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10 posts from February 2012

02/27/2012

Where Is All The Weinerschnitzel?

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

On Friday morning, Jessi and I showed up to our intensive Czech final exam, with sharpened pencils, review sheets, and…our suitcases. There was just a Czech final exam and a Czech history skills test that separated us from our weekend in Vienna. But, we didn't seem to be the only ones that thought of traveling to Vienna for the weekend. As the members of the class came in one by one, each person trailed a small rolling suitcase behind them. Where were they going? VIENNA!

Now that we have been in Europe for almost a month and as of Friday, we had completed our intensive Czech learning program, it was definitely time to start exploring all Europe has to offer. This past weekend, about 90 percent of CIEE decided to travel to Vienna. (Just so you can get an idea of how many people were going...in my classroom there were almost as many suitcases as students).

While everyone else decided to take the bus to Vienna, Jessi and I opted for the train. And by "opted for the train," I mean we decided to travel to Vienna last minute and the bus tickets were sold out so we had to go by train instead. So, after finishing our Czech exams, we grabbed our bags and headed to Hlavni Nadrazi, the main train station (hlavni - main, nadrazi - station), to begin our journey to Vienna.

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Here I am, ready to board my train at Hlavni Nadrazi (the main train station) in Prague

 

Though neither of us have really traveled by train before, we were quickly able to figure out the signs (with the help of some sweet police men (policie in Czech)) and figure out where we needed to be.

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                     Just a few minutes from now and my train should be coming!

When the train arrived, Jessi and I were so excited to see that we had gotten a pretty nice train (the seats were rather comfortable and we were able to get a whole area to ourselves and next to the window!). After an hour or so, we decided to explore the train for a bit and find the dining cart. Unfortunately, the dining cart didn't have much that sounded good so we went back to our original seats. Before we left, I knew I would get hungry and bought a can of peanuts and a cookies-and -cream candy bar. Thankfully, Jessi came slightly more prepared with PB&J sandwiches. So PB&J it was for dinner.

About five hours later, we had arrived!!! Just two tram rides, and we had successfully made it to the Wombats - Naschmarkt hostel in Vienna. It was a new experience of having to pick up my sheets from the front desk and make my own bed in my hostel room (something I usually don't have to do at the Hyatt or other hotels that I have stayed at in America).

For us, this was the perfect place to stay. It was in the center of town, the rooms were nice and all of our friends were staying there. (So if you were not an American or not on the CIEE program, I apologize for ruining your weekend because we definitely dominated that hostel on every floor in every area).

Once we arrived at the hostel, we only had a bit to relax before it was time to experience the Vienna nightlife. It didn't take long before we were dressed and ready to go.

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Our room! (from left to right - Sami, Lizzy, Jessi, and me)

 

We first went next door to the guys' room and hung out for a bit before we went to our main stop for the night: Ride Club. The club was awesome. It played great music, and everyone was dancin, and having a great time.

Saturday morning was quick to come, and by quick, I mean very quick. At about 7 a.m. we heard loud banging on our windows/door and guys shouting "wake up! wake up!" I guess the guys next door did not need much sleep and wanted to get their day started bright and early. The four of us in my room had a slightly different plan that included a 9:30 wake up. So, the boys finally went away, we fell back asleep and were ready to go when our alarms went off at our intended wake up time.

We were the perfect group to go sightseeing together. Though we all weren't exactly sure where we wanted to go or see, we all were eager to see/experience anything in Vienna and were ready for a day of exploring.

We started at a market that was right outside our hostel - Naschmarkt. There were all different types of olives, candies, pastries, and a lot of middle eastern food (i.e. falafel, pita, etc). We wanted to head to a museum and had already eaten breakfast, so we decided we would come back to the market later. (Unfortunately, we never made it back to the market because we were too busy having fun around town).

We went to the museum quarter where we saw an ad for a 60s exhibit at the MUMOK. We thought it sounded interesting, and since we were right by the art museum, we decided to go. The exhibit had some very different pieces than anything I had ever seen before. For example:

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Jessi and a giant stuffed spider

Overall, I thought the museum was great. A lot of the art we saw, I would never usually categorize it as art itself, but it was all very interesting and totally different from most art/usual paintings that I have seen in the past.

After the museum, we went to my favorite place on the trip - Schönbrunn Palace.

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I thought it was so interesting to get to see and learn about a place where members of the royal family lived. And it was absolutely beautiful on the inside (I wish I had pictures to show you but I was not allowed to take any inside)

After this, we were ready for some lunch, and what would make for a better lunch than weinerschnitzel! From the start of the day, we knew we had to get some weinerschnitzel so we thought that now would be the perfect time. We had passed a stand earlier in the day that was selling weinerschnitzel but were not quite hungry yet, it was too cold to stand outside and eat, and we assumed there would be stands everywhere so when we were ready it would be no problem to find the traditional Austrian food. Well, we surely guessed wrong. We searched everywhere for weinerschnitzel, and it could not be found!

After a 30-minute hunt for Weinerschnitzel and my toes on the verge of being completely frozen, we went to the only open restaurant that we could find nearby (a Thai one) and called it a day. Though it was sad and somewhat depressing to have traveled to Vienna and end up eating Thai for lunch, I must say the Pad Thai was amazing. So, while we missed out on the Weinerschnitzel, I explained to my friends that for all we know we went to some world famous Thai restaurant in Vienna while everyone else enjoyed the typical Weinerschnitzel. Besides, we were still here for another 48 hours and by then we surely would have a chance to taste the Weinerschnitzel. After our very non-Austrian meal, we went back to the hostel for a much needed nap.

Now, I am usually a big believer in non-napping during the day. In the past, I have found that when it is time to wake up, I am just too groggy to do anything and end up staying in bed for the rest of the day. Besides, it's just such a waste of time, and I usually end up laying there for hours and never end up falling asleep even though I am tired (so it is just a stressful experience and a waste of the day hours). But, I guess I am different in Vienna. That nap was the best nap of my life! After a few hours in my cozy sleep sac (a thin sheet/sleeping bag), I was completely rejuvenated and ready to hit the clubs! But first, a sushi dinner.

