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29 posts categorized "Travel"

11/26/2012

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

10/11/2012

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.

 

09/18/2012

Bohemian Paradise

By Sara Shaughnessy, Hamilton College

I’ve been trying to think of a first sentence for this blog post for the past week. Where do I even start? The craziness of finding out your hotel roommate during orientation, learning to take the Metro, or attempting to uncover the mystery within the aisles of Tesco and Albert? Everything that has occurred during the past few weeks spins in my mind as I try to come up with words to describe my first experience in Prague. I suppose I will start with my most recent excursion this past Sunday, a 10 mile hiking trip with Martin and about 20 other students from the CIEE program to trails and fields of countryside, a much needed escape from our busy lives in Prague.

 

We began early Sunday morning (well 8:45 am, but that’s still impressive, right?) and ventured two hours from Prague into the natural protected lands of the Czech Republic, otherwise known as “Bohemian Paradise.” With a steep incline to begin the hike, we were all in need of hydration and a break when we reached the top of the very large hill. At the top, we gazed over rolling hills, wooden fences holding fields with cows, and apple trees which featured fresh, juicy apples that Martin assured us we could pluck from the tree and eat. Let me tell you, these apples were a refreshing reminder that natural, delicious fruit exists outside of the packaged fruit in Prague grocery stores (although JZP does have an excellent farmer’s market on Wednesdays, with apples that rival the apples we ate on the hike). After the snack, we continued on through woodsy trails and to an abandoned castle on the side of the mountain. With each step I climbed towards the landing at the top, the steps cracked as I gazed down through the holes between each one with heightening fear. Luckily, the view from the top was breathtaking and entirely worth each flinch and moment of second-guessing my decision to go up.

  Prezentace1

 Hunter and Blair at the top of the castle

We arrived at the end of the trails around 4, and after few breaks but plenty of uphills, most of us were in need of a good meal. While I have had my share of traditional Czech meals since I’ve lived in Prague, nothing could have prepared me for this pub. The menu was only in Czech, and our Czech buddy with us had to translate every single word (we could decipher a few words from our days of intensive Czech, but not quite enough). I ended up with a plate of breaded chicken, potatoes, and a piece of lettuce topped with a tomato. Apparently at traditional Czech restaurants they just don’t include vegetables in their meals, which did not go over well with Danielle, the vegetarian of the group, though she did find a dish that worked for her. For dessert, the table split 3 servings (the hike clearly increased our appetite) of fruit dumplings, which the group deemed “the best food I have tasted yet in Prague.” The meal was an experience, but I think I’ll be seeking out other types of food besides traditional Czech during my stay in Prague. Luckily, we have plenty of various cuisines to choose from!

  DSC01167

Two hours later, I arrived back at Hlavni Nadrazi with my friends, exhausted and ready for a long, hot shower. My legs ached, but in a good way. The experience of breathing in the fresh country air for those hours, stumbling on random rocks and snapping photos with friends and people I hadn’t met yet made the need to take Advil today completely okay.

09/13/2012

Orientation in Praha

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

Though I learned a ton about Czech culture and Prague, I am quite happy orientation is done and over with.  All the participants of CIEE arrived last Monday into a hectic week-long whirlwind of meeting people, remembering names, learning rules, and navigating the city. I have three great roommates, Petra (Czech student), Christina (USC), and Hilary (Georgetown). We spent our first night in a beautiful hotel before hauling our suitcases along the cobblestone to our apartments.  We are on the top floor (we have an elevator!!) of a yellow apartment building in Vysehrad, a block from the Charles river and a ten minute hike through the giant fortress wall up to the top of the hill where our study center sits amongst a gothic church, monastery, and gardens.  We are lucky enough to have one of the biggest apartments: two floors, a giant living room, and balcony overlooking the city and Prague Castle.

 

We were split into different groups each day during orientation.  Half the groups would spend the morning at the study center learning about rules, Czech culture, emergency procedures… what is expected from any orientation.  In the afternoon, they would go on a walking tour of the city.  The other half would do the opposite.  By the end of the week, the majority of people I spoke to, including myself, were a bit burnt out with orientation.  Rules and regulations are boring, but it’s understandable why we spent the amount of time we did going over them.  However, one hundred American students navigating Prague by 4 means of transportation (foot, bus, tram, metro) is just a loud, confused but excited mess.

 

Though I may not have been paying attention to the exact street where the post office is located, and I may not know by heart the tram system, it was a perfect time to get to know the people I will be living, studying, and travelling with this semester.  I can’t wait to explore more of the city with a smaller, calmer group of my peers. 

 

So I guess the mass of confused Americans wasn’t for me.  Trust me, it wasn’t for the local Czech community either.  Before I left, I had heard that Czech’s are often more reserved, individualistic, and quiet.  There is definitely a difference between a quiet tram ride with Czechs deep in their own thoughts than when 60 American students cram into that tram, chatting, laughing loudly, and falling over when the brakes are hit.  While I immerse myself in Czech culture, I’m finding out more and more about my own.

CIEE at Wenceslas Square

  View from top of Vysehrad

 

View of Castle from Balcony

Auschwitz – Birkenau

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

The rest of this page should be left blank. There are no words to truly describe my feelings and thoughts visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. Words do not do justice to over 1.1 million Jews, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, POWs, and handicapped people that were brutally experimented on, tortured, and murdered. I felt physically and mentally nervous as we drove parallel to the train tracks, winding into the hills outside Krakow. Even through everything I had learned from my parents, in Hebrew school, and Holocaust museums did not prepare me for seeing two death camps in person. I couldn’t breathe when I saw the gates. They are terrifying, looming over train tracks and barbed wire fences, gates to the deepest of hell. I felt the most on edge than I have ever felt. My feelings would be heaven to victims. Instead of being shocked by the hard wooden barracks where men, women, and children would weakly attempt climb in and sleep, I was shocked and overwhelmed of the stench of these buildings. I walked through one barrack and could not stand the stench. It was like a mix of rotting wood, mold, and what I assume fear and death smell like. It brought tears to my eyes and made me gag. I cannot begin to imagine calling that ‘home’. We had brought along snacks and water to get us through the hot day. Though I forced myself to drink, none of us could eat. Not only was my stomach nauseous, I was going through bouts of tears and I felt helpless as a mere tourist so many years later. At the end of the railroad tracks, between the two demolished crematoriums, stood a large, ash colored memorial to the victims. It looked like a pile of square boulders set together in a more striking Stonehenge. Plaques in ten different languages told visitors to always remember. Stones and yahrzeit candles covered the end of the tracks and the memorial. Always remember. Always remember. These words have been repeated to me since I attended preschool. Not ‘never forget’. Always remember. Remember from the heroic stories of the Jewish resistance, the children’s hopeful drawings, and the teachings from one generation to the next. Remember the strength of your people and the faith they had in each other. Always remember. Teach those words to your children and continue to fight against genocide of any kind. So maybe I was wrong at first. Words create a different kind of justice. They give justice to every man, woman, and children that lost their lives but will always be remembered.

Birkenau

Israeli flag

Memorial