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9 posts from November 2012

11/26/2012

Tallinn, Estonia

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

Tallinn was easily my favorite city outside of Prague.  It was also the coldest.  It reminded me of a real-life Renaissance festival, complete with the costumes and food of Estonia’s medieval era.  Most of the restaurants were lit by candlelight and the local shop owners wore traditional clothes and leather pointy elf-like shoes.  The hot wine and food was fantastic – I ate boar, bear, and elk, as well as duck. 

            After our two hour ferry on what seemed like a cruise ship, we headed through a modern city to the Old Town, where we spent the day.  We wandered curvy cobblestoned streets past the 15th century Guildhall, and along the original town wall, complete with towers that overlooked the city.  We also walked through a couple knit markets and old alleyways.  We made our way to Town Hall Square, the main square of Old Town.

Tallinn town hall

            Here the Tallinn Town Hall sits, dating back to 1322.  Unfortunately tours are only available in the summer.  It is the only gothic style town hall in Northern Europe.  Next door, we stopped by one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, first mentioned in 1422.  The pharmacy was simple and housed not only a working pharmacy but a museum with objects that would have been found in earlier days.  These included sun-dried dog feces, stallion hooves, and a pickled toad. 

            We walked by the famous Olaviste Church, built in 1250.  Once it was considered the tallest building in Europe.  Supposedly, the builder of the church, Olaf, fell to his death from the tower and upon hitting the ground, a snake and a toad crawled out of his mouth.  I’m not sure what this means, and I’m not sure anyone else does.  We then decided to take a break and attend an organ concert at the 13th century St. Nicholas’ Church.  The concert was wonderful and seemed to truly show off the different styles and music produced by the organ.

            From there we walked up Toompea Hill where Toompea castle, the Estonian Royal Palace sits.  The castle was relatively small but had great views of the city.  The castle was built in 1219 on the location of a 10th century stronghold.  Nowadays, the castle is home to the Estonian Parliament.  Across from parliament is the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built in 1900.  This was my first experience with Russian architecture, and I was quite impressed.  The outside was ornately decorated with white, gold, brown, and black, and the inside was covered in gold statues, alters, and paintings.  A priest was blessing a group of people, which made the experience even more unique.

Tallinn friend

            Before heading back to the Main Square for a quick dinner before the ferry, we walked down the hill next to the Old Town wall and past the cannon tower, Kiek in de Kok, or ‘peep into the kitchen’.  Supposedly the tower was so tall that the solders on top could look into the women cooking food in the town below.  We continued to the Square of Freedom.  This square is just outside of old town, in a modern part of the city with art deco buildings.  In the middle of the square stands the white glass tower with a cross on it, the monument to the Estonian War of Independence.  The tower was simple and beautiful.  In one corner of the square, you can look below the ground through a glass panel that shows the original street, stairs, and foundation of Harju Gate, the strongest gate to the Old Town from the 15th century.

Tallinn russian

            Tallinn was relaxing, just wandering in and out of streets and enjoying the architecture.  This city certainly had a great spirit to it.  Everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun despite the bitter cold.  I would certainly go back to explore more of Estonia.

Hockey = Life

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

 

I can’t believe I have put off writing about European hockey for this long.  Perhaps part of the reason is the fact that I am in denial of the NHL lockout.  However, I am lucky to have gone to many KHL and Czech Extraliga games in Prague and I plan on going to many more. I need to get my fill of hockey before I get home.

Hockey2

Prague has three hockey teams.  Two teams, Sparta Praha and Slavia Praha are part of the Czech Extraliga, playing solely Czech teams.  I believe the Prague fans are split down the middle even though historically Sparta has been the better team (though this year they are last in their league).  Slavia plays in the O2 arena, your typical giant multipurpose venue, akin to the Verizon Center.  Sparta plays in the Tipsport arena from the Soviet era.  I like that arena better.  The bench seating and small arena make the game much more intimate.  Sparta is also home to the Washington Capital’s goalie Michal Neuvirth, who is currently playing with them during the NHL lockout.  It’s great to see him in his home country, and it’s a little bit of home for me too.

Prague is also the new home to Lev Praha, the KHL team.  Lev switches between arenas and has quite a fan section already.  If you need a description of Czech sports fans, please refer to my blog about the soccer game.  Hockey fans are that crazy, if not more.  However, Prague’s KHL team is also very controversial.  Many Czech fans don’t want the Russian owned KHL here due to their history with Russia and the lingering anti-soviet sentiment.  I’m happy to have it for more hockey!

