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: 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

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.

A Perfectly Magical Winter Break

I’ve been back in school for a week now, and I’m already hardcore missing winter break. It may have something to do with leaving the mountains, or returning to school work, or the fact that it is way to warm in Raleigh to feel at all like winter. I also had quite a long winter break (over a month!) since I didn’t have any final exams (perks of design school) so getting back into the daily grind and constant work work work has been a bit tricky.

So while I should be writing code, learning about shape grammars, and researching inclusive design, I’ll take a minute to share my winter break with all of you.

My whole goal of winter break was to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Since the full effect of cold winter weather hadn’t fully settled in yet, I found myself on the Blue Ridge Parkway almost once a day. Since both my siblings were still in school and I didn’t have my usual hiking buddies, I spent a lot of time alone which was actually super refreshing. I’m the kind of person who actually enjoys spending time by myself so having afternoons on the trails with only my camera and my thoughts was nice after a long grueling semester.

I’m realizing it now as I look through the pictures that I took over break and realized that I didn’t actually take too many photos. I found myself leaving behind my camera on several occasions and just going off for a drive and stumbling upon a trail to explore. It was a challenge to try to get nice shots on my phone, but I made do with what I had available.

Somewhere in the midst of all this hiking and outdoors stuff I managed to drive over to Nashville, Tennessee. My best friend is currently part of Nashville Ballet’s second company, and was performing in the Nutcracker. I haven’t missed one of his Nutcracker performances since we became friends, so the five hour drive surely wasn’t going to stop me now. Looking through my phone, I realized that I have absolutely no photos of Nashville, which sort of upsets me. Ah, oh well. I’ll just make him dress up like the grandfather when he’s home again and get a photo with him. Peyton, you down with that?

I also went exploring with the fam-bam and we all shared some of our favorite hikes with each other. While I enjoy the solitude of an hour on the trails, its nice to share the scenery with other people and discover new places in the process.

We all have a major love for snow skiing, so we made a ski trip a priority on our winter break list. We met up with an old family friend (not in this photograph) and had a fun filled weekend of snow tubing, decorating Christmas cookies (which we’ve been doing since I can remember), kids vs. parents games of Heads Up, and a day of skiing. It was a perfect day of skiing with 50 degree temperatures and sunny blue skies.

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Probably the most exciting part of winter break was having the company of my aunt, uncle, and Oma for Christmas. They made a last minute trip to North Carolina to spend the holidays with us. It was such a treat to have them here for a few days. It was Oma’s first time to North Carolina in roughly ten years. It was like a true family Christmas.

During the last few days of my winter break, North Carolina got a mini monster of a snow storm. It started on Friday morning and by the time I woke up on Saturday morning we had a good 6 inches on the ground. On Sunday, the snow still hadn’t melted but I packed my car up and got ready to go back to Raleigh. I had just hit the road to go back to school when I got a text informing me that my first day of classes had been cancelled, so I got one extra day of break. It was a nice little surprise to have one last home cooked meal and a few hours more with the parents.

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Mini NC Adventures: Green Knob Overlook

There is something about moving away that makes you appreciate your hometown a little bit extra. It seems like every time I go home now, I make sure to take a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sometimes its just to enjoy a little drive time with the windows down, the music blaring, and an absolute masterpiece of mountains surrounding me.

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Sometimes I go to find comfy spots to set up my Eno hammock and read.

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Sometimes I see things from the road and think, “how can I get up there”. This particular blog post is dedicated to that exact feeling that I had while driving on this beautifully crafted piece of infrastructure. If your driving north to south along the Blue Ridge Parkway you will spot a little hut onto of a mountain around mile marker 350 (roughly 5 miles north of Mount Mitchell). I pulled over to the very next overlook and got out and looked around. It took a while to find the trail head as it doesn’t seem to be hiked very often. I had to walk north for like the length of a football field (100 yards roughly) and found a tiny little trailhead on the other side of the road.

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The hike was relatively short, but gained quite a bit of elevation. The whole hike consists of switchbacks so its not too steep, but its high up. Its probably like half a mile or so, but I’m sure you could look this up to figure out for sure. I would give it a 5/10 on the difficulty scale. A fit grandmother could probably hike it, and hiking boots aren’t required, but you will be sweating once you get to the top (especially if it is sunny).

 

The view from the top though is probably like a 9/10. It would have been a 10/10 if the outlook was unlocked, but unfortunately the highest I could go was the stairs. You are right on top of a mountain (probably more accurately a ridge) and you can see awesome view on both sides of the mountain. It was pretty windy, so I didn’t spend too long up there. There is something about being on a rickety staircase with the wind blowing me (and my camera) around that just isn’t very enticing to me. My camera also didn’t particularly like the high winds and the battery died relatively quickly as if saying “get me down from here”.

I would highly recommend this short little hike to anyone though. I want to try to do it again in the summer and see if the outlook is unlocked for people to go up into. I am assuming it was locked for the winter season, but I’m not too sure. Let me know if any of you have ever been on this hike, or have ever seen this overlook. Also, if anyone knows of any other overlooks off of the North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, let me know! I want to check them out!

Alright. I think thats about it for this week. Only 21 more days until I leave for Europe! Get ready for some more travel blog posts! I hope you all have an amazing day, and rest of your weekend!

Peace out, enjoy life, and live the adventure.

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.