A Semester in Prague: Week 12

Holy smokes! Time is rushing on by here in Prague. I’m in this weird place with my study abroad experience where I’m ready to go back home, but I’m also not ready to leave yet. I’ve been having a blast, but there are a few little comforts of America that I’m starting to miss.

On Monday, our school look us to the National Theatre to see Pride and Prejudice. The Theatre itself is like the heart of the Czech people, mostly for its history. The National Theatre was opened for the first time on 11 June 1881 where it premiered Bedřich Smetana’s opera Libuše. Only months after the grand opening, the National Theatre burned down and the dome, auditorium, and stage were all destroyed. The fire was seen as a national catastrophe and was met with a mighty wave of determination to take up a new collection and within 47 days a million guldens were collected. In 1883, the National Theatre was reopened and now serves as a national monument for Czech art, history, and culture. The play was interesting, but hard to follow in Czech even with the English subtitles. Although the experience of being in the National Theatre will forever be special to me.

On Tuesday, my culinary class invited some of the other students to join us for an Easter special. We made an Easter sweet bread loaf Mazanec, fried donuts filled with Nutella, and Easter stuffing filled with onions and smoked ham. It was quite overwhelming to have so many people in the kitchen, and not as hands-on as it usually is, but I paired up with my friend Kayla to make the donuts. Mainly it was Kayla doing all of the work, and I just watched over her shoulder and laughed with her about the expertise of our student assistance who were helping us. It was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you how the other dishes were made.

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On Friday, my friends and I went to Bohemian Switzerland. Since I had started researching things to do in and around Prague, Bohemian Switzerland had been pretty high up on my list. Bohemian Switzerland is a National Park located on the boarder between the Czech Republic and Germany. The symbol of Bohemian Switzerland, Pravčická brána, the largest sandstone arch in Europe, so that is what we went to see. We initially got a bit lost and accidentally hiked up the wrong side of the gorge, but after looking at the maps a bit more closely, we found the correct trailhead. The hike was relatively short, but gained quite a bit of elevation and we could feel our calf muscles burning about halfway through. The view of the arch from the top was well worth it though. Plus, that feeling when you get to your destination is always worth the hard climb. We made it back down to the small town right as the sun was setting.

After taking a bit of a lazy day on Saturday, my friends and I were itching to go out and do something. We did a bit of research of some off-the-beaten-track things to do and see in Prague and wound up in the Wallenstein Palace. The gardens of the Wallenstein Palace are beautifully manicured, although must be a completely different sight in the spring and summer when the plants are in full bloom. The major attraction within the walls is the Dripstone Wall: a wall on the boarder of the gardens made from an assemblage of stalactite-like rocks. In the wall we found a few faces, and quite a few snakes, but we weren’t the biggest fans of this attraction. The gardens were beautiful though.

After visiting the first grotto, we decided to continue with the trend and found the Grotta a bit further out of the center of the city. Grotta was built at the edge of a small park, pushed right up against the street with beautiful apartments in the background. This artificial cave felt like something straight out of a fairytale. We did a mini photoshoot there just for fun, and then decided to play hide-and-go-seek. It sounds pretty childish, but we had this entire thing to ourselves for the majority of the time that we were there and we really took advantage of that. There were stairs cases leading all over the place, small hidden coves, and tons of perfect hiding spots. It was refreshing to be away from the crowds of people in Prague, and we had such a good time.

On Monday, I tried to stay out of the city to avoid the Easter crowds. Easter is quite a holiday here in the Czech Republic and most of the celebrations happen on Monday rather than Sunday. Since the Czech Republic is primarily atheist, the day is celebrated as the coming of Spring and many of their traditions are based on bringing good health to family and friends. Young, live pussywillow twigs are thought to bring health and youth to anyone who is whipped with them, so for centuries boys go caroling on Easter Monday and symbolically whip girls on the legs with braided pussywillow twigs, pomlázka. In return, the girls would then reward the boy with a painted egg or candy and tie a ribbon around his pomlázka. As the children grow older, the eggs and candy were replaced with shots of plum brandy, slivovice or even a bucket of cold water poured over the head. Today, it is possible to see many drunk young men walking around the street on Monday, and Easter is one of the most joyous holidays within the Czech Republic.

Now that spring has sprung, I’m hoping to experience a bit more warm weather here in Prague and possibly even a bit of green coming back to the city.

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

A Semester in Prague: Spring Break

Despite the weather taking a major dip into the single digits, on Friday I jetted off to Holland to meet up with my parents and begin spring break! The freezing temperatures weren’t my ideal weather choice for spring break, but we made the most of it and headed up into the mountains to find some snow.

We spent the weekend in Holland visiting my grandmother and just having a bit of a relax before a solid week of roadtripping. We spent most of our time in Boxtel, where my family lives, but managed to drive north to Wassanar and Scheveningen for a day to enjoy the North Sea and visit my great aunt. We walked along the sandy shore, made our way up to the pier, and got caught in stand-still traffic trying to leave the beach.

