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: 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

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