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

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!