Epilogue

So. My time in Prague is over, and I’ve now been back in the States for a couple weeks. It’s a strange feeling being back because although I was gone for a while, it doesn’t really feel like it now. As soon as I was in the car, driving back to my house in Rockville, it was as if no time had passed at all. It was a little depressing, actually. I spent all this time in a foreign country, trying to grow as an individual and experience new things, and now that I’m back it feels like nothing has changed. I guess when you change internally your external world doesn’t change with you… but somehow it feels like it should.

Anyway, I’ve put together a map of a lot of the places I went to in Prague– mainly restaurants, bars and clubs. If you’re planning on going to Prague I hope this will be of use to you. I’ll probably keep adding onto it as I think of things I forgot to mark.

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zsng-yIoXiH8.kAT_hfGmiVn0

Tips and Tricks for Future Prague-ians: Part II

IMG_7912We all know travel is a huge part of the study abroad experience, especially if you study in a place like Europe. You are surrounded by so many different nations, and the possibilities for travel seem endless. However, it’s not so simple. From deciding what cities to visit to booking flights and hotels, chances are you’re going to run into some problems along the way. But don’t worry, I’m here to help! I’ve taken what I’ve learned from my semester of travel and put together some advice for you.

TRAVEL:

1. Do your research before you go to another city. Although it may seem like you can figure everything out once you’re there, it’s a lot easier to navigate a city if you do your homework beforehand. Trust me, I know from personal experience. Some things to consider are attractions you may want to see, famous restaurants or bars you may want to try and day trips you may want to take. I’ve also found myself entering a city and suddenly realizing that I had no idea how the public transportation works (how to buy a ticket, how the payment system works, the most convenient ticket to buy, etc), so I would definitely research that before going as well.

It’s also worth looking up the customs and culture of the city. How people behave on trains/buses, restaurant norms (like how much to tip), and history are all worth noting. In addition, it’s important to know how big the city you’re going to is so that you can plan accordingly. If it’s a big city, you’re going to need to either do lots of research ahead of time so that you use the short amount of time you have while there most efficiently, or perhaps save that city for a longer weekend/trip. If it’s a small city, look into day trips or specific places to go to while in the city.

2. Download the TripAdvisor City Guides app. This app allows you to download the data of many of the major cities around the world and then use the information without any internet connection. Each city has ratings of restaurants, hotels, attractions, suggested itineraries, nightlife and more. It’s a really good way to get a feel for what you need to see/do in a city. It’s led me to some pretty great places. Highly recommended.

3. Book flights well in advance. Prices for flights increase on the daily so it’s important to figure out what cities you’re going to and when well ahead of time. If you keep waiting, before you know it you’ll be spending $100 more than you should be. There are multiple sites that will allow you to compare budget airlines that are really helpful. I personally like http://www.skyskanner.net the best.

4. Research accommodation options thoroughly. There are so many options when it comes to accommodation– hostels, Airbnb, hotels, etc. It’s worth it to compare prices, ask around and decide what’s best for your situation and destination. I personally really like Airbnb because it’s relatively cheap and convenient. All of the places I’ve stayed at through AirBnb have been clean, the hosts have been friendly and the locations have been very convenient. Since you’re staying in someone’s home, you usually don’t have to worry about bringing shampoo, towels, flip flops, etc. which I find really nice. On the flip side, you are in someone’s home, which may make you uncomfortable. So think it through, talk with your friends, and figure out what’s best for you.

3. And lastly, something that is probably frequently overlooked, but deserves to be noted, is to make sure you set aside time to actually explore the city you chose to study abroad in. It can be tempting to travel every weekend, especially if you’re in a place like Prague where there are so many cool neighboring cities, but be sure to take a break some weekends and stay in the country. You can use this time to hit up the bars/restaurants you’ve been meaning to try, explore a new city within the country, or catch up on schoolwork (in a cute little cafe, I would suggest!). I wish I had stayed in Prague more weekends so that I could have avoided this anxiety I’m currently feeling that I don’t have enough time (although perhaps this is inevitable). If you want to travel all around Europe, I would suggest doing most of your traveling after your program has ended. That way, during the semester you can enjoy the time you have in your host country and then at the end you can go all out and see all the cities you wanted to see.

