written by Ashley Schulte
Exploring a new city exemplifies living in a state of exhilaration. The city becomes your playground, your place to experience a culture other than your own.
Old Town Hall Tower
You can get to know its essence by sitting quietly and observing the residents passing by, or you can try your hand at speaking the language and interacting with the locals. Both of these are a form of immersion, and though sitting back while the city is full of life around you may seem at first glance to be a static activity, it is actually quite dynamic.
By definition, “dynamic” refers to a person or process characterized by progress, energy, and/or new ideas, and an activity that may be passive in other contexts is engaging when in a previously unfamiliar land.
You must be present in the moment while traveling as you observe your surroundings and take note of the differences between your home and this new area. There are differences related to the senses, such as the scent of the air, the aesthetic layout of the blocks, the architectural style of the buildings, and the native tongue being used by the locals.
St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle
On top of these variations, there are differences that do not stand out as quickly as the fragrance of a local market may. How did history unfold on the very ground you’re standing on that led to the current moment? How did the groups of people inhabiting this area change over time, and what are the traditions and norms of the current population?
Crosses marking where 27 Protestants were executed after the Battle of White Mountain in the 17th century
It is this requirement for constant engagement that has me viewing travel as a remedy. Experiencing a new culture softens a closed mind and expands an already open one. Walking down the street in a foreign city brings with it a sense of magic whereas doing the same at home may seem like just another part of your routine. Traveling reminds you that the world is much bigger than the little bubble that you occupy on a daily basis, which brings with it a sense of comfort. Travel is a remedy for a closed mind, for a routine, for the mundane.
View of the city from Prague Castle
I personally find myself feeling antsy if I stay in one place for too long, needing new experiences to nurture my mind. Though I’ve only been in Prague for a week, I feel accomplished knowing that I’ve made the most of each day. Here’s a rough outline of what I’ve been up to the last seven days:
5/26/14: Arrived in Prague after a 3-leg fight. The airport is small, and I was easily able to find the CIEE staff who then had a cab take me to my flat. I have 3 other roommates- two ladies in the program with me, and one flat buddy who is a student at Charles University. After meeting the other girls, I put away some of my luggage and rested in the flat for a little bit. Our apartment is in a great location, and is beautifully designed. I wasn’t expecting such a renovated apartment, and I can say with full confidence that this is a more than comfortable place to stay for the next few weeks. Once we were all feeling rejuvenated enough to walk around and fight our jet leg, our flat buddy took us around the city to explore. We became acquainted with the area around our apartment, walked through Old Town, and ended up at the John Lennon Wall. This piece of ever-changing art is particularly interesting because people began tagging it during the Communist regime here in Prague. The graffiti covering its surface started as a resistance against the order, and people have been writing on it since the 1980’s.
John Lennon Wall
5/27: During our first day of orientation, CIEE staff taught us about Czech customs and helped us understand the layout of the program. They have so many activities planned for us, including cooking lessons, trips to museums, cultural events such as seeing a ballet at the National Theater, and more. We went on a walk around the city after orientation with one of the flat buddies, and met at Petřínské Terasy, a restaurant, for a buffet-style dinner.
5/28: This was our last day of orientation, and we learned more about Czech history after going on a three-hour walk around Prague. We were guided by one of the professors, and her knowledge really helped us picture historical events that usually seem to be too distant to understand.
Astronomical Clock Tower with my roommates, Casey and Emily
5/29: Thursday was our first day of classes. I’m taking Psychoanalysis and Art and Survival Czech, both of which are extremely interesting. It’s remarkable how much more “at home” I feel in the city after taking just a few classes on the language! After our day at school, my roommates and I went to a department store to shop before getting dinner at The Louvre. We originally chose this restaurant based on a dessert recommendation, but ended up enjoying food + drinks on top of a raspberry sundae.
5/30: After classes, the Psychoanalysis and Art students stayed in the student lounge to watch a screening of “The Witches Hammer,” a Czech film based on a book of the same title. This is preparing us for our trip to Moravia this weekend, where we will see Freud’s childhood home and the site of the 17th century witch trials. We went to a club called Lucerna later in the evening, and much to our delight, danced to 80’s and 90’s music until the early morning. I obviously had to get the traditional Czech treat of fried cheese on the way back to our flat. I would try to put into words how delicious smažený sýr is, but will refrain from doing so because I will not be able to do it justice.
Lucerna with my classmates and new friends Nikole and Anna :)
5/30: My roommates and I slept in to fight the never-ending jet lag battle, and went to the Communist Museum in the afternoon. The pieces in the exhibit tie together the past with modern day Czech Republic, culminating in the film room. The TV was playing a movie with powerful footage from protestors and cops during the communist regime up until 1989. The film showed fighting on Wenceslas Square, and it was crazy to see how different the dynamic of this area was just a little over 20 years ago. This added to the balcony exhibit on communism in present-day North Korea to make for an overall heart-wrenching museum trip. I feel like I learned a great deal on how communism affects a community, and the many parts of the museum helped put a real-life context to a subject that I’ve only read about in text books up until now. On our way out of the museum, we saw a brochure for an underground tour of Prague starting in 15 minutes, so we rushed over to the ticket sales booth to join in. I love how it’s easy to be spontaneous here in the city- there is so much culture to experience, and there’s always something going on. The tour turned out to be fascinating, and we learned that the Old Town Hall used to house a prison in the cellar. Apparently people have weddings in the hall now, and the tour guide said that someone in one of his previous tours assured him that marriage was essentially the same as prison anyways. Coincidentally, my dad made the same joke when I told him of the tour. I would say “great minds think alike,” but I don’t think that phrase really fits this situation :D We had planned on going home after the tour, but got caught up in the street entertainment in Old Town Square. There has been some form of art-whether it be music or some performance-every time I’ve been through the square so far!
Postcard from Muzeum komunismu
Musician performing on Old Town Square
6/1: On Sunday, I went with my roommates and flat buddy to Costa Coffee to study and do readings for our classes. It was a nice and relaxing, but still mentally stimulating, day :)
6/2: Woohoo- one whole week! On our way to lunch between classes, we discovered an entire wall of flowers going down one side of the park by our school. What a gem to find! This stands in contrast to the cemetery that my roommates and I walk through every morning on the way to class (which, for the record, I find equally as interesting as the flower wall.) After classes, my roommates and I got Vietnamese takeout. We have been super tired, and have needed a rest day after all of the walking and exploring we’ve been doing.
Part of the flower wall
Well, that’s all for now. I apologize for the length of this blog- I shouldn’t have waited a whole week to make an update! I plan on posting every couple of days from now on.
Na shledanou, friends :)