A Semester in Prague: Week 14

I think its safe to say that Spring has officially arrived in Prague. The weather has been amazing and I haven’t had to wear my winter jacket this entire week. It is incredible what the sunshine can do to these people. Its like the entirety of Prague came out of hibernation and along with the start of tourist season, the city is crowded! The tree outside my window has been growing greener and greener by the day, and the sunset has become noticeably later than in the beginning of the semester. On Tuesday my cooking class made quite a feast! We made lentil soup, potato salad, and garlic chicken which were all super tasty (as usual), and for dessert we made Babovka cake which is like a marble bundt cake that was delicious.

On Wednesday I decided to bite the bullet and try Trdelník which is a typical dessert from this region of Europe and scattered all over Prague. It is made from rolled dough that is wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with sugar and walnut mix. Good Food seems to be the place to go to get one because of their many variations on the traditional dessert, so I went for the chocolate pistachio trdelník. I walked quickly to the Charles Bridge and enjoyed the ice cream filled cone with a beautiful view of the Prague Castle.

 

On Thursday, Jack, Marcie, Matt and I all skipped class and hopped on a train to Krakow. I had heard great things about Krakow from my dad, and going to Auschwitz was something I really wanted to do while I was in Prague. The night we got there was absolutely beautiful. The main square was practically empty and it was warm with clear skies. We got some Polish food, walked around the main square, took lots of photos, and ended the night with a decadent dessert on the square.

 

The next morning we dedicated the day to exploring Krakow. Krakow isn’t the biggest city in the world, and it was pretty manageable to see everything in a few hours. We started with a walk around the park that surrounds the old town square which was full of green and blooming pansies. We then meandered into the Old Town Square again to see it in the daylight. It was just as beautiful in the day and the blue skies made the most wonderful backdrop to the architecture. We went inside St. Mary’s Basilica which was unlike any church I had been in. I light a candle for my Opa, and stood in awe of the detail within the church for a bit. We then walked along their main street to get to the castle. Along the way we spotted the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and decided to look inside. Again, this church was beautiful, but completely different than St. Mary’s Basilica. It was interesting to be in Poland coming from the Czech Republic because involvement with religion is so much stronger in Poland. Many of the churches in Prague are mainly used for historical purposes or tourism but in Poland, all the churches were still in use and held mass every Sunday.

 

After we left the Church of Saints Peter and Paul we headed for the castle. The Wawel castle has some interesting architecture and many of its “towers” look like they were built in completely different time periods and then mushed together. We went inside the church there as well, but couldn’t quite figure out how to get into the actual castle, so we went looking for the dragon instead.

 

We made it down to the dragon just in time for it to spit fire. We weren’t expecting this to happen so it took us all by surprise, and we didn’t have our cameras out to document. We waited a bit for the next fire show and eventually saw it spit lots of fire. We then found these blooming trees that were absolutely beautiful. As the wind blew, some of the petals blew away in the wind and left a beautiful snow in spring effect. We stood there for quite a while taking photos and having a full on photoshoot in front of the trees. Before we knew it, a whole crowd had taken our idea and the trees got pretty crowded so we left to find ice cream and a refreshing drink.

 

Next on our list was pierogis. Jack found the go-to place for pierogis so we started walking there on our way to the Botanical Gardens. As we were walking big, dark clouds rumbled in and by the time that we had our food it, the sky had opened up and the rain came down hard. We were pretty far away from our AirBnB at this point, so we decided to take an Uber back to the apartment to chill for a bit and rest up to go out again later. That night we walked around the park again, and found the Kraków Barbican, an old defense gateway from 1490s, once linked to the city walls. Then we went back into the Old Town Square to get some photos of the horse drawn carriages that were everywhere, and then headed back to our apartment for an early night to work on some homework.

 

Saturday we planned a trip to visit Auschwitz. This was something that I had wanted to do for a long time, but I was nervous to go. For my entire life I’ve been taught about the Holocaust and the horrible, inhumane things that happened at Auschwitz, but visiting the place where it actually happened made it all seem so much more real. We went on a guided tour that started at Auschwitz I and ended in Auschwitz Birkenau. I don’t have many words to explain my experience here other than impactful. The tour did a great job of explaining the living situation and the sheer volume of horrible acts that occurred there. I suggest that everyone go and experience this for themselves. There is really no way to describe it.

 

On Sunday we got a train back to Prague and prepared ourselves for the last week of class. With three projects, an oral exam, and a mini test standing between us and summer we had a lot to do. It was such a fantastic weekend in Krakow and I am so glad I managed to make it there.

This semester has flew by crazy fast and as much as I want to go home, I am not at all ready to leave Prague. I’ve had such an amazing time here and the city will always hold a really special place in my heart. But I’ll leave the sappy post until next week. As always thank you for reading!

I’m 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.

IMG_6153

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.

IMG_6078

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!