Bottom line: Do your homework to avoid stress, anxiety, and unexpected surprises. Planning travel is not so simple, but it can be fun and rewarding. I’ve learned to love searching what restaurants to go to, places to see, or what apartment to rent. Remember to have fun with it and it’ll make the experience all the better! You’ll learn more about yourself that way 🙂

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The Imminent End

I have one week left in Prague and a million things are running through my mind. Am I going to have enough time to do and see everything? What about all the restaurants I never got to try? Will I be able to motivate myself to study when all I want to do is take advantage of the time I have left? What regrets will I have once I leave?

The fact that I have basically no time left has definitely left me stressed. I cannot believe how fast this semester flew by and how abruptly it’s all about to end. It’s weird because there were moments when I felt like I had all the time in the world in Prague, and other times where I felt like time was passing way too quickly. I guess all I can do is breathe, take it all in, and don’t let a single moment pass me by. The fact that I have finals all week is definitely tainting the whole “appreciate your last few days” approach, though. I’m hoping maybe I can stop by a couple new cafes to study (and eat dessert…). I can’t wait for Thursday when I’m all done with finals and I can live out my last weekend. It’s probably going to be super bittersweet.

This whole semester has been filled with different emotions. I’ve felt overwhelmed, especially in the beginning when I had to navigate my way through the city and figure out how the different parts connect, what tram to take, what the signs say, etc. Then there were the little things like what the labels on products read (e.g. the first time I tried to buy laundry detergent I actually bought fabric softener) or attempting to cook for the first time. I’ve felt extreme gratitude as I traveled and had the opportunity to see so many different parts of Europe. I think this is one of the first times in my life where I’ve truly felt young, like the world is my oyster. It’s been fun researching different cities, planning out activities, getting lost, trying new things and walking until my knees felt like they were about to give out. I’ve felt lonely at times, too. It’s hard being put into an environment full of new people, forced to quickly adapt and make friends while knowing that these relationships are temporary. It’s made me appreciate my friends and family at home, and reminded me how lucky I am to have them.

I can’t say whether or not this experience has changed me as a person, but I feel like I won’t know until I’m back in America and have had time to absorb everything. For now, I’ll try not to think about the end too much and enjoy my time. I just hope the stress of finals week doesn’t get to me too much.

See you in a week, America!

Tips and Tricks for Future Prague-ians: Part I

As my time in Prague comes to a close, I thought I’d write a series of blog posts for future students who are coming to Prague and are looking for some guidance. My first post will be about classes.

CLASSES:

This only applies to those who are in the CIEE Central European Studies program, so I apologize if you’re in a different program since this will be of little help to you. I remember when I was signing up for classes for this semester and I had no idea what to take, so here’s my take on some of the classes offered:

Do:

1. Take the cinema classes. There are a variety of them (Czech Cinema, East European Cinema, Hollywood in Europe), and although I’m enrolled in just Czech Cinema, from my understanding they are all quite interesting and easy. The movies are interesting for the most part and I really like the professor.

2. Take Collective Identity in a Totalitarian Regime. I’m in this class and it’s my favorite one. The professor is the only truly good one I’ve had this semester– she really knows what she’s talking about and is super enthusiastic about the course material. She’s also the only teacher I have that doesn’t have a Czech accent, which is a major plus when you’re surrounded by Czech accents 24/7. The course is about life under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, and the style of the class is a mix of lectures and discussions about the readings. This class actually requires some work and effort, so if you don’t want any work I wouldn’t take it. But, if you’re willing to learn about something completely new and unique, then I would.

3. Take the classes offered at Charles University and FAMU. I did not sign up for any of them, but wish I did. They seem to be relatively easy, and you get to meet people from the other programs as well as other Czech students. It’s also nice to get out of the CIEE Study Center and walk through other parts of town, too.

4. Take Art and Architecture or Czech Architecture and Design. I’m in Art and Architecture and it’s one of my better classes. There is little work, the tests are easy (if you go over the material), and every week we go out on a walking tour to see first hand the art and architecture that we are learning about. I really enjoyed it because I saw parts of the city I would not have known about otherwise, and gained new knowledge about different styles of art that will be useful for the rest of my life. Czech Architecture and Design is a good alternative if A&A is full; apparently the teacher is quite nice.

5. Take Media Impact in Central Europe: My roommate is in it and says it’s her favorite class. The professor is really knowledgeable and has a lot of real world experience (worked at a radio station that broadcasted to communist nations during the regime) that makes the class interesting.

Don’t:

1. Take Interpretation of Czech Fairytales, European Environmental Studies, or the economics classes (unless you have to for credits). I’m not enrolled in any of these, but I haven’t heard many good things about them.

