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 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