A Semester in Prague: Week 11

All the days and weeks are starting to run together and before I know it I’m two weeks behind on blog posts. I’ve been trying to keep busy as much as possible and trying to experience as much of the city as I can in the little time that I have left. Before I know it, it will be my last weekend and I don’t want to leave with any regrets. That said, this week was a relatively chill week. After our cooking class was cancelled last week, it was nice to learn a new dish this week, and it was probably one of my favorites of the whole semester. We made Czech gnocchi which we mixed with fresh sheep’s cheese, caramelized onions and smoked ham. It was like the Czech equivalent to mac and cheese and was the epitome of comfort food. For dessert we made honey cake which is layers of thin cake filled with a delicious caramel buttercream. It was delicious and probably a dessert I will be bringing to the camp dessert menu this summer.

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This week was a fun one for my Astronomy class. On Friday our entire class hopped onto a bus and visited the Ondřejov Observatory (the home of the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences). The observatory was originally built by a wealthy factory owner who had an interest in astronomy and when he passed away, he donated it to the Czech government to be used as a research center. It is still used today for research and education. We were able to go inside the original observatory and learn a bit about how the telescope worked and what it was mostly used for. We then saw some of the newer additions to the site including several radar dishes that are used to measure the sun. We finished the tour by visiting the 2-meter wide telescope which is the largest within the Czech Republic. I was a bit disappointed to discover that this telescope is used more for observing and calculating measurements rather than viewing the beautiful natural wonders of the night sky. It was still cool to be in the same room as a telescope that massive.

The next day we went to a street food festival in Prague which was quite an event. I got the most delicious juicy burger and fresh lemonade and finished off with a delectable cherry filled cream puff of sorts. There were so many people there and so many options to chose from. After we were all happily full, we headed into the center of the city to visit a design festival that was happening in the courtyard in front of the National Theatre. There were a swarming crowd of people there and so many vendors that I don’t even think I was able to see them all. I managed to pick up a few little gifts but after a while I was overwhelmed by the crowds. Once we all had enough of the design festival my friends headed to the Prague Beer Festival (it was truly the day of festivals in Prague) while I headed back to work on some homework.

On Sunday we took the tram up the hill and walked to Letná Park to see the Prague Metronome. It was placed at the top of the hill in 1991 as a replacement for an enormous momument for Joseph Stalin that was destructed in 1962. The views of the city from the vista were absolutely stunning and it was clear to see why Prague is sometimes called the city of 100 spires. We then continued our walk through Letná Park stumbling upon Hanavský Pavilion and beautiful views of the Prague Castle. We then headed back down the hill and towards a mysterious location chosen by Jack. Turns out this mysterious location was a horse shaped structure beside the river. It was supposedly a cafe, but I’m convinced it was closed for the season.

While the sunshine is starting to make a regular appearance here in Prague, we are all waiting for warmer weather, hoping that it arrives before we set off to leave. Keep your fingers crossed that spring arrives soon!

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

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.

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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.

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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

Study Abroad in Prague: Week 7

I’m starting to fall behind on these weekly blog posts, so I’ll try to make it short and include lots of photos. This whole trip is going by so quickly and its hard to keep up with everything. But, I’m having such a magnificent time over here and I’m not quite ready for it to end.

This week was a bit shorter than the rest as our school planned a trip to Berlin on Thursday, so classes were cancelled. On Tuesday, my cooking class met again and made chicken noodle soup, completely from scratch as well as a traditional Czech dessert, Frgály. The soup was delicious and it was new for me to make the stock (from the whole chicken) as well as the noodles all from scratch. The soup was perfect comfort food to soothe all of our sicknesses. And the Frgály was absolutely beautiful, and equally delicious.

