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6 posts from October 2012

10/22/2012

Bake Shop Praha

By Sara Shaughnessy, Hamilton College

 

Grasp the handle and turn; it’s made of sturdy gold, worn with the touch of those seeking a place of comfort away from the crowds of the Old Towne streets. When you step inside, you are greeted by a flow of warming air and an impressive display of freshly baked goods, spread out, on varying levels, on a counter in the shape of a “U” that curves around the café. Your eyes, your heart, and your hunger cannot handle the aroma of the display, or the variety of miniature cupcakes, cookies, rugelach, croissants, macaroons, brownies, and slices of seasonal breads.

 

            You remember that is it 1 pm and you came here for lunch. Walk to the left, around the bend, and gaze at the colorful salads of varying texture and flavor and sprinkled with herbs. Even the salad of shredded carrots, carrots, a seemingly mundane vegetable, has been transformed into a masterpiece tossed with garlic vinaigrette and reflecting the light that streams from the chandelier on the ceiling. A large oven behind the counter emotes heat that wades over towards the high tables near the grand glass windows, and you watch the oven as a warm loaf of multigrain bread emerges in a perfect oval form. Thirsty? The woman dressed in tasteful clothing and high black boots sips espresso from a white glass mug engraved with black letters that read “BAKESHOP.”

Bez názvu

            The above description does not do justice to the brilliance and simply unrivaled ambiance of one of my favorite cafes in Prague, Bakeshop. What started as an innocent trip to a café that was recommended to me by my friend Sophie who studied abroad in Italy (yes, she wasn’t even in Prague for more than a week but knew about this place) quickly became a ritual that I found necessary to fit into my weekly schedule. Perhaps the reason I find myself so emotionally attached to Bakeshop has to do with the fact that it reminds me of Café Opus, the vegetarian café at Hamilton that I frequent, which serves lunch specialties like sweet potato feta pizza, thai butternut soup, and curried veggie dahl over rice. Bakeshop provides me with a taste of Hamilton in Prague.

 

            My favorite time to go is around 2 pm for lunch on the later side, when the rush is over and I am free to roam freely, taking my time to evaluate each unique ingredient the chefs have used to create these gourmet salads and baked goods. If you consider yourself a foodie, defined by the dictionary as “a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment,” please treat yourself to the happiness that will follow a long, relaxing, enjoyable stay at this café.  A recommendation: the miniature carrot cake cupcake, moist and decorated with fluffy cream cheese frosting, is the perfect bite-sized way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

  Bez názvu 2

 

 

10/11/2012

Winetoberfest in Znojmo

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

While the majority of the program was in Munich celebrating Oktoberfest, my friend Molly and I decided to celebrate our own ‘Winetoberfest’ in Moravia.  Moravia is the southern part of the Czech Republic, famous for its many vineyards and excellent wine. 

Znojmo vines

We took a day trip to Znojmo, a town south of Brno and close to the Austrian border.  We took a bus early in the morning, travelling through rolling hills and small farm towns.  We knew we wanted to go to a winery in Znojmo, but neither of us had actually planned out anything going into this trip.  It turned out to be quite the adventure.

Once we were dropped off at the main train station in Znojmo, we went immediately to find lunch.  We wandered into a small café and grabbed lunch.  We were able to get English menus, which made us think that someone in the restaurant would be able to point us to the nearest vineyard.  However, after saying ‘vino’ over and over, we realized that our minimal amount of Czech may not be useful at all.  As we began to wander down the street, the waitress ran after us and gave us a business card of Znovin, a local winery.  We headed back to the train station and after speaking broken Czech with a worker, I attempted to call a taxi.  My Czech was definitely not good enough and the guy hung up on me.  The Czech worker was nice enough to call us a taxi, and we jumped in giving him the Znovin business card.. 

