Monthly Archives: November 2012

Surprises

3 walking classes means that I often end up in places that I never would have thought to go. European Mentality is the class that most often surprises me. My professor is incredible – he is a geologist, writer, philosopher, and in general is knowledgable on just about any topic you broach with him. He has taken us into cafes where he has been told to leave with us and take “those American students to a McCafe because they don’t know how to appreciate a good coffee,” through streets of neighborhoods that I didn’t know existed, and of course, he was the one who (cruelly) made us meet him at the Charles Bridge at 7am.

Last week, he took us to a street art exhibit that even with a map I don’t think I could have found on my own. It was in a completely unmarked building and then up about 6 flights of stairs. The exhibit had all of the works painted directly on the walls. There was also a class of about 8 year olds there which I found to be a poor judgement call on the teacher’s side, but not my place, I guess.

I think this section might have been my favorite

Yesterday, Vaclav took us on the metro to a stop that I am not quite sure where we were. Somewhere in Prague 7. He then took us a walk along the river. At one point, we were walking around the river on a path covered in rocks and leaves and it was pretty slippery and I swear I was suffering from PTSD because I was convinced that I was going to fall and dislocate the other ankle! But I didn’t, in case you were concerned. After hiking up a hill (by far the scariest part for me because the chances of slipping were considerably higher), we walked through this creepy area with discarded trash, tires, rugs, and I swear, some dead bodies. We walked past this little shack and a man came out and started screaming at us in Czech. Somehow I don’t think that he appreciated Vaclav’s sense of adventure as much as we do, especially since it involved walking through his “front lawn.” I believe that the point of the walk was to find real street art, as opposed to the street art painted on the walls of last week’s museum, but a lot of the buildings had been torn down. That being said, it was really neat to see such a different side of the city. A side that doesn’t look like Disney World or have Communist housing units. A side that, quite frankly, looked nothing like Prague. And yet, we were no more than 10 minutes from the center of the city.

It’s pretty hard to believe that this is the same Vltava River that the Charles Bridge stretches across or the same Vltava that my friends and I paddled down in Cesky Krumlov.

At one point, this building was covered in street art. Now, it serves as a home to some of the homeless individuals of Prague.

Post Script: I apologize for the quality of these photos. You would think that by now I would remember that class with Vaclav means going somewhere unique and adventurous and I would therefore remember to bring my camera. Oops, you figured wrong. Because I forget constantly, so my iPhone has to serve as the next best thing. Sorry!

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“Travel is the only thing that you can buy which makes you richer.”

I found this a few weeks ago on the Lennon Wall and it really resonated with me; I could not agree more.

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November 28, 2012 · 1:20 pm

Home is Where the Heart Is

I was thinking about my blog this morning and I realized that the vast majority of my posts are about non-Prague related activities. And it’s tough to have a Prague Blog if nothing is ever about Prague. In a little under 3 weeks, my time here in Prague will be up and it will be back to a very harsh reality filled with real obligations, actual workloads, and classes where more than my attendance is expected. Of course, between now and then I have a few days in Prague with my family, a trip to Berlin, and 3 weeks of winter break, but still. Reality is impending.

In the beginning of September I had a post called Going Native, but I think I might have been a bit premature with that title. Because now, I would actually say I live in Prague. When I get off the airplane at the airport, I know exactly where I am going, which bus to get on, where to get off, which metro stop, etc (even if coming home from Paris I spaced and tried to get off at the wrong stop). I know the tram stops a bit better now (although there are so many of them that it is impossible, at least for me, to remember all of them and where they all go), so if I am somewhere and don’t want to walk back, I can hop on the tram, same goes for the metro. At Tesco, I have a Tesco ClubCard, a sure sign that I am not just passing through. And the women at the self-checkout recognize me because I tend to select the wrong picture of whatever fruit or vegetable I am buying and inevitably cause my machine to have a breakdown.

I guess what I am trying to say is, Prague is not merely a lay-over for me or a place to leave my clothing in-between trips. Prague is currently my home.

