Facts&Figures

In the past 33 weeks and 1 day, I have taken buses by the dozens, trains, planes, and a car to 24 cities in 14 countries*. I have handled 8 different currencies and been spoken to in 13 languages. And I have learned how to say “hello”, “cheers”, and “exit” in all of them! Along the way, I have met up with/visited 5 Haverford friends (Friends?) and been visited by 4 1/2 friends (one friend only briefly overlapped with my time in Prague and she didn’t stay with me, hence the 1/2), here in Prague. I have tried more kinds of beer than I care to remember, and even got to draft my own pint! And I have tried countless new foods. Over the course of the semester I experienced snow in 5 countries (Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Sweden, and Denmark). In the end, I had 1 amazing semester in Prague. (sorry for the cheese! I just couldn’t resist).

*Countries&Cities visited:

United Kingdom: London
Ireland: Dublin, Galway, Belfast
Czech Republic: Prague, Kutna Hora, Český Krumlov, Karlovy Vary
Hungary: Budapest
Netherlands: Amsterdam
Austria: Vienna
Croatia: Zagreb, Pula, Rovinj, Opatija
Slovenia: Bled, Ljubljana
Italy: Trieste
Serbia: Belgrade
France: Paris
Sweden: Stockholm
Denmark: Copenhagen
Germany: Dresden, Berlin (I won’t visit Berlin until my family gets here on Saturday, but I still feel as though it counts towards this post as I will go there this semester)

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As Days Come to a Close

I cannot believe that my semester is coming to an end. I have handed in my last finals, watched some of my friends pack their bags (and even thought about beginning to pack my own) and browsed around for some last-minute gifts to bring back. Tonight was our closing dinner, which was delicious (goose liver pate (a first for me, but a good adventure!) with pear compote, pork tenderloin, and baked potato stuffed with plum sauce (think dessert pierogi, basically)), but also made the end seem that much more real.

This has been a truly incredible semester, one which I know I will treasure and think back to for many, many years to come. Because of the program that I chose, one in which I would not live with a host family and did not need to know how to speak the language prior to coming, I have struggled a little bit with being here. In many ways, I feel like a glorified tourist, as though I don’t completely fit in here. And in many ways, that is true. But in many ways, I have been completely wrong about my time here. I do fit in.

In the past few days, I have been offered a menu in Czech, even after they heard me greet them in Czech. I have communicated how many of something I wanted to buy, including verbs, not just the numbers, in Czech, and was understood. And I managed to understand when someone else asked me where a tram was going and managed to give them the correct information. I can weave my way from street to street, from Christmas market to Christmas market, taking side streets and ducking into shops to chat – in Czech, of course – with the shopkeepers. I may not be fluent, nor will I ever be, but I definitely belong here.

Through this semester I have learned more about myself than I thought that I would. I discovered that I am more than capable enough of travelling throughout Europe on my own and planning the trip by myself. I can arrive in a country that I have never been to in a language that I speak not a word of and make it to wherever I am staying. And do it on the first try. I also never realized how much I enjoy a city that is not visited that often. I never realized how much I dislike tourist attractions. Walking through Rovinj’s seemingly glowing city streets at night remains one of my favorite memories from this semester. That being said, certain cities, like Paris, remain forever a favorite – just don’t expect to see me hanging out around the base of the Eiffel Tower.

As for things about myself, I learned a lot about my personality and my needs that I didn’t know before. I have learned that I need down-time. I didn’t realize until this semester how much I value curling up with a good book or a good movie and ignoring the outside world for a few hours. As independent as I am, and let me tell you, I am pretty independent, I never realized how heavily I rely on the community around me and how much I treasure having a group of close friends, people to whom one never has to explain exactly why they need to look something up for the hundredth time or need to get to the airport two and a half full hours before a flight, because your neuroses just don’t seem that crazy to them. And finally, well, not actually finally because this list could continue on forever, but finally for this post, I underestimated just how much I enjoy learning. That is not to say that I didn’t learn here. I did. Just not the same way that I am used to learning at home. I think in many ways that is why I enjoyed writing this blog so much: it kept me accountable to some sort of deadline, even if it was self-set and completely imaginary and it also meant that I couldn’t completely let my mind melt. It was really nice to have to think for a few minutes, pretty much daily,  to put together interesting, well-written posts (in a completely modest way, I promise).