Znojmo cellar

Once we were at the winery we were surprised to walk right into a Burcak (young wine) festival.  There were large, metal vats that held different types of Burcak.  They had food stands and even a band playing. The winery’s cellars and vineyard’s were completely open to the public.  While absolutely no one spoke English, we were able to tour the deep cellars and see the art gallery that featured modern art with a wine theme.  We wandered around the area, met a wandering goat, and relaxed in the sun. 

About 45 minutes before our bus left for Prague, we decided we could easily walk back to the train station without relying on a taxi.  We walked in the direction that people were coming from, finding a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the town and river.  However, we were totally lost.  Luckily, we found the train tracks and knew which direction led into town, and decided to walk on the tracks to find the station.  With about 15 minutes until the bus left, we were starting to look for hostels or hotels to stay in for the night, thinking we were nowhere near the station.  We stopped in an inn and found a man who spoke English (thank goodness!) and found out that we were right behind the station and just had to take a bridge across the train tracks to find the bus.  With only a couple of minutes to spare we made it on the bus and slept the whole way home.

Znojmo Overlook

Znojmo was a true local Czech experience.  The fact that hardly anyone spoke English really made the trip an adventure and made me appreciate Prague as a large, international city. 

 

 

Hungry for More Hungary

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

I’m still shocked I didn’t spend my weekend in Budapest consuming my body weight in marzipan.  While the almond/sugar confection was certainly one highlight of my trip, the day and a half we spent there was so packed with activities and sight seeing that it’s certainly hard to choose the best part.

Christina and I took the night train from Prague to Budapest to meet our group around 8am on Saturday morning.  We quickly changed and headed up to the Szechenyi bathhouse at the top of City Park in Buda.

(Note: Buda and Pest are the two halves of Budapest, similar to Minneapolis-Saint Paul)

The bathhouse was beautiful and featured multiple outdoor and indoor mineral baths.  It is the largest medicinal bath in Europe, built in 1913.  Each bath had a different quality and temperature, along with fountains and jets.  There were also steam rooms, hot tubs, massages, and floating chessboards.  We tried just about everything that didn’t cost extra money and by that time I was getting antsy to see more of the city.

After we changed, we headed to see Heroes’ Square and the striking Millennium Memorial commemorating Hungary’s thousandth year of history.  The statues in the back of the square each represent the leader of the seven tribes that founded Hungary.

Budapest Heroes Square

We then headed down Andrassy Avenue through a ‘go green’ festival featuring electric cars, new age bikes, and of course food.  After tasting a ton of Hungarian pastries, we made our way to the House of Terror, an intimidating building that houses a museum and memorial to fascist and communist victims.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to tour it, but even the outside was eye-opening.

A little ways down the road, we stepped into the State Opera House, built in 1875 and adorned with sculptures of famous Hungarian composers. Inside, giant staircases wrapped around columns reaching up to painted ceilings laced with gold.  It was breathtaking.

We finally made our way down to the River Danube and across the Chain Bridge to the castle district.  We hiked our way up to the 13th century Buda Castle and found a chocolate – that’s right – chocolate festival.  Inside the castle gates there were hundreds of stands selling chocolate everything, marzipan, cookies, ice cream, and wine.  We scoped out every stand that had free samples and went back for seconds.  It was a dream come true.  We then walked in Old Town passing the enormous white, gothic Matthias Church and taking in the view at the Fisherman’s Bastille.

On the way back to the hostel, we stopped for dinner at a small pub covered from floor to ceiling with little notes that people had tacked over the years.  There were layers and layers, and of course we added our own after eating some traditional goulash soup.

Back at the hostel Molly, Mason and I decided to hang out on the rooftop bar before heading out for the night.  There we met a German, two Israeli’s, an Irish couple, an Australian, two Brits and two Swedes.  The Swedes had guitars and played popular songs that everyone knew, like ‘Save Tonight’ and ‘Wonderwall’.  We all got to know each other over drinks and pretzels, singing and chatting about our various abroad experiences.  Even though it wasn’t a uniquely Hungarian experience, it was certainly the most fun part of the trip.  It was a throwback to camp, where you don’t really know anyone but you all bond over a guitar. 