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A Paris, Avec Mes Amis

This past weekend was perhaps my favorite trip of the semester. I have had the privilege of travelling to some amazing places this semester, places that I never thought I would go in general, and certainly not this semester – Slovenia, anyone? But there is something about returning to familiar territory and doing so with a familiar cast of characters, especially as my semester of constantly being on the move comes to a close, that makes for a wonderful weekend. Paris has always been a place that I associate with great memories – my sister reading all of her books in one night on our first trip to see our grandparents’ apartment, being incredibly sick and only making it to the clothing store down the street (I know, weird, but it still counts as a good memory), and spending a week running around the city with my grandmother after graduating high school. Each time I have returned, I have collected new memories, and this time was no different.

I arrived in Paris on Wednesday night, but my friends Hannah, who is in Stockholm, Aaron, who is in Edinburgh  and Abbey, Aix-en-Provence, were not arriving until Friday (Hannah was getting there on Thursday afternoon but was staying with her aunt and uncle who live in Paris until Friday morning), so I had a full day to spend by myself. Oddly enough, in all of my travels, I have not spent a whole day by myself and therefore have never explored a new city totally alone (ok, Paris is not a new city, but I have never explored this part of the city). On Thursday morning, I got myself up nice and early and went and picked up the best croissant I have ever eaten – still warm from the oven, flakey, and with practically visible amounts of butter in it. Screw breakfast of champions. This so beats wheaties! Although my grandparents own an apartment in Paris, come here all the time, and my grandmother is French, they still own an impressive collection of guidebooks to Paris, so with the help of one of them, I created a walking tour of the Marais, a neighborhood that I have spent no time in at all.

The Marais is a pretty hip neighborhood which is home to the gay community, the Jewish Quarter, lots of galleries, and some really beautiful buildings. My first two stops were pretty much busts – I had intended to go to two old mansions which have been repurposed to now be a library and a museum. A little disappointed that my plans were falling apart, I was still proud of how well I was navigating with the map! Determined, I continued on!

Hôtel de Béthune-Sully, as seen from inside of the courtyard

Hôtel de Béthune-Sully hides directly off of rue Saint-Antoine, a pretty busy shopping street in the Marais. One ducks inside of an unmarked doorway and is then transported to this beautiful 17th Century architectural beauty. My own personal secret garden! Fine, so it’s in a guidebook and therefore not so secret… Through my various walking classes this semester, I have learned a lot about the meanings behind statues and learning to deduce what the mean based on when they were built, what they depict, and what kind of building they decorate. On the archway that leads into this courtyard, there are statues depicting the different seasons. While I was there, there was a woman giving a tour to a family and was having the 8 year old daughter guess which season was which, and I was pretty proud of myself for guessing correctly.

The next stop along my walking tour was a street that runs through the middle of the Jewish Quarter, Rue de Rosiers. What was once a beautiful, typical Parisian street is now filled with kitschy Jewish trinkets. But its saving grace is the most delicious falafel stand outside of Israel. Unwilling to pay the 2 Euro sitting fee (seriously, Paris?!), I took mine to-go and enjoyed the beautiful weather as I made my way to my next stop, Musée Carnavalet, which, similarly to Hôtel de Béthune-Sully, used to be two personal homes, but is now a museum. A lot of this museum was completely lost on me because they translated none of the placards, but I still enjoyed walking through the building and looking at the furniture, statues, and the architecture, none of which requires any translation.

yes, I could be convinced to live here.

One of the things that I loved most about being able to wander around by myself was that I could go wherever I wanted to, stop whenever I wanted to, and change my plans completely autonomously. There was none of that “Do you guys want to stop?” “I’ll stop if you want to stop” and then you stand around awkwardly. I paused inside of a few different jewelry shops, a bunch of really neat art galleries, and lopped off stops from my walking tour when they didn’t look interesting enough.

My last stop before meeting up with Hannah at the Centre Pompidou was Le Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme. This museum was filled with religious objects, works of art, and stories of Jews that one normally does not get to see because they were destroyed by the Nazis. Old Judaica objects are truly breathtaking. Have you ever seen a really old menorah? The craftsmanship alone is stunning.