I am not sure if my hostel happened to be in a very Asian area or if Asian food is a big thing in Vienna, but there were a ton of small, cute sushi restaurants near our hostel. Seeing that all four of us were big sushi fans, we decided sushi was a must for dinner and it was delicious!

We decided to try a new club this night. However, just a few minutes after checking our coats we all agreed to leave and go somewhere else. We ended up returning to Ride Club from the night before. I was a little disappointed to not get to try a new place, but in the end I had a great time again.

When I got home that night, I was exhausted and was so excited to get into bed. Just as I was almost asleep I heard a loud banging on my door. The idea of getting out of bed just sounded terrible, so I hoped the person would go away. They did not. I then thought that maybe it was one of my roommates and she had forgotten her key and was locked out. I crawled out of bed and opened the door. Well, it was certainly not my roommate. Rather, it was a guy from my program looking alive and ready to party. He peeked inside the dark hostel room and asked me "Oh, is there nothing going on in here?" To which I explained that we were all asleep and asked if there was anything that he needed. Well, I guess all he really needed was a bed to sleep in and a little southern hospitality. Lucky for him, we had two extra beds in the room, and I love guests and am from the south. I made a bed for him, got him some water, and then finally went to bed.

The next day (Sunday), we slept in a little bit later but were still ready to go before noon. The day before we had just eaten breakfast at the breakfast buffet at the hostel. So, on Sunday, we decided to venture out. The guys had mentioned that the best breakfast place was at the cafe at the Leopold Museum so we thought we'd try it out. And it was delicious.

After breakfast, our next stop was the Freud museum (which is his apartment). This was one of my least favorite sights, but it was still interesting to see, and I am glad that I went. On the way back to the metro station, there were some chances to take some very photo-worthy shots (I have yet to mention in this post just how beautiful Vienna was. I had my camera around my neck almost the entire time because I couldn't stop taking pictures. Here is just a taste of some of the pictures I took during the weekend...

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Since it was almost time for lunch and we were getting hungry, it meant, the hunt for the Weinerschnitzel round 2 began. But again, it was nowhere to be found. Since Lizzy and Sami were on the bus going home (which left at 5:30), and the St. Stephen Cathedral and the famous cake at the cafe at Hotel Sacher were a must, we headed towards the Cathedral, with high hopes that we would pass a stand on the way there. Of course, we did not.

But, what we did find at St. Stephen was well worth it. I know before I had said the palace was my favorite, well this was right up there with that.

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The outside of the St. Stephen Cathedral

 

The Cathedral itself was amazing. But, that was not all that this spot had to offer. There is a tower, where at the top there is a view of Vienna. Of course, there is work that must be put in to reaching that magnificent view. That work....a 349 stair-staircase that winds up the tower around in a very dizzying and narrow passageway.


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It is hard to see in the picture just how narrow and twirly the staircase is, but to give you an idea, it was hard to fit two people standing next to each other

 

At one point (about halfway) there is a slight break from the winding stairs and there is a platform area where you can look out at the city.

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For those who are scared of heights, this would not be your idea of fun...good thing I am not and was just pretending for dramatic effect

For those that are taller (i.e. Sami) you can just look over the cement wall to see the city.  But for the shorties like me, you get to peak through the cement wall...

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Just a few more stairs to go and then you get to see this...

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Vienna from above

Or you could see this...Image1

Vienna from above

...Or this...

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Vienna from above

 

At the top of the tower, it opened up into a small room that had windows on each side so you could get a view of Vienna from every direction.

 After the tower, we made one more attempt to find Weinerschnitzel on our way to Hotel Sacher for cake. Again, we were unsuccessful, but we did come close. On our way, we found a Weiner Wald, which did in fact have a Weinerschnitzel on the menu.

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But, we were running out of time, it was a nice sit down meal, and we were sure that we had to pass a Weinerschnitzel stand sometime soon because we were in a touristy area (for some reason we did not and why not...I honestly have no idea where they are hiding all their Weinerschnitzel in this country). So we ditched the Weinerschnitzel and went for famous cake.

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Lizzy and me at our table deciding what to order

We all went with the Original-Sacher torte (the most famous one)

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Original Sacher-Torte

The cake was rich, chocolaty, and delicious. Do I think it was good enough to be considered famous and the best cake ever? Probably not. But, I am also not the best person to judge this because I would take a simple chocolate chip cookie any day over a super rich, fancy dessert.

After dessert, it was time for Lizzy and Sami to go catch the bus and for me and Jessi to find that Weinerschnitzel! Alas, we came upon a stand that had the word "Weiner" on the menu and Jessi marched up to the stand...

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We were not sure exactly what we were getting, but as we stood there in anticipation we felt successful in our search because whatever it was at least we could say we had some form of weiner in Vienna.

Well when the food item was handed to us...it turns out this was nothing at all similar to the Weinerschnitzel we were looking for...

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After a video chat session with my mom, I learned that "Weiner" just means from Vienna like Dallasite means from Dallas. So our Weinerschnitzel was no Weinerschnitzel at all, just a hot dog.  But on the bright side, at least it was a hot dog from Vienna. And we were content with that.

We walked around and planned on shopping for a bit. But, everywhere we went the stores were closed. We also searched for a bakery shop to try the pastries my mom has raved about for years (she studied abroad in Vienna), but those could not be found either. I began to question whether my mom had actually studied abroad in Vienna, as I found hardly anything that she has talked so much about.

We didn't have much time left until our 6:30 train, so we stopped for one last touristy photo...

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Schloss Belvedere

 

And then we were on our way to the train station.

