’t experience in American culture. Tables were shared among strangers who became friends, most the people were dressed in the traditional costumes, people were chanting along with ye olde historical drinking songs and German tunes, and the dancing was not distasteful the way it would be in a club. It was an incredibly unique experience that I will always remember. And as our German companions told us: “This is nothing compared to Oktoberfest!” …I can’t even imagine.

At 11pm, the fair shut down and everyone flooded out of the tents. This is unfortunately when my belongings got stolen ๐Ÿ˜ฆ but Springfest was overall too great to be spoiled.

My weekend in Munchen was not just about festing, though. My friends and I did lots of exploring through the city both on foot and with a bike tour!

We were slightly nervous about biking through the city in a giant group, but we managed!

Munich is full of beautiful architecture ๐Ÿ˜€

Hofbrรคuhaus Brewery

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St. Cajetan’s Church

St. Cajetan’s Church

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We spent quite a bit of time in the English Garden — a large and beautiful park.

The English Garden holds the Chinesischer Turm, the second largest beer garden in the world (where our bike tour guide of course had us stop for a stein at before continuing on our tour…)

There was a large, grassy area for lounging and playing sports, but it came with two major surprises: 1) Nude tanning. When we first approached the area, we realized that a lot of the sunbathers were naked. My friends and I chose to lounge at a spot near the stream that didn’t seem to have any naked people. After laying on my back a bit, I flipped around to read my book and was shocked to see an old, naked man sitting only a few meters in front of my with his junk hanging out. Not cool. 2) The stream went throughout the entire park and moved with a lot of velocity. Every now and then, we’d see people in the stream quickly float past us, carried with the force of the water. It looked fun but crazy!

This stream also had an area with waves for surfers, tucked away in the woods. Again, one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen….

Our weekend in Munich for Springfest is one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life….I hope I can go back for Oktoberfest someday!

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Notte Bianca: When the city pulls an allnighter

In conjunction with Labor Day today in Italy, last night was the annual “Notte Bianca” (“White Night”)–a night in which the city of Florence doesn’t sleep. Businesses are invited to stay open all night, every piazza is full of stage set-ups, musicians, DJs, drinking tents, and all kinds of fun stuff, and the streets are absolutely flooded with people. EVERYONE is outside living it up–drinking, dancing, eating, walking, going wild…all the way until 6am.

I can only imagine being a tourist and not knowing about this night, seeing Florence this routy at night, and thinking that this is how it always is. Crazy fun night!

Florence Underground Music Scene

As someone who grew up in the NJ music scene, I’ve been craving a taste of the local music scene in Florence–especially since the Florentine teens and young adults carry such a punky style. Well, I finally got my in.

Last week, a bartender I’m friends with (Simone) told me about an upcoming gig his band would be playing right near the pub (which is right near our apartment). After two past failures at attending a local show this semester, I was SO psyched to finally have an in–and to see a friend’s band! “It’ll be more like a giant party,” he told us, and man was he right!

On Friday night, Vicki, Heather and I found the place (thanks to the giant crowd of smokers outside of course) and presented the fliers (aka magical admittance tool) that Simone had told us to print out beforehand to the bouncer, who let us right in. We confusedly entered what looked like a typical caffe, but then were led back to the room where the show/party would take place. The entrance fee was 10 Euro, which covered two drinks at the bar as well.

Our friend's band, Cinderella Breakdown, kicked off the live set. They had the front of the room dancing, and even some fans who jumped up on stage to dance too.

When we entered the room, we were struck by the spinning party lights, DJ blasting jams, and pretty ghetto set-up of a bar. It was an energetic atmosphere though–definitely not what I’d expect for a local show based on the Jersey music scene, but definitely fun!

It felt so funny seeing our local bartender singing it out on stage!

The age range went from teens younger than us to adults in their 40s, and we were probably the only Americans in the place. We noticed a lot of other regulars from Joshua Tree Pub, where Simone works, so it was really cool to see everyone coming out to support his music and have a good time. Cinderella Breakdown played a very fun set, but we were surprised that all their lyrics were in English instead of Italian!

The next band that played was a lot younger, called Ritmo Randagio. They certainly brought in a younger crowd with even more dancing, and they played a combination of original songs sang in Italian and covers of American songs sang in English, like Kids by MGMT an Stand By Me–both which the crowd loved.