After Jewish museum, I headed to the Pompidou to meet up with Hannah. The Pompidou is a modern art museum that I just love. The building had to be rebuilt 20 years after it was built because it had so much foot traffic that it fell apart! The building itself is a funky as its art collection – its escalators are on the outside of the building! 

This is supposed to represent a vagina. Try as I might, I can’t figure out how.

For dinner Thursday, I had the pleasure of eating with my grandparents’ friends, Henri and Clotilde. Clotilde made turkey and mashed potatoes, which was so sweet of her! Both of them are truly fascinating individuals, and to be welcomed into their home, especially on a day meant to be spent with family (even if Thanksgiving has zero relevance in Paris) was incredibly touching.

Friday morning, Hannah met me at the apartment and then we headed off to Musée d’Orsay, which used to be the train station and is a beautiful  building formed by a cast iron structure with a glass ceiling, to see their collection of impressionist works. Students of the EU get in for free, and being the brilliant individual that I am, I left my passport with my visa in the apartment, but somehow I managed to convince them that I was studying in Prague with my metro pass, Haverford ID, and US driver’s license. Currently, they have an exhibit up about impressionism and the fashion of the time. The paintings appeared to come to life when the dress that the woman was wearing was on display next to the painting. d’Orsay has an impressive collection and it is always exciting to see paintings that I have studied and written papers about in person. Degas’ dancers are even more etherial and delicate in person (misogynist and anti-feminist comments be damned).

Around 2 pm Abbey showed up and after a french lunch of baguette and cheese and the most delicious tapenade from Provence ever consumed, the three of us went to go and pick up Henri at his apartment because he had so generously offered to take us through the Academy of Sciences, a building which is not open to the public. Even though there was an important meeting taking place, Henri managed to get us inside and gave us a tour. Buildings are just not built like the Academy any more. Have you ever been inside of a building that just looks like it would be used for its designated purpose? The Academy just looks like it would be the home to a building dedicated to intellect, innovation, and brilliance.

For dinner we were supposed to go to a place that serves fondue and wine out of baby bottles (yeah, you read that right), but after waiting outside of the restaurant for a bit, I quickly got over the “coolness” of this place and instead we found another restaurant where other than our table, everyone else was speaking French. Definitely a more authentic experience. And the food was amazing.

Saturday was Aaron’s only full day in Paris and we decided to take him to see the sights of Paris. Naturally, the first stop was the Eiffel Tower.

Recently, there was an exhibit of massive bears painted with icons from different countries near the Eiffel Tower and I was obsessed with finding them. I dragged these poor kids with me all over the park near the Eiffel Tower and made fluent Abbey ask people about the bears but they were no where to be found. It turns out, they were taken away a week before we got there. Big bummer.

L’Arc de Triomphe

Next, we headed off to a Christmas Market along the Champs-Elysee. And then off to the Pantheon. I had no idea that Paris had a pantheon, so it was cool to get to see a somewhat unknown tourist sight. In the crypt below the pantheon, the Curies are buried along with Rousseau  Voltaire, and other great intellectuals.

At this point, we were in desperate need of some macaroons, so we walked over to Pierre Hermé, the greatest of all macaroon makers!

The remainder of our trip was comprised solely of food and drink! We ate our macaroons with some rosé that Abbey brought from Provence, and then headed off to a delicious dinner. While there, Abbey made us try Kir which is Crème de cassis mixed with wine and is a typical French apéritif. And then on Sunday morning before parting ways, we had brunch at the place on the corner. Typical French brunch is 2 fried eggs, a croissant, a cup of coffee, half a baguette with butter and jelly, and a glass of orange juice. American brunch has nothing on this!

Simply put, this weekend was filled with laughter, amazing food, and great company!

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Thankful

Thanksgiving has always been a time of year that I love. It falls when the leaves are still beautiful and just before they all fall to the ground. It’s a time when my family has always come together from all of the different corners of the earth, generally bringing a few friends with them. And who doesn’t love cranberry sauce? Although I am in Paris this year for Thanksgiving, sans cranberry sauce, I still wanted to take a minute to reflect on what I am thankful for. I am so incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful and supportive family. They have seen me at my best and at my all-time worst and have stuck by me regardless. I also feel incredibly blessed to be able to call some of the coolest, smartest, most interesting people that I have ever met my best friends. So here is to all of you. Happy Thanksgiving!

