The Bartered Bride

Last night, instead of going to the St. Mikuláš Day celebrations, CHP took us to the opera. We went to go and see The Bartered Bride, which is a comedic opera about a girl, Mařenka, who is in love with a man named Jeník.Unfortunately, Mařenka’s parents have deteremined that she will marry another man, Vašek, whom she has never met before. Jeník makes a deal with the matchmaker, Kecal, that Mařenka can only marry the son of Micha (who is Vašek’s father) and accepts 300 gold pieces as a payoff to leave. Meanwhile, Mařenka finds Vašek and convinces him not to marry Mařenka because she will only cheat on him and kill him. Terrified, he informs his parents that he no longer wishes to marry Mařenka. When it comes to light that Jeník has agreed to accept gold in the place of marrying Mařenka, she is devastated. But, the opera ends on a high note (literally, haha), when Jeník greets Vašek’s father as “father”. (It turns out that Jeník is in fact Vašek’s half-brother and he left home when his father remarried because he hated his step-mother.) But, as a son of Micha, he is eligible to marry the lovely Mařenka.Hope you followed that! If you didn’t or want a more flushed out synopsis, feel free to take a gander over to my good friend wikipedia for an excellent synopsis.

CHP had fabulous seats for us – the first balcony – which are some of the best seats at an opera that I have ever sat in. Plus, it totally beat sitting behind a column like I did at the ballet! The National Theater is beautiful – it is filled with golden moldings, luscious curtains, and because it is a pretty small theater, it has the added benefit of feeling intimate and cozy. That being said, I feel a little spoiled, as, with the exception of the Budapest Opera, all of my experience with the opera is with the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. So the bar was set pretty high for this opera. And to be honest, I’m not convinced that it measured up. Sure, the music was beautiful and it was a fun and easy-to-follow story line, but I thought that the scenery was lacking – it was comprised mostly of 3 supposed-to-be dirt-covered planks of wood and another curved piece that Mařenka and Jeník had quite a few songs on together. When the scenery was changed, it creaked nosily and the stagehands were often visible. This is not to say that I didn’t have a great evening – the music really was beautiful and it was fun to get dressed up and go to the theater – I guess I just had high expectations.

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St. Mikuláš Day

The holiday season in Prague continues to be filled with new traditions and experiences that I have not seen or had previously. And yesterday was no different. December 5th marks St. Mikuláš Day on every Czech’s calendar. Hundreds of people gather in Old Town Square as clusters of St. Nick, an Angel, and a Devil walk around asking children if they have been good or naughty this year. Children, who have been told that if they have been bad St. Nick will take them to hell creating a healthy dose of fear, immediately sing a song or recite a poem telling St. Nick that they have been good. Good children are given candy and bad kids either coal or hard potatoes. If you want a further explanation, here is one off of the expats-in-Prague website.

Our program went to the opera last night, which was such a nice treat, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that it meant that we missed getting to go to Old Town Square to actually witness the festivities first hand. Though, the little girl dressed as an angel grocery shopping with her mom in Tesco almost made up for it!

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Christmas Markets

Prague is always beautiful, but Prague in December is magical. Every day for the past few weeks, little changes take place, as if little elves live between the cobblestones, only coming out at night to make Prague even more spectacular. Even Tesco has strings of lights hanging down from it’s overhang. If a big-box store can look beautiful, imagine what the rest of the city looks like!

I have been waiting like a little kid waits for Christmas morning (I can only assume this is what it would feel like as I have never actually been a little kid waiting for Christmas morning) for the markets to open up. In the middle of November the first market opened up, and to be honest, it was a little disappointing. Sure, the tradlnik filled with nutella that Laura and I split was possibly the best I have ever had, as were all of the samples that I tried from every booth, but it still didn’t feel quite as exciting as I anticipated.

Cue the market at Old Town Square that opened this past weekend. WOW.

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Rosie and myself infront of the tree in Old Town Square

Rosie and myself infront of the tree in Old Town Square

traditional Czech street food (potato dumpling pieces and sausage on the left, spicy potatoes with sauerkraut and sausage on the right)

traditional Czech street food (potato dumpling pieces and sausage on the left, spicy potatoes with sauerkraut and sausage on the right)

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The tree at dusk

The tree at dusk

Wenceslas Sqaure's Christmas tree

Wenceslas Sqaure’s Christmas tree

 

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Brrrr

This past weekend I went trekking in the arctic tundra, snapped some pictures of some polar bears, lost a few toes, and then headed back to Prague. It was cold and snowy and now my balance is a little off, but it was a great trip. Santa sends his regards.

Ok, fine. You caught me. I didn’t go to the arctic tundra. I did, however, go to Stockholm, which for all intents and purposes is the same thing! Ok, ok. Not the same thing. But definitely the same temperature! My best friend, Hannah, is studying in Stockholm, and so on Friday I really did go and visit her. I arrived in Stockholm without a problem, made my way to the Flygbussarna bus (yeah, you read that right) to go to the center of the city, and then I was reunited with Hannah! Our first activity? IKEA for meatballs!