After developing a lose plan on Sunday night, we jumped into the car on Monday and headed for Heidelburg, Germany. On the way we stopped in some smaller towns where the rivers intersected with the autobahn. Our first stop was Kobern on the Mosel River. Situated in a steep gorge lined with rows and rows of grapes, Kobern wasn’t much of a town, but had a castle, like every good European town should have. It has been transformed into a wedding venue and office spaces and was quaint and beautiful. Our next stop was Bingen on Rhine. Here we found yet another castle, and also stopped for a bit of German fast food: hamburgers, currywurst, and schnitzel. We explored the city for a bit, walked along the Rhine, and later trekked on to Heidelburg.

The next morning we drove into the town of Heidelburg after spending the night in the quiet countryside. We had a quick breakfast of pastries and coffee, then walked along the river in search of the schloss (castle) and the beautiful arched bridge at the foot of the castle. It was a bit hazy, but it only added to the fairytale-like effect of the older part of the city. After stretching our legs for quite a bit, we climbed back in the car and went even further south to Switzerland.

After about two hours of driving we made it to the Swiss boarder! We handed over our passports, got a highway pass and set off to St. Gallen. St Gallen is known as a university town, but also contains one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever witnessed. It was so ornately decorated in a way I had never seen before with rich purples, greens, and golds. The murals on the ceilings were stunning and really added to the overall effect of the interior. We lit a candle in honor of my grandfather and then headed across the street to the Chocolaterie am Klosterplatz to kill some time and grab a real Swiss hot chocolate. We headed back to the car and made our way up the mountain towards Trogen where we visited an old friend of my dad’s who he worked with at a camp in the US when he was my age. We spent the night gathered around their kitchen table as they all reminisced and shared old memories of camp and their travels afterward. It was fun to hear all of their stories and reminded me that all of these memories that I’m making on this study abroad trip will be memories that I’ll keep forever.

We made plans the morning to take a short walk up to see the mountains. At this point in our trip I was really itching to see some mountains, and seeing a snow covered landscape really tickled my soul. There really is just something about being up in the open air, surrounded by peaks that heals my heart. After a quick photo session on the mountain, we made our way back down and packed up to get on the road again. Our plans were taking us to the Neuschwanstein Castle back in Germany and I was oh so excited to fulfill a childhood dream. On our way to our next AirBnb we left Switzerland, drove through Austria and stopped in the small town of Lindenberg im Allgäu in Germany. We noticed as we were exploring the small town that my dad left his wallet back in Trogen, so we hopped back in the car and made a quick trip back through Austria, back into Switzerland to pick up his wallet. After a quick cup of coffee we finally headed off towards Fussen, Germany.

We arrived in Pfronten late at night in the snow, and after a bit of trouble finding our AirBnb, we finally made it into the warmth. We finished the night with a few card games and got ready to see the Neuschwanstein castle in the morning. When we woke up we were greeted by the most beautiful scenery of snow covered mountains. We then headed into Fussen to find breakfast and walk around the town for a bit. There was a large fortress in Fussen up on the hill, but we didn’t manage to get up there in order to save time. I was itching to see the castle at this point and all I could think about was the Disney-like castle only a few miles away.

I’ve seen a few castles in my time, but nothing has ever compared to the beauty of the Neuschwanstein castle. Granted, it may not be as old as other castles, but the restoration of the castle was beautiful and it was like stepping into a fairytale book. We got our tickets, and walked up to the castle, stopping along the way to grab a few pictures. I wasn’t able to take photos of the interior, but imagine the most lavish, decorative interior you can possibly think up and then add some more gold covered furniture, and bedazzled lamp posts. It was absolutely gorgeous although way to extravagant for my tastes. But still, there is something about being in a real-life castle that makes everything seem more magical. I found it hard not to imagine extravagant balls, large feasts, and lavish tea parties happening in all of the rooms. Plus, the view from the front of the castle was gorgeous, gazing onto Lake Alpsee surrounded by snow covered mountains: pure bliss.

Our last stop on our Spring Break road trip was Prague. It was such a fun experience to show my parents around the city that I’ve been exploring for the past two months especially since neither of them had been there before. We walked to the castle, went inside the church, had a mid-afternoon dessert on a floating restaurant, visited the Jewish Museum, saw the Old Town Square amongst all the tourists, and ate dinner on top of the Dancing House building. Having them here really lifted my spirits and gave me the energy to finish out the last six weeks. Being so far away from home for such a long time is very different emotionally than I thought it would be. While I’m having the time of my life here and making so many amazing memories, I can’t help but long for some comforts of being back in the U.S. I’m sure that as soon as I’m back I’ll want to be traveling Europe again. I guess we always want what we can’t have.

Thank you Mom and Dad for such an amazing spring break. It was so fun touring Europe with you, seeing things I never would have by myself. Thank you for passing this travel bug gene onto me and encouraging me to go where ever my heart desires. I love you two to the moon and back.

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