On Thursday, we woke up bright and early to catch our train to Berlin. By noon we were in the middle of the city, with no plans for the rest of the day. My friends and I headed to a small market to find some lunch. After the most delicious burger I may have ever tasted, we walked around the city, just exploring and seeing what we could find. We wandered over to Museum island, went into a design book store and found a book written by one of our NC State Professors, found a very artistic hideaway covered in street art, and had quite an experience in the Monsterkabinett. We finished the night walking endlessly in search of a German restaurant, and landed in a asian-fusion restaurant that had my absolute favorite: bibimbap. What’re ya gunno do. Ha

The next morning, my entire class gathered at a group at 9 a.m. for a long day walking around the city. A cold front from Russia had pushed through Europe and we happened to be spending the entire day outside, so we bundled up as much as we could but nothing could prepare us for the face-aching cold we would be stuck in all day. We started the day with a Berlin-based startup: Eyeem and they gave a short presentation on their design process which was interesting. Then we headed over to the Markthalle Neun where we wandered around the booths, grabbed a delicious bbq sandwich, and escaped from the cold.

When we had finally warmed up again, we realized that we were only a short walk from the East Side Gallery, so my friends and I headed over there while we had a bit of free time for lunch. The East Side Gallery is an open-air gallery where 105 amazing murals are painted directly on the remains of the Berlin Wall. Many of the murals are fairly politically charged and document a time of change and express the euphoria and great hopes for a better, more free future for all people of the world.

After walking the length of the East Side Gallery, we met up as a large group again and headed to the Holocaust Memorial. On the way we found more Berlin Wall pieces, quite a few modern architectural pieces, and looked like a herd trying to cross the street. We stopped off at The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism, as well as the The Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism before arriving at the block-sized Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was such a grave experience to walk through the memorial, and it felt as the world was flashing by before my eyes as I walked through.

Our next stop on our tour of Berlin was the Reichstag. On our way we stopped to see the Brandenburg Gate, but didn’t stay long since we were all so cold and just wanted to get inside. We made it to the top of the Reichstag just in time for sunset and sat at the top of the glass dome and enjoyed the sky as it faded from blue to orange to black.

Our last stop on the long tour through the city was to The Bunker. The Bunker is a former Nazi above-ground bunker constructed in 1943 that has been transformed into a contemporary art museum that contains the private Boros collection. While I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the art (I’m not super excited by contemporary art) it was crazy to be in such a historic building that had a real purpose during WWII. The bunker’s interior had been slightly modified to be better suited for artwork, but much of the authenticity was still there, including glow-in-the-dark paint that would provide a bit of light in the case that power was lost within the bunker.

The next day we went on an alternative tour of the city that highlighted the hipster and more artistic culture of Berlin, focusing mostly on street art. We also learned quite a bit of the history of Berlin during and after WWII, and how young activists really took over parts of the city and made it their own. We heard the stories of the Bethanien in Kreuzberg, learned about David Bowie’s affection for Berlin, and the incredible story of Osman Kalin’s Treehouse. When our tour was over, we headed straight back to our hostel to warm up and rest our feet. After a quick nap and a recharge of my personal battery, we went out and saw The Hunter at the Berlinale International Film Festival.

The next morning we had a few hours to explore before we had to head back to Prague. My friends and I decided to make the most of our time and went on an Underworld Bunker tour of an old air-raid shelter that was used during WWII. The tour was surprisingly educational and I left wanting to know even more about Berlin during the war. It was crazy to think that we were standing where thousands of others had stood as bombs shattered their city above. We had a few hours left to kill, so we hopped onto the subway and made our way to Checkpoint Charlie. I was slightly underwhelmed by Checkpoint Charlie, although I didn’t really know quite what to expect. We ended our time in Berlin desperately searching the city for a hipster place to find lunch, and stumbled upon a burger joint which was conveniently located only steps away from a cookie dough bar. We quickly enjoyed our burgers, making sure to leave time to grab some cookie dough before we had to rush back to the hostel to meet our group again.


Berlin was completely different than the other cities I have been to in Europe. After being bombed and 90% flattened during WWII, the city has sprung back up much more modern than before. There is so much history in the city, and it feels like with every turn you take there is another story to learn.