I was so impressed by not just the party atmosphere of dancing, but particularlyย  by the way the young guys and girls interacted. These college-age kids would dance kind of old-fashioned style, with the guys taking the hand of a girl and twirling her around, etc. It was very cute and romantic, I thought.

I was really impressed with Ritmo Randagio, and actually returned to see them again last night at the Hard Rock Cafe in Florence. They played another awesome set, and I enjoyed getting to briefly meet some of them when I went to buy their CD. Apparently they’ll be playing on Monday night in Florence again, so I’m planning to see them then too. I could definitely get used to the Florence underground music scene ๐Ÿ˜€

Ritmo Randagio at the Hard Rock Cafe, Florence (April 24, 2012)

My 21st birthday in Italy

They say your 21st birthday won’t feel special in Italy, where you can already legally drink. But my wonderful friends and family made this one hell of a birthday! ๐Ÿ˜€

First, I was given the greatest gift of all, which was for my family to come visit for the extended Easter/birthday weekend. (My birthday actually fell ON Easter this year). We were disappointed that it rained their whole stay, but it was still something very special to spend time together here in Italy. We even went to Siena to visit a winery, which I can blog about in a later post.

On my “Birthday Eve,” as Chelsea calls it, my family took Heather, Chelsea and me to local restaurant called Osteria dei Centopoveri, where Chelsea’s uncle and cousin work. (If you’re ever in Florence, I HIGHLY recommend this restaurant. It’s off-the-beaten-track but has some of the best food I’ve tasted in Florence along with fair prices and a cozy family-run atmosphere). We did the Italian-style dinner — several courses and lots of wine! My primi piatti of a homemade gnocci dish with lobster is possibly the best thing I’ve ever consumed.

Salute! ...To good company and good times ๐Ÿ˜€

After a couple hours of eating this extravagant and madly-delicious meal, the lights shut off and “Zio Claudio” and his staff surprised me with a birthday cake celebration. I was so touched by their kindness. With a smile gleaming on my face, it suddenly really did feel like my birthday. I was already so stuffed, but I managed to have a couple bites because it was SO GOOD.

Then, Claudio and his staff kept the celebration going with champagne! This restaurant and Chelsea’s family really live up to the heartwarming-and-generous-Italians stereotype. Then, Zio Claudio brought us shots of a strong Italian liquor that I can’t remember the name of. All I can tell you is that it BURNED, and somehow induced a hot flash. It definitely fit the occasion, though.

After dinner, the birthday surprises and spontaneous celebrations continued at our favorite local bar, Joshua Tree Pub…which truly is my “home away from home” in Florence. I intended to just stop by for a couple drinks with my family, but around midnight my friends started piling in until we accumulated a pretty big group in the back. Then, at midnight, the music lowered and the bouncer/bartender who we’re good friends with, Paolo, came in with a little cake that had a lit candle stuck in it, and the bar was singing me happy birthday. (Paolo is the cutest thing ever). I couldn’t believe it, and couldn’t have possibly asked for a better birthday celebration! The cake was followed by shots on the house, cheers and hugs from the other bartenders, and then an extremely fun night of good friends, good drinks and good times at one of my favorite places in Florence.

Whoever said that your 21st birthday won’t feel special in Europe was wrong…I can’t thank my family, friends from home and friends in Italy enough for making this one of the most special and memorable birthdays I’ll ever have ๐Ÿ™‚

Bonjour, Paris & Versailles! (Spring Break: Part IV)

Spring Break in Northern Europe

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Paris

Bonjour from Paris!

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Paris felt very similar to NYC between the way it's laid out, the way the people spend their time, and the Westernization. The Eiffel Tower was certainly the main attraction for us. We spent very much of our day lounging on the green beneath it.

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rawr

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At sunset, we went up to this building where people congregate outside to watch the sun set over the city. The atmosphere was like a giant, relaxed party for the community. People brought their wine and baguettes, guitars, soccer balls, etc. It was like sitting among a bunch of friends you've never met.

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Although the sky was hazy, the view was quite nice. Check out the guy showing off his tricks with a soccer ball while he climbs up that lamp post!