So thank you, Prague. Thank you for accepting me with open arms, for allowing me to learn about you and experience you, and for forcing me to figure out how to navigate on my own (whether you choose to interpret this as navigating life or the city is your choice).

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A Quick Rant

A lot of fingers get pointed at America as we seem to be filled with a few extra crazies than most countries. And while that may be true, although I am more than a little skeptical as to whether or not this is true, I would actually venture to say that America is more open and politically correct than most countries. I have talked about this issue with another friend of mine who is also abroad, and to protect the innocent, I will leave out which country said friend is in. To make this easier on myself, I will call said friend Jenny, only because all of these gender neutral pronouns are getting tricky! Anyways, Jenny has a friend who went out for halloween as a sexy suicide bomber. When Jenny told me this I nearly choked. Seriously? That is beyond horrible. And all the while I was thinking, well thank god Prague has retained a little more racial blindness. 

Not this weekend. Last night, I went to go and see The Hobbit with 2 friends (great movie, by the way!) and there was a preview for China Airlines that had a man in blackfaceUh huh, you read that right. We were speechless and a little dumbfounded. And then tonight, walking through Old Town Square was a man dressed up as an Indian. 

There isn’t necessarily a point to this post as I can’t actually do much to stop blatant racism. I mean, I could have removed the Indian’s headdress, but that probably would not have ended positively. I guess all that I can do is point out what I have seen and hope that in reading this, someone is impacted to make a better decision in the future. A more understanding, appropriate, equalizing, non-racist decision.

Ok, rant over. 

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Mmm…

In order to satisfy my father’s one-a-day request for posts, I thought I would share a little Czech delicacy that gets less publicity than others, though it is no less tasty. And probably won’t give you diabetes immediately.

Czechs love to eat Chlebíčky (pronounced hlebichky) for lunch. Chlebíčky are small, open-faced sandwhiches with thick spreads and meat and veggies slices on them. They are cheap, delicious, and kinda cute. Down the street from CHP is a really good Chlebíčky place called Zlatý Kříž. Today, I sampled 3 little sandwiches.

ImageThe ingedients in Zlatý Kříž are all in Czech, and since my food vocabulary basically covered goulash, chicken, and the general word “meat”, ordering sandwiches is a little like playing russian roulette. I will attempt to tell you what I ate for lunch today, but really, your guess is as good as mine.

On the left was a sandwich with potato salad, brie slices and a piece of hard boiled egg. It was ok, but not my favorite. The middle sandwich I think might be crab meat, but I legitimately have know idea what I ate. It was ok though. The one on the right has roast beef and some sort of sweet-tasting sauce on it. I have had this one a couple of times and I think it’s my favorite.

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In the Details

I still cannot believe that my semester abroad is so close to the end. It really and truly feels like yesterday that I was fighting with my mother about how many pairs of socks I would realistically need while abroad and how many I could fit in my already completely overpacked suitcases. And yet, that was actually close to 4 months ago and today was my final art history class.

What started out as one of my least favorite classes has actually proven to be one of the best classes, potentially ever. While not necessarily academically rigorous, it is always interesting and informative. My other two walking classes tend to be more based in Prague 1 and I have been to a few sites more than once as a result, but with art history, the professor always takes us to really interesting places. A baroque garden, a star-shaped villa, monasteries with Christian religious items covered in thousands of crystals, and so many other really wonderful off the beaten path places.

For our last class today, our professor took us to the Municipal House. I was there last week for European Mentality, but we only walked around in the “open to the public” areas. Today, though, our professor told us he wanted to do something special because it was the last day. And boy was it special. Apologies in advance, I only had my iPhone today, but even with a real camera, there is no way that I could have captured the splendor and beauty with a camera. But after looking at my pictures, I decided that using google as a supplement would give you all some better pictures than those that I took. This is most definitely an in-person kind of place.

The Municipal House is right next to Old Town Square and was built around 1900 by two architects who hated one another and worked together solely by sending messages back and forth to one another. After its completion, it was used as a concert hall, place for balls and galas, and a place for social visits. Today, it is used mainly for concerts but is available for hire. Although you’d better have some pretty deep pockets, because just the group ticket was $150!

The interior of the Municipal House was decorated with no expense spared. There are inlaid wood details on the door jambs, magnificent tiling in the stairwells, and ornate marble stands to hold vases of flowers.

