Reykjavik is a quiet little city and the Hallgrímskirkja Church is the main landmark and a popular tourist attraction. Check out our video about the church and the view from the observatory.
We spent 36 hours in Iceland! This is how it went:
This geyser, situated right next to Geysir – the oldest geyser that all others are named after – erupts every 10-15 minutes. While we were there it erupted four times. Two were 15 minutes apart and the other three erupted within 10 minutes! It was freezing but we kept ourselves entertained.
There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv.
This past December I did something I have wanted to do for years! I got to visit Chernobyl. I considered it to be just another exciting day trip, but then my family membered began crossing themselves and praying under their breath whenever I mentioned it.
This made me a little nervous, so I started doing some research. The information I read on English-speaking tourist websites varied greatly from what local Ukrainian websites said. I ended up sitting in the van confused and slightly worried about my safety… I wish somehow had told me the following:
1. It is 100% safe to visit Chernobyl on a tour
Although thousands if not tens of thousands suffered from the negative side effects of radiation and even died, visiting Chernobyl today is completely safe. There are people living within the “danger” zone year round. Even in the frosty December temperatures, we saw a lady going about her day from a store in Chernobyl.
The city that no one lives in is Pripyat, where certain areas do have radiation hot spots. Although no one lives there, our tour guide told us that many people break in illegally and spend the night or several nights in the long-abandoned buildings telling ghost stories and sometimes creating beautifully haunting graffiti.
2. The dogs are not radioactive
There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv. These dogs are all spayed, vaccinated, and they are taken care of by the local residents and employees. These dogs are also super sweet and love a good scratch. Our guide was petting them and reassuring us that it was safe!
3. Tour prices vary greatly, shop around
When Isaac and I were searching for tickets, we found tours for as much as $300 per person. Keep in mind that there are different tours, including overnight that let you sleep in a hotel in Chernobyl! But even the same day trip can vary in price, which is why I let my mom search Ukrainian websites for the best one.
The tour she chose had tickets for about $150 for foreigners and only $100 for Ukrainian-passport holders. Apparently it was the European Union, who have sponsored the protection of Chernobyl, who made the law that locals should be able to visit and learn about their history at a discount.
4. There are lots of rules on the tour
According to my mom, all these rules are just for show as part of the thrilling experience. I can see why she would think that, but I didn’t mess with any of them. One guy on our tour, however, broke every single one without consequence. He walked inside of buildings that he was told to stay out of and he took photos of things he was told not to. Finally, I would bet anything that he snuck out souvenir that he collected along the way.
5. It is a unique and exciting experience
Even if it’s no longer unsafe and if all the precautions are overdone, what happened in Chernobyl is an important part of history. I hope that all tours play the Chernobyl documentary on the way there. You should watch it even if you never go on the tour.
The facts are that even today, there is no safe way to completely secure the reactor. Every few years, new precautions need to be made. While all of this is happening, there are still nuclear generators around the world and their dangers are 100% real. The accident at Chernobyl was unexpected and it was a miracle that it didn’t wipe out all of Europe. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of a handful of brave heroes, most of Europe would be unlivable today.
If you get the chance to visit Chernobyl, don’t forget where you are and what happened there. So many people suffered painfully and died in the most horrible way due to the accident. It was a terrible accident that could have been worse, but was absolutely devastating to so many already. Think about that when you walk through the abandoned kindergarten and past the homes of what was once the most prosperous city in the Soviet Union.
How much can you really see in Iceland on a 48 hour layover when there’s only 4-5 hours of daylight every day?
How much can you really see in Iceland on a 48 hour layover when there’s only 4-5 hours of daylight every day?
Kyiv is also not the only safe place to visit in Ukraine. There are dozens of safe and exciting places to see. The only reason I spend most of my trips to Ukraine exclusively in Kyiv is because that’s where my parent’s live.
Although the media has a short attention span and has long forgotten about the ongoing war in Ukraine, tourists have not. Nor reporting on the situation has led to some people worrying even more than they would if they were up to date on the situation.
What is going on in Ukraine right now?
