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 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 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 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: 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

A Semester in Prague: Week 6

This week has felt like quite a turn around for Prague. Almost the entire week was filled with blue skies (although still quite cold) and the color looked good on the city. Its like Prague really comes to life with a bit of sunshine and bright blue skies, and I think I do too.

I managed to get out and enjoy the city solo on Tuesday before my cooking class, and wow, it put me in such a great mood. There were so many people out enjoying the weather, and so many street performers just doing there thing. Bubbles seem to be relatively popular here in Prague, so it was only natural to find a man making giant soap bubbles in the middle of the Old Town Square. I stood and admired the bubbles for a bit, then headed to my cooking class.

This week we made a bunch of bread. We started with a sourdough loaf which our teacher had prepared beforehand to let it rise for a bit, and then moved onto a yeast dough that we shaped into animals and braids. We also made a delicious mushroom soup topped with a poached egg and some dill. I was a bit unsure about the soup since I’m not the biggest fan of mushrooms or eggs, but it was absolutely delectable and the yolk from the egg added a richness to the soup. For dessert we made a cinnamon twist loaf that again was delicious.

The rest of the week went on as usual, until Friday when at 11:30 p.m. Marcie, Jack and I hopped on a bus to Budapest, Hungary. It was a roughly 7 hour bus ride and we drove through the night and arrived early that morning. It was too early to check into our AirBnB, so we dropped off our luggage in a closet they had for us and then went exploring for a bite to eat at STIKA which was cosy and delicious. We still had a few hours to kill so we wandered for a bit and ended up at the Central Market Hall to escape the cold and experience a bit of the local culture. We passed the Budapest Eye at the Erzsébet Square, and saw a bunch of incredible murals hidden on the sides of buildings.

After about an hour wandering around the market, we made our the House of Terror Museum which serves as a memorial to the victims of two terror regimes in Hungary. The museum presented a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times both under the power of fascism and communism, and the nations relationship with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

By this time we were exhausted from a rough night of sleep on the bus and walking around in the cold, so we went to check into our AirBnB. We all passed out as soon as we got there, but were ready and recharged to take on the evening. Jack found a very hip restaurant right near our AirBnB, so we went there for dinner and finished the night on the Budapest Eye.

We planned Saturday to be our main touring day, so we planned all the places we wanted to see and set out to check them off our list. Our AirBnB was conveniently located right next to the Basilica, so I snapped a quick photo on our way out the door and was ready to set off! Marcie had visited Budapest as a kid and had some adorable photos around the city, so with Jack’s detective work we found all the locations and recreated the photos. After we checked that off of our list we headed across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to see the Parliament building.

The Parliament Building was so grand and ornate and I probably could have stood there for an hour and still not have been satisfied with admiration. Unfortunately, it was freezing so we took a few pictures and set off again. We managed to find our way to a subway station and after some time and planning, we figured out how to get to the Fisherman’s Bastion. The Fisherman’s Bastion was probably my favorite sight of the entire trip. It was so gorgeous with its ornate white facade paired with the colorful tiled roof. After having lunch on top of the hill near the Fisherman’s Bastion we made our way back down, stopping quickly at the Buda Castle.

We headed back towards the center of the city and walked to the The Dohány Street Synagogue. Sadly, it was closed when we got there, but we were still able to walk around the outside and see the Holocaust Memorial known as the Tree of Life or the Emmanuel Tree. We called the night relatively early and just watched movies in our AirBnB until the next morning.

We woke up the next morning to a layer of thick, heavy snow. We decided to make the most of our next few hours in Budapest and went to Memento Park which is a collection of gigantic monuments from the communist dictatorship in Hungary. These statues were removed from the streets of Budapest and placed in a park outside of the city where they stand today.

Budapest was absolutely wonderful and quickly became one of my favorite European cities despite it being cold and grey for the majority of our visit. As we were getting on the tram to get to our bus the beautiful city waved farewell with a gorgeous blue sky.

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These weeks are going by so quickly, and its only a short time now until I get to see my parents and show them around Prague. I’m so glad I have them behind me encouraging me to take the most of this incredible opportunity, and I love them so much more for it. Thanks Mom and Dad for affording me this life-changing experience.