Thank you for continuing to follow me on this journey. I’m about halfway through my time in Europe already and it is flying by! I’m having a blast and gaining so many new experiences and impressions of Europe. I have to continually thank my parents for whole-heartedly supporting my travels and letting me live out my traveling dreams. Mom and Dad, you have no idea how much this all means to me.

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

A Semester in Prague: Week 6

This week has felt like quite a turn around for Prague. Almost the entire week was filled with blue skies (although still quite cold) and the color looked good on the city. Its like Prague really comes to life with a bit of sunshine and bright blue skies, and I think I do too.

I managed to get out and enjoy the city solo on Tuesday before my cooking class, and wow, it put me in such a great mood. There were so many people out enjoying the weather, and so many street performers just doing there thing. Bubbles seem to be relatively popular here in Prague, so it was only natural to find a man making giant soap bubbles in the middle of the Old Town Square. I stood and admired the bubbles for a bit, then headed to my cooking class.

This week we made a bunch of bread. We started with a sourdough loaf which our teacher had prepared beforehand to let it rise for a bit, and then moved onto a yeast dough that we shaped into animals and braids. We also made a delicious mushroom soup topped with a poached egg and some dill. I was a bit unsure about the soup since I’m not the biggest fan of mushrooms or eggs, but it was absolutely delectable and the yolk from the egg added a richness to the soup. For dessert we made a cinnamon twist loaf that again was delicious.

The rest of the week went on as usual, until Friday when at 11:30 p.m. Marcie, Jack and I hopped on a bus to Budapest, Hungary. It was a roughly 7 hour bus ride and we drove through the night and arrived early that morning. It was too early to check into our AirBnB, so we dropped off our luggage in a closet they had for us and then went exploring for a bite to eat at STIKA which was cosy and delicious. We still had a few hours to kill so we wandered for a bit and ended up at the Central Market Hall to escape the cold and experience a bit of the local culture. We passed the Budapest Eye at the Erzsébet Square, and saw a bunch of incredible murals hidden on the sides of buildings.

After about an hour wandering around the market, we made our the House of Terror Museum which serves as a memorial to the victims of two terror regimes in Hungary. The museum presented a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times both under the power of fascism and communism, and the nations relationship with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

By this time we were exhausted from a rough night of sleep on the bus and walking around in the cold, so we went to check into our AirBnB. We all passed out as soon as we got there, but were ready and recharged to take on the evening. Jack found a very hip restaurant right near our AirBnB, so we went there for dinner and finished the night on the Budapest Eye.

We planned Saturday to be our main touring day, so we planned all the places we wanted to see and set out to check them off our list. Our AirBnB was conveniently located right next to the Basilica, so I snapped a quick photo on our way out the door and was ready to set off! Marcie had visited Budapest as a kid and had some adorable photos around the city, so with Jack’s detective work we found all the locations and recreated the photos. After we checked that off of our list we headed across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to see the Parliament building.

The Parliament Building was so grand and ornate and I probably could have stood there for an hour and still not have been satisfied with admiration. Unfortunately, it was freezing so we took a few pictures and set off again. We managed to find our way to a subway station and after some time and planning, we figured out how to get to the Fisherman’s Bastion. The Fisherman’s Bastion was probably my favorite sight of the entire trip. It was so gorgeous with its ornate white facade paired with the colorful tiled roof. After having lunch on top of the hill near the Fisherman’s Bastion we made our way back down, stopping quickly at the Buda Castle.

We headed back towards the center of the city and walked to the The Dohány Street Synagogue. Sadly, it was closed when we got there, but we were still able to walk around the outside and see the Holocaust Memorial known as the Tree of Life or the Emmanuel Tree. We called the night relatively early and just watched movies in our AirBnB until the next morning.

We woke up the next morning to a layer of thick, heavy snow. We decided to make the most of our next few hours in Budapest and went to Memento Park which is a collection of gigantic monuments from the communist dictatorship in Hungary. These statues were removed from the streets of Budapest and placed in a park outside of the city where they stand today.