Hockey3

Lev has two NHL players, Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers.  I love watching Chara play.  He is huge – 6 foot 9 inches without skates and 255 pounds of pure muscle.  During the 2012 NHL skills competition he clocked the fastest slapshot at 106 miles per hour.  He is not only a beast on the ice, but he is an incredible player.  Plus, he hi-fived me!  I’ve also seen Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk play on away teams visiting Prague.

It’s very interesting to see the difference between the NHL, Czech Extraliga, and KHL playing styles.  I won’t bore you non-hockey fans but here are three main differences.  1. No fighting.  Any scrap is stopped by the refs at once.  This is probably for the best, because the historical bench clearing brawls in the KHL have ended many a career.  2.  Pulling the goalie in a delayed penalty.  This seems like a smart move, and I think the NHL should look into this strategy.  When a delayed penalty is called, the play is immediately stopped as soon as the puck changes hands.  Therefore, the team with puck possession can pull their goalie, add a man to the ice, and not worry about the other team stealing and scoring.  This happens quite often here, but I have rarely seen it in the NHL.  3. Rare cross checking penalties.  I have seen some pretty brutal and obvious cross checks here, and the refs rarely call the penalty.  I guess without hard checks and fighting this is the last legal form of violence.

Hockey

I’m trying to get my hockey fix in before December.  I’ve become passionate about the Prague teams and I can’t wait to watch them in the championships in the spring.  Hopefully by then, I’ll at least have the NHL to watch!

Dresden, Germany

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

 

My boyfriend, Max, came to visit me for a week in Prague.  We decided to take a day trip up to Dresden, Germany on advice from my friend Katherine who studied there.  Actually I think she said that if we didn’t go to Dresden, I would have to work hard to repair our friendship!  With Dresden only a two hour bus ride from Prague, of course I said yes.  Though the weather was rainy, the unique city made up for it.

Dresden

            Dresden is a great city to experience in a day.  The tourist center is easily walkable, dotted with cafes and restaurants.  At Katherine’s advice, we bought tickets in advance for Grunes Gewolbe, or the Green Vault.  This (literal) vault is inside the Dresden Royal Palace and houses one of the biggest collections of historic royal treasures in the world.  Only a certain amount of people are allowed in at a time for the self-guided tour through eight different rooms.  Max and I expected some jewelry and maybe some paintings, but were shocked at how extensive this collection actually was.  Unfortunately, pictures were strictly prohibited.  Jewels, ivory, silver, gold, bronze, ostrich eggs and giant shells decorated all the rooms.  There was some intricate, beautiful sculpture, chalice, or box everywhere you looked.  It was certainly the highlight of the trip.

              Afterwards, we found a small microbrewery and had a delicious lunch of soft cheese, schnitzel, and potatoes.  The cheese was rich and had different flavors, and the schnitzel was light and perfectly cooked.  We were absolutely stuffed and happy.

            We then headed down the street to the Zwinger Palace, originally the location of a fortress in the 12th century.  The current palace was built in the 1710.  The main courtyard of the palace was spectacular.  I wish we could have seen it in the summer because I’m sure the gardens are beautiful.  The roof was decorated with statues and green from oxidized bronze.  We explored the many staircases that led to different levels of the palace, ornate with fountains and statues of babies and angels. 

Dresden Zwinger

            Next to Zwinger Palace is the Semper Oper, or Dresden opera house.  Unfortunately we did not have time to take the tour, which I’m sure would have been amazing.  The outside was decorated with statues of composers, and on top there was a giant statue of a god riding in a cart drawn by panthers.  Semper Oper was originally built in 1841, but like the majority of Dresden, was destroyed in the Bombing of Dresden during World War II.  It was rebuilt and opened in 1985 with the last piece that was played before the bombing.

            After stopping for a chococinno, or hot chocolate with espresso, we went into two churches, the famous Frauenkirche and Hofkirche.  The Lutheran Frauenkirche was completely destroyed in the bombing, turning the original building from 1743 into rubble.  The rubble was kept until 1992, when it was rebuilt, opening in 2005.  The Hofkirche is the Catholic Church which is not only designed with religious symbols, but symbols commemorating the victims of Hitler’s reign.