It may not be the best picture (in fact, it may be one of our worst), but I love you all anyways.

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Musings

Yesterday I had a Czech test in the morning, which went about as well as you’re probably thinking that it went right now, and then I, along with Laura, went to the Mucha Museum. Alfonse Mucha was a Czech graphic artist who worked in France for many years. His work, while very different from one another, maintains a clear graphic signature. I didn’t know that much about his work, but I really enjoyed getting to learn more. For those of you who haven’t clicked the link yet and want to know more about Mucha, go ahead, click. It’s a link to his wikipedia page.

Working with actress Sarah Bernhardt is how Mucha got so famous. These posters were so well received people used to run around and steal them from the walls on which they were mounted!

This weekend I will be in Paris with three of my best friends from Haverford! So after the museum, I packed in a pretty frenzied mess and then headed off to France!

But, since this feels like a pretty wimpy blog post, I figured I would give you some of my current thoughts on the world, life, and whatever else is currently buzzing around in there.

  • Backpacks might be the most convenient bags out there, but no matter how convenient, a heavy bag is still heavy.
  • You would think that after 20 years on earth and countless trips this semester I would learn how to pack better.
  • Czech might be the most difficult language ever. They have a preposition for when you go to someone’s house but they aren’t there. Say what?!?
  • Christmas markets should come to the US (along with their palachinky, tradelnik, and massive jars of honey).
  • I have a tape worm which is clearly on strike because I am always hungry but am not loosing crazy amounts of weight.
  • Light blue tights should never be a thing.
  • The Czech Republic has more knock-off UGG boot brands than I have ever seen before.
  • Chelsea boots are everywhere in the CR. And they should totally be a thing everywhere.
  • Too Loud a Solitude was a great read.
  • Summer applications are hard.

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Hannah, Karlovy Vary, & Prague

Thursday was the greatest day ever because Hannah, one of my best friends, came to Prague!! But as excited as I was to snuggle while wearing comfy socks and eat lots of candy while watching horrible tv shows, I decided that taking her to actually see Prague would be the right thing to do. And see Prague we did!

On Friday I had two classes, so I sent Hannah to “day camp,” by which I mean a free walking tour. When I dropped her off before class, I double-checked the end location, and the guy told me the name of a street, which much to my surprise, I recognized and totally knew where it was. To pick her up, I got there pretty early and I could not find the theater where he said they would be anywhere. So, being the resourceful person that I am, I went back to the starting place and double-checked with the people advertising the free walking tour and asked again where the pick-up spot was. This guy told me the name of a theater in the opposite direction, but if I walked quickly, I would still be there to pick her up. When I got there, there was no one there. Now, I begin panicking and sweating and keep trying to call her even though my phone keeps giving me the ridiculous “this phone is being cheeky” (what does that even mean?!) message that it gives me when a phone number doesn’t work. Finally, I get a text from Hannah telling me that she is outside the theater on the street next to where I had started. Panic attack over and slightly frustrated, I go and pick Hannah up. And now our fun can really start!

After a quick lunch at a yummy health-food store (yes, Daddy, these places do exist!), we head to the Jewish Quarter and buy tickets to see all of the synagogues in the Quarter. Surprisingly, I haven’t done this yet! There are a bunch of different synagogues and all of them are really different and incredibly beautiful. The Spanish Synagogue might be my favorite (other than Pinkas Synagogue, which you might remember from my Yom Kippur post). The outside looks like a pretty basic, relatively communist-inspired building (think large, concrete walls), but the inside is elaborately decorated with beautiful motifs of Jewish symbols. The outside and the inside do not match at all! We also went back to Pinaks Synagogue, so now I have some photos of the inside that I took!

Pinkas Synagogue from the entrance
(Just as moving the second time as it was the first time.)