Budapest was absolutely wonderful and quickly became one of my favorite European cities despite it being cold and grey for the majority of our visit. As we were getting on the tram to get to our bus the beautiful city waved farewell with a gorgeous blue sky.

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These weeks are going by so quickly, and its only a short time now until I get to see my parents and show them around Prague. I’m so glad I have them behind me encouraging me to take the most of this incredible opportunity, and I love them so much more for it. Thanks Mom and Dad for affording me this life-changing experience.

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

A Semester in Prague: Week 5

This week was a bit more relaxed than the rest. I didn’t make plans to travel over the weekend, and staying in Prague for a nice relaxed weekend sounded like a dream. This travel thing is exhausting, and while I love discovering new places and creating new memories, its also nice to take a step back and spend time in your host city.

The week went by as it always does: Tuesday being my favorite day. This week in our cooking class we made the most delicious sausage and sauerkraut soup, savory potato pancakes, and dessert of all desserts, a mixed-berry streusel. Everything we make in this class has been so easy and quick, despite the fact that we’re cooking for 12. We basically just throw some ingredients in a bow, usually no more than 5, and voilà, a delicious meal and some good conversation to go with it.

On Wednesday, my European Design History class took a little field trip to the nearby Dům U Černé Matky Boží (House of the Black Madonna) which is one of the most famous Czech Cubist buildings in Prague. Inside there is a permanent exhibition displaying the famous works of Czech cubists, ranging from the traditional paintings to furniture sets, ceramic works and glassware. It was interesting to see this movement which was predominately realized on paper take on a three dimensional form. The Czech Republic’s cubist movement is significant because Prague is the only place in the world where you can find the cubist ideology in the architecture of buildings.

After visiting the museum, we went on a quick 5 minute walk to find another cubist piece living on the streets of Prague. This cubist lamp post is tucked away in a quiet corner right off one of the most touristic locations in Prague (Wenceslas Square). This is a was designed by Emil Kralicek and is the only cubist lamp post in the world. Its pretty cool to think that all this cool architecture and design took place in a city I’m now living in. IMG_6394.jpg

The majority of my weekend was spent designing my portfolio website and trying to find all working files of previous projects of mine. My portfolio is almost done, its just a matter of me tweaking a few of my current projects to better reflect what I’m capable of— something I wish I had done right after I got comments and critiques from my professors.

On Saturday, I wandered into the city center and did a bit of window shopping, and just felt out the city while alone. I feel like I’m more able to fall in love with a place when I feel like I a comfortable and belong there. Walking around Prague definitely gave me the feeling that I’m no longer a tourist here and that I understand how the city functions on a deeper level, and that really excites me. Despite my family’s town in Holland, I’ve never felt like a real local in a foreign place and I’m so glad I have this experience to grow from. I was a bit nervous about feeling out of place in Prague and feeling like I didn’t belong but I’m glad I was wrong about my nerves.

On Sunday my friends and I pulled ourselves away from our computers and ventured out to IKEA. We had no real reason to go, but it seemed like a fun outing away from Prague’s center. We left with a few bits and pieces to make our lives more comfortable — kitchen knives and blankets, and somethings that we didn’t need — ziplock bags (IKEA is the only place in Prague that has them) and fake plants. We headed back and got burgers at a small restaurant tucked in the back streets of Prague. It was an American pin-up girl themed restaurant with live music and great burgers.

This chill week has left me well rested for the week ahead. I don’t have any real plans for next weekend, but I’m thinking it might be fun to travel down to Budapest. The week after my school is taking us to Berlin, and then the following weekend is the start of spring break! I’m so stoked for all this travel, but most excited to see my parents over spring break. I’m exited to show them around Prague and experience new parts of Prague with them that I have yet to explore.