            Across from the Frauenkirche is the Furstenzug, the largest porcelain mural in the world.  It is 334 feet long and 34 feet high and was completed in 1876.  The 23,000 tiles have survived spectacularly.  The gold, black and white mural depicts the rulers of Saxony from 1127 to 1904.

            From there we walked on the Bruhls Terrace along the River Elbe.  The views along the river were pretty, with large modern buildings as well as old buildings that looked like palaces.  However, the cold kept us moving quickly.

            Lastly we took a tram to Pfund’s Dairy, supposedly the most beautiful milk shop in the world, something that I knew Max would enjoy.  It was built in 1880 and intricately painted with colorful leaves, vines, and flowers.   They serve milk, cheese, and ice cream.  Unfortunately we arrived late and they had ran out of milk, but we tried the cheese which was fantastic.

            One of my goals for the day was to eat a German pretzel, which I assumed would be available in every café in Dresden.   However, after a long search, the only place we found them was at the main train station.  Though we were on the bus, technically I was still in Germany enjoying a last-minute pretzel.

            Though it seems like we did a ton of sightseeing, the day trip was actually very easy and relaxing since everything was so close.  I definitely recommend it, though it would have been great if Katherine could have been our tour guide!

 

Little Things to Love About London

By Sara Shaughnessy, Hamilton College

Without even having begun this post, I can tell you right now that I could write about the city of London for more words than I am allowed on this blog. Of all the cities I have been to so far during this abroad experience, I haven’t found one that rivals my love for Prague until I spent this past weekend in London. Though I would never admit to loving a city more than I love Prague, leaving London to return to Prague was something I was not ready to face come Sunday afternoon.

 

The first thing I noticed upon my arrival to London was the cheery, sincere happiness of the people living and working throughout the city. The man with the bright yellow vest at the Victoria tube stop went out of his way to show me the exact route to Gloucester Road, leaving his station at the ticket stand to walk me to the entrance of Platform 2. The waiter at our brunch spot Saturday delivered my steaming bowl of porridge with sliced strawberries, honey, and banana with a wide smile and returned to our table more frequently than I could’ve imagined considering the amount of people dining in that restaurant with us that morning. Walking beside the tall gates of Hyde Park after brunch, we watched well-groomed dogs running freely on the perfectly mowed lawns sprinkled with November leaves. Toddlers with plaid collared shirts and winter boots scootered past us and people of all ages enjoyed a morning jog, bundled up in gloves, hats and fall running gear. Everyone I walked by seemed content, and something about the perfectly pleasant vibe of the park just put me in a good mood.

 

My trip to Harrods only increased my liking of London as I found myself happily overwhelmed by the numerous floors of designer clothing, chocolate, furniture, artwork, tea, and any small trinket or splurge gift you could ever dream up. The windows of the store featured a Christmas display of Disney princesses, dressed exquisitely in sequined and glittered dresses that flowed across the glass cases. Perhaps I enjoyed this display so much because it reminded me of the Christmas themed windows I see in Saks every December in New York City; regardless of the reason, I found myself engaged in the stunning display as well as the other Christmas-themed aspects of Harrods, including the many trees scattered about the store strung with white lights and the giant wreaths decked with ornaments.

 

Saturday night, we ventured into Camden for a night out at one of London’s bars called Proud Camden. Proud Camden is a multi-faceted venue; it serves as an art gallery during the day and a bustling bar during the night. But it’s not just your ordinary bar. This bar used to be a horse stable, and it has been crafted into a creatively designed nightlife spot that features horse stalls as separate sitting and dancing lounges, each stall possessing a unique personality and name. My friend Hillary’s friend from Wake Forest had rented the karaoke stall for her 21st birthday party, so we spent the night singing and dancing, occasionally leaving the karaoke room to enjoy the scene of the rest of Proud Camden. The old school renovated barn with cobblestones and wooden gates to each stall combined with more modern aspects of the bar, like a grand disco ball and white lights strung across the dance floor, made for a unique atmosphere and vibe unrivaled by any other bar I have seen so far.

 

When my friend Charlotte asked me what my favorite part of London was, I struggled to answer this simple question as I could not narrow it down to one thing I like most about the city. As a huge Whole Foods fanatic, it could be that Kensington has the biggest Whole Foods I have seen in my lifetime complete with everything from a noodle bar to a burrito station, but that’s just a small bonus compared to everything London has to offer. I would say the many simple pleasures one can enjoy in the city, such as a leisurely stroll around the gardens and pathways of Hyde Park, really put London on the top of my list.

