Tag Archives: Czech Republic

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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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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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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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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