P.S. I’m updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 4

Whoops, these posts are getting later and later in the week. Time is flying by here in Prague though! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month! I’ve never been outside of the US for this long and while I’m enjoying my time immensely, all the comforts of home are starting to creep up on me. Classes keep me somewhat busy and my weekend adventures definitely keep my traveling spirit alive.

Tuesdays are always my longest, yet most enjoyable day of the week for one simple reason — my culinary class. I’m a huge fan of cooking and signing up for a Czech culinary class might have been the best decision I have made thus far on my trip. Each week we make a three course dinner for each other, consisting of soup, an entree, and the most delicious desserts. I’m starting to think that I should dedicate an entire post each week to what we make in this class, sharing each recipe so that I can remember them in the future as well. This week we made roasted onion soup, sausage and sauerkraut strudel, and a classic apple strudel. Its so interesting to learn new techniques and to learn our teacher’s family recipes.

The rest of the week flew by and before I new it I was packing my bags and boarding a plane to Eindhoven. It was so refreshing to know that I was flying to a familiar place where they spoke a (somewhat) familiar language and seeing some of my favorite people— my Dutch family. I took four friends to the Netherlands with me and was well and prepared to be their official Dutch tour guide!

We arrived late at night and my uncle, Luc and cousin, Daan came to the airport to pick us up. A few minutes later we were “home” and settled. We had a few drinks in the blokhut, played some games, and chatted until the wee hours of the morning. It was a fun way for my cousin to meet my friends and they got a bit of a taste of my family as well.

The next morning my friends slept in while I made my way to Bergeijk to pick up my Dutch passport!! After the stressful fiasco that was trying to get a visa for the Czech Republic, I was so glad to officially be a part of the EU. Holding that passport was like a giant weight lifted off of my shoulders.

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The rest of the day was spent playing cards, exploring Boxtel and the Friday morning market, and visiting Oma. It was fun to show my friends around a town that I am so familiar with and I gained a new appreciation for Boxtel and the childhood days I spent there. I consider my Dutch heritage to be a huge part of who I am and it was fun to get to share that with my friends. We ended the evening with the typical Friday meal of frietjes and kroketten and a long night of endless card games.

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The next morning my friends and I woke up early to catch the train to Amsterdam. We only had a few hours in the city, so we did a bit of strategizing to get the most out of our short visit. We walked quickly through the Red Light District, stumbled upon Dam square, strolled along the canals, barely dodged quite a few bikers, and finally ended up at the Rijks Museum. The Rijks Museum is probably one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever been to, and its not as overwhelming as other art museums such as the Met.

We spent an hour or so wandering around and looking at some incredible artwork. I had been there before, but still managed to see artwork that I hadn’t seen during prior visits. After the Rijks Museum we spent some time being typical American tourists and took photos at the I amsterdam letters outside of the Rijks museum.

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After a quick lunch, we split up into two groups — two of us headed to the Van Gogh museum, and the other three to walk the streets of Amsterdam. I was a bit museumed-out so I guided the other two to Vondelpark, and then just through the streets to see the typical Amsterdam houses. In the two hours that we were walking around we got sunshine, clouds, and even a bit of rain.

We all met back up for dinner and made our way back to the train station for an early night back to Boxtel. We spent the rest of the night playing games, laughing lots, and building card towers.

The next morning I woke up early to have breakfast with Oma, and spend a bit of time with her before we went back to Prague. We headed back to Prague around noon, and spent the rest of the day getting ready for the week ahead.

It was so nice to see my family again, and to feel a bit of that comfort of home. I feel incredibly lucky to have them so close and its comforting to know that they’re only a short plane journey away.

I’m still loving this study abroad experience, and its giving me a serious case of the travel bug. I am making all sorts of plans to travel within Europe and I’m even thinking about some short trips I might take when I get back to the US. Next weekend I’m taking a bit of a break from the weekend trips and just having a chill weekend in Prague which should be nice a refreshing. I’ve seen quite a bit of Prague already and I’m getting relatively comfortable with the city, but there’s so much more to explore. Catch you next week for another update, and possibly another post dedicated entirely to my cooking class!