I’m updating this blog weekly (or trying to at least), but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 5

This week was a bit more relaxed than the rest. I didn’t make plans to travel over the weekend, and staying in Prague for a nice relaxed weekend sounded like a dream. This travel thing is exhausting, and while I love discovering new places and creating new memories, its also nice to take a step back and spend time in your host city.

The week went by as it always does: Tuesday being my favorite day. This week in our cooking class we made the most delicious sausage and sauerkraut soup, savory potato pancakes, and dessert of all desserts, a mixed-berry streusel. Everything we make in this class has been so easy and quick, despite the fact that we’re cooking for 12. We basically just throw some ingredients in a bow, usually no more than 5, and voilà, a delicious meal and some good conversation to go with it.

On Wednesday, my European Design History class took a little field trip to the nearby Dům U Černé Matky Boží (House of the Black Madonna) which is one of the most famous Czech Cubist buildings in Prague. Inside there is a permanent exhibition displaying the famous works of Czech cubists, ranging from the traditional paintings to furniture sets, ceramic works and glassware. It was interesting to see this movement which was predominately realized on paper take on a three dimensional form. The Czech Republic’s cubist movement is significant because Prague is the only place in the world where you can find the cubist ideology in the architecture of buildings.

After visiting the museum, we went on a quick 5 minute walk to find another cubist piece living on the streets of Prague. This cubist lamp post is tucked away in a quiet corner right off one of the most touristic locations in Prague (Wenceslas Square). This is a was designed by Emil Kralicek and is the only cubist lamp post in the world. Its pretty cool to think that all this cool architecture and design took place in a city I’m now living in. IMG_6394.jpg

The majority of my weekend was spent designing my portfolio website and trying to find all working files of previous projects of mine. My portfolio is almost done, its just a matter of me tweaking a few of my current projects to better reflect what I’m capable of— something I wish I had done right after I got comments and critiques from my professors.

On Saturday, I wandered into the city center and did a bit of window shopping, and just felt out the city while alone. I feel like I’m more able to fall in love with a place when I feel like I a comfortable and belong there. Walking around Prague definitely gave me the feeling that I’m no longer a tourist here and that I understand how the city functions on a deeper level, and that really excites me. Despite my family’s town in Holland, I’ve never felt like a real local in a foreign place and I’m so glad I have this experience to grow from. I was a bit nervous about feeling out of place in Prague and feeling like I didn’t belong but I’m glad I was wrong about my nerves.

On Sunday my friends and I pulled ourselves away from our computers and ventured out to IKEA. We had no real reason to go, but it seemed like a fun outing away from Prague’s center. We left with a few bits and pieces to make our lives more comfortable — kitchen knives and blankets, and somethings that we didn’t need — ziplock bags (IKEA is the only place in Prague that has them) and fake plants. We headed back and got burgers at a small restaurant tucked in the back streets of Prague. It was an American pin-up girl themed restaurant with live music and great burgers.

This chill week has left me well rested for the week ahead. I don’t have any real plans for next weekend, but I’m thinking it might be fun to travel down to Budapest. The week after my school is taking us to Berlin, and then the following weekend is the start of spring break! I’m so stoked for all this travel, but most excited to see my parents over spring break. I’m exited to show them around Prague and experience new parts of Prague with them that I have yet to explore.

P.S. I’m updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 4

Whoops, these posts are getting later and later in the week. Time is flying by here in Prague though! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month! I’ve never been outside of the US for this long and while I’m enjoying my time immensely, all the comforts of home are starting to creep up on me. Classes keep me somewhat busy and my weekend adventures definitely keep my traveling spirit alive.

Tuesdays are always my longest, yet most enjoyable day of the week for one simple reason — my culinary class. I’m a huge fan of cooking and signing up for a Czech culinary class might have been the best decision I have made thus far on my trip. Each week we make a three course dinner for each other, consisting of soup, an entree, and the most delicious desserts. I’m starting to think that I should dedicate an entire post each week to what we make in this class, sharing each recipe so that I can remember them in the future as well. This week we made roasted onion soup, sausage and sauerkraut strudel, and a classic apple strudel. Its so interesting to learn new techniques and to learn our teacher’s family recipes.