 

 

Helsinki, Finland

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

 

I never thought I would set foot in either Finland or Estonia.  However, it turned out to be the best trip out of the Czech Republic so far.  Heather, Katharine and I stayed in Helsinki and took a quick two hour boat trip to Tallinn for a day (see the next blog post).  The cultures of each city were completely different from each other and Prague.

Helsinki

            We flew into Helsinki and were graciously picked up by Heather’s friend from the Marines.  On our way, we debated on whether the sun was rising or setting.  We learned that since Finland is so far north the sun mostly sits on the horizon rather than high in the sky, giving the day about 5 hours of sunlight. We dropped our stuff off in the hotel and immediately went out to start our adventures.  We walked to Kauppatori Market Square which was right on the bay.  There we browsed a street market filled with furs, knit goods, and reindeer antler objects.  We immediately bought gloves and hats to help us through the mid-20’s weather.

            We then headed to Senate Square, surrounded by Helsinki University and Valtionneuvosto, the Council of State from 1822.  At the top of the square is the huge white and green domed Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral, built in 1830.  The cathedral is still used today.  Across from the cathedral we found the best meal of the day.  The restaurant was designed like a historical Finnish lumberjack lodge and completed with costumed waitresses and folk-singing waiters.  We each had a typical Finnish dish.  Katharine had creamy elk soup, Heather had reindeer steak and roasted mashed potatoes, and I had fried vendace, about 15 finger-sized fish that you eat whole – heads, tails, everything.  Everything was delicious.

            Stuffed full, we wandered around the city and up to Hakaniemi Market Hall, an indoor food and goods market that opened in 1914.  The market was huge, with fresh fish, meat, chocolate, and pastries.  Though we were too full to eat anything, I would certainly do my shopping there any other day.

Helsinki2

             After travelling all day and walking around, we wanted a relaxing night and decided to partake in an original Finnish tradition – the sauna.  The sauna has been an integral part of Finnish culture since before written records were discovered. Proof lies in the numbers - there are about two million saunas in Finland compared to the population of about five million.  While now the sauna is used for relaxation and social gatherings, it was originally also used for heath care, important meetings, and a place to give birth.  We went to a public sauna called Kotiharju, expecting a normal American sauna.  However, we were in for a huge culture shock.  When we walked up to the building, we were greeted by about ten old fat men naked except for a towel.  They were smoking and drinking, and seemed to be having a good time.  We navigated our way in upstairs to the women’s sauna were we entered a locker room with women wrapped in towels.  There were also tables in the room, and groups were eating what was essentially a picnic, drinking and talking.  We felt somewhat out of place, but the women were really nice.  We changed into our bathing suits and went through a door to a shower room.  As soon as we walked in, we were immediately the center of attention, looking incredibly out of place with bathing suits on.  The naked women all around us looked at us smiling and said, ‘you don’t need those!’.  So immersing ourselves deeper into the culture, we stripped down and joined the women, young and old, in the sauna.  The temperature is controlled by whoever is sitting at on the very top row, the hottest part of the sauna.  They are allowed to add wood to the stove whenever they feel necessary.  I stayed on the bottom row, as far from the heat as possible and I was still schvitzing more than I have in my life.  Afterwards we took a cold shower, and decided against going in for a second time.  However, we were completely relaxed by the end of the night.  The sauna definitely a unique highlight of my cultural experiences abroad this semester that I ended up enjoying a lot more than I though I would.

Rock church helsinki

            We had the majority of the day on Sunday to explore the rest of Helsinki.  We started off in the morning by taking a ferry to a series of six bridged islands off the coast of Finland.  The islands are home to the UNESCO heritage site Suomenlinna, a sea fortress built in 1748 that is now home to the Finnish Naval Academy.  Though some buildings are in use, the oldest part of the fortress is completely open to the public to explore on their own.  We looked at cannons and guns, a submarine, and explored the little hallways and rooms of the barracks.  There, we also saw the oldest working dry dock in Europe, still in use today.  I could have taken an entire day to explore all the islands and buildings, but time was against me.  We made it back just in time to catch the ferry to the mainland, and grabbed lunch with a couple of Heather’s friends from the Marines. 