P.S. I’m updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 2

My first week in Prague was mostly dedicated to the touristic side of Prague: the unique architecture, the beer culture, and the fascinating history of the city. My second week took us behind the scenes of Prague a bit more and showed us the alternative culture of Prague. We started the week with an “alternative tour” around Prague, showing us more of the up and coming culture, and the life of the younger generations. Since Prague has had a fairly rocky history, it is just now starting to boom with hipsters and a more art centered population. Having a tour guide that was heavily involved with the youth of Prague gave us such a good understanding of the ideas and movements that are emerging from Prague.

We started the tour by seeing the Invader installation on a side street in Prague. This kind of guerrilla art was all over the city. We then made our way to one of the many legal graffiti walls in Prague. The graffiti here was quite beautiful and the juxtaposition between the old historic buildings and the street art below was quite interesting. It was also cool to learn the street rules of graffiti, one of them being that you can’t paint over someone’s work that is better than your own. This way more respected and skilled artist’s work can have a longer lifespan.

We then walked to three very interesting “hipster” spots near our dorm. The first was was an old slaughterhouse that had been converted into a cafe and theater. They kept a lot of the authenticity of the slaughterhouse when the renovated it, and a good deal of the art inside was created from recycled materials. The second spot was a classic American hipster joint. There was coffee, clothing, artwork, and lots of exposed brick. The third spot was a bar, Cross Club, that was created by a bunch of steam punk artists. It was very cool, all recycled materials.

On Tuesday, we went to the theater and watched the movie Anthropoid. The movie highlighted the Operation Anthropoid, the code name for the mission to assassinate the third highest Nazi official (behind Hitler and Himmler), Reinhard Heydrich that took place here in Prague. It was carried out by Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, two Czechoslovakian soldiers in exile in Great Britain who parachuted into the city. When the time came to complete the mission, Josef’s machine gun jammed, and Jan’s modified grenade didn’t get a direct hit, although did injure Heydrick. They fled to a nearby church, Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where they (and 5 other parachuters) hid in the crypt and took turns on lookout in the balcony. The Nazi troops stormed the church after a long manhunt (I’m really shortening the story) and had a fierce gun battle with the parachuters, who eventually committed suicide to avoid being captured.

After watching the movie, we were able to visit the church where the shootout happened, and stand in the crypt where the parachuters were hiding. It was a very surreal experience to be in a place where so much history had taken place, and amazing that it had been preserved so well. I was silenced at the sight of the bullet holes that are still present around the small window into the crypt. It was a piece of WWII history that I had never learned and to be able to experience it in such a unique and very real way was quite a memory. Its a very interesting story and although rather gruesome, I highly recommend WWII history buffs to give it a watch.

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When we exited the church we saw the famous Dancing House building just down the road, so we walked down to see it. Our tour guide from the Alternative Tour was telling us that the Czech people are very proud of any modern architecture that makes its way into the city. Everyone comes to Prague to see the historic architecture, but many people in Prague, especially the younger generation, take pride in their modern architecture because its new and exciting to them.

On Wednesday, we did a spray paint/graffiti/street art workshop with our tour guide from the Alternative Tour. We each got to cut out a stencil, and create our own spray paint masterpiece. It was a lot of fun, but so cold outside where we did it! On Thursday, we all gathered as a group and presented some photos that we took during that week and shared our graffiti with everyone.

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On Friday, we made our way to Salzburg, Austria where they filmed the Sound of Music. After quite an adventure of finding the bus station, we loaded up and set off on a 6 hour drive from Prague to Salzburg. I slept for most of the journey, but my waking moments were spent smiling about the completely white landscape (thanks snow!) and the gorgeous Alps. When we arrived we headed out on the town. We stayed in an AirBnB that was only about 15 minutes from the center of the town so we were able to walk to everything. We ended up walking on the main shopping street, popping into cute stores (my favorite being one that sold exclusively hand-decorated egg ornaments) and taking lots of pictures.

