Posted by: jillabroad | October 21, 2009

Weekend travels

I’m sitting on my bed, brainstorming a list of clothes to pack for my weekend trip, and hoping my passport shows up sometime in the next 12 hours. I’m headed to London tomorrow (hopefully, at this point, due to my lack of passport) to meet up with my family and tour the city. On Sunday, we’re going to Wembley to see the Patriots play the Bucs. I can’t wait! I’m so excited to go back to London because when I was there for the first two nights of my trip, I don’t feel like I really got to see a lot of the city. Of course the bus tour we did was great, but I was so jetlagged and overwhelmed that I was finally be in Europe, I really didn’t get to appreciate being there.

One of the main perks of studying abroad in Europe is that it is so easy (relatively) to travel. Every weekend, my friends are traveling to different places….Germany, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Sweden, just to name a few.  Since its so easy to travel and can be pretty inexpensive (buses and trains as opposed to flights, hostels and couch surfing instead of hotels) everyone tries to take advantage of all the free time we have by going to visit different places…. 

“We’ll be in Istanbul at this time tomorrow.”…..“I decided to go to Copenhagen this weekend so I booked a bus yesterday.”….”I can’t go out tonight, I have a 6:00 train to Budapest in the morning.”….”Wanna do a day trip to Bratislava on Saturday? We can get tickets at the train station.”

These are all casual conversations I heard my friends having today between classes. Crazy, right? Although there is plenty to do and see in Prague, its really tempting to leave every weekend since its so easy to travel. Basically, you can go to any city in Europe by finding a legit hostel to stay in at, and then booking a train or bus ticket. Since its that easy, and because Prague feels like home to us all now, it’s hard not to take off for a new city every weekend.

Posted by: jillabroad | October 20, 2009

Free meals

My week of visitors continues as my parents flew in on Saturday morning. It’s been great to see them. Since I got to Prague, we’ve been communicating via email and occassionally Skype, but to have them here is awesome.

Old Town Square on a rainy day

Old Town Square on a rainy day

When I first met them at their hotel, my mom felt the need to remind me how long it’s been since I’ve seen her, and how I’m pretty much halfway through my trip. Thanks, Mom. That is just what I wanted to hear. After getting over the fact that I only have 8 weeks left here, I showed them around the city. I enjoyed spending time with them and showing them that I know my way around (aka reassuring them that I haven’t been wasting their money doing nothing for the past 7  weeks)!

Soo many people watching the Astronomical Clock

Soo many people watching the Astronomical Clock

Besides spending time with them, the best part of them being here is that they pay for all my meals. We have a stove in my dorm room, but I’m probably one of the worst cooks ever, so all I eat is yogurt, peanut butter sandwiches and plain pasta. It’s not awful but I’ve been getting pretty sick of it, so to eat out for a few days has been a very welcomed change. 

We saw as much of the city as we could in the rain, did some shopping, hit up some local pubs, and climbed the Astronomical Clock tower. While we were up there, I took a ton of pics. I’ll post more of them in the very near future.

Posted by: jillabroad | October 15, 2009

Ballets and Symphonies

AIFSers outside the National Theater

AIFSers outside the National Theater at Swan Lake

 Coming to Prague, I told myself I would try new things. That, after all, is what this experience is all about. With that in mind, I make it a point to sign up for as many of the AIFS cultural events that are offered. Every few weeks we get emails from our program advisors about new events that we can sign up to go to (soccer games, operas, symphonies, day trips outside of the city, etc.). It’s really great because the price of admission is included in our program fee so we don’t have to pay for tickets.

 Last Monday, I saw Tchiakovsky’s Swan Lake at the National Theater. It was incredible. I’ve never been to a ballet before, and now I see that I was missing out big time. The music was so dramatic, and the performers were really talented. Not to mention, the National Theater was gorgeous. Compared to the buildings around it, the outside is not very impressive but the inside of the theater is beautiful.

Tonight I went to a performance by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and I loved it. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the performance as much as I liked Swan Lake because I figured there wouldn’t be anything to look at, but I was wrong. Watching the musicians expressions and concentration as they played proved really entertaining, and I found myself wishing I was that good at something. The Rudolfinum Concert Hall was a great venue and conveniently located right off the metro stop (which we were all thankful for since its been cold and snowy all day).