People are still dying as they fight for the country every day. Crimea is impossible run by Russians and two eastern territories are now “independent” and the Ukrainians there are struggling to regain the territory. Pro-Ukrianian locals are often persecuted and we hear crazy stories about teenagers getting killed by other teenagers for wearing a Ukrainian flag on their backpack.
These terrible stories are terrifying and I understand why they would deter tourist from traveling to Ukraine. However, there are perfectly safe areas that you can visit without having to worry. For example, Kyiv.
I’ve visited Kyiv, or as some spell it, Kiev, six times since Euromaidan in November 2014. Each time I stayed in Kiev, during the beginning I even went to the protests. All evidence of the barricades and destruction of the revolution are long gone – replaced with memorials for those who died, etc. It’s been completely safe to visit for years.
Kyiv is also not the only safe place to visit in Ukraine. There are dozens of safe and exciting places to see. The only reason I spend most of my trips to Ukraine exclusively in Kyiv is because that’s where my parent’s live. This past trip, my mom, my husband and I took a very exciting day trip to Chernobyl! Now that comes with a very different kind of safety questions.
But I’ll be writing about that next time!
4 hours of sunlight, below zero temperatures but very few tourists…
My first trip to Iceland was far from ideal. First, it was just a 52 hour layover and second, it was in December. Don’t get me wrong, there are many positives about visiting Iceland during this time including fewer tourists seeing the rolling hills and waterfalls frozen in a winter wonderland.
Unfortunately, December is also the month when Iceland is freezing and there is only 4-5 hours of sunlight a day! Luckily, the roads are well lit so you can safely drive in the dark even if it is snowing. But it does take some planning around to make your trip worthwhile.
First of all, you need to keep in mind that when the sun doesn’t rise until 11-12 am, neither do the locals. We landed at 8 am and tried to get something to eat and drink. We ended up in a grocery store because everything else was closed including bars and cafes.
It took a lot of driving around for us to find a hotel by the port where we could warm up (it was unpleasant to spend more than 10 minutes outside). Unfortunately the tiny coffees were overpriced much like everything in the touristy areas of Iceland, but at least we had a place to wait for the city to wake up.
For the two days that we were there, we had to schedule our sightseeing around the darkness. To visit to Golden Circle, we got up early to drive 3 hours from the city to arrive right when the sun started to rise. We had to rush a little but we had enough time to see all three sights – the two waterfalls and the geyser – with some time to spare for lunch before heading over to the Blue Lagoons.
Due to our lack of time, we had to visit the Blue Lagoons during the evening and made an appointment for two hours before closing. We were worried that this wouldn’t be enough time, but it was hard for us to stay there too long because you start feeling faint after just 20 minutes in the water. It would have been cool to see the place during daylight, but it was magical at night too.
The biggest perk of visiting in the winer was definitely the lack of tourists. There were handfuls here and there, but the parking lots that were normally overcrowded were empty and we got to enjoy the sights in peace. So I definitely recommend a short trip to Iceland in December, however, I’m dying to return when it’s warmer and sunnier for a completely different experience!
Consider layovers, free trips from the airport and booking long in advance, forget 6 weeks.
My most recent trip, the last of 2018 and the first of 2019, was an 18 day adventure to four amazing countries. It was a little hectic and we were exhausted afterwards, but it was surprisingly affordable!
Did you know that everyone sitting on the same plane with you paid a different price for their ticket? The world of traveling is full of injustice, I know. One of my skills that I am most proud of is finding great flight deals, and I love to share my tips!
The flights we took on this trip included: NYC to Reykjavik, Reykjavik to London, London to Kyiv, Kyiv to Prague and finally Prague to NYC via Frankfurt. The total cost for these 6 flights was just over $1,700 for two people! If you google flights from America to mainland Europe right now, the average cost will be around $1,000, so how did I manage to get such a great price for so many flights?
Before I book any flight, I always check where the layovers are. If many different airlines have layovers in the same city, I will create a new search and check for independent flight going though that city. When I did this for New York to London, I discovered that Iceland is a popular layover spot. When I searched for independent flights through Iceland, the price dropped by $100 per ticket.