            Afterwards, we took a quick tram ride to Temppeliaukio, a 1969 Lutheran Church built into a giant rock.  The circular architecture was really unique, and the wood and glass ceiling let the sunlight in.  You could see where sticks of dynamite were drilled into the rocks to blow up and make the walls of the Church.  One more tram stop and a walk through a park brought us to the Sibelius Monument, in recognition of Jean Sibelius, a famous Finnish composer.  The monument was huge and silver, and looked like many organ pipes floating off the ground.  When it is very windy, the pipes make music.  Unfortunately there was only a slight breeze, but I could stick my head up a pipe and hear a very low tone.  It was a creative and beautiful monument, and a great note to head to the airport on.

Sibelius Helsinki

            Helsinki was a great city and much more modern looking than Prague.  The Finnish people were incredibly nice, always wanting to help out and point us in the right direction.  It seemed like they really enjoyed tourists coming to their city, which was very welcoming.

Suomenlinna Helsinki

People and Animals Little Hanoi, Zoo Praha, Troja Palace, and Museums

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

 

 I haven’t travelled outside of Prague as much as I expected to, and I am quite happy with that choice.  This summer, I wrote out a list of about 20 cities I wanted to visit.  However, before I left I talked to study abroad alums that said their biggest regret was not staying in their home city and truly getting to know the culture in which they lived.  Though I want to travel as much as possible in my life, I truly love weekends in Prague. 

A few weekends ago, I viewed a smorgasbord of sites in Prague.  I went to Sapa, or Little Hanoi, a small Vietnamese community at the end of a tram line.  We walked through gates guarded by marble lions and into what reminded me of Chinatown in D.C.  There were shops and tents filled with everything you can imagine – purses, leggings, nail polish, etc.  Most people only spoke Vietnamese, a little Czech, and no English.  It was like being in another country.  We wandered around into the little shops and bought spices and seaweed.  The vegetables looked like they were on steroids, giant melons and cucumbers the size of my arm.  For lunch we found a small café serving only pho and fried bread, which was absolutely delicious and clearly homemade.  We got bubble tea for dessert, completing the experience.

Sapa

The next day, I went to the Prague Zoo, one of the best in the world.  Since I am so close to the National Zoo in D.C., I couldn’t imagine anything bigger.  However, we spent about four hours at the Prague Zoo, and had to leave early because of rain.  The park was huge, with familiar animals as well as some I have never heard of.  Some exhibits were walk though, and there were no fences or glass to separate us from, for instance, bats.  I was very excited, but my friends were not.  My favorite exhibit was the sea lions of course.  We watched them for a while, hoping one would go down the giant slide into the water.  Unfortunately they were more interested in sunning themselves.  The zoo was fun, however the signs and descriptions were mostly in Czech so we had to guess what some animals were.

Zoo

Across from the zoo is Troja Palace, a baroque palace from 1679.  The palace is surrounded by gardens, sculptures, and fountains depicting angles, gods, and giants.  A collection of rare vases sit near the balcony steps.  We did not venture inside, but the outside was spectacular.  The palace is light red with white accents, which goes nicely with the green gardens all around it.  It made for a relaxing stroll, but would have been prettier if it wasn’t cloudy and drizzling.

Troja

Heather and I also went to the Transportation Museum and Bedrich Smetana Museum.  The Transportation Museum is in a warehouse originally built to assemble and fix city trams.  Every tram used in the history of Prague is housed in the building, from horse drawn trams to modern trams used today.  The most interesting was the funeral tram, which could hold eight coffins per car.  Since the information was mostly in Czech, I’m still not sure where the funeral trams took the coffins and why so many coffins were put into one car.  However, seeing the physical timeline of technological production in vehicles was quite interesting.

Transport museum

The Bedrich Smetana Museum depicted the life and artifacts of Bedrich Smetana, a famous Czech composer.  You would definitely recognize his most famous song, Ma Vlast.  The museum presented copies of his diaries and compositions, as well as props and instruments used in operas he wrote.  I did not know much about Smetana before this museum, but it was certainly interesting to learn about someone Czechs respect and love.

We then went to the Museum of Torture, which had instruments used in torture from the beginning of Czech society up until the last legal torture objects.  It was pretty gruesome, but interesting.  It reminded me of the torture museum in Scotland, especially seeing the finger screws.  This object fitted around the criminal’s fingertips and slowly squeezed and released the fingers, making blood flow in and out, becoming more and more tight and painful.  There was also a post with a triangle on top, where a victim would be forced to sit for days, discomforting and ripping the genitals.  That was probably the most brutal instrument in the museum.