Posted by: jillabroad | October 13, 2009

Getting outta the city for a few

Today my politics class went on a field trip to the village of Mechenice. It’s located about a half hour outside of Prague and is home to about 1000 people. It was a really beautiful little town settled on a river in the hills and I learned a lot about village life. We walked around for a while exploring the small streets and looking at the houses. The average cost of a house in the village is about $200,000. On the outskirts of the village are smaller cottages that serve as second homes for residents of Prague. On Friday afternoons, they usually leave the city and head to their simple country cottages for a weekend of gardening, sports, and relaxation. 

I noticed that a bunch of the houses had women’s names on the front of them. My professor explained that when Czech people get married and decide to build a house, the husband and wife work together to design it. After the construction is complete, the husband puts the wife’s first name on the front of the house in her honor. This is one of the many Czech customs I’m gonna try to bring back to the states.

A main street in Mechenice

A main street in Mechenice

After walking around for a while, we went to dinner at a local pub. We stuffed our faces with delicious weiner snitzel and potatoes. We discussed Czech village politics and learned more about village life. Even though it was a short trip, it was relaxing to get out of the city for a few hours and be surrounded by the foliage that reminded me of being back in Vermont.

My Politics class with our professor after dinner

My Politics class with our professor after dinner


Speaking of classes…. So today I was sitting in my Comparative History class and I was pretty tired so focusing on the lecture was a struggle. Anyways, as I was zoning out, I was half-listening to the professor, a Czech woman, speak to a Polish girl in my class. I then thought about how crazy it was that they were communicating with each other in both of their second languages. A few minutes later, the professor was translating something into French for one of the girls that was confused, then turned and asked the other professor a question in Czech, and finally explained the whole situation to the rest of the class in English. She spoke three different languages in like 10 seconds! I couldn’t even believe it. I realized right then how smart this woman must be to be able to communicate with native speakers of three different languages without hesitation. I have trouble public speaking in front of Americans in my native language and here she is teaching a class in her second language to a bunch of native speakers. I know, random thought, but impressive nonetheless.

Posted by: jillabroad | October 12, 2009

I live here

My friend that is studying abroad in Ireland, Emily, is here in Prague for a few days to visit. I’ve been showing her around, taking her to all the big tourist attractions. It’s been fun playing tour guide and telling her what I know about the city. Her enthusiasm when she sees things for the first time, like Prague Castle, is refreshing because it makes me excited about them again, too. I realized that I walk through Old Town Square every day and now I just take it for granted. I don’t even think about how beautiful the city is anymore because I’ve gotten so used to being here.

This is both good and bad, I guess. It means I really do live here and I’m not just a crazy tourist walking around taking pictures of everything (although, I admit, I rarely go out without my camera). On the other hand, I want to remember to appreciate  that I am living in such a gorgeous city and for such a short time.

Today, I had a run-in with a local Czech man who tried to take advantage of me thinking I was an uniformed visitor. (If you read my whole mirror story, I have little patience for this nonsense.) Emily wanted to go to a local museum so I looked one up online and it said admission for students is 150 crowns and 250 crowns for adults. We got there and I asked for 2 student tickets and showed him our ids. He tried to charge me 500 crowns, and I quickly informed him that online it said that admission for students with valid ids was 150 crowns. He took the ids, examined them for 2 minutes as if I were trying to buy alcohol with a fake, and accepted 300 crowns for the pair. I saved 200 crowns, that’s like 2 meals or 20 vending machine coffees, or 8 beers….

Posted by: jillabroad | October 8, 2009

Fly fishing festival performance

I took this video when I was at the fly fishing festival last Sunday. I was just slow at putting it online. It’s mostly a clip of the performance they had for kids. I had no idea what the actors were saying, but everyone seemed to really enjoy it. The quality of the video isn’t great but I thought it was interesting enough….

Posted by: jillabroad | October 8, 2009

some rando thoughts

I’ve found that Prague really isn’t that big. It’s comforting because I’m no longer intimidated by the idea of living in a city. I keep running into people that I’ve met once or twice. I expect that to happen at St. Mike’s but not in a big city.

I leave my map in my dorm now. It’s a great feeling. It makes Prague feel more like home.

I miss Marylou’s iced coffee. I drank an obnoxious amount of it this summer, and as a result I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to vending machine coffee in Prague. It’s everywhere, really cheap and super convenient. Its obviously not quality coffee, but the best part is its served in classy, small plastic cups. Its usually steaming hot so I manage to burn my mouth every time I drink it, but I can’t resist…I’m obsessed.  