When booking flights independently, please keep in mind that if there is a delay that makes you miss your flight, you will not be reimbursed. That’s what makes booking flights independently risky. But there are plenty of websites that will give you information on the statistics on how often similar flights are delayed and by how long. Of course it’s not 100% reliable, but it’s still a good indicator. I try to allow for at least 10+ hours between flights just in case!
Some countries also offer special layover trips/layover extensions for free. Seoul and Reykjavik for example offer free tours of the city during your layover. You can find out more online or by calling the airport.
Book well in advance:
There are plenty of great last minute deals out there, or so I have heard. Personally, I have never found one so I like to book up to a year in advance. There is supposedly a formula for the cheapest ticket and that’s too book 6 weeks in advance, but when it comes to trips during busy flight seasons and holidays, the sooner you book, the better!
Don’t overdo it:
I’m the queen of fitting lots of travel into a short period of time. However, I don’t remember the last time I returned from a trip relaxed. Before you book layover upon layover for your two week trip, consider the time you have and whether the quality will be compromised by the quantity of places you stop over in.
My trip was amazing and I wouldn’t have done things differently. But next time, I will definitely try to spend more time in one place even if it costs me a little more. I’m getting too old to sleep on airport floors while lugging heavy suitcases around the world!
With Thanksgiving and the arrival of the advent season, my social media pages are packed with posts about gratitude and getting ready for the holidays. Some posts ask practical, how-to-celebrate questions. Like the one I saw on Prague’s CrowdSauce group for expats. “Does anyone know if they sell oven cooking bags for turkeys here?” Or another, from a friend in the US, “Veg or no veg on Thanksgiving?” with the hashtag #everyonejustwantscarbs.
5 reasons to appreciate life in the Czech Republic (all year long)
With Thanksgiving and the arrival of the advent season, my social media pages are packed with posts about gratitude and getting ready for the holidays.
Some posts ask practical, how-to-celebrate questions. Like the one I saw on Prague’s CrowdSauce group for expats. “Does anyone know if they sell oven cooking bags for turkeys here?” Or another, from a friend in the US, “Veg or no veg on Thanksgiving?” with the hashtag #everyonejustwantscarbs.
Friends post images of their children baking cookies, just-out-of-the-oven pumpkin pies, and invitations to Christmas home tours. I’ve read tips on keeping holiday festivities simple, how to shift the focus from gifts to quality family time, and why fighting during the holidays means you care.
In the spirit of showing gratitude for my adopted homeland, I’d like to share a few reasons I’m glad to call the Czech Republic home.
A Czech Sense of Humor
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the dry, self-deprecating Czech humor. My Czech friends aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves, or to turn a criticism into a joke to deflate a tense situation. My neighbor recently damaged her car by hitting a low cement wall while pulling into her driveway, (a maneuver she does every day without incident).
Later, when we were confirming our Thanksgiving dinner menu, she texted, “If you can’t find a turkey for the Thanksgiving meal, don’t worry, I can find something to run over.” From talking with her, I knew she felt horrible about the incident. Instead of letting it get her down, she allowed herself (and her friends) to see the funny side.
Watching my Czech friends keep their sense of humor, even when life throws surprises, reminds me to do the same.
In 2005, Czechs were asked to vote for the greatest Czech of all time. Jara Cimrman, a fictitious character first introduced to the public in a satirical play in the late 1960s, won the most votes. (Unfortunately, he couldn’t receive the award because he didn’t exist). Check out Radio Prague’s full article on Cimrman to get a better picture of Czech humor.
Czech Love of Nature and Getting Outdoors
Mushrooming, walking in the woods, snow-skiing (cross-country and downhill), iceskating, road biking, mountain biking, climbing, swimming in natural ponds and rivers, trekking, tent camping, caravan camping, sleeping “pod širákem” (under the stars), rafting, canoeing, kayaking … the list goes on, and I’d be hard-pressed to find an outdoor activity, that Czechs don’t do.