The next morning, we woke up fairly early and started planning out our day. We had watched The Sound of Music a few nights before and I was very excited to live out some of my childhood dreams. We made it into the center and just started wandering around. It was snowing off and on throughout the day which only made Salzburg more magical.

Early in our walk around Salzburg, we stumbled upon the Salzburg Cathedral. We weren’t really looking for it, but when we found it, it was absolutely beautiful. The inside was absolutely stunning and beautifully ornate. I lit a candle for my Opa, a tradition that I learned from my Oma and try to keep going whenever I visit a Catholic church. I don’t personally have Catholic beliefs, but the sentimentality of lighting a candle always makes me a bit emotional.

On our way out of the Cathedral, we spotted a tram making its way up to the castle. Since we had given up on the idea of taking a gondola to the top of a nearby mountain, we splurged and took the tram to the castle. The view from the top was absolutely stunning. We were able to see the entire city and on the other side was the Alps. My heart was jumping up for joy at the sight of those mountains and I still think its the best view I’ve ever seen, sorry Roan Mountain.

We stared at the gorgeous view for quite some time before making our way into the castle walls. The castle was preserved as a museum and had a bunch of artifacts from the castle’s history. There were replicas of the grounds, gowns and garments from several time periods, and a whole room dedicated to WWII.

The last part of the day was spent ticking of Sound of Music bucket list items. We walked across the Mozart Bridge, sang the songs along the Salzach river, and jumped on the stairs at Mirabell Gardens. We headed back into the shopping street at the end of the day, and split up to save time. I stopped into a few souvenir shops and found a good collection of postcards for the family and playing cards for the collection.

We headed back to Prague on Sunday in the snowy, cold weather. We left with plenty of time to spare just incase there was a problem with the public transportation. We ended up getting to the bus station an hour early and had to wait out in the snow for the bus to arrive, which I think was a major contributor to my deep cough and stuffy nose. Oh well, it was well worth the sickness.

I’m still planning weekend trips and now that classes have started, I’ll be a bit busier during the week, but so far I’m loving this experience.

P.S. I’ll be updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

 

A Semester in Prague: Week 1

Its no secret that I’ve been a traveler since I knew what the word meant. I’ve spent quite a few summers abroad, exploring the world less known to me. When the opportunity to study abroad first became known to me my mind went wild with possibilities. Would I stick with something comfortable like London, go as far as I could to Australia, or place myself in an entirely foreign environment like South America or Africa? While Australia really tickled my fancy for a while, a program offered by my university caught my attention. You see, NC State has a foreign campus in the cultural hotspot of Prague, Czech Republic. I had never been to Eastern Europe and the comfort of having a piece of my family just a short plane journey away really appealed to me. I submitted my application and within a few months and a fair deal of planning, visas, and stress, I was on a plane to the Czech Republic.

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Monday (Jan 8th) started the first day of orientation for NC State Prague. We hopped on a tram and took it to Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí). It turns out the school is located directly in the center of Prague, just a few feet off of the Old Town Square. After what seemed like endless meetings about expectations, rules, and academics, a few awkward ice-breakers, and a quick history lesson we were free to explore the city. It gets dark at around 4:30 here, so most of our exploring was done in the dark, but this city looks beautiful lit up at night. We wandered around the Old Town Square, made our way to the Charles Bridge, and managed to get back to our accommodations without getting lost or asking for directions.

The next day we were given a guided tour around the city. Our tour guide was American and had moved here after her studies, and knew a heck of a lot about the city. It was interesting to learn about the history of the city through the world wars and the communist regime in the Czech Republic. Since the city was occupied by the Germans before WWII began, much of the city was left unharmed in the war. A good majority of Prague is centuries older than the United States and its crazy to think of all the life that has been lived on the streets of Prague.