The U.S. needs to adopt the Czech price of beer. I usually pay between 25 and 35 crowns, depending which bar I’m at. Thats like $1.50 to $2.50 U.S. dollars.

Speaking of crowns, I love how the coins here actually have value. In the U.S. I hate them because they’re not worth anything. Here they have 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 crown coins. They’re so convenient, and I now think paper money is as useless as Monopoly money.

Czech crowns

Czech crowns

I love how when you eat at restaurants here (and I think all over Europe), the waiters don’t rush you out. Once you sit down at a table for dinner, it’s essentially yours for the night. You can take as much time as you want to order, and after dinner you can hang out for however long you desire. I like that you have to ask to pay the bill, and even after its paid you can stay. It’s a welcomed change from being at home where I sometimes feel rushed through my meal so that the restaurant can seat another party of paying customers.  

Out to dinner at Maitrea

Out to dinner at Maitrea

Assuming that no one around you speaks English is the best way to look like an ignorant American. I witnessed first hand some girls talking about their sloppy night at the bar, only to see two middle aged women shake their heads in disgust as they got off the metro. It was entertaining to watch, but I was embarassed for them.

I know I’ve taken 500 versions of this picture buttttt…

The view from the balcony outside my history classroom

The view from my history classroom

Posted by: jillabroad | October 6, 2009

STUDY abroad

Sometimes I forget that I’m here to take classes. I know this sounds bad, but there is so much to do, see, and learn outside of the classroom that I forget my main reason for being here is to study. So far, I really like all of my classes and most are topics I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn about at SMC. I’m taking 15 credits this semester, 3 of which I earned in the first two weeks taking my intensive Czech language course. As for my other four classes…

Jewish History in Central and Eastern Europe: I signed up for this course because I am much more familiar with Christianity as I was raised Catholic and go to a Catholic college. I wanted to learn about the history of one of the world’s oldest religions. 

Contemporary Central- European Politics: I took an introductory American politics course at SMC my freshman year. I decided I’d be more worldly and take an intro European politics class.

Czech and European Art and Architecture: Honestly, the real reason I originally signed up for this course was because it fulfilled one of my liberal studies requirements at SMC. Since being in Prague though, I have a much greater appreciation for the course because I learn about the beautiful buildings that I walk by everyday. Half of each three hour class is spent in the classroom taking notes, and the other half is spent walking around Prague, looking at the architecture and visiting art galleries.

Comparative Approach to the History of Europe: My interest in this course is two-fold. First, I wanted to learn about European history from a European perspective. I was interested to see how much it differed from learning it in the states. Second, I took this class because it is an Erasmus course, which means international students that are enrolled in Charles University can take it. I thought it would be cool to take a class with people from all over Europe.

Posted by: jillabroad | October 5, 2009

Czech weekend

I’m sitting in my room, it’s Sunday night and I’m procrastinating doing my homework. I guess some things don’t change even in Prague. I just enjoyed watching the Patriots beat the Ravens at the same sports bar I’ve been going to each Sunday for the past three weeks. (Did I mention that when the Pats play the Bucs at Wembley in London I’LL BE THERE?! Yeah, three weeks… I couldn’t be more excited) Anyways, after a solid half hour of Facebook creeping I decided the best way to keep procrastinating is to recap my weekend.

My weekends start on Wednesday night when I get out of history class but I talked about Thursday and Friday in my previous post. So that brings me to Saturday. We went to a flea market out in Prague 8 that was far away from the touristy areas, so not as many people spoke English.  We knew that would be the case, so the language barrier was more entertaining than frustrating like it could have been. I was legitimately laughing in the face of some of the Czech vendors as we used our fingers to show what price we would pay for all the stuff. They probably thought I was making fun of them as I laughed, but the whole situation was just really funny and I couldn’t help it. I wish someone could have video taped it candidly. I ended up wasting money on a few useless things, some of which already broke. Oh well, it was fun.

After that we took the metro to the Prague Zoo. It was huge. It was nice to feel like we were out of the city for a few hours and be surrounded by animals. When we first got inside the zoo there was a stand covered in signs and dead animal furs that they appeared to be selling. I was so confused when I saw it. Why would they be selling dead animal furs at a zoo? Isn’t that really ironic? I tried to read the signs but the only words I recognized were “is” and “not”. Failure. After a few minutes, we finally realized they were protesting the whole killing animals and selling them for their fur idea. Once the language barrier was conquered, I totally supported the cause and donated a few crowns.

