A Semester in Prague: Week 10

After kissing my parents goodbye, it was back to regular life in Prague. On Saturday, the weather finally cleared up and my friends and I went down to the river in search of a street food festival we had heard of. While we didn’t find the street food festival, we did find a market that had a few food options right on the river. We ate lunch on the river and talked for a bit until we decided to go to a contemporary art gallery: The Meet Factory which was founded by David Černy. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I appreciated the artwork.

fullsizeoutput_b40

On Sunday we were blessed with another sunny day and unanimously decided to get out in nature for a bit. We did a quick search of hiking outside of Prague and found tons of hiking trails near the Karlštein castle. We laced up our hiking shoes, and headed for the train station where we took a short 30 minute train journey to the base of the castle. We walked up to the castle and enjoyed the views from there, but then we kept hiking down a smaller trail until it got dark. It was absolutely beautiful and peaceful to be out in the woods. One of the things I have missed the most whilst being in Prague is the immediate access to nature that I have at home, so it was nice to see some trees and dirt again.

The rest of the week went by quickly, and suddenly all over town the Easter markets started to arrive. Easter has a completely different significance in the Czech Republic than it does in the US. As a predominantly atheist country with Pagan roots, Easter is celebrated as the coming of spring and health rather than resurrection of Jesus. Eggs are a huge part of their traditions and the streets are currently lined with dozens of booths selling hand decorated eggs.

fullsizeoutput_b49

The weekend brought yet another venture out of the Czech Republic: this time to London with a group of classmates. There was a small group of us that had quite a hard time trying to get our visas due to ridiculous delays and a slower acceptance process than we had been told to expect. As a result, the school offered a trip to London to validate our visas and provide a bit of fun for the unfortunate few. We left on Friday morning and jetted off to London with the supervision of our awesome Student Assistant Anna. When we arrived, a few of us decided to make the most of the afternoon and went into town to get on the London Eye before dark. We then got fish and chips at Poppies which was delicious, and finished the night off at God’s Own Junkyward (a cafe and store filled floor to ceiling with neon signs).

The next morning my friends Jack, Nick and I all made a plan for the day. We decided to stay a bit off the beaten track and not fall for all of the tourist traps of London. We started by going to the Highgate Cemetery which was eerily beautiful with a fresh layer of snow. It was located in the most British neighborhood you could imagine with streets full of tudor houses and fresh roses outside. In the cemetery we spotted Karl Marx’s grave which I wasn’t expecting to see.

After we’d had enough of the cemetery, we hopped onto the tube and went to the Design Museum. I was a major fan of the design museum and being there made me feel like I had chosen the right career to pursue. Its so common to find an art museum or a history museum, but a museum dedicated solely to design was like a special treat. It emphasized the importance of design and all the aspects of design that exist within our everyday lives. Easily my favorite walls of the museum showed a display of famously designed household items, and a movable wall that displayed the words: maker, designer, user.

We then rushed to the Twinnings Tea Shop only to find it had closed only 5 minutes prior. It was kind a bummer, but we just continued with our plan for the night. We headed to Kin, an asian fusion restaurant. While waiting for the bus in front of the Twinnings Tea Shop we stood for some time admiring the perfect snowflakes that had landed on Jack’s jacket. After a delicious dinner we went on a hunt for Cadbury Mini Eggs: one of my favorite Easter candies that are nowhere to be found in the Czech Republic. After getting stuck in a crowded tube, then an elevator crowded with drunk St. Patrick’s day celebrating Americans, we finally found a Tescos with Cadbury Mini Eggs.

The next morning Jack, Nicole and I made reservations to have breakfast at Sketch. Sketch is known for its artistically styled dining rooms and food and drink that matches, and it lived up to its expectations. It is probably most well known for its pink room: the Gallery, but since that room was booked for afternoon tea, we had breakfast in the Glade, a scene straight out of a fairytale. We managed to get a quick glimpse of the pink room before being scolded for taking photos but it was the epitome of chic. It was one of those places that felt way too fancy for a small town girl like me. Even the bathrooms were over the top and covered in jewels and crystals. It was quite an experience and I highly recommend to everyone planning on making a trip to London.

We had a few hours to spare before we needed to be back at our hostel to leave, so we decided to wander around Carnaby Street and window shop until the shops opened. Since it was early on a Sunday, pretty much everything was closed, but that made for empty streets at least! We stopped in a very cute store to look for souvenirs before rushing to the bus stop to get to our hostel on time. Unfortunately we did not account for the St. Patrick’s day parade that took over the streets of London, but we managed to get back to our hostel only 3 minutes late (sorry Anna). We then rushed to the bus station for our ride back to the airport and before we knew it we were back in Prague.

Being in London was overwhelming, and it reminded me that I could never live in a big city like that but it was refreshing to be able to speak English with no problem.

My Prague semester is quickly coming to a close and while I’m ready to go back home I know that as soon as I leave I’ll be yearning to come back. This has been such an experience and I can’t wait to see what the last few weeks bring. I have a few more big adventures planned before I head back and after classes end I’ll spend a week in Holland with my sister. I can’t wait to see her.