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The Municipal House

A model of the Municipal House

A model of the Municipal House

The concert hall. All materials are from within the Czech Republic

The concert hall. All materials are from within the Czech Republic

Ceiling painted by Mucha in the Mucha-designed room. This room is also the most important room in both the Men's and Women's Quarters

Ceiling painted by Mucha in the Mucha-designed room. This room is also the most important room in both the Men’s and Women’s Quarters

Stained glass window in the Mucha room

Stained glass window in the Mucha room

I loved these heads, also within the Mucha Room

I loved these heads, also within the Mucha Room

The Confectionary in the Women's Quarters. The Women's Quarters rooms were much smaller, more intimate, and considered less important.

The Confectionary in the Women’s Quarters. The Women’s Quarters rooms were much smaller, more intimate, and considered less important.

The Americky Bar, found in the basement level. The first and only bar that women could attend unattended for a long time.

The Americky Bar, found in the basement level. The first and only bar that women could attend unattended for a long time.

Ok, I couldn’t help myself. I know, these are horrible pictures, but I just needed to share some more of the incredible details of this place.

Part of the Men's Quarters

Part of the Men’s Quarters

The doorway to the Mayor's quarters

The doorway to the Mayor’s quarters

How fun?

How fun? Also, these are real crystals.

Light fixtures in the basement level. Exposed lightbulbs were considered "fashionable" at the time, and so there are exposed bulbs throughout the Municipal House

Light fixtures in the basement level. Exposed lightbulbs were considered “fashionable” at the time, and so there are exposed bulbs throughout the Municipal House

The floor outside of the Americky Bar

The floor outside of the Americky Bar

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Hygge

I apologize for my delay in posting this – apparently finals are a thing that one has to do, even if she is abroad. rats!

This past weekend was the last trip of my semester, that is, until my family comes in 11 days (!!). For some reason, I found myself a little nervous for this trip. I was feeling apprehensive about travelling because I feel like I have been on the move non-stop for far too long. I know, that sounds horrible and spoiled to say that I am over travelling, but to a certain extent, I am. Please don’t misinterpret me here, I love to travel and I am so grateful and feel so lucky to have had and to continue to have all of the experiences that I have had this semester, but I find myself putting pressure on myself to get out and do something in a way that I don’t when I am home. And to be “on” like that, consistently, for 4+ months is hard. Especially for someone like me who needs those days where you become one with the couch and the ratty sweatpants that remain in your closet for those particular days. The other reason I was a little nervous for this weekend was that I flip-flopped between Prague and Copenhagen for months when I was deciding where to go and I think a part of me was afraid that if I fell in love with Copenhagen, I would regret making the decision that I made.

This trip was supposed to be an easy trip travel-wise. I wasn’t missing any class, I know how to get to and from the airport in my sleep at this point, and it’s only an hour-long flight. And yet, this was the worst travelling ever. At least on the way there, it was 100% my fault. On Friday, I came back from class and busied myself doing my usual putterings, prepared to leave for the airport at 4pm for my 6:50 flight. More than enough time. At 4, I began walking to the metro and about half way there decided randomly to double-check what time my flight was at. 5:30. holy shit. Instantly, I ran to CHP, which was about 2 minutes away, and pounded like a crazy person on the door to get the attention of Petr, our director. He pointed me to a taxi station and I took off like a mad woman. Panting, sweating, and crazed, I rapped on the window of a taxi and in the best Czech I could muster, asked for the airport. It might cost me more than the public transportation, but it was the only way that I was going to make that flight. Once at the airport, I threw money at the driver and leapt out of the car as he laughed at me. Flustered again, I managed to check in, make it through security, and make it to my gate in time, only to find out that my flight was delayed. Did I mention I’m a little tired of travelling? But, I made it!

I think I forgot to mention who I was seeing in Copenhagen. One of my close friends, Jon, is in Copenhagen for the semester, and spur of the moment I bought a ticket to visit him. Our other friend, Gavi, is at Oxford for the semester and she came for the weekend also, which was amazing. Jon lives in a folk high school on a farm about 30 minutes outside of the city. Of all of the different housing options that DIS offers, I think that the folk high school is the coolest. There are about 45 kids ages 18-26 who live together in a dorm/house and learn and live together. 12 of these kids are Americans on DIS. Jon has all 3 of his meals provided for him, there are parties thrown at the house so he can avoid the snow / the absurd prices of Copenhagen whenever he wants to, and he is living with people from all over the world. Really cool.