Meatballs!

Meatballs!

IKEA was started in Stockholm and is kind of a big deal there. There are free buses that run every hour from the center of the city to IKEA. They are not messing around here! The store itself is huge. It has a center column of displays and then rings of more displays around it on each floor, so although the store is only 5 floors (I think, please don’t quote me on this!), it feels much bigger. In order to get to the check-out, one has to walk through a section that is filled to the brim with products you never even knew existed, let alone thought that you needed! Also, the Swedes go to IKEA just for the meatballs! I mean, they were super yummy, so I guess I don’t blame them.

On Saturday, we walked around Gamla Stan, which is the “old town.” In many ways, Stockholm is the most modern looking city that I have been to in Europe. Whereas Paris and Prague and other cities have charming baroque buildings and small courtyards hidden within old palaces, Stockholm has glass box buildings and is much taller than most European cities.

A view of part of Stockholm from near the metro stop

A view of part of Stockholm from near the metro stop

Also, did I mention that it was freezing??? Because it was! After being outside for about 20 minutes, I had feeling in exactly zero of my toes!

A church with a neo-gothic spire. The church was burned down and rebuilt so it combines a few different styles of architecture

A church with a neo-gothic spire. The church was burned down and rebuilt so it combines a few different styles of architecture

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After walking around Gamla Stan, we wove our way to the Nobel Museum and the Christmas Market which is infront of it. The museum was very funky – it had interactive stands where one could click on a prize category (physics, literature, peace, etc) and then click on a recipient to learn more about that individuals’ work but it also had collections of weird items, like a prize-winner’s slippers or someone’s rocking chair. Also, it is the 50th anniversary of Watson and Crick’s DNA discovery, which is pretty cool!

Hannah and I put on a puppet show in the kids' section

Hannah and I put on a puppet show in the kids’ section

I was super excited for all of the Christmas Markets to start. My only association with Christmas Markets is when we went to one in Stockholm 12 years ago and I remember Swedish candies and getting a stuffed animal from little huts all lit up with twinkling lights. Decidedly less fun when said experience is now on your own dime. In case you’re not up-to-date with conversion rates, US Dollar to Swedish Koruna is a conversion that sucks. Royally. It’s 6 koruna to the dollar, and everything is incredibly expensive (think $6 muffin in the airport. ouch.) The market was mostly filled with jams, cheese, sausages, and more trinkets than you’ve ever seen before, so it was a little disappointing. Although the markets in Prague are pretty similar, at least the conversion rate is in my favor!

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While we were at the museum, Hannah’s friend let us know that the SpritMuseum (no, that’s not a typo) was giving out free mulled wine (yummm) and had free entrance for today only! So we made our way over there! The SpritMuseum had 3 exhibits up. The first was a sampling of their art collection which is comprised of 800 works by famous artists advertising for Absolut Vodka. It was fun to guess which work belonged to which artist by recognizing certain artists’ signature artworks repurposed to advertise vodka. (Although that might only be fun for a nerdy history of art major…)

Robert Indiana

Robert Indiana

Keith Haring

Keith Haring

DSC_0332The second exhibit was all about licorice, which the Swedes love and I think is gross. And for the 3rd exhibit, also the most alarming exhibit, they had poems about Swedes and alcohol, in which not a single poem mentioned any of the negative associations with alcohol. There was also a room with foam chaise lounges and 40″ tv screens hanging down playing a video about a guy who drinks alcohol and follows his night from sober to tipsy to drunk to hammered to wasted to gone (I would think that all 3 of those last ones are the same, but that’s just me), but again, no mention of anything bad about alcohol. Weird. At least the (non alcoholic (odd in juxtaposition with the art exhibits)) mulled wine was delicious!

Stockholm at dusk (also known as 3 PM)

Stockholm at dusk (also known as 3 PM)

That night, Hannah and I went to an ice bar! I know, who voluntarily goes into a room made out of ice when they are already in a city practically made out of ice? This girl! (and Hannah, of course).

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Sunday brought more snow and even colder temperatures. Hannah and I, along with her friends Maya and Tali, went to Skansen, which is an open-air museum.  Artur Hazelius collected houses from around Sweden and brought them to an area in the center of Stockholm to preserve what different Swedish houses looked like. There were also reindeer there! It was really interesting to see all of the different styles of houses as well as the different animals that had been brought there. I only wish that it hadn’t been quite so cold that we could have walked around longer (once Maya and I lost all feeling in our toes we decided to leave).

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Swedes also love to dance around things – Christmas trees in December and May Poles in May. So, when we saw a bunch of people dancing at Skansen, we joined in!

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The rest of my time in Stockholm was spent drinking warm drinks, also known as Fika (Swedish tea time), warming up in doors, and enjoying spending time with Hannah. Now it’s back to the reality that awaits me in Prague (a.k.a. a Czech exam and 3 papers).

On the way to the metro for the final time, we came upon this rainbow

On the way to the metro for the final time, we came upon this rainbow

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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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