There are 2-3 train stations in Vienna. On the way up, Jessi and I arrived at Wien Mielding and that is where our train home departed from as well. We had directions for getting to the hostel from the train station, so we decided to follow the instructions backwards to get back to Wien Mielding. We started off on the right foot after successfully taking one metro to get to the next metro. On the second metro, a guy saw that we were confused and told us the station was the next stop. So, we got off.

The station was quite a pleasant surprise! Here, all the shops were open and there were bakeries selling all sorts of pastries everywhere! With just about 30 minutes until our train left, we went and got some pastries and pizza for the train. Just as we were about to sit down and enjoy our food, we thought it would be a good idea to check where our train was leaving from. We looked at the board and could not find our train listed anywhere. There was just about 20 minutes until our train left and we could not figure out why it was not on the boards yet. We began searching everywhere for someone who spoke English or a ticket counter for help.

It was when we reached the top floor and I saw a sign that showed flight departures and arrivals, I nervously tapped Jessi and explained that we were at the wrong station. I had remembered when I was booking the train tickets that the trains all go to one station (Wien Mielding), but there is one train that continues to a different station (which also has an airport in it).

Knowing that we had 15 minutes until the 6:30 train was leaving, with our backpacks on our backs, a pastry in one hand, and pizza in our mouths, we began sprinting and giggling throughout the station to find our way back to the metro. (I wish I could have captured this moment either on film or camera but there just was no time and my camera was deep down in my backpack). We looked absolutely absurd.

We were filled with joy when we did make it to the right train station and the train had not even arrived yet.

  Image1Just in time!

As we waited for the train to come, we remembered how a guy in our class said that he wanted to show up to the bus right before it left to make it interesting, and of course everyone laughed at him...well he may not have had the chance to have that experience, but we certainly did and he was right, it was most definitely a great experience that made the whole trip more interesting.

When I got to my seat on the train, I pulled out the pasty I had ordered. My mom had told me about her favorite pastry in Vienna and I had really hoped to try it. Unfortunately, when I was ordering I could not find it listed anywhere. So I chose a pastry with a nut filling...as it turns out this was my mom's favorite pastry and just was listed as something different. (Funny how with all these pastries before me I ended up choosing the "best" one even without her help - mother like daughter perhaps?) Well anyway, even if I tried, I don't think the weekend could not have ended anymore perfectly.

 

02/22/2012

Taking My Czech Learning To A Whole New Level

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

When I decided to study abroad, I told myself that I was going to try to experience everything that Prague and some of what Europe had to offer and would not turn down any opportunities to try something new. So, that is why I agreed to go to “jumping” class with Katka, the Czech buddy from the apartment upstairs.

 

Let me start from the beginning.

 

At about 4:00, Jessi and I got home from a tiring weekend of Cinema Dance (and I can promise you the last thought on my mind was to go work out). Well, just 10 minutes after returning to my apartment, checking my email, facebook, etc, there was a knock at the door. It was Katka asking me if I wanted to go jumping with her. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by jumping, but my first guess was bungee jumping. I found it to be a little strange that she was asking me at 4 if I wanted to go bungee jumping in two hours and that I could sign up with such short notice.  So at first, I did not give her much of a response but just stood there confused. As it turns out, the jumping Katka was referring to was not bungee jumping but a jumping fitness class at her workout studio. Katka explained that jumping is a workout class here where each person gets a small trampoline, and it is a cardio and legs workout.

 

Since I do love trampolines, and I think jumping is fun, and after a weekend of feasting mainly on bread and chocolate bars, a workout class did not seem like such a bad idea. So, despite needing to read 120 pages for my history class tomorrow and writing up a short essay for my art class, Jessi and I decided to go for the Czech fitness experience.

 

For Jessi and me, the possible problems when taking a Czech workout class began before we had even left our apartment building. At 5:30, Katka met us at our apartment so that we could go to the gym together. Jessi and I were dressed and ready to go jumping, but right before we got outside Katka asked us if we had our gym boots. We looked back at her confused and pointed to the tennis shoes on our feet. Well, I guess we forgot we were not in America anymore. Like in the house, when you enter the gym you need to change from your “street” shoes/boots and into whatever shoes you will wear to workout. So, we put our Nike Frees in our bags and put on boots with our workout clothes (another thing we learned on our way to the studio – when people go to workout they usually just change there and do not wear their workout clothes until they get there – woops).

 

Things seemed to only go downhill though once we arrived at the gym. After Katka spent the walk talking about the jumping class and how much fun it was, when we went to sign up for the 7:00 class it was full. So, we could either walk back home or take a cycling class. Seeing that we were already there, and all three of us were pretty pumped to actually workout (or for me even to do something somewhat physical besides eating and walking to class), we decided cycling was the best option.

 

Katka and Jessi had never taken a spin class before and were both nervous and excited to try something new. Now, I would not say I am an experienced cycler, but I did just spend the past semester at Emory taking a cycling class three days a week. So, I was pretty hyped to get back on the bike and get a good workout in. I also thought that since I had taken a few spin classes before, the language barrier should not make the class too difficult for me to understand…well, I guess I should think twice before assuming such a thing.

We walk into the class, which looks very different from any other workout room I have ever been in. There were some dim lights on the sides, but other than that, the main lights on the ceiling were turned off. (Still, not so sure if I am a fan of the lights being off.   While it is kind of relaxing and nice, it does put me to sleep during a time that I desperately need my energy).  From what I could tell, the room had no air conditioning system other than a ceiling fan and two floor fans near the front. And the walls (which had no mirrors) did not look like the typical gym walls but rather like the inside of a house/living room. When we walked into the class, at this point unsure of whether it was beginners/advanced/etc, we opted for the bikes near the back so that we could follow the people in front of us and no one would laugh at us. We picked out a row for us three, and being the experienced cycler in the group, I showed my friends how to set up the bike.