With my Anthropology class, we went to the Museum of Communism. I enjoyed the visit because it gave me a more complete image of life under the Communist regime, something that I could only imagine from readings and pictures.  The most interesting part was the set of a typical shop during that era.  Even though I have learned about the scarcity of goods it was shocking to physically see how empty an average shop was.  It made me realize how desperate these times actually were.  I was, however, disappointed by the size and set up of the museum.  Though it was packed full of artifacts, it was small and seemed crowded, which gave it a disorganized feeling.  If it was more spread out and open, it would be easier to look at each artifact individually and it would give it more of a professional atmosphere.

Communism museum

I have so many more things to accomplish while I’m in Prague - if only I was here for an extra semester!

School Days

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

I suppose I should write a quick little post about school, something quite hard to concentrate on when there is so much to see and do abroad.  So here’s a quick summary of what classes are like with CIEE during the first half of the semester.

            CIEE students can take classes at CIEE, Prague’s Charles University, or Prague’s famous film school, FAMU.  I chose to take all my classes at CIEE due to transfer credit reasons.  This makes classes completely different than what I am used to at IU.  There are about 80 American students in CIEE, compared to the 45,000 at IU.  All of our classes are with the same people, with the largest class being 15.  It is much more intimate than the 500 person lecture halls at IU.  The professors all teach at Charles University as well, and are from not only the Czech Republic, but Slovakia and America as well.  The classes are all lecture based, with very little discussion, which I don’t like, but is typical of Czech classes.  However, we automatically have Fridays off, which makes up for our lack of fall break or any holidays.

            We are all required to take Czech, starting at the beginning of the program with a two week intensive, 5 hours a day, Monday through Friday.  While intensive Czech was pretty brutal, it really throws you into the basic language and culture, helping ease culture shock.  In addition to Czech, I am taking four classes – Media Impact in Eastern and Central Europe, Anthropology of Czech Society and Culture, Czech Cinema, and Contemporary Czech Culture: Alternative Lifestyles. 

The last class is certainly my favorite.  Our professor is involved with underground music, graffiti, and art associations.  She toured with her band throughout Europe as a young adult, and is truly passionate about teaching the subject of alternative culture.  We attended a Tata Bojs concert as a class and visited a legal graffiti site.  This class has given me a completely different view of graffiti and the history of music throughout the soviet era and today.  This week we are going to Prague’s Queer Film Festival to experience the LBGTQ culture of the Czech Republic.  I can’t wait!

There are very little assignments in the classes, which is good for travelling and sightseeing, however that means that my grade rides on midterms and finals.  I was nervous at first, but I was well prepared for my midterms and feel confident with my final essays.  While classes are certainly hard to concentrate on when I want to experience so many other countries, I’m glad I have a background of the country I am living in.

11/12/2012

My first blog

By Garrett Widener, University of Colorado Boulder

For nearly the past 3 months now I have lived in the Czech Republic.  I have been here for exactly 11 weeks.  77 days.  I have traveled to Budapest, Olomouc, Krakow, Berlin, Jachymov, and Terezin.. I have Dresden, Vienna, and Slovakia ahead of me this semester.  In winter I plan to go Switzerland, Italy and back to Berlin.  I have been studying collective life and national identity/history of this country during the communist regime, the Czech language, psychoanalysis in relation to surrealism, art therapy, fairy tales, horror films, etc.  Also in relation to Nazism, Stalinism, ecology, and group dynamics.  Lastly, I have been studying existential philosophy in an psychological context.  I have grown and expanded my internal world immensely and feel I have grown so much during this trip and have so much more growing to do.  Although it is hard to sit and make myself work in a whole new world with a mass of stimuli and excitement around me (and just sitting on the couch), I am picking up some amazing material that fills me with inspiration and wonder.  Being here is becoming less surreal in some aspects but still hits just as hard when I actually think about it.  My life over these past ten months have felt like the edge of a beach where the tumbling waves transform and alter the sands so steadily yet so gradually.  I am going through a process of mourning who I was and welcoming who I am, and who I always was – and still constantly realizing. There’s not much to say about it.  It’s packed with all of the emotions one can expect; sadness, momentary lapses of regret and panic, loneliness, intense feelings of longing for what once was, guilt for having these feelings, reassurance that these feelings are normal, and constant awe at the workings of my psyche in full light unfolding before my eyes. Fears for my future bombard me, as well as a push to reject the future and hind sight and be in the flowing moment.  This is much easier to write down than it is to put into practice.  Staring at watchseries.eu is much easier then confronting the active psyche of the self.  Wandering around from bar to bar in Prague on a brisk evening is a more gentle and fun activity then staring into the self and unraveling its fabric to reach some sort of transcendent knowledge.  To live authentically is a struggle.  
I notice myself drifting back to my loved ones at home and focusing a few of them.  Realizing how much I love them.  What kind of love I have for them.  How much I love my home.  How hard it is to break down ones comforts.  They’re comforting for a reason.  But I aim to reach a more refined and authentic self through this masochistic process of suspending my familiar – in laymen’s terms, getting weird. 