Upstairs, they have an art exhibit comprised of artwork collected by a woman named Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Dicker-Brandeis was one of the Jews sent to Terezín. While there, she decided that it was imperative that she help the children take their dark feelings and turn them into positive experiences. To accomplish this, she collected every single scrap of paper that she could find and any paint, crayons, pencils, etc and held art classes for the kids ages 10 and up. When she was deported to Auschwitz, she hid two suitcases filled with 40,000 drawings by the children of Terezín. Their artwork was moving, insightful, and to be honest, a little hard to look at. The third part of Pinkas that we saw was the cemetery in the back of Pinkas. During World War II, this cemetery was the only place that the Jews could bury their dead. Although one can see about 14,000 tombstones, but there are estimates that there are over 100,000 bodies. From the street level, the cemetery looks elevated because the bodies are just buried one on top of the other. Even in all of its eeriness and tragedy, I found the cemetery to be beautiful. Even confined the a few streets, I found the fact that the Jewish cemetery now towers over the street to be a reminder that against all odds, the Jews will always be a force and will always remain.

 

On Saturday, Hannah and I took a day-trip to a town called Karlovy Vary, which is about 2 hours outside of Prague. We were a little iffy about whether or not we were going to go, so on Friday when we finally bought our tickets, we had to choose between the 6:30 AM bus or the 10:30 AM bus. Since we actually wanted to get to spend time there, we went with the 6:30 bus. For the record, 6:30 AM is early. When we got to Karlovy Vary, everything was closed. Sunday was a holiday here, commemorating the  student uprising that ended Communism in Prague, and I got nervous that everything was  going to be closed. But then we realized that it was just because it was 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday in the off-season.

Karlovy Vary

Moser Glass is based in Karlovy Vary, so that was our first stop. After struggling with the buses (hiking up a hill behind a bus to figure out where it stops, waiting for 20 minutes for a bus to come, etc), we made it there! We got to tour both the Moser Museum and the Moser factory. Watching the men work really brought me back to my summer of glassblowing at Snow Farm. Except that these guys managed to make their pieces come out not-wonky!

The most popular Moser glasses, a set of large snifters

The poster with all of the snifters’ names on it

The glassblowers hard at work

After the glass factory, we headed to the main area of town. Karlovy Vary is known for it’s healing mineral water. Along the way, there are little stands where one can buy mugs so that you can try the water. Which, by the way, is hot and salty and pretty gross. Most of the fountains were about 70C, with the lowest temperature that we found at 30C. Yuck.

Mugs for the healing water

One of the fountains. This one was probably my favorite

At the end of the cute street with all of these fountains is a tower, called Diana Tower. Since both Hannah and I like to be “up high” when we go to a new place, we were super excited about this tower. The view was spectacular.

Karlovy Vary from up high

Hannallie. Reunited and it feels so good!

The other thing that Karlovy Vary is known for is wafer cookies. So the last thing that we did before we got back on the bus was find some wafers. It’s a little misleading because they are really wafer-sandwiches. Pressed between two wafer cookies was a cinnamon and sugar mix. So yummy. (If it were another flavor, it would have been something else and sugar.)

a cinnamon-flavored wafer!

You may not know this, but yesterday was a holiday in Prague. In November of 1989, students led a non-violent demonstration to put and end to communism, here in Prague. Police responded with incredible violence and thousands of arrests. In memory of those students, November 17th is a holiday. There is a memorial plaque around the corner from where I live, and on this holiday, people leave candles and flowers and the base of it. It was such a moving moment to stand there. There were people of all generations there: people who had known the students who protested that day, people who were the protesters, and children who live with innumeral freedoms today because of those people.

 

And our weekend continues! Today we woke up bright and early (ok, not as early as we did the day before) and headed off to the Globe, which is a cafe run by Americans for some good, old-fashioned American-style brunch. Then, we went on Allie’s Supreme Walking Tour, making stops at all of the important places: Petrin Hill, the Castle, the Lennon Wall and the Lock Wall, and then Cafe Louvre for some much-needed, well-deserved coffee and cheesecake. After a quick rest back at my dorm, Laura and I introduced Hannah to the vegetarian indian place. And then (if you are exhausted reading this, you should be, because I am wiped), the three of us headed off to the National Theater to see a beautiful production of Swan Lake.

If that isn’t a great weekend in Prague, I don’t know what is!

 

 

 

 

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