 

Soon, we were on our bikes and felt ready to go. A small yet stocky blonde woman approached the bike at the front, looked out at the people on the bikes, smiled and began speaking very fast in a language that I thought I was just starting to get a good grasp of. Now, some people feel uncomfortable in gyms when they speak the language of the trainers, so imagine being in a gym (when you haven’t worked out in about a month) and you have no clue what the trainer is explaining to you. Let’s just say, I very quickly went from feeling pretty confident to downright confused in a matter of ten seconds (I don’t think my confidence lasted longer than one sentence).

 

After a few minutes, of what I imagine to be an introduction speech, the Czech speaking was replaced with late 90′s/early 2000 American pop music, and the peppy woman from the front was on the bike. Once she began pedaling, Jessi and I were quickly able to clue in to what we should be doing and followed her actions. So when she stood up, we stood up, when she leaned forward, we leaned forward, and when she sat we sat. We had no idea what we were being told but based on her actions we were able to get the gist of it…for the warm up at least.

Since I had somewhat of an idea of the basic workouts in spin class, I thought that I could maybe try to take what I have learned in my Czech class and perhaps figure out what the instructor was saying. Unfortunately, between the physical activity of cycling and the speed at which the instructor spoke, it was just too tiring for me to have any clue as to what she was saying. (I did, however, pick up the word “jedno”, meaning “one”, at one point during the class – not sure what it was in reference to, but I guess my Czech learning is somewhat paying off).  So, when she said short phrases during the class (in the middle of exercises), I assumed she was telling us words of encouragement (and if not, well, it kept me upbeat). And when she gave instructions I relied on Katka. Katka would listen to the three-minute description in Czech, and then explain to each of us what we were supposed to do.

 

Overall, it was quite an experience both mentally and physically. And at 7:00, when the class ended, I was glad that I had decided to go. For one, it felt amazing to be inside a gym again and to sweat not because I was hot but because I was actually doing some form of physical activity. But more importantly, I was glad because when I leave I should be able to say that I literally have embraced every opportunity that I had in Prague.

 

As I left the gym, I made sure to pick up a schedule. So as my Czech language skills progress, I plan to continue attending the gym classes with two goals in mind. My first is that I will stay in shape, and secondly, I will one day be able to attend a Czech workout class and fully understand the instructor for the whole 60 minutes of the class (whether it is jumping, cycling, etc).

Using A Cell Phone The Abroad Way

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

We Americans enjoy many things in our American lives that we take for granted.  One such luxury is the unlimited phone plan.  In Prague, this is not the case.  Instead, those of us studying abroad have to be cautious while texting. We cannot respond to texts with an “ok” or just a casual “What’s up?”  Rather, we have to send texts of meaning, like when we need to know where everyone is because we are about to leave, or if we have an important question to ask someone, or if we are lost wandering the streets and need directions.   It is very easy to whiz through our phone credits and soon discover that we have none, usually at times when we actually need them.  And so after three weeks of using my Czech phone plan and way too much money spent over that time period, I am starting to feel pretty good about my phone usage and have come up with some pretty good strategies for keeping my phone usage to a minimum. Here are some tips in case you find yourself in this same situation one day (or just want to see what it feels like to have a very limited phone plan)

 

The “useless” text:

 

I have finally gotten over my habit of sending the “useless” text. As mentioned above, this is that casual “ok” or “haha” after someone texts you something. In America, that meaningless text does not cost you anything to send. But, in Prague, that text costs me just as much as any other text. So, why would I waste my money on a text that does not advance the conversation or provide either person with any important/additional information? So, when someone says something funny, as hard as it may be, I must refrain from sending him or her a “haha”, “LOL”, or any other response that confirms to them that what they said was funny or that I agree.

 

The importance of the Facebook chat:

 

Facebook is great for keeping in touch with people who are not nearby, seeing what everyone is up to (otherwise known as Facebook stalking), and all sorts of other great things. Members of my generation often wonder how people could ever survive without Facebook. I, however, was never much of a die-hard Facebook-obsessed lover, and I found it relatively easy to live in a world where Facebook did not exist. In Prague, though, I have developed a whole new appreciation for Facebook. While everyone on my program has a Czech cell phone, we also all have a Facebook account. This means that when we are all deciding where to go out that night, or where to eat for dinner, or if you need to ask anyone anything, there is no need to waste that on a text when there is Facebook chat. So for everything that is non-urgent and you are near a computer with internet, you can save a text and send a FB message.

 

Actually making an effort to speak to someone urgent or non-urgent:

 

With unlimited phone plans, it is very easy to talk to someone. As mentioned before, it is free and requires no effort at all (other than the actual typing of the message – which I think some phones now allow you to speak it and the phone/Siri will write it for you). So, when I need to tell someone something, just want to say “hey,” or if I have a question to ask I can just shoot that person a text. Well, here I could continue to do so and take this effortless way to reach someone. Or, I can do, as they once did when there was no technology, and I can actually make some sort of effort to go find the person I need to talk to and speak with them face to face (in person that is). Luckily, I live in an apartment building with about 16 other girls on my program. Therefore, it has not been too difficult for me to run up a few flight of stairs instead of sending a text. I will admit though, if I want/need to speak to someone in my building, I do go on FB chat first and see if they are online (why not? It’s convenient, free, and nowadays there is a better chance someone will respond to a FB message than a knock on her door).

 

While, I have found these new ways to keep my cell phone cost down, there are the few dreadful situations that cause the cell phone bill to burst through the ceiling.