 

But still

 

I am scared I am not going to be this way forever

 

I am scared ill settle down.  I am scared I will petrify myself in an attempt at “stability”

I am sad I can hug my best friend right now

I am happy I am here

I am excited for the now

The libido flows from the self into objects around in life.  In a familiar place your psyche is steeped in the physical and mental symbolic structures of your town, house, loved ones, dogs, etc. 

When traveling, these roots extending from ones psyche are uprooted and one is put in a new situation, with new physical and mental landscapes to familiar oneself with. 

The libido still flows and with its former connections broken – it oozes out like sap from an injured tree and is lost into the ether. 

Forming these connections again is hard and continues to be a challenge.  It hurts every time you think about a loved one or a loved this, moment, idea, that’s just not there or not around or not evident, not able to be satiated. 

I come from a town I have lived my entire life in to this place.  I have never spent more then 1 month away from that place. 

 

My libido – my life energy – has experienced this transplant and the connections I maintained have been maimed.  Yet they form again.

 

The self is a constant work in progress. It’s taken almost 3 months to work the responsibility I owe to myself as a being striving for an authentic existence to write this first blog entry.  (I just decided this would be a blog entry….) J BUT I am happy it finally happened and look forward to writing more. 

11/08/2012

A Hidden Gem in Prague

By Sara Shaughnessy, Hamilton College

My parents came from Connecticut to Prague this past Sunday, and so far they have been quite impressed with the city. We started the week by walking around Old Towne Square, of course popping into the Bakeshop for a quick lunch and continuing on to complete some of the more touristy activities, such as climbing the astronomical clock tower to witness the breathtaking view of Prague from every angle. Their hotel is located in Mala Strana on the opposite side of the bridge from Old Towne, so we have had our fair share of walking across and listening to the Vltava river flowing as well as a different musical instrument or band playing each time. My favorite so far has been the rendition of “What a Wonderful World” by the man with the raspy voice last night, but I would have to say that there are surprisingly many talented musicians that follow in a close second.

Along with showing them some of the more touristy areas and activities in Prague, I have attempted to give them a little taste of how the locals live (if I can consider myself a local- I have lived here for more than two months!). I think that when people come to visit Prague for the first time, they tend to stop in the main areas and sites while neglecting more of the “hidden gems” that only people who have lived here for awhile would have the time or knowledge of the city to find. Sure, there are many easily accessible restaurants on the main square and in Wenceslas Square, screaming to tourists with grand signs and bright lights that promise “delicious local Czech cuisine,” but within some of the neglected alleyways surrounding the square, the small streets you could spend hours wandering aimlessly, shops, cafés, and restaurants that provide a truly unique Prague experience are just waiting to be stumbled upon.

            Last night, I introduced my parents to one of my favorite hidden gems in Prague, one that even the cab driver claimed was really “only for the locals.” Despite the fact that my parents are not vegetarians, I took them to “Lekha Hlava,” the vegetarian restaurant that translates to “Clear Head” in English. After winding around a series of narrow cobblestone alleys, we arrived at the restaurant’s dimly lit sign and entered through the rickety wooden door. According to the owner, you are supposed to eat the healthy food, drink the variety of mystery teas or juices and leave the restaurant with a clear head, or a blank mind free from the stress of the city. And after a combination of mixed grilled vegetables marinated in olive oil, balsamic, and topped with parmesan, and spinach feta quesadillas followed by a slice of pumpkin cheesecake, (oh, and a Pilsner for my mom and dad), we could all agree that we felt reenergized and would indeed leave the funky, calming atmosphere of the restaurant with a clear head. Though they can say the lamps shaped as swaying mushrooms and the ceiling decorated with a curious pattern of plum and green swirls provided a different atmosphere from that of the previous restaurants we had tried, they expressed their gratitude to have gotten the taste of a Prague hidden gem.