I’m updating this blog weekly (somewhat), but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

Mini NC Adventure: Rough Ridge

Rough Ridge is definitely one of the most popular hikes around the Boone area of North Carolina, and after visiting, I can see why. There are few other hikes that are as short yet rewarding as this one. While the climb can be a bit treacherous, the views from the top are amazing.

The trailhead is located on the Grandfather Mountain section of the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 302.8. There is a pretty decent sized parking lot at the trailhead, and both times I have gone, the parking lot didn’t fill up. But I can imagine that during the summer and fall, it would be hard to find a space.

The hike all the way to the top is just under a mile, but if you wanted a shorter hike, you could definitely stop at boardwalk that has been built about 1/3 of a mile up. The boardwalk was built to protect the fragile vegetation that grows on the rocks, and hikers are required to stay on the boardwalk. The summit is another 1/2 of a mile up, and the views just keep getting better and better. Along the way to the summit you will find a rock jutting out which is a famous spot for photos. Be careful on the rock though. While photos make it look a bit more daredevilish, there is still quite a drop to the ground if you were to slip and fall. After just a bit more hiking, you will reach the summit at 4,773 feet.

From the summit you can see views of Grandfather Mountain, the Linn Cove Viaduct, and miles and miles of beautiful mountain scenery. There is a cable to help you get to the highest rock as it is pretty steep, but you don’t want to miss the views from the top there. You feel like you are on top of the world. There are several rock outcroppings to sit and enjoy the views which would be perfect for a little picnic on a sunny day.

The hike is an in-and-out trail, so once you have soaked up all of the views, just turn around and go back down the way you came up. There are more trails that connect to this one and is part of the larger, 13 mile Tanawha Trail and Mountains-to-Sea trail.

I have only enjoyed this hike in the winter, I can imagine that the colors are spectacular in the fall while the leaves are changing or in the spring and summer when the mountains are full and green. I’d also love to go back for a sunset when I can imagine the sky lights up a beautiful shade of pink and ends the night with a fade to purple and blue. I will definitely be visiting Rough Ridge again in the near future.

After exploring this trail with my dog, I read that dogs are not actually allowed on this trail. Pets are prohibited to protect the fragile and vulnerable plant community and keep it in tact. So, I would not recommend bringing your fluffy friend along with you especially if you are planning to hike on a potentially busy day. No one actually said anything to me, but I had the feeling I might be doing something wrong when I realized that no one else had a dog on the trail, something that doesn’t often happen.

I strongly urge you to test this hike out if you have not already. You could not ask for better views for such a quick hike, and if mountains are what you love, this hike is for you.

 

Mini NC Adventure: Upper Creek Falls

This spring break lead me to a wonderful new hike to another gorgeous waterfall in North Carolina. After two long months in Raleigh, I was ready to get outdoors, in the mountains, and surround myself with nature for a bit. After searching around the interwebs for some new hikes, I found this hike and immediately had the urge to go. The hike in and out wasn’t long and I can’t wait to go back in the summer and possibly swim in the smaller falls.

The falls are located in the Pisgah National Forest along NC Highway 181 near the small community of Jonas Ridge. I was driving to the falls from Pineola and found the trailhead on my left after driving for about 7.5 miles. You can see a Pisgah National Forest sign from the road, that leads you to a pretty decent size parking lot.

 

The hike was a loop hike, and you could choose to see the lower or the upper falls individually as well. I started with the upper falls, (although, for a less strenuous hike, I would recommend starting with the lower falls). The hike down to the upper falls was not too bad. Despite it being so close to the highway, I found that after a few minutes of hiking, you felt completely immersed in the Pisgah National Forest. The trail is full of rocks and roots, so be careful of your footing on your way down.

Once you have made it down to Upper Creek, you will find a wooden bridge that leads you down to creek. I wandered around for a bit trying to see what I could at the upper falls. To get across the creek you have to rock hop, but I found that the hop-able rocks were easy to get across. When you get to the other side you can walk out to the top of the falls and try to get a glimpse over the falls. I would not suggest getting too close to the edge, especially if the rocks are wet or you don’t feel sturdy on your own two feet. One slip, and the fall would be lethal. But the large open rocks would be perfect picnic spots on a sunny afternoon.

After crossing the creek, you will find a campsite with a trail leading you to the lower falls. There are a few other herd paths that lead you further up the creek, but it is obvious which one leads you to the bottom of the falls. There are several different herd paths that lead to the bottom of the falls, and after viewing several other photos from the falls, I’m not sure if I took the right one, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

After spending a few minutes chilling at the bottom of the falls, I hiked back up and out of the gorge. Again, you have to rock hop across the creek, but then its up, up, up to the parking lot. I am not the biggest fan of switchbacks, and found the hike out tiresome, but well worth the waterfall. As you hike back up to the parking lot, you will find a large boulder jutting out of the ground and it looked like climbers had already put anchors on the rock. If I could boulder, I definitely would have stopped here and had a little climb before finishing the hike out. You can also climb onto the top of the boulder from the back and find a slightly terrifying view of the creek below.