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At night, we walked around the area of our hostel in search for a good, chill bar. Along the way, some French guys asked for a cigarette. While we couldn't provide their request, they were kind enough to provide us with a suggestion of a great bar near our hostel. There, we befriended a large group of Parisians. I had been warned before going to Paris that the French are not friendly to Americans at all. However, I found them to be very welcoming and friendly--whether it was a shopkeeper, restaurant waiter, random woman walking her dog, guys we were talking with at the bar, or people sitting next to us in a restaurant who helped us translate the menu. Most young Parisians speak English very well, too. So, this was all a nice surprise that added warmth to our experience in Paris.

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And of course, we saw the Eiffel Tower do its sparkle (happens every hour). It's hard to appreciate just through a picture, but the sparkling lights were very over-the-top.

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Versailles

We spent almost an entire day visiting the great palace of Versailles, which was absolutely incredible.

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"CARTWHEELS IN EVERY COUNTRY!"

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Every room of the building was unbelievably lavish. Here, we're standing in the Hall of Mirrors. I wanted to put on a ball gown and dance away to piano music!

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The outside was decorated with elaborate gardens that I've only ever seen in movies.

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...Impressive backyard.

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You could literally spend hours walking through the kilometers of roaming space behind the palace. Many people rent bicycles so that they can actually explore it all. We ventured out by foot though.

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It was like I was in a Jane Austen novel. All of a sudden, I was Elizabeth Bennet, rendezvousing through the simple, quaint woods beyond the extravagant palace.

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"Oh, Mr. Darcy! Come meet me at the gazebo!"

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Here, we enter the idyllic estate of Marie-Antoinette's cottage.

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It was almost surreal to be back in time like this...

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Well, that concludes my Spring Break series. Since then, I’ve also visited Fiesole, and will be visiting Siena tomorrow. I am very excited because my family is visiting me in Florence this weekend for Easter and my 21st birthday! Unfortunately, the weather is not ideal for this–it’s raining for the first time since I moved to Florence in January! But, hopefully it’ll clear up, and we’ll nonetheless have a great time. I’m excited to share this experience with my family, and to watch them relive my first reactions to the overwhelming buildings and atmosphere in Florence that I’ve grown accustomed to by this point. So, ciao for now!

Hey, Amsterdam! (Spring Break: Part III)

Spring Break in Northern Europe

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Hello from Amsterdam! ...The city that really did live up to its reputation!

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The city

The city of Amsterdam is a mix of many different cultural influences. The streets are full of diverse kinds of shops and restaurants, from Chinese food to McDonalds. The streets and buildings themselves are lovely.

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Amsterdam is full of beautiful canals. Legend has it that the water is full of bikes thrown into the canals by intoxicated Dutch.

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Between the canals and the old architecture maintained by the houses and buildings, the city as a whole kind of felt like a fairytale city.

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And of course, you can't describe Amsterdam without mentioning the bikes! Bicycles seem to be the main mode of transportation in the city. Around 5:00 was what I call "bike rush hour," when hundreds of bikes would be flocking the streets. I couldn't help notice that all the bikers seemed quite jolly, too ๐Ÿ™‚

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As I've mentioned in some past posts, "Follow the music" has become a golden rule when visiting cities--always leading to good things. This time, the music lead us to this funky fellow playing some odd instrument in a canal.

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Fun fact which has nothing to do with this photo!: Dutch men are on average the tallest men of any nation! They are also beautiful and healthy, from my own observational research--maybe from all that bike riding?

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Alright, I'm just going to point this out despite any judgment I may receive because I KNOW I am not the only one who noticed this... But the street bars appeared like so, and with the nation's "XXX" symbol on it. Even our tour guide couldn't resist pointing out the uncanny resemblance to something regarding Amsterdam's reputation for sex, and challenged whether the "XXX" symbol is just a coincidence. HOW CURIOUS. On that note...

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The Red Light District

We've all heard about the Red Light District... Where prostitution is legal and embraced. Our tour guide explained the rational behind it -- that the Dutch are very pragmatic, business-driven people. This is a successful business, and it's operated in a safe and regulated way which gives more power to the female prostitutes. For example, pimping is not allowed. And if anyone tries to take a photo of these girls working their windows, they will come out and smash your camera or throw a bucket of pee on you. The more I learned about the business angle of the Red Light District from the female perspective, I almost started to feel ok with it.--that is, until my friends and I visited it at night...

