A Semester in Prague: Week 13

This week was a bit of a short one due to the Easter Monday holidays. On Tuesday, Jack, Marcie, and I went on a hunt for paper. As the semester comes to a close, all of our classes are assigning final projects and being the designers we are, we refuse to print out final projects on copy paper. Its always a struggle to find quality paper, even in the US, so we were expecting the same thing in Prague. Fortunately, our student assistant gave us a good tip for finding paper, and we got what we needed. I usually find buying paper such a hassle, but this store had it figured out. You simply find the paper you want on this test strip wall and then they can get it for you. I was a major fan.

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On Tuesday evening I had my cooking class, although this time with a new instructor. Our first instructor, Magdalenka was heavily pregnant and finally ran out of steam, so her friend and colleague came to teach us. The atmosphere has kinda changed and you can definitely tell that there is a difference in their cooking style, but its still a lot of fun. This week we made chocolate cake from Magdalenka’s recipe filled with chocolate ganache and jostaberry jam, and topped with toasted almond flakes and marzipan. We also made a leek soup, and had a barista come and teach us all about coffee.

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On Friday, I was meant to be exploring Moscow, Russia, however I didn’t realize that I would need a visa to visit so I was unable to go. I was a bit disappointed, but I just decided that I’d have to make the best out of another weekend in Prague. I made a list of all of the things I still wanted to do in Prague and made it my mission to check off a few of them. The first stop was the botanical gardens. It was a bit confusing to get there by public transport and google maps brought me to a locked gate on the outskirts of the gardens, but we eventually found it. The main botanical gardens were under construction so we decided to go just to the Fata Morgana. My oh my it was beautiful in there. As many greenhosues are, it was filled floor to ceiling with giant green plants, beautiful orchids, and surprisingly a colony of butterflies. It was like a little oasis from the busy city streets of Prague. We spent quite a bit of time there, breathing all that fresh air and hoping that a butterfly might just land on us.

The next day, I started planning a list of things I wanted to do before I left Prague. It really dawned on my how little time I have left in this city, and now that the weather is getting nicer it makes it pleasant to sight-see. We started with seeing the peacocks at the Wallenstein Palace. This is the same palace as the drip stone wall from last week, but we didn’t realize that if we had walked a bit further into gardens, we would spot some peacocks. So, we went back this weekend and found the peacocks. I’m a major peacock fan, so I was giddy about seeing these beautiful birds. They weren’t many, and they were pretty shy, but we got a few good pictures with them.

The next stop on my list was the John Lennon Wall. While I wasn’t super interested in seeing another graffiti wall (they are scattered all over Prague), I felt like when in Prague, visit the John Lennon Wall. It was crazy crowded, so we didn’t spend much time there, but can cross that off the list now. We then went to the Černá Madona, the cafe underneath the House of the Black Madonna- a Czech Cubist building. We got a quick drink and a beautiful dessert before heading to Stromovka, a huge park near our dorms. We soaked in the sun until it started to get dark and it was so refreshing to be out in the fresh air, just relaxing and letting my mind wander.

On Sunday, Jack, Marcie, and I decided to get out of Prague and explore another Czech town. Since my plans to go to Moscow had fallen through, we decided to visit Karlovy Vary, a town about 3 hours outside of Prague with a very heavy Russian influence. It is also known for being a spa town with natural hot springs scattered around the town. The fountains are thought to bring health and have healing powers, so it is encouraged to drink the water from the springs. We tried the water at one spring, but the taste definitely threw me off and had a very distinct iron taste. We walked around for a bit, took a bunch of photos, warmed our hands in the springs, and tried a fresh Karlovarské oplatky (flat wafer cookies that are traditional snacks in Karlovy Vary). Karlovy Vary was beautiful and just small enough to explore in just a day. It was a great day, and the gray skies finally opened up to the most beautiful blue skies as soon as we were on our way to the train station.

Only two more weeks of class left, and I’m starting to get bogged down with projects, tests, and papers. The city is getting greener and greener by the day, and I love waking up in the morning and seeing the tree outside my window slowly blooming and gaining some color. The warm weather makes it almost impossible to stay inside and my will to do any work when the sun is shining is pretty low. I just have to power through to these last few days of class and I’ll have the whole summer to enjoy the sun.

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

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 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!

 

Write About It Wednesdays: My Path

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Whats up dreamers!

I’m back again with another motivational Monday. I was a bit selfish in choosing this quote because this is something that I really need to hear and think about right now. Let me give you the low down: design school is hard. Its mentally, creatively, and physically draining. My mind is constantly being challenged to think in new ways and to push my ideas further and further. I’ve spent hours in my studio coming up with concepts, and dozens of more hours making those ideas come to life. I’ve crashed quite a few times along the way, and the thought of quitting has entered my mind multiple times.

But luckily, I’m still going. I’ve not even finished one semester of design school yet I know that I’m on the right path. I keep telling myself that everyday: even when finishing a project means staying in the studio until the wee hours of the morning… or spending way too much money on materials… or having a mental breakdown that leads to an amazing discovery. Because thats why I’m confident that I’m on the right path. Those amazing discoveries… those ah-ha moments… they keep me going. Even if they are as small as connecting paper differently, or realizing that hanging up a massive cardboard structure isn’t as hard as you might have thought.

I’m insanely lucky to have found something that I am passionate about, and even luckier to have the opportunity to pursue that passion. Maybe its not easy. And maybe it will cause me a great amount of stress and anxiety. But I know its worth every second and every penny. Its what I love, and I will have the chance to do it for the rest of my life, after being trained by amazing artists and designers. And that my friends is the dream, no matter how much sweat and tears it takes to get there. I’m meant for this!

I hope you have all found something that you are so passionate about, and you are doing everything you can to make that possible. If nothing else, I want you to follow your dreams, even if it means taking a rough road.

Have an absolutely wonderful week, and I’ll talk to you again very soon!

Peace out, enjoy life, and live the adventure!