On Friday night, his folk high school had a Christmas Dinner. During dinner they played a game which I have come to understand is called White Elephant. For those of you who don’t know the rules, here is a quick explanation. Everyone brings a gift to dinner and places them on a table. Then, in smaller groups, a di is passed around. When you roll a 6, you can go and pick a present from the table. This then continues until all of the gifts have been selected. The di then continues to be passed around, this time, however, when you role a 6, you go and steal a present from someone else! After about 15 minutes, this ends and you can open whatever presents you have left! It was so much fun – and I didn’t even play! (I felt guilty playing after I didn’t bring a present). The Danes have a word, hygge, meaning “cozy” which completely sums up the feeling of the room. Warmth, laughter, friends, and lots of holiday spirit and cheer.

On Saturday, the three of us hopped on the train and headed into Copenhagen. Jon was truly incredible; Gavi would point to a random statue, building, or sign, and ask him what it was and Jon was always able to give a full history of whatever ridiculous this Gavi had pointed out. I am in 3 walking classes and couldn’t give a history like that of anything in Prague.

Me and my incredibly tall friend, Jon

Me and my incredibly tall friend, Jon

Sassy Gavi

Sassy Gavi

Gavi and I

Gavi and I

Our first stop in town was the Round Tower, which is precisely what it sounds like. A round tower. We were able to walk up the winding pathway all the way to the top. For those of you who are curious, the pathway corkscrews 7 1/2 times around the hollow center. The tower used to be the university library as well as an old star-gazing tower. I am pretty sure that the pamphlet used a fancier word than star-gazing and it may or may not still be used for such purposes. Unfortunately for you guys, you’re stuck with me as your source of information. Half way up the tower is the old library which is now an art space which had a really neat exhibit about baskets. Jon makes books and other inspired crafts and my secret dream is to have a store on Etsy (although god knows what I would sell there), so we really enjoyed the exhibit. If you want a slightly more factual description of the tower, take a gander over here.

A view of Copenhagen

A view of Copenhagen

Round Tower (Rundetårn in Danish)

Round Tower (Rundetårn in Danish)

Inside of the tower

Inside of the tower

part of the basket exhibit

part of the basket exhibit

Copenhagen from up high

Copenhagen from up high

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That large domed church is the Marble Church which we later went into

That large domed church is the Marble Church which we later went into

We also stopped in at the church below the tower.

I loved these chandeliers

I loved these chandeliers

The seal of Queen Margrethe II

The seal of Queen Margrethe II

The Queen is a pretty funky lady. Like England, the Queen of Denmark is a figurehead position. And Queen Margrethe busies herself by illustrating books. Also, whenever people come to stay in her guest house (i.e. huge mansion across the courtyard from her huge mansion), she decoupages them a personalized garbage pail to make them feel at home.

On our way to the Marble Church, we got to walk along this street which was positively adorable.

Nyhaven (New Harbor)

Nyhaven (New Harbor)

Nyhaven (New Harbor)

Nyhaven (New Harbor)

The Copenhagen Opera House

The Copenhagen Opera House

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The Royal Courtyard (ok, I’m not sure if that is the actual name, but that is what I am calling it) is where Queen Margrethe lives. She lives in one palace, her son, the Crown Prince lives next door to her, and on her other side, lives her daughter, the princess. Across from her is her “guest house”. All 4 palaces match. The Royal family purchased then a while back when they were living further north in Denmark, but they liked them so much that they decided to stay there. When we entered the courtyard, they were doing the changing of the guard ceremony, which meant that Gavi and I stood awkwardly close to the guards, who were our age, and giggled and took pictures and made everyone feel uncomfortable, haha. Unlike in London, with this ceremony, they march around to each palace and change guards, which is kind of cool to be able to be up close to the guards, rather than vying for a spot to see through the gate.

The Royal Courtyard

The Royal Courtyard

Inside of the Marble Church

Inside of the Marble Church

the ceiling of the Marble Church

the ceiling of the Marble Church

After a delicious lunch of street kebab (seriously, it never gets old), we headed to one of the funkiest, most bizarre places I have been all semester: Christiania. Christiania is an artist commune on one of the islands in the center of the city. It views itself as a sovereign state within the city and is petitioning to buy the land from the government. It is also the only place in the city where pot is “legally” sold. There are only 3 rules within Christiania. 1) No taking pictures (the sale of marijuana is still technically illegal) 2) have fun and 3) no running (it causes panic). There was some really cool art all over the place, which sadly, I was not allowed to photograph. People take these rules seriously – if you were to take out your camera, someone would run by and throw it to the ground. The art was cool, but not that cool.