 

Costly cell phone mishaps:

 

There are those times where we all spend our Czech phone credits in different useless ways.  For me, I spent $20 of my credits helplessly and hopelessly trying to call a lost iPhone laying in the back of some random blue cab. And where did that get me? Well, I sit here now writing this blog post short $20 and no iPhone. (However, I admit that it was $20 that was well spent in the sense that if I made no effort to find that iPhone, then I probably would not have had the chance to get it back and would not because I did not try. At least I know now that I tried and did everything that I could to get my beloved phone back). There are others, though, who do not feel so good about the money that was spent in their cell phone mishaps. For example, Drew. A few weeks ago, Drew experienced the unfortunate pocket dial to America. While, I waited for Drew to respond to my text that night, his phone was having a voicemail conversation with his uncle in the states. So, I guess we both have learned something so far. For me, I either should not take cabs or (what I imagine to be the better choice) I should make sure that I have all my belongings at all times so I do not waste my money trying to get them back. And for Drew, put his phone on lock or maybe finding a better spot than his back pocket.

Back To The Classroom-ish

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

Now, just a little over three weeks into my semester abroad, and my classes have finally begun! I have always enjoyed the beginning of a new semester and new classes. I think it is exciting to learn about a new topic, especially when it’s one that I’m interested in, learn from new professors, and meet new people. So, as you can imagine, I have eagerly awaited the start of my classes in Prague.

 

Sunday night, as I was packing my school bag for the morning, I realized I was going to attend my first class since the beginning of December (quite a long time). After two months of relaxation and vacationing (three weeks of which were spent exploring in Prague), the thought of returning to a classroom, sitting through lectures, and most dreadful of all turning in homework assignments, just did not seem appealing.

 

But, then again, I did come here to study, which I think explains why I was not surprised to find myself actually looking forward to Monday morning. (Not sure if I can say I felt the same way when my alarm went off at 7:45 so that I could make the 8:50 Czech class).

 

I had some expectations for my classes, but there was also a lot I was unsure of. I knew that I was taking three classes with CIEE’s central European Studies program: Beginners Czech Language, Art and Architecture of Prague, and History of the Jews in Bohemia and Central Europe. And I also knew that I would be taking three classes at FAMU International (the film school in Prague) Cinema Dance, Producer’s Craft, and Tools for Directing. I also had the classes’ syllabi so I knew what the classes would be about and what was expected of me as a student. What I did not know was how different they would be from most classes I have ever taken.

 

Art and Architecture of Prague – this was one class that I was really looking forward to. I have always loved both art and architecture, but while at Emory (or any other time in my life) I have never really taken any classes about either subject. This class looked like the perfect opportunity, mostly because I would not just learn about Prague’s art and architecture, but I will get to witness it and learn about it as I experience it. The class has two parts to it. On Mondays, we are in the classroom, looking at pictures and listening to lectures.  For example, in Monday’s class, we learned about pre-historic times and how the ideas from the pictures that were drawn on caves have continued and had an effect on more recent art. Then, on Wednesdays, we have field trips to different parts of Prague, and the professor gives us tours and teaches us about the art and architecture of that location. So, on Wednesday, we went to the astronomical clock tower in Prague, where (below it) there is the oldest neighborhood/homes in Prague. It was very, very, very interesting to see the old homes. What I found most fascinating was the fact that people actually once lived there. These houses, if they could even be considered that, made me realize how much I take my home for granted. To give you an idea of what these houses were like…they did not have glass back in those days, so in order to create the “glass” for the windows some would use animal bladders (have to give them credit for being creative).

 

History of the Jews in Bohemia and Central Europe – I was also pretty excited to take this class. You’d think that after 18 years of Jewish day school education, that if the opportunity arose to take another class on Jewish history, I would politely decline. But, those 18 years of Jewish education were taught in America and a lot about the Jewish national as a whole, never did I really study or focus on just the European (or Central European) portion of Jewish history.  So, in a place like Prague, where the Jewish community is small but there is a lot of interesting history behind it, I thought it would be very exciting to learn about this part of my roots while I am here. This class, like my art and architecture class, will have a significant amount of the lectures outside of the classroom and in the Jewish Quarter (something that I am really looking forward to). As the Rabbi mentioned, why would he teach us in the classroom about certain things when we could go and see it for ourselves?? So, we spent this first week in the classroom, getting to know each other and defining some key terms. But, next week we will get to have our first class in the Jewish Quarter, and of course, I will be back to blog about that afterwards.

 

Cinema Dance – when signing up for classes, I ranked this one as my first choice. What the class is…I am still not 100 percent sure. Here is what I know: the class is just a weekend long spent in some part of Moravia. When we arrive we are put into groups of four and have the weekend to put together a short film. And we need to meet at the main train station at 3 p.m. today. So, I guess on Sunday I will have more to tell you about this one.

 

Producer’s Craft – I had this class today and it was my first class at FAMU (so that also meant it was my first class not at the CIEE building or with CIEE people). It was exciting to go somewhere different for class, especially knowing that FAMU was where I was going. I originally decided to enroll in this class because it would go towards my major as an elective, and I have always found producing to be interesting. However, this class was much better than I could have imagined. It combines the creative side of the media/film industry of producing along with the business/marketing side of it. Last year, I took a marketing class and loved it. So pretty much this producing class, is like a combination of my marketing class and a film producing class. I am really looking forward to the final project, where I will pretty much have to put together a portfolio for a project (i.e. TV show or film) and use my marketing skills and film industry knowledge to determine my budget, how successful it will be, who is my target audience, etc.

 

And lastly, Tools for Directing – I do not know too much about this class either because I have not had it yet. Well, let me rephrase that, I have not attended it yet. No, I am not already skipping classes! Rather, I am just as clueless here as I am in America. So, last week (our intensive Czech class week) was the first week of classes for FAMU. Since we had to attend our Czech classes at CIEE, we were excused from our film classes that interfered with the Czech classes. Since I was still in my vacation mindset, I completely did not realize that my directing class was at night and I had actually missed the first class! After talking to some people, luckily, the professor did not take attendance (it is still add, drop, swap) and all they did was watch a film for the class. So while, I did miss a good film, it is something that I can make up, and I will be sure to make the class next Monday (the class is just every other Monday so I did not have it this week).