A few hours later we went to Szimpla Kert, the original ruin bar of Budapest.  Ruin bars are housed in bombed out or abandoned buildings.  A couple wooden frames stand holding up what can only be the entire building.  Lights are wrapped around beams or hang from wires criss-crossing the open ceiling.  Flags and plants hang in corners.  It has a very urban-hippie-chic feel and a ton of young international travelers who just want to sit and meet their peers.  It was an absolute blast.

The next morning Christina, Molly and I woke up early to go cram in some more sights before our 4pm train.  We headed to the Jewish Quarter and I toured the Dohany Street Synagogue, or Great Synagogue.  It was built in 1854 and is now the largest synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world.  It was beautiful and detailed and had two floors.  It felt odd to me though. I’m used to the majority of synagogues I’ve seen being small, intimate, and simple.  The size and detail reminded me more of a church.  However, as I walked along a hallway next to the cemetery and out to the courtyard, I was put in my place with the multitude of Holocaust memorials.  Boxes with names of victims were stuffed with stones and candles.  A rabbi’s name is engraved in the ground surrounded by a giant circle of stones.  A large silver willow tree stands in the middle, each leaf carrying the name of a victim.  It was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking sights I have ever seen.

Budapest Holocaust Memorial

Next, we headed over to Parliament where we wandered the grounds looking at mystery statues described only in Hungarian.  The Parliament building is huge and sits on the river and lights up with a glow at night.  We went from there to attempt to find the Shoes on the Danube Promenade Holocaust memorial.  The memorial is on the bank of the river, with bronze sculptures of men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes.  The shoes commemorate the Jews who were ordered to take off their shoes, and then shot into the river.

Budapest Parliament

After spending about an hour searching, we ended up finding only a local café with chocolate baklava and decided to take a break.  It was delicious.  Near there, we found a woman who spoke English and pointed us in the right direction.  We ran into Hunter and finally found the memorial.  Inside each shoe were candles and stones. It was very pretty in an eerie way.

Budapest Fishermans Bastille

Running out of time, we grabbed dinner (young rooster, calf’s cheek, goulash soup, and some mystery fish) and headed straight to the train station and boarded, crammed into a tiny compartment without lights, but lucky to get seats.  The aisle on the train was packed so full of people and suitcases you could not even go to the bathroom.  We made friends with two Slovak women and a Czech man and ended up drinking with them for the duration of the ride back to Prague.

I did everything I set out to do in Budapest, but since I was only there for a day and a half, I would love to go back and really relax and enjoy the city.  And of course, I would eat more marzipan!

 

 

 

 

 

Hola Barcelona !

By Sara Shaughnessy, Hamilton College

Hola! Instead of speaking in Czech the past few days, I have been using Spanish. Perhaps this is because I spent the past weekend in Barcelona, and a lot less people speak English there than I would have guessed, so my knowledge of the Spanish language came in handy. I went to Barcelona with three of my Hamilton friends who are currently studying in Prague with me, and we met up with our other Hamilton buddies who are studying in Madrid.

We arrived in Barcelona on Thursday night and began our stay in the wild city with a night out at a traditional Spanish restaurant, where I ordered a chicken filet with grilled veggies and a pitcher of Sangria for the table. Grace experimented with Spanish seafood as she ordered grilled squid with squid ink vinaigrette. The cozy yet formal ambiance and the intense spices and flavors of the Spanish food left us satisfied and ready to begin our night out at the club Opium. On Thursday night, Opium was hosting a techno DJ and we decided to check out the scene of the concert, which not surprisingly was packed with American teenagers. Most of the clubs in Barcelona are located right on the water, so we could easily escape the heat of the dance floor and retreat to the cool night air for moments at a time during the night. It was a bit difficult to get used to the traditional timing of dinner and clubbing during our nights in Barcelona since we were only there for three nights. Due to their late afternoon siesta, the Spanish people eat dinner so late and don’t end up at their bars and clubs until around 2 or 3 am. This lifestyle is not at all similar to the lifestyle of people in Prague and America, but it was definitely exciting to try for one weekend.