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Our hostel was actually located right on the border of the Red Light District. When we turned a street, there was a church and this unique monument in the ground. There were also naked girls in the windows. ("Why a church?" you might ask. Quite a paradox, it seems. Well, the church does not operate with prostitutes--just the surrounding area. But back in the day, sailors who had been trapped at sea without women for many months would land in Amsterdam and want a woman very badly. So, the church saw a business opportunity here--let the men do that with the service of the Red Light District girls, but then have them attend church to repent their sins and pay for it. Apparently, the church would even allow them to pay in advance for however many sins they were probably about to commit with a prostitute that night and maybe even next morning too! So, that's why there's a church in the heart of the Red Light District!) Anyway, as interesting and perhaps even convincing it is to hear about and read about the pragmatism and positivity behind the Red Light District, experiencing it--particularly at night--is completely different. Walking through these streets lined with almost-naked young (and old) girls knocking on their windows and posing for the swarms of guys walking by....its dehumanization suddenly sinks in when you're actually there. These girls showcase themselves like animals in a petting zoo. I couldn't really look them in the eye because I didn't know how they really felt and I couldn't handle the chance of detecting it. I also wondered if they hated seeing females walking through, since we're less likely to be customers and more likely to just be curious onlookers. I didn't see a sex show, like many people my age do while in Amsterdam, because I honestly have no desire or curiosity to explore that. My quick but eye-opening (no pun intended) walk through the RLD was more than enough of an experience.

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Coffee shops / Drug use

(Credit: AmsterdamNightLife.net) Another infamous aspect of Amsterdam is the drug use, mainly with Marijuana. To be clear, pot is not legal in Amsterdam. However, the streets are full of coffee shops, where adults can enter to purchase, smoke or consume weed as they please. It is SO blatant, because "coffee shop" (as opposed to "cafe" or whatnot) is so clearly understood as a place to get high. But, there is a greater policy of not being an idiot about it: if you do it in the privacy of your own home or a coffee shop, and you are not harming anyone, then they let it fly. It's unbelievable, but something the world could maybe use more of. And it all comes back to that Dutch mentality of pragmatism that I mentioned before. They want to encourage prosperous businesses like this--or at least not interfere with them if they are doing no harm.

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Pancakes

On a much more innocent note, Amsterdam has some mighty delicious pancakes.

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Cheers!

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Van Gogh Museum

We visited the Van Gogh Museum, which was absolutely wonderful. If you appreciate art and are in the city, go there for sure.

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The Anne Frank Museum

There is this church in the city which plays the most hauntingly eerie music you could imagine. We heard it from afar, and didn't realize until we approached it that it was right next to the Anne Frank Museum. This is the church that she references in her diary.

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(Credit: ParanormalKnowledge.com) Visiting the Anne Frank Museum is another must-do while in Amsterdam. It guides you through the actual house that Anne Frank and her family stayed in while hiding. The experience is beautifully laid out, first informing you about the house, then immersing you in not only the context of the house but the stories behind their stay, and then the entire experience is capped with the family's continued experiences at the concentration camps. It's a very powerful and emotional experience that's definitely worth taking a break from the fun and carefree activities of Amsterdam.

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The Heineken Experience

Contrary to the Anne Frank Museum, the Heineken Experience is a hella fun museum experience for anyone who appreciates a good brew.

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Oh hai

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First, you experience the history behind Heineken, and then you're guided through the brewing experience!

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After the old photographs, artifacts and replications of old machinery, you're taken through very modern rooms. They're full of unique, interactive experiences using some really cool technology and visual effects.

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And for the finale, you are served a lovely Extra Cold Heineken! ๐Ÿ˜€

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Amsterdam...Certainly the most unique city I've experienced.

Ahoy, Prague! (Spring Break: Part I)

Spring Break in Northern Europe

  • Part I: Ahoy, Prague!
  • Part II: Hallo, Berlin!
  • Part III: Hey, Amsterdam!
  • Part IV: Bonjour, Paris & Versailles!

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Architecture / City

Prague is truly full of stunning architecture. Not only will the historic sites impress you, but also the residential & commercial buildings as well.

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The famous clock tower. We had an AWESOME walking tour leader, Filip, who is honestly my favorite European I've met yet. He is young, quirky, and really brought the city's history to life through his animated storytelling. It was very amusing to hear him mock the clock tower, though, because of its anticlimactic "show" that happens every hour, which people come from all over the world to see and are always just like "oh" when it's over.

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The Old Town Square

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"Frodo, watch out! NAAAAAZGUUUUUL!"