 

Well, I must go now I have to head to class, and by class I mean the train station to go on the weekend trip for Cinema Dance. And when I say I am back in the classroom, it is much better than that. As I mentioned, some of my classes are in desks and chairs, but there is a significant part of the learning that will be spent outside of the classroom doing tours, exploring, and seeing things in person!

02/16/2012

Never Doubt A True Hockey Fan

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

Being in Prague actually makes life a lot easier for me. Well, for the sports fan side of me. I am living in a place where hockey is the Czech’s version of football (American football). So, being the die-hard, overly obsessed hockey fan that I am, there was no chance that I was going to miss the 59th NHL All-Star game, especially with Jamie Benn playing for Team Chara.

 

 So, I was on a mission to find a place to watch the game….and I was not going to take no for an answer.

 

 A few nights ago, the girls in my apartment building went to a little pub across the street to grab some drinks before we went to Lucerna (an 80s/90s music themed club). The owner and only worker at the pub is Paul. He seemed like a nice guy, got us all our drinks and anything else we needed. When he explained to me that he gets a lot of the U.S. (NHL) hockey games, I could hardly contain my joy (until I realized the chance of the international station choosing to show the Stars game was rather slim). So I chatted with him, and as it turns out he would get the NHL All-Star game and said I could come Sunday night to watch the game. (After hearing this, I was close to leaping out of my seat and giving the man a hug).

 

Well, Sunday night came and I soon discovered that Paul might not be my best friend anymore. I went to the bar at around 10 p.m. to watch the game. This time, it was just one other girl from my building and me at the pub (my friend Drew joined us later). We ordered drinks and watched the game. After being at the pub for about fifteen minutes, Paul finally came over and asked me where all my friends were. I looked at him confused and explained that they were at their apartments. Paul, annoyed, began saying that I told him that I was bringing all of these people back with me to watch the game tonight and he had stayed open just for me and essentially I had brought him no business. Unsure of whether to pay for my drink and leave or continue watching the game, I decided with the latter option and deeply apologized to Paul. Paul then went on to say that we better order a lot of drink ...... Eventually, two other groups of people came. But, I felt kinda uncomfortable and was getting tired, so I ditched the bar after the second period of play.

 

While I was successful in finding a place to watch the game and get my weekly dose of NHL hockey (I was having withdrawal)…I think I might just need to find a new pub to go to for my next game because as it turns out friendly Paul was not so friendly after all.

A Bed The Czech Way

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

In Prague, a bed is made very differently than in America. To make a Czech bed you need just three items: a fitted sheet, a duvet cover, and a down insert.

Step 1: Put the fitted sheet on the mattress.

Step 2: Turn the duvet cover inside out and put the down insert into the duvet cover.

Step 3: Place the duvet on the bed.

Step 4: Nighty night!

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For those that freeze at night (in other words me), this unfortunately is not the warmest sleeping situation, and I have resorted to folding my duvet in half (so that it is rather short but extra thick for warmth). I then curl up in a ball so my feet don’t stick out of the end of the duvet, and then wish I had packed a pair of pajama pants and not just shorts.

Yoyo Pros, Stolen Cabs, Confusion and Fun

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

Wednesday night I got my first taste of Prague nightlife and was going to attempt Prague’s public transportation system streets without any Czech buddies. The night began with some hanging out at the PUB with other CIEE students, good time in the apartment, and at Nebe. Below is a list of successes, fails, and exciting moments from the rest of the night.

Success1.

My roommates, other girls in my apartment building, and I decided to go out into the city for the first time without any Czech buddies. All we had was some basic knowledge of how the public transportation system works, a vague idea of where we lived (we all had our address stored in our phones), a map that that our Czech buddy (Jana) had written detailed directions on that showed us how to get from our apartment to Nebe. With that being said, we did eventually make it to Nebe (Success!)

Fail 2.

We were determined to make it to Nebe without giving in to our American ways and just taking a cab. However, after successfully making it to the first tram, when we got off, we struggled greatly to figure out what street we were on or where we needed to be. Thankfully, two cabs came by, and we all piled in and took the easy way out to reach our final destination.

Success 3.

Nebe turned out to be a lot of fun. We ordered a few drinks, listened to some fun music, and got a taste of Czech nightlife.

Fail 4.

Knowing that the tram we wanted to be on left at 2:17 a.m., we decided to leave Nebe at 2:00 to give us some extra time to figure out where to go. We roamed the streets up and down, took out our maps and finally realized we had no idea where we were, what street we were on and it was most definitely passed 2:17 (so the tram was not the best option). Lost, cold, and confused we needed a new plan to get home.

Exciting moment 5.

Luckily, we were right by a different pub and there were a few guys standing outside. They seemed like our best shot for help to get home and went to them with our maps. It didn’t take us long to realize that most of the guys did not have a Czech accent, spoke fluent English, and...were all holding yoyos. As it turns out, they were also American. Hank from Ohio, explained that they were in Prague for a yoyo tournament. We assumed that they must be pretty serious yoyoers if they came all the way to Europe for it. Hank modestly said he was just ok, which we soon discovered was a complete lie. Hank is not just an average yoyoer, but he is the world champion yoyoer!!!! We learned that he first got started yoyoing when he was young because his aunt owned a toyshop and he started playing around with the yoyos then. Though he declined our requests for his autograph, he did show us part of his yoyo routine (which I must admit was very impressive). After a quick picture with the yoyoers (posted below), we saw a cab in front and decided to get inside and go home.

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EPIC fail 6.

We managed to squeeze all of us into the four-person cab, and hoped the driver wouldn’t notice that there were six of us. He turned around and said “no,” to which we politely tried to beg and convince him to let us all go. Unfortunately, we had not realized that he was not saying “no” because of too many people. Suddenly, a man knocked on the cab and said that this was his cab that he had called and was wondering why we were in it. So, after spending several minutes sitting squished in a cab pleading the driver to take us home, we were actually in some other person’s cab and just looked like a bunch of American fools. We made our way out of the cab and returned to the yoyoers on the street stuck without a way to get home and humiliated.