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Our final stop of the day was at Tivoli Gardens, the oldest amusement park in the world. They had a huge holiday market up as well as tons and tons of Christmas lights and it was just beautiful to walk around. We only went on one ride, the Hans Christian Anderson ride, but walking around was much, much more fun. They had different sections decorated for different parts of the world, including Russia, Asia, and I’m sure there were more, but that’s all I saw.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens

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Sunday morning we woke up to a huge ongoing blizzard, and after a mini panic attack on my part about whether or not I would make it home, we opted for the obvious hygge option, being snuggling in the warmth of Jon’s room. We then headed into the city to walk around the Glass Market (referring to the building material rather than the commodity  where we consistently cleaned out various stall’s sample platters and then had the most delicious duck sandwiches ever, ever created. And for our final stop of the weekend, the Jewish History Museum, which was designed by Daniel Libeskind (who is perhaps better known for the Jewish Museum in Berlin). The Berlin museum is famous for being the shape of a Jewish star, and the Copenhagen museum is no less interesting or innovative. It is shaped to spell the word mitzvah, meaning obligation or good deed, in reference to the Danes working to save the Jews during WWII. To be completely honest, I didn’t see it, nor do I see it in the floorplan below, but maybe I am just being thickheaded.

Floor plan meant to spell out the word מצוה

Floor plan meant to spell out the word מצוה

And with this last stop, my time in Copenhagen was up and I was off to the airport for round 2 of the most stressful travelling ever. After 2 hours and 20 minutes of delays, a gate change at the last minute, and extreme paranoia that I was going to miss the last metro home and have to pay for another taxi, I finally boarded, landed in home-sweet-home Prague, and made the last metro of the night.

In the end, I had a wonderful, wonderful weekend with 2 of my close friends. Copenhagen was a great city to visit, and while I wish I had a little bit more time there, my trip solidified the fact that I did in fact choose the right city for myself.

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Real Talk in Real Time

I am still in Copenhagen right now after visiting my friend Jon for the weekend. Our other friend Gavi came too, which was wonderful. Actually, it was marvelous to see the two of them. But you will just have to wait until later for actual details of what we did. While I was with Jon, he informed me that my blog doesn’t sound like me because I don’t speak as linearly as I do in my blog. Well, duh. But, in an effort to bring a little more “me” into my blog, I thought I would give a more typical-Allie post. You know, rant style. 

  • My flight is delayed 2 hours. 
  • The Danes, who are famous for design have about 2 chairs in their whole airport. C’mon. For those of us gate-less and therefore homeless people, it means that we are sitting along the walls of the stores that have giant “Coming Soon” signs. And from the looks of the board, there are hundreds of us wandering around the airport. 
  • In order to get the free wi-fi, I have to sign up for CPH Advantage, a service where I will now get messages about sales in the airport and other nonsense that I do not need. Let’s get serious for a minute, here, Copenhagen Airport. If I am in the airport leaving, what are the chances that I need this information? (I know, I know. Danes fly out of here too.)
  • Because my flight is super delayed, that cup of water that I was banking on all afternoon on my flight (Thanks, Czech Airlines, you guys are seriously the best) keeps getting delayed and because I am stuck here, I was forced to go into Duty Free and buy a (ridiculously overpriced) bottle of water and naturally ended up behind 2 women who were stocking up for the end of the world (Ladies, they have exchange offices!) I’m talking multiple large bottles of alcohol, 17 kinds of candy, a massive carton of cigarettes, and a few sodas. Guess they are in for a good flight!
  • As I sit on the floor, I am staring at the board, willing it, praying to it, to not push my flight back again
  • The man next to me just got yelled at by his wife for lending out too much of their money this weekend and it was beyond uncomfortable to listen to. Also, Duty Free takes all currency, so she could have shopped there. 
  • I have 1.36 crowns left on my phone so I can effectively call no one. Whoops. 
  • I have a gate! As I sit here writing this, the Gods of that damn departures board (and by that I mean wonderful, beautiful. excellent news-bearing board) has informed me that my flight will fly out of A20. Hallelujah! 

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