The rest of the week flew by and before I new it I was packing my bags and boarding a plane to Eindhoven. It was so refreshing to know that I was flying to a familiar place where they spoke a (somewhat) familiar language and seeing some of my favorite people— my Dutch family. I took four friends to the Netherlands with me and was well and prepared to be their official Dutch tour guide!

We arrived late at night and my uncle, Luc and cousin, Daan came to the airport to pick us up. A few minutes later we were “home” and settled. We had a few drinks in the blokhut, played some games, and chatted until the wee hours of the morning. It was a fun way for my cousin to meet my friends and they got a bit of a taste of my family as well.

The next morning my friends slept in while I made my way to Bergeijk to pick up my Dutch passport!! After the stressful fiasco that was trying to get a visa for the Czech Republic, I was so glad to officially be a part of the EU. Holding that passport was like a giant weight lifted off of my shoulders.

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The rest of the day was spent playing cards, exploring Boxtel and the Friday morning market, and visiting Oma. It was fun to show my friends around a town that I am so familiar with and I gained a new appreciation for Boxtel and the childhood days I spent there. I consider my Dutch heritage to be a huge part of who I am and it was fun to get to share that with my friends. We ended the evening with the typical Friday meal of frietjes and kroketten and a long night of endless card games.

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The next morning my friends and I woke up early to catch the train to Amsterdam. We only had a few hours in the city, so we did a bit of strategizing to get the most out of our short visit. We walked quickly through the Red Light District, stumbled upon Dam square, strolled along the canals, barely dodged quite a few bikers, and finally ended up at the Rijks Museum. The Rijks Museum is probably one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever been to, and its not as overwhelming as other art museums such as the Met.

We spent an hour or so wandering around and looking at some incredible artwork. I had been there before, but still managed to see artwork that I hadn’t seen during prior visits. After the Rijks Museum we spent some time being typical American tourists and took photos at the I amsterdam letters outside of the Rijks museum.

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After a quick lunch, we split up into two groups — two of us headed to the Van Gogh museum, and the other three to walk the streets of Amsterdam. I was a bit museumed-out so I guided the other two to Vondelpark, and then just through the streets to see the typical Amsterdam houses. In the two hours that we were walking around we got sunshine, clouds, and even a bit of rain.

We all met back up for dinner and made our way back to the train station for an early night back to Boxtel. We spent the rest of the night playing games, laughing lots, and building card towers.

The next morning I woke up early to have breakfast with Oma, and spend a bit of time with her before we went back to Prague. We headed back to Prague around noon, and spent the rest of the day getting ready for the week ahead.

It was so nice to see my family again, and to feel a bit of that comfort of home. I feel incredibly lucky to have them so close and its comforting to know that they’re only a short plane journey away.

I’m still loving this study abroad experience, and its giving me a serious case of the travel bug. I am making all sorts of plans to travel within Europe and I’m even thinking about some short trips I might take when I get back to the US. Next weekend I’m taking a bit of a break from the weekend trips and just having a chill weekend in Prague which should be nice a refreshing. I’ve seen quite a bit of Prague already and I’m getting relatively comfortable with the city, but there’s so much more to explore. Catch you next week for another update, and possibly another post dedicated entirely to my cooking class!

P.S. I’m updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 3

This week started early Monday morning with my first class of the semester. From Monday to Thursday, I spend a good majority of my day in class, often starting at 9 am and ending around 4. On Tuesday I have a cooking class which is a lot of fun. There are around 12 of us that all cook traditional Czech cuisine together and then have good conversation as we eat our meal. Having this cooking class along with a Czech language class is starting to give me a good grip on the culture here.

On Friday, two of my friends from Miss Halls School (Emma and Sandra) and I planned to meet up in Copenhagen for the weekend. I was very excited to see them again since it had been almost four years since the last time I had seen one of them! I spent quite a bit of time at the airport on Friday, but was so happy to see the girls again.