Success!!! 7.

One of the yoyoers, who was actually from Prague, noticed we were struggling and called us a cab to take us home. The cab arrived and we made it home, satisfied with our first adventure out on the town.

02/15/2012

Welcome To Prague!

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

After a day of traveling, I finally arrived in Prague at a little before 2 p.m. (about 7 a.m. central time) Monday afternoon.

My journey began at the DFW airport Sunday evening. Shortly after printing my boarding pass and saying goodbye to my parents, I met up with Drew in the security line. Of course before my parents left, they had to take a picture of Drew and me.

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Right after we got through security, we were able to watch the end of the Pats/Ravens game and the missed field goal. (So, of course, I spent my last few minutes in America watching a football game – I felt it was most definitely an appropriate exit from the US for me).

It didn’t take long for me to get bored on the plane, so after watching Moneyball, Drew taught me how to play BlackJack. After trying slots last week and BlackJack this week, I have come to realize that I have no luck and should never go to Vegas. While I never made it passed $200 in BlackJack (you start with $200), Drew made it into the $5,000 range (but ended up losing it all). After a few rounds of BlackJack and an intense mini golf game (which I also happened to be very bad at), we finally decided to try and catch some sleep.

Nine hours later, as my flight was landing in the London airport, it finally hit me for the first time that I was actually in Europe. I had spent the past several weeks preparing and packing for my trip, but I never really stopped to consider the fact that I would actually be living in a completely different country with no real plans or expectations for the next few months of my life.

Once we reached the terminal for the flight to Prague, I immediately began noticing the differences. When I got to the terminal, I showed the lady my passport and ticket and then went to sit down, after that my ticket and passport were not needed. In the waiting area, I met several other students who were also on my program. We noticed that everyone else at the terminal was lining up by these glass doors, but there was no plane outside. We got in line, for what we soon found out was the bus. We rode the bus to where the plane was and had to walk up a flight of stairs into the plane to get to our seats. With a backpack that weighs as much as I do, a carry on suitcase, and windy 40-degree weather, this was not the easiest of things to do. Once, I was on the plane, I was very thankful for my window seat and immediately fell asleep.

After the plane landed and I got my bags, I met a few members of the CIEE staff in the airport as well as several other students on my program. We took a bus to the hotel, where we would stay the first night for orientation. My roommate for the night was Nell. We hung out for a bit in the room before heading downstairs for orientation. After a brief introduction to our program, we were split into dinner groups of four with a Czech buddy. My group joined with two other groups and we took a quick tram ride to a traditional Czech restaurant. The menu was full of different pork and chicken dishes, as well as a list of several types of dumplings (traditional Czech dish) that could be ordered. Shortly after sitting down, our Czech buddy made sure all of us had a beer so we could have a meal the Czech way. (We also learned that it is in fact true that beer is cheaper than water in Prague). More importantly, we also learned how to do a Czech toast. Once everyone has a beer, you raise your glass and say “Na zdraví” and you tap your glass down on the table and then you drink. After scanning the menu, which thankfully had an English translation for what each dish was, I decided on a Greek salad (I know very unexciting or non-adventurous choice) and the bread dumplings.

After dinner, we went to the pub across the street, which serves the most famous beer Pilsner Urquell. The Pub was called The PUB (the Pilsner Unique Bar). There are several of these bara located all over Europe. In the center of each table, there is a beer spout and a computer screen that keeps track of how much beer each table drinks. Then, on a big screen in the Pub, it shows other PUBs around Europe and how much each location drinks. Essentially, you race against the other ones to see who can drink the most. ..... As people began falling asleep at the tables, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel and get some much-needed sleep.

The minute I got inside of my cozy hotel bed, I quickly fell asleep eager for my next day.

Leaving for Prague

By Danielle Desjardins, Mount Holyoke College

Traveling has always been to me incredibly romantic. I don't mean necessarily the adventure of being in a new place, or of exploring the familiarity of a place you've been before. Being somewhere and appreciating a place for its character and characters, now that's a dream, but for me the planes, trains and automobiles, the act of transit, of moving from one incredible place to the next, of capturing within a brief amount of time the significance that you are the thing that is connecting these two places at once- that is magical.

 

      Within the days before I left for Prague, I was nervous and neurotic. I did all my laundry and folded all my close into perfect piles, organized by function and necessity. I figured out what I would need to pack, what could stay, and spread it out on the floor so I knew which baggage to buy. The smaller Northface bag was fine. But I couldn't make myself put the clothes in the actual bag, to actually pack, until the day before I left. I couldn't sleep the night before either. I was leaving the U.S for the first time ever the next day. I couldn't sleep, so I made some mac and cheese instead.

 

      Once my Dad dropped me off at the airport though, I was in my element. Familiar territory. I've been all over the United States, for one reason or another. Mostly to move from one house to the next apartment, to another house and then a condo. I know the procedures for checking your baggage and taking your belt off in the security line. I make sure to always wear socks and shoes that are easy to slip off and back on again. In line in front of me to check bags was another college-age-looking kid. Dark hair, glasses, peacoat. There were so few people checking into British Airways that I idly wondered if he was on his way to Prague too, transferring through Heathrow, arriving between 9am and 12pm to meet the CIEE staff. After he left the line though, I didn't see him again. The security line, too went quickly, although I did get pulled aside, my bag checked. My bag is just about always checked, or I'm patted down. This time I learned that it's probably better to just put the electrical transformer in my checked baggage.

 

      By the gate, as I waited for my flight, there was a huge group of kids, this time talking about college and study abroad. I sat down close by, wondering if maybe they were going to Prague. I was so ready to start meeting people, and I figured that there must be other students flying from Boston to Prague on the cheapest reliable flight arriving at 10am. But no. Almost as soon as I sat down, this group of students stood up and left for their flight to Italy, talking loudly about finally being on their way to Rome....