The hike was not too long, about 1.7 miles, and perfect for a warm afternoon. Since you’re hiking down a gorge to the waterfall there is a loss (then gain) of about 500 feet.  The majority hike consists of switchbacks so its not too steep, but your calfs will still be burning on the way up. I can’t wait to go back and visit in the summer months and hopefully take a dip in the upper falls.

I’m such a “Look at the moon” person

I’ve lived my whole life tucked away in a small town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent my childhood knee deep in rivers and creeks, hands covered in mud, and head full of imaginary creatures such as fairies and unicorns. More often than not you could find me in the small patch of woods at the back corner of our home building fairy houses out of twigs, soft green moss, and delicate flowers. I had a wild imagination that took me on magical adventures everyday. But, somewhere along the way of growing up, I lost that imagination in the jumble of school, friends, and technology.

For a good portion of my middle school and high school years I was sucked into the teenage lifestyle. I was much more interested in messaging my friends and playing Farmville on Facebook than building fairy houses or playing pirates in our tree house. I grew out of my imagination “phase” and let the current of social media consume my life. I was obsessed with likes and my online presence. I felt lost without my phone in my right hand, awaiting the ding of text messages, followers, and snaps. My biggest dream was moving to a far off city surrounded my noise and lights and being consumed by the hurry of people.

Then two summers ago, I went on an overnight camping trip with the senior campers at Camp Spring Creek and my life was changed. When offered a chance to go on the trip I was a bit hesitant, but at the last minute I agreed and packed my backpack. I figured I was comfortable in the wilderness and viewed it as a time to bond with some of the senior campers. Little did I know that in those two and a half days spent dirty and cold in the Black Mountain Range I would regained my desire to explore and my imagination would come back to life.

Now I live in a far off city surrounded by noise and light and a hurry of people (sure, Raleigh is no NYC or LA, but its definitely bigger than my hometown) and all I can think about is going back to the mountains. I yearn for even the shortest of breaks from school to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and find peace on the curvy roads surrounded by trees and rivers and dirt and mud. I spend almost every free minute at home driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, awing at the marvelous Appalachian Mountains. I now feel so connected to the place that I live and the feeling of clean fresh air, winding country roads, and high mountain peaks. I would rather spend my evenings enjoying a beautiful sunset than at a party with some friends or trapped behind my computer screen.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still often find me with my phone in my hand or back pocket, but the urgency to view and reply to messages has since dissipated. My camera roll is now filled with photos from the stunning places I’ve been and my mind is filled with places I wish to go. The gratification I receive from likes and comments on my photos is now a happiness I am able to share the beauty that I find in the world with my friends and family. I want to be able to share those moments when I reach the top of a mountain and can just stare in pure amazement at the wonderful world that we live in.

So yes, I do get overly excited at the sight of stars and I will most definitely pull over on the side of the road to just take a minute to enjoy the color of the changing leaves. If you spend time with me you will definitely hear me say “Look at the moon!” more than once, and you’ll have to be patient with me as I take a few extra minutes to awe at the color of distant mountains or rolling waves. I like the feeling of grass between my toes and cold river water rushing on my hands and you would find me clutching a salamander or toad before you would find me using a clutch. I would gladly wear the smell of a campfire over expensive perfume and I am more comfortable in a t-shirt than I will ever be in designer clothing.

I will never underestimate the power of adventure any longer. Because if one trip could help me re-establish my connection with nature, who knows what the rest of my life will bring.

 

Mini NC Adventures: Roaring Creek Falls

As of recently, I’ve been really into getting to know the area that I live better. There is so much unexplored terrain in Mitchell and the surrounding counties of North Carolina. I’ve been home quite a lot in the past month (spring break, Easter break, and this past weekend) and therefore, I have been trying to dip my toes into the unexplored lands of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of my new favorite oasis is Roaring Creek Falls in Yancey County, NC. I went for the first time over Spring Break, then returned during Easter break with my mother. Okay, I’ll show you some pictures and then tell you all about the falls (or all that I know at least).

So, the falls are located in Yancey County, NC not too far from Mount Mitchell (the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River). There is about a .5 mile walk to the base of the falls that is almost entirely on an old logging road (definitely Grandma-level “hiking”). I’d give it a 2/10 difficulty rating. To get to the top of the falls you will have to do a little climbing (definitely not Grandma-level hiking). I would give it a 7/10 difficulty rating, my dog and my mother both got up and down without too much difficulty. The view from the top and the bottom are both equally beautiful, but I definitely recommend seeing the falls (any falls you visit) from the top as well as the bottom. It changes your perspective of the falls, and just makes the whole experience more rewarding.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you live in WNC and haven’t seen these falls yet, I highly recommend that you make the trip to go see them. I encourage you all to try to get to know your city, town, region, a little better and go explore places you’ve never been to. I am sure that you won’t regret it.

I hope you are all having a wonderful day, and enjoying this crazy thing called life.

Peace out, enjoy life, and live the adventure.