In the years I’ve lived here I’ve learned (among other skills), when in doubt, pick only mushrooms with cylindrical tubes notslats – and always ask a local. Rafters and bikers greet each other by saying, “Ahoj!” Fruit hanging over fences and along country lanes is fair game for picking. Cross-country skiing is best learned when it’s not too icy, and a pub with warm drinks is nearby. Extra socks and spare underwear are essential for any kind of outdoor activity, especially when kids are involved. Czech humor is even more important than extra socks and spare underwear when learning how to cross-country ski.
A Socialized Healthcare System
For the past 13 years, whenever my children or I have been sick, injured or otherwise need the advice of an expert, we go to the doctor. Sometimes we make an appointment, other times (as in the case of sick visits to a primary care physician) we go and wait. Never have I had to worry whether insurance would cover the visit, or if I could afford to pay the doctor’s bill.
Health insurance is mandatory in the Czech Republic. The Czech state pays for children, students, and mothers on maternity leave. Working individuals make monthly health insurance contributions which are supplemented by their employers.
My family has been fortunate. We haven’t been sick much. Still, I’ve delivered two babies, had an emergency appendectomy while 34 weeks pregnant, undergone knee surgery, ridden in an ambulance with an injured infant, and mothered children with ear infections, tonsillitis, knocked out front teeth, stitches, and more.
My children have rarely received antibiotics (only for bacterial infections when needed), and I’ve been well-versed on the importance of home remedies when appropriate – honey and onions to loosen up coughs, homemade ginger tea, bed rest, and tvaroh (a fresh, curd cheese) wraps for mastitis.
Yes, there are linguistic and cultural differences. Western-style bedside manner can be hard-to-find. Sometimes, the wait is long, and the equipment is basic. Still, I’m grateful for each visit to the doctor’s (and those times when a home remedy makes a visit unnecessary).
Abundant (& Affordable) Cultural Activities for Families
From an early age, Czechs are taught to appreciate (and cultivate) a rich, creative life. From playing musical instruments and singing in choirs, to creating puppet and marionette shows and learning the art of oral recitation (as early as preschool), Czechs have a long-stranding tradition of valuing art’s contribution to society.
Even during the Communist period, Czech artists, such as film makers Karel Zeman and Jiri Trnka, presented imaginative, rule-breaking works to entertain, educate, and inspire their fellow citizens. Czechs like to go to the theater, attend classical music concerts, and watch fairy tales on television.
Many Czech cultural events (seasonal festivals, crafts markets, museum exhibitions) are offered free or at low cost. The country’s public transportation network (comprised of trams, buses, the metro, and trains) allows school groups to go on frequent field trips, families without cars to get nearly everywhere, and older children to gain a sense of independence as they explore Czech culture on their own.
My ten-year old son enjoyed his first Czech opera this fall, The Devil and Kate, performed at Prague’s National Theater. I was happy to accompany him, especially once I discovered (midway through Act I) the English captioning.
A creative life spills over into my family’s leisure time. In addition to going to the theater, my children often put on impromptu shows for us (as well as any visitors who happen to be present). We’ve had magic shows, dinosaur shows, zoo exhibitions, and guitar performances. They’ve narrated excerpts from Josef Capek’s classic, O pejskovi a kočičce (stories about a dog and a cat who keep house), and each December 5, they dress up as St. Nicholas, a devil, and an angel to celebrate Mikulas.
As a parent, I’m grateful to live in a country where planning our leisure time is not a question of what to do, but rather which option to choose.
Loyalty (Friends & Family)
As I scoured local stores this week looking for sweet potatoes (bataty in Czech), pumpkins, and fresh cranberries, I was struck by my options. Although the availability of specialty items has sky-rocketed in recent years (which makes holiday food preparation one step easier), the basic components of my family’s Thanksgiving meal haven’t changed.
For the past 12 years, my family has celebrated Thanksgiving in Prague with friends of Czech, American, Slovakian, French, and Polish descent. We serve turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn pudding, salads, pumpkin pies, and whatever else anyone brings to the table. We rotate houses and take turns preparing the turkey. By now, we know what to expect and how each dish should taste.