 

      I got just plain lucky on the plane. In a row of three my seat was the window seat and a slightly scruffy, adventuresome-looking guy about my age (21) sat down right next to the aisle. The middle seat was empty. The middle seat stayed empty. For the entire 7 hour flight. Nate and I had more then enough room to relax, stretch out, and he even had room to comfortably close his eyes and sleep for a few hours. I watched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and leaned my head against the window as the lights from Boston faded away.

      Nate told me a little about himself, that he was on his way to Greece for study abroad, that he was an anthropology major but had an interest in politics too. I mentioned what a mess the Republican primaries are, we groaned over SuperPacs, and he confided that his girlfriend supports Ron Paul because she thinks he'd legalize marijuana. I study mostly American politics and history. I was ready to leave the election behind for a while, and look forward to something new, differing, something to give me perspective.

 

      The captain announced that we were over England, and ready to fly into London. The sun was just beginning to rise, and soft pinks and creams colored the clouds as the plane floated by. The city was spread below us, just beginning to wake, cars ready to crowd the streets and highways. Driving on the wrong side of the road, obviously. As the plane came closer the ground, cars and busses grew larger, more lifelike, and the landing seemed suddenly more real. And then a double decker bus drove by, red and white, and I stopped breathing for a moment as I wondered if maybe that bus drove by just for me. We had landed in another country, in England, and a double decker bus just drove by to prove it.

 

      Heathrow was barely open when we arrived. A Starbucks was selling coffee, and security personnel were gathering around corners, nodding back at me as I walked by.  I finally found a large screen with flight information, and I saw my flight to Prague was listed for 6:20... but the section for the gate number was empty. I stared, confused. My heart started to pound a little bit- where is my plane taking off? How am I supposed to get this information? What if I missed my flight?! What if I didn't arrive between 9am and 12pm on Monday morning in Prague?! A man standing next to me wearing bright red skinny jeans and  looking all to me like a Northampton hipster asked me in a heavy Scottish accent, "Am I missing something or are the gate numbers not listed?" My brief, irrational panic subsided. I let out a short, half-laughing breath. I'm in a new country for the first time on zero hours of sleep and I have a good 45 minutes before I need to worry about my gate number. I respond to the man that nope, I'm confused too, but the gate numbers will probably start showing up shortly, when the airport starts to wake up too.

 

      I take a seat by a screen with the flight information, nearby an exceptionally good-looking guy seemingly studying a huge binder of printed articles. He glances at me as I set my messenger bag down, and I pretend not to blush. I pick up my book, and read it, checking the screen every few seconds to see if my gate number has popped up. After about 15 minutes, I've made it maybe 3/4 down the page, and the guy next to me stands up looks around, nods as if to confirm something, and then looks at me.

 

      "Would you mind watching by bag for just a moment and I run to the bathroom?"

 

      When he came back he introduced himself as Nick (a Nick and a Nate in one trip?), and I noticed his accent was soft, not British, although he was well dressed, clean cut and very polite. Nick told me he was from Canada, actually, although he had been studying in Norway and was on his was to Russia. Why Russia, I asked. He was going to a small town north of St. Petersburg for three months to learn the language. If he didn't learn the language after three months, he shrugged, he'd continue working on his studies (nautical science). I told him that I was on my way to the Czech Republic, that I live in Western Massachusetts (think cows and alpacas), and that going to a town within the Arctic Circle for three months just to learn a new language sounds unbelievable and inspiring. Well, I think I actually said incredible, but ever since I've found that exchange simmering in my memory, and I realize that I am inspired by this guy I met in the Heathrow airport in London. Meeting him, however brief and transitory the moment was, has made my conviction even more certain- I am in the Czech Republic for the first great adventure of my twenties. I am independent, I will search out the true character and spirit of this place and these people, I will learn as much of this language as I can, and bend my mind to discover communication and understanding, and I will challenge myself. Screw comfort zones and self-made boundaries.

 

      Nick's gate number flashed, and he wished me the best, and my flight from Heathrow to Prague flashed up soon after. I put my coat back on, slipped my messenger bag over my shoulder, and walked down a flight of stairs where a bus would bring us passengers over to the small plane that would carry us for two hours until we landed in the Czech Republic. I handed my ticket and passport over to the gate attendant, she smiled and I walked into the waiting room. A girl with dark hair, a pretty, round face and a scarf wrapped securely around her neck made eye contact with me and smiled.

 

      "Are you with CIEE too?"

02/14/2012

First impressions

By Emma LaChance, Oberlin College

Last Friday was the last day of intensive Czech. I now know more Czech than I ever did before :) I also now know that paper in the Czech Republic is approximately 8x12 so, hypothetically speaking, if you had prepared for your courses pre-departure by purchasing and carefully color-coding a complex organizational system of folders to bring with you, you would look rather foolish now. 

Yesterday a group of us walked around the Charles Bridge - beautiful but very tourist-y. And COLD. One of the dorm buddies went with us and, as he’s very interested in Architecture, was able to tell us a lot about the gothic styles and the history/symbolism of the bridge. The far bank also boasts not one but two marionette shops, which are both fascinating and creepy. 

Afterwards, we found our way to the Globe Bookstore, which turns out to be more of a small expat restaurant than a bookstore, though they have a nice collection of the classics, some used books, and famous Czech works in English. While I wouldn’t have intentionally set out to investigate an expat spot so early in the trip, when immersion in traditional Czech cultural activities is still a challenge, it did make me realize how different it is here. I’d been feeling like it wasn’t so different here - and in some ways, it isn’t - but walking into that restaurant and ordering french fries from a waiter with un-accented English emphasized how far away from home I am. My friends and I made a plan to go there once a month, since it’s inexpensive but delicious, but I plan to limit my expat exposure to that and little else.