 

Friday morning we decided to explore aimlessly for awhile, and we actually stumbled across many famous sites in Barcelona. I’ve come to realize that sometimes the most fun way to explore a city is to wander until you reach a seemingly famous or interesting destination (that is if you have the time to do so). So we walked and walked, passing by many works of art by Spanish artist Antonio Gaudi, and eventually ended up at Las Ramblas and La Bocaria, which is a market that features fresh produce, vegetables, fish, dried fruit, and even homemade smoothies in every flavor (I tried carrot-orange and it was delicious!). We roamed through parks and cathedrals, and at 4 pm we began our bike tour, which took us to every tourist destination on the map of Barcelona. Considering the city of Barcelona is incredibly crowded and booming with tourists, you can imagine it was oftentimes difficult to navigate the small alleyways and follow the leader of the tour, but we made it out alive and a lot more knowledgeable about Barcelona than we had been before. If Prague has bike tours, I would be so into trying another and testing my knowledge about Prague.

On Saturday, our last full day in Barcelona, Grace and I decided to further investigate the architecture of Gaudi by visiting his cathedral, “La Sagrada Familia.” We had to wait in a lengthy line, but we got gelato (Greek yogurt flavored, not the usual vanilla or chocolate!) for the wait, which made it more bearable. Plus, the sun was shining and it was around 75 degrees, and we knew we should not take these moments of sunshine for granted because Prague is beginning to get chilly. We did an audio tour of the cathedral and explored for hours; the cathedral’s “tree-like” columns, organic curves of the building, and incredible stained-glass windows were far more impressive than I expected. Our tour of the cathedral left us hungry to explore more of Gaudi’s works across the city, so right after we hiked to the top of Gaudi Park and stood on the top of a massive boulder, which featured a panoramic view of the entire city. I originally thought Prague was large, but it is not at ALL compared to Barcelona! Every direction we turned, we could see different angles of the city, various peaks of cathedrals, and even a medieval-looking castle far off in the distance. The numerous stairs and winding pathways we took to reach the boulder morphed into a mere short distance in my mind after taking in the view from the top.

Though I can sincerely say I enjoyed every second of my weekend in Barcelona, I can also say I am so happy to be studying abroad in Prague for the semester. To me, Prague feels much more relaxed, much less crowded, and much cleaner than the packed city of Barcelona. Prague also seems to have a similar amount of interesting history and architecture, and the nightlife in Prague is more manageable in terms of when we go out to dinner and how late we stay out on weekends. I wonder if my preference of Prague over Barcelona just has to do with the fact that I have lived here for more than a full month now (unbelievable!). I guess I’ll have to wait until I get back from my next trip to Krakow to confirm this thought. For now, I’m very content to be spending my next two weekends at home J

 

 

Throwback: Kutna Hora

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

Here’s a quick throwback from week one: our day trip to Kutna Hora, a small town about an hour East of Prague.  Clearly there is so much happening in my semester abroad that blog posts are piling up and some just slip through.  I also visited Kutna Hora with my parents while they were in town.

Kutna Hora St barbaras

Kutna Hora was originally made famous by their silver mine.  Silver shafts were discovered under the town in the 10th century.  My dad and I, and later, my peers, dressed up in the traditional white cloaks and helmets, grabbed a lantern, and made our way down the stairs into the earth.  We were able to tour the first two layers of original tunnels but approximately 50 more below us were flooded years ago.  We could hear a river rushing below our feet and walked past deep pools of crystal clear water.  Originally, wooden posts were placed to ensure the safety of the tunnels.  When the mine was active, small wooden ladders were the only way out of the mine.  Miners would slide down wooden slides on their backs, the ride lasting about an hour to get to the deeper tunnels.  We squeezed through thin and short tunnels, happy to have helmets.  Finally we exited the mine across town.