Our children put on shows, perform magic tricks, and exclaim over the different languages they hear. We are the closest thing most of us have to a family in Prague. After the years of joining together, for this one day (usually Saturday after the official Thursday holiday), we behave as family. There are arguments (who had the toy first), political discussions over wine, and maybe a tear or two.
With each passing year (and every new Thanksgiving celebration), the Czech Republic has become a place I’m increasingly grateful to call home. Not because it’s where I have my permanent residence, or because life has gotten easier for my family over the years. (Both of which are true).
Experiencing life through a Bohemian perspective has opened my eyes to a culture and a people that have taught me to laugh at myself (when I can), to get outside (as much as possible every day), to appreciate the privilege of going to the doctor (when necessary), to show my children theater and art (or let them perform it for me), and to value old friendships that feel like family.
Wishing you and your family a joyful holiday season!
(If you happen to be looking for oven roasting bags, try Makro or the DM drugstore.)
For more posts by Emily Prucha, visit her website: https://halfnhalf-life.com/
About the author:
Emily Gates Prucha teaches English and writes about raising multilingual children in the Czech Republic – the land of beer, castles, and Krtek (The Little Mole). Read more of her stories about Czech culture online at www.halfnhalf-life.com. As far as Czech traditions go, she doesn’t like being whipped at Easter but having a carp swimming in her bathtub at Christmas suits her fine.
I would like to express here that the dog’s wellbeing is Lukas first concern and therefore he didn’t stress the dogs to run fast or on all three days like others did! Therefore, he knew there would be no chance to win that race and this race wasn’t important, it is more like a training…
Here we’ll go again, somehow a lot of things happened and then, not again. The same weekend where Miri and I were alone (Lukas, Birgit and Maria went to Reingers in Austria for a cart race), a previous volunteer arrived. She was the last time only two weeks with Lukas and wanted now to come to visit the dogs and Lukas for a few days. When Lukas, Birgit and Maria came back, they all were kind of relieved and happy to be back with all dogs and all in one piece. Obviously, there was some catastrophe going on in Reingers. Due to the weather circumstances, Lukas decided to not let the dogs run on all three days. It was too warm!
By Sheida Nasseri (Guest Blogger)
Please find the original post, including photos, here: http://butterflies-needtofly.blogspot.com/2016/11/volunteering-at-dogsled-farm.htm
I would like to express here that the dog’s wellbeing is Lukas first concern and therefore he didn’t stress the dogs to run fast or on all three days like others did! Therefore, he knew there would be no chance to win that race and this race wasn’t important, it is more like a training. Usually, Birgit would have gone with four or five dogs and Lukas with eight. Due to the fact, they left out one day, they decided to run with the big team instead, so with all thirteen dogs. Usually, there are several dog handlers which are supporting the Musher holding the dogs and release them in time when the training or race starts. When they wanted to start running, one of the front dog handlers didn’t let go fast enough the leash and fell, so six dogs were running over him, and the seven behind stopped to not run over the guy and the mainline snapped through the force from both sides going in different directions. It snapped in the middle where Braxi was attached to; I am not sure if you know what that means.
The dogs have a neckline attached to their collar and one leash which is attached to the harness on their back; so when the main line snaps in the middle, the neckline is attached to the six dogs who were now running free and his backside to the leash which belongs to the dogs who stopped; they could have ripped him in two pieces, but lucky as Braxi is, his collar was not too tight on his neck, so he could get out of his collar and was standing still in shock! Two dog handlers jumped on their quad bikes and drove after the six dogs which were running their race without the cart and musher. They caught them fast, but that was a really BIG shock for all of them! Lukas directly bought new and stronger lines and a new nice collar for Braxi! That was somehow too much, three times in one week something snapped.
Being back, Maria had the next four days off and went to Vienna. Miri also left on the next day, so I was left with Silvia. She had no experience in doing the routines, so it was pretty much me doing the work … but Birgit and Lukas also helped 😉 I am very thankful for her pictures and videos, though. When we had training, she was filming and taking pictures. Interesting to see, because I never get the chance to take pictures during training (Lukas would most probably kill me if I would take pics instead of helping ;-)) I wanted to post the video, but somehow I had difficulties to upload it.