After a full day of touring the city, my friends and I wandered into a so-called speakeasy in the center of Prague. It was recommended by our tour guide as a good spot for a beer away from the typical tourist destinations. It was located within an apartment, on the very top floor and was cool and quirky, the way you’d expect a speakeasy to be. After a beer and some good conversation, we headed back to our dorms and called it a night.

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On Wednesday, we left the city for our first out-of-city excursion. We headed north in the Czech Republic for a ski trip in the mountains. On our way we stopped at the Sychrov Castle for a tour. The castle was owned and occupied by the Rohan family from the early 19th century, when they reconstructed the castle that previously stood here, until the WWII when it was nationalized. It was absolutely beautiful, but oh so cold within the castle walls. I guess central heating wasn’t popular in the 19th century.

After our tour we headed to Černý Důl, a small ski town in the northern part of the Czech Republic. Once we had checked into our hotel, we went to the ski shop to rent our skis. Later we had dinner, and the whole group met up for a night of games. The restaurant/pub had 9-pin, pool, and table football. We played these games late into the evening, then went to bed, getting well rested for a day of skiing.

The next morning, we woke up to a fresh dusting of snow and a winter wonderland in Černý Důl. We put all of our gear on and walked to the ski lift only a short walk away. Unfortunately I sliced a good chunk of my finger on the bottom of my skis, but a quick rinse and bandaid later, I was ready to hit the slopes. The view from the top of the ski lift was worth the terror of making it down the slope. I am no rookie skier, but I was not prepared for the steepness of the hill. I managed to make it down the hill a few times with only one fall before deciding to call it a day. I wanted to stop while I was ahead and before I took a huge tumble or exhausted every muscle in my body. But my goodness, it was a beautiful ride. We ended the day with a traditional Czech meal of meat and potatoes, and my friends and I all pushed a few beds together and watched The Shining.

The next morning we hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Prague. On the way we stopped at a Czech brewery for a tour and tasting. The Svijany Brewery is one of the oldest breweries in the Czech Republic, dating back to 1564. There they showed us the process of brewing their beer and even let us try their malt and hops (which I would not recommend). I’m not a huge fan of beer, however I did try the beer because why not, but all I could taste was hops from trying a hops pellet earlier in the tour (that taste really lingers). After our tour we made our way back to Prague, sleeping most of the way home. I decided to call it an early night to recharge my battery.

On Saturday, my friends and went on a city adventure. We walked almost all day and saw quite a bit of the city. We took the metro into town and headed straight for the Charles Bridge. It was a bit more crowded than earlier in the week, but the views were still gorgeous. We made our way into Malá Strana which is the smaller part of Prague across the bridge. While the English translation for Malá Strana is Lesser Town (for its size), it certainly is not lesser in beauty.

At the top of the hill sits the Prague Castle, surrounded by palaces and ecclesiastical buildings. Below sits a wide variety of shops, churches, and gardens. We wandered through the residential streets for a bit before deciding to make the trek up to the castle. The views from the top were magical, and you could see the entirety of Prague. We didn’t manage to make our way into the castle, agreeing that it would be more fun when the crowds were fewer and the weather was warmer.

We made our way back down the hill and wandered among the tourist-y streets until dark. We crossed back over the Charles Bridge back into Old Town and found our way back to Old Town Square. We had some time to kill until dinner so we headed over to the Palladium shopping mall to escape the cold. There I found some post cards to send to my family and spent quite a while roaming a Czech bookstore, looking at pretty books, unable to understand anything. We braved the cold once again to head to dinner. We took the metro to Praha 3 where we found a underground Vietnamese restaurant away from the hustle and bustle of the center.

My first week in Prague has been chock full of exploring and culture. I’m still getting used to living in a city abroad, and I’m starting to plan my first ventures out of the Czech Republic. So far, I’m loving the adventure, not crazy about the traditional cuisine, and forming a strong group of friends. I still have a week until classes start, but my school has prepared a few activities for us to get to know the city like a local.

I’m looking forward to learning to live in this city and exploring all there is to see. And I hope you come on this adventure with me!