Not for sale

Not for sale

As I was walking around, I realized that last time I had been at a zoo was probably an elementary school field trip. I wish I had paid more attention back then because all of the signs were in Czech, so as I was looking at some of the animals I wasn’t exactly sure what they were. Some looked like a cross between a horse and a donkey, there were lots of species of birds that I didn’t recognize, and we had a five minute debate whether the otters were actually otters or seals. It was a lot of fun though, and I took so many pictures of all of the animals.

Danielle, Sarah, Karen, Maggie and Megan on the chairlift through the zoo

Danielle, Sarah, Karen, Maggie and Megan on the chairlift through the zoo

After the zoo, we went to dinner at an authentic Czech restaurant. As embarrassing as it is to admit, its only the second real Czech meal that I’ve had since I’ve been here (the first was fried cheese). The Moravian pork and potato dumplings that I ordered were soo delicious and so filling. I got to use a little bit of the broken Czech that I had learned in language class so that was fun.

On Sunday, I went to a Catholic mass at St. Vitus Cathedral in the castle. The whole thing was in Czech so I didn’t really understand what they were saying, but I’m Catholic so I was able to follow along with the order of the mass. I knew how amazing the cathedral’s architecture was because I had toured it on Friday on our Prague Walk with Z, and the mass was really beautiful. Here is a video I made while inside the cathedral (don’t worry I didn’t take it during mass)… 

We spent the afternoon at a fly fishing competition on an island in the middle of the river. We had heard about the festival and just wanted to see what it was all about. Honestly, the competition wasn’t very riveting but they had all sorts of food vendors and music so it was fun to just hang out and enjoy the fall weather.

That brings me back to where I started. Procrastinating at my desk…. story of my college life. I guess now that I have nothing else to say, I should probably do my reading for history class. I could but I could also walk down to the pub in the basement of our dorm (yeah, greatest thing ever) and see if anyone is around…

Posted by: jillabroad | October 3, 2009

Rihanna and Beethoven

I’d say my lack of musical knowledge is laughable. I mean, I think Brit is a lyrical genius, Celine can sing like no one else and Kenny Chesney is the best performer I’ve ever seen. This being said, you wouldn’t be surprised to find out that when my friend asked me if I wanted to go to the club where Rihanna filmed her “Please Don’t Stop the Music” video, Radost, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Naturally, I wanted to dance on the same dance floor as Rihanna. It ended up being a pretty fun night, the club was crowded and expensive but still a good time.  Anyways, here is her music video because who doesn’t love Princess Riri…. 

Don’t worry, the highlight of my week was not Radost. Well, it was…until Friday. On Friday, our fountain of knowledge, Z, led us on a tour of the Prague Castle grounds followed by an audio tour of Lobkowicz Palace. First off, Z. His official title is probably like  AIFS Cultural Guide or something, but he literally knows everything about everything, especially Czech history and culture. He leads all of our tours around the city and he takes us on our AIFS weekend trips. If you have a question about anything having to do with Prague, the Czech Republic, or history in general, you ask Z. He’ll know the answer. Anyways, after walking around the castle grounds we went into Lobkowicz Palace for coffee and dessert with our program advisors and some of the staff that worked in the palace. It was delicious.

Delicious Apple Streudel

Delicious Apple Streudel

After our dessert, we went on an audio tour of the palace’s gallery.  It was narrated by a member of the Lobkowicz’s family who told the history of the palace and the large family. We learned that the Lobkowicz family now owns the palace (it was state owned for a while) and is in charge of its upkeep and preservation of all of the family’s collections. We saw most of their collections including paintings and portraits, armory, dinnerware, replications of old rooms of the palace and, the most impressive part to me, their music collection. Considering my previously mentioned lack of musical expertise, it’s seems a little weird that this was the best part of the tour for me. However, included in their collection is the original scores for Beethoven’s 4th and 5th symphonies. Wow. I’m no classical music specialist, but I know Beethoven when I hear him, and to see his actual work in his own handwriting right in front of me, I was more excited than when Dave Roberts stole second base in 2004. This was probably my favorite part of my whole European experience thus far. Sorry, Rihanna.

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