Before Maria came back, we had a spontaneous photo shoot for our race which we organize in December. I think, I already mentioned that we are organizing our own race here in our region. It will be on the weekend of the 10/11th December. We wanted to hang out some posters to make an advertisement and Lukas asked me if I could take the role as a runner, or so-called Canicross. There will be Sabrina, who is also one of the helpers who will be on the bike and Lukas on the cart. Tim (he is only 9 years old) is going to take the pictures. He is really good at it. Lukas told me, that we will start running up the hill in our yard to the open place and that I have to be really fast because I have to keep up the pace with a bike and a cart! I was doubting that I could keep up that pace, but I didn’t count on Braxi. He was dragging me up that hill so fast, that I even overtook the cart and the bike and was not able to slow down! I have to admit, a little bit painful because the belt is kind of dividing your ass, but that was actually really funny.
When Maria came back, I left on the next morning for my long weekend off. I also went to Vienna with my boyfriend. It was really lovely! We had a nice hotel, with some crazy architecture, went for some sightseeing, shopping and we even went for the opera “la Cenerentola” (Cinderella). I loved that weekend and I will miss him even more after it.
Being back, I was a bit down. I think I caught something, I felt not that strong. Birgit and Lukas wanted to go away for a few days and that morning we still had a training. I got to go with Lukas and finally had the chance to drive the cart and I discovered my hands are too small to hold the brake of that big cart :-/ typical! So mean L at least, I could drive a few times when we were going more uphill and I didn’t need to handle the brake =P
When we returned, I didn’t feel really good and lay down for the rest of the day. I got sick. With Birgit and Lukas being away, there was not much to do so I could rest. Miri and I found out that Maria (coming from New Zealand) never watched “The Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings” we were shocked!!!! We started watching that week all Hobbit movies and kept on going on with the Lord of the Rings. Lukas and Birgit returned on the 11th of November. The next morning, we started with a training and Lukas suggested after the training, that Maria and I could take the car so we can go to Buschberg, he saw some pics that there was still a little bit snow laying and Maria is so eager to see snow. She didn’t really see much snow in her life. In addition, she didn’t get up there to see the nice view, so we went together. It was much fun, I also felt better again.
Sometimes when we got too much paper and carton leftover we do a big fire and burn everything. Maria is freaking scared of fire, so she ripped the carton and I did the fire. I am not afraid, but I have respect. We were making a decent fire, at one point, Lukas came and asked why we are not putting the whole carton at once into the fire. Well, he did, and the fire got so big. He was laughing about us and made (and is still doing) fun about us ripping paper into small pieces and says “I already start a fire, I will be done in two days” and then just cracks of laughter!
Later that day, we went to the chickens and I noticed that little brownie was not outside with the others. When I checked the shed, I directly noticed that something couldn’t be right. She wasn’t on her eggs but was laying in the corner, with her face down in the Stroh. I tried to get her up, but she seemed not able to get on her feet, so I put her in one of the incubators so that she didn’t fall on her face. We went back to the house and told Lukas. He noticed that she had diarrhea, he tried to make her drink water or eat something but couldn’t. Brigit’s father, Pauli, also checked on her but he said that she probably won’t make it. A few hours later she already was dead. I couldn’t believe it, the tamest and most productive chicken died. Still sad about that.
The next day, I didn’t feel good at all! That was the first time I stayed almost the whole day in bed, instead of helping. I couldn’t even help with the night training, Lukas and Maria went alone. I really fear that I will miss the European Championship. The next morning, I got up and helped with the training, but it did cost me so much energy that I was shaking for almost ten minutes… had to rest afterward a little bit. Lukas asked me if I think I will be fit for the Championship. He will need someone who is 100% fit. Birgit is this time not participating due to health issues so it will be just Lukas with eight dogs and one dog handler. I couldn’t tell him, I said, I will wait for the next day and when I don’t feel better I will stay.