Kutna Hora mine

My friends and I also wandered inside St Barbara’s cathedral.  The gothic church was built in 1388.  Its age blows my mind.  I can’t fathom how people built this enormous church without electronic machinery, essentially just by hand.  The cathedral was beautiful, with age-old paintings and statues. 

In the afternoon, we took a short bus ride to the outskirts of town to see the Sedlec Ossuary, a bone church.  The church is small and intimate, built around 1400.  However, the décor from 1870 was quite shocking.  Real human bones from the mass graves of the Plague as well as bones that were dug up to make room for other bones decorated the walls, ceilings, and floors of the church.  Bones are piled taller than me in each corner of the room, lit from the inside, with a golden crown placed on top signifying heaven.  A chandelier made of every single bone in the human body hangs in the center, beautiful and eerie.  It is said that between 40,000-70,000 skeletons are used to decorate the Church.

Kutna Hora Bone Church

Kutna Hora was a picturesque little town, though a little touristy due to the attractions and ease of access from Prague.  However, the sheer manpower it took to build these attractions so long ago makes me think the town deserves a little tourism.

Kutna Hora group

Croatia

By Sara Shaughnessy, Hamilton College

It’s Wednesday, and even though three days have passed since my return to Prague, I can honestly say I don’t know if I will ever catch up on sleep or recover from our past weekend in Croatia. However, sleeping a little less was absolutely a worthwhile trade for the gorgeous Croatian scenery, beaches, turquoise waters, and outrageous nightlife I experienced during my three days there this past weekend.

The trip began with a brutally long, overnight, thirteen-hour bus ride from Prague into the city of Split, Croatia. We arrived in Split around 10 am completely exhausted, but we managed to make a beeline for the beach within minutes of checking into our hostel room, which I can only describe as a neon green, narrow alleyway resembling a submarine. After purchasing an authentic Croatian towel with our new currency, (the Kuna- very similar in look to Czech crowns) we wandered along the edge of the waters until claiming a row of lounge chairs, soaking up the rays, and floating in the salty waters. The nighttime rolled around before many of us could even finish our strawberry drinks on the beach, and we decided on a traditional Croatian restaurant right next to the fish market for dinner. Needless to say, the massive, mysterious fish (we couldn’t read the menu, but we think it was the catch of the day?) I split with my friend Grace was the most flavorful, tender, perfectly grilled fish I have ever tasted, although we didn’t think it would be when it arrived on a platter with eyes, a head, and all of its bones. In my opinion (as a serious lover of all seafood), Prague’s traditional cuisine has nothing on the cuisine of Croatia.

Next on the agenda was a club with massive glass windows with a scenic ocean view, so dancing on the dance floor and wrap-around porch provided the sensation of dancing on the waves rolling onto the shore.

Saturday morning began with our “island hopping” boat tour, which featured a panoramic view of foggy mountains below a clear blue skyline for the entire ride to the island. The highlight of this day was jumping from the rail of the boat into the depths of Croatian waters and swimming the far distance to a rocky shoreline. I encountered another swimming adventure the following morning, when we stopped on our journey home at a waterfall and waded through rocks and freshwater fish to reach the buoys beneath the falls.

            When adults or friends from home would ask about places I wanted to travel while abroad in Prague this semester, Croatia never came up on my list of potential places to visit. For those who are on the fence about going or haven’t even thought about it, I highly recommend checking it out. Three incredible meals of fresh fish, salty skin, and a few full days of perfect sunshine later, I can compare Croatia to a Spring break trip on steroids, with views that will absolutely exceed your expectations. And I promise, you won’t regret the tan.