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Very possibly my favorite building I've seen in Europe.

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To the castle we go!

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City by day

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...And city by night

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Czech out the people & culture!

I wasn't sure if I was looking at a soldier or a LARPer...

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The classic old dude playing accordion-like instrument with monkey ๐Ÿ™‚

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I have no idea what instrument this guy was playing, but it was awesome.

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I LOVED the people and culture of Prague. The Czechs are extremely friendly and communal. And they say "Ahoy!" as a greeting, which is badass. I would like America to adapt this pirate lingo.

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The Czech currency is crowns instead of euro, and will make you feel like an absolute 'baller. I only took out 40 Euro (~$52), which equated to 1000 crowns. It came in just one bill. Madness.
P.S. I did not mean to flip you off in this photograph -- I apologize.

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Marionettes were EVERYWHERE. This is one of the creepier ones I encountered...

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Absinthe is huge in Prague. If you've seen Eurotrip, you know all about "the green fairy" behind the craze of this bright green beverage. I had never seen it before, but it was a major component of every bar and liquor shop.

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Beer is by far the greatest drink of Prague, though. Apparently, Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other nation! Pilsner Urquell is one of their major beers, and all beers were generally cheaper than water where we went ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

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Nightlife in Prague

Prague has excellent nightlife. Whether you're looking for a relaxed atmosphere, a jolly pub to drink some beers, or a crazy club with good dance music, the city is full of great locations to have a great time.
We happened to be there St. Patrick's Day weekend, so we kicked off Spring Break with some green beers!

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On our first night, we partook in a major Pub Crawl that brought us to four different locations. It felt really silly traveling in this giant mob of young people from place to place, but it was a fun experience to try.

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Cheers!

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I am on the hunt for the kind of Electronic/Techno/Dance music that I heard in Prague. It was unlike anything I've ever heard because it had a noticeable influence of polka beats under the music (which may sound weird/corny, but it was very well done, very unique, and very enjoyable!)

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The next night, we czeched out a five-story club -- the largest dance club in all of Europe!

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At an AWESOME Irish pub we found on St. Patrick's Day, we asked for tequila shots. The bartender asked "silver or gold?" and I had no idea what that meant. He then explained that silver is taken with lemon, while gold is taken with cinnamon and orange. I said I wanted silver, but with salt and lime, and that I had never heard of the latter. "Aaaah, you are American, huh?" he replied. Apparently, tequila with salt and lime is a very American thing, and tequila with cinnamon and orange is something that most Americans don't know about. We eventually tried it...I didn't like it. But the Olmeca brand (also a tequila I've never heard of) was wonderful!

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After checking out the five-story dance club, Heather and I ended up going back to that Irish pub that we loved so much. It was late at this point, but it was still really energetic in there. We met some very friendly people from Dublin and conversed with them a bit. Then, the bartender who had served us the tequila earlier that night emerged next to us, now dressed in normal attire because his shift was done. He introduced himself as Jacob, joined us, and we were welcomed to stay until the wee hours of the morning. He introduced us to a shot of Absinthe lit on fire--which I guess is part of the Prague experience, but a pretty awful one! The alcohol literally burns down your body and leaves a terrible aftertaste. It's no wonder why he kept laughing to his friend, "I can't believe I'm having this!" One of the interesting parts of our conversation with Jacob was about Czech's attitudes towards Americans. We explained to him that we're constantly warned about Europeans' disdain for Americans. His instant response was, "What? We LOVE Americans!" And I must say, of everywhere I've been in Europe, Czech Republic is by far where I felt the most welcomed and accepted. What a great culture and great people.

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Our last night in Prague ended when the sun was rising...We truly made our short time there matter. Two hours after going to bed, Heather and I were woken up by the girls sharing our room in the hostel (who were also on this "Northern Loop of Europe" trip). "Wake up! We have to board the bus for Berlin in 10 minutes!" That was the quickest getting-ready/packing job I've ever done.

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John Lennon Wall

In my opinion, the John Lennon Wall is a must-see if you go to Prague...

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We all took a turn contributing something new to the wall... I put up lyrics from a Scranton, Pennsylvania-based indie band I love, Tigers Jaw, and sent them a picture of it on Facebook with a "Welcome to the John Lennon wall!" caption.

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"POW!"

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Sending lots of love from Prague! โค