After making our way out of the airport and to our hostel, we headed out on the town in search of dinner. We walked to the center, near the City Hall and Tivoli Gardens. After dinner, we met up with an former counselor from camp, Jeppe, and he walked around with us for a while, showing us a bit of the city, and giving us advice and tips for seeing the most of Copenhagen. It was so good to catch up with him and meet his girlfriend.

The next morning, we decided to rent bikes from our hostel. This proved to be the best decision we would make during our whole trip. Copenhagen was a bit more spread out than I was imagining, so having the bikes made it so easy and fast to go from point A to point B. Our first stop on Saturday was to the stork fountain that we saw the night before. We had been told to use this as a landmark to get to Nyhavn, so from there we headed to the colorful houses.

Nyhavn was absolutely beautiful. Luckily we got some blue sky while we were there which just made the bright colors of the houses even brighter and warm. When I first thought about going to Copenhagen, this image of the colorful houses was on the top of my mind. I low-key thought all of Copenhagen looked like this, but made me appreciate it even more that it was just this small canal.

From Nyhavn, we rode our bikes to Christiania. Christiania is self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district that is most well known my tourists for cannabis. We weren’t interested in that aspect of Christiania, but it was interesting and eye-opening to see this community of people just doing there own thing in the center of Copenhagen.

After being a bit intimidated by the atmosphere in Christiania, we quickly headed to to the Amalienborg Palace (the home of the royal family), to witness the changing of the guards. It was a traditional ceremony of the new guards marching down the street and taking the place of the others. It lasted quite a bit longer than I was expecting, but afterwards the square in the middle cleared out and we were able to get some pictures.

We started to get a bit hungry, and decided to meet up with one of Emma’s friends for a late lunch. We hopped onto our bikes and rode out of the center to a very cute cafe called Mad & Kaffe. It felt very cozy, or as the Danes say, hygge, and the food was absolutely delicious. After sitting and chilling for a bit, we asked for some recommendations on what we should do next and planned to see Copenhagen from above.

We rode our bikes to the Christiansborg Palace which is the tallest tower in Copenhagen, and the home of the Danish parliament. Since the tower is free to enter, there was quite a long line, but after about an hour of waiting, we finally made our way to the top of the tower. The sun had just set and the views were gorgeous.

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After visiting the tower, we headed back to our hostel to hang out for a minute and get ready for dinner. Earlier that day, we discovered that we had another friend from Miss Halls who was studying in Copenhagen for the semester and decided to meet up with her for dinner. We went back to the center to meet up with her and had dinner at the Tivoli food hall. It was nice to catch up with her and meet some of her friends who she met while in Copenhagen, but Emma, Sandra and I were completely exhausted from a full day of touring the city.

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The next morning we checked out of the hostel and headed towards the water to tick off the last item on our Copenhagen bucket list: The Little Mermaid. We walked for about an hour to this relatively small sculpture, which we were told would be slightly disappointing. The sculpture is a Copenhagen icon and is based on the story by the Hans Christian Anderson. I’m glad we made the trip out to see it, but I probably won’t go back if I venture to Copenhagen again.

After visiting the mermaid we walked with our suitcases back into the center to the central train station. After some advice from Jeppe to take the train rather than a taxi, we all agreed that we’d rather save a few bucks and walk for a bit than shell out some cash for a taxi. The train was super cheap and relatively easy and I’m glad we made that choice.

My flight didn’t take off until around 9 pm, so I had a lot of time to chill in the airport, but I enjoy both my own company and airports, so I was content. I shopped around for a bit, found a deck of cards to add to my collection, and watched a few movies before my flight took off. Then I was back in Prague, making my way back to my housing all by myself on public transport. I’m really starting to get this city living thing down. Mom, you’d be proud.

This weekend I’m heading to The Netherlands to visit my family and to show my friends around Amsterdam. I’m super excited to see some friendly faces and to finally hold my Dutch passport in my hands! Its gonna be a good few days.

Sorry that this post was a bit late, it was another great week in the books! I’m starting to count the weeks until my parents come and I get to show them around Prague. This whole experience is going by so quickly!

P.S. 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.

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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!