2. Take the psych classes. I’m in Psychoanalysis and Society, and although the material is interesting, the professor is horrible. He doesn’t teach and literally just reads off paragraphs of articles/books and blows through presentations without any in-depth explanation. He’s not very understanding or personable either. He teaches Psychoanalysis and Art as well. Best to avoid. [there’s also Third Force Psychology which doesn’t seem to be any good either]

I don’t know much about the history, literature or religion classes but that’s probably a good thing. No news is good news, right? Good luck choosing your classes and may the odds be ever in your favor 🙂

The Last of the Escapades

Since my last post I’ve been to Barcelona, Spain and Split, Croatia.

Barcelona was absolutely amazing. I loved the people, the food, the parks, and the many neighborhoods around the city that offer different atmospheres. There’s the Barceloneta neighborhood, which is the beachy area so there are a lot of cafes, outdoor seating areas, and of course the beach.

Barceloneta Beach

Barceloneta Beach

Then there’s the Sagrada Familia neighborhood which is where the huge church that Gaudi began building in 1883 and has yet to be completed (by the way, if you go to the church, which I would recommend, you should buy the tickets ONLINE ahead of time in order to avoid the long line). This area is really touristy, with lots of restaurants, shopping and people.

Exterior of Sagrada Familia

Exterior of Sagrada Familia

Interior

Interior

My favorite area was probably the Gothic Quarter or El Born. These were more hip and young and had lots of little side streets and cafes tucked away in corners. It was fun to just explore and go down random streets, allowing ourselves to get lost and then find our way back again. The Gothic Quarter has lots of history since it used to be the center of the city, and there are lots of buildings that date back to the Roman period. El Born is similar with the small streets and many tapas restaurants and bars to explore.

Gothic Quarter

Gothic Quarter

One of the side streets in Gothic Quarter

One of the side streets in Gothic Quarter

There are also a lot of really nice parks in Barcelona. One of the things I’ve discovered through my travels this semester is that I love a city with lots of parks. There’s just something about having some greenery, some escape from the chaos that is so appealing. It’s like having the best of both worlds; there’s the hustle and bustle of city life but also beautiful gardens and parks to walk through and relax in.

While in Barcelona Morgan and I visited Park Guell, Parc de la Ciutadella, Parc de Montjuic. My favorite was probably Parc de Monjuic, which happened to be right next to where we were staying. It was like a magical desert oasis, with tons of different types of cacti, plants, and trees. It also ran along the beach so it was pretty interesting walking through, seeing cacti and then looking out and seeing the ocean.

Park Guell

Park Guell

Parc de la Ciutadella

Parc de la Ciutadella

Parc de Montjuic

Parc de Montjuic

The food and drinks were also great. I spent the weekend trying out lots of different tapas and sangria. Here are some pictures of what we had:

Spanish Omelette

Spanish Omelette

Sangria (mmm)

Sangria (mmm)

Anchovies on toast

Anchovies on toast

A rice/tortilla/veggie/spice concoction we tried at a market

A rice/tortilla/veggie/spice concoction we tried at a market

Affogato (espresso spilled over ice cream)

Affogato (espresso spilled over ice cream)

Rancheros Omelette for brunch

Rancheros Omelette for brunch

This past weekend I went to Split, which was supposed to be like a mini spring break, since our program didn’t give us one, but it turned out to be a little colder than what we had hoped for. The forecast said it would rain everyday while we were there… and although it didn’t necessarily rain the entire time, the forecast was pretty close to accurate. I went with Bus2Alps, which is a tour company for students. The bus ride was overnight– 13 hours long– which turned out not to be so bad since I was asleep for the majority of the time. Once we got to Split we had breakfast and got ready to go white water rafting. The river was about an hour drive away. Along the way there were some great views of the landscape, since we were driving up and around a mountain.

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My rafting experience was a mix of good and bad. The good was that there were some fun rapids, our rafting guide was funny and friendly, and we even got some sun. It was also a national holiday that day so there were a lot of people out on the water or along the river bank having barbeques, picnics, etc who would interact with us (well, they would interact with the rafting guide since he was the only one who could speak Croatian). The last half hour of the ride was where the bad started to mix in with the good. Because of the national holiday, the restaurant that the rafting company usually takes its costumers was too busy so we had to row 15 minutes further to another restaurant along the river. Somehow, the guide found a group of [highly intoxicated] kids with a motor boat who agreed to drag us with a rope to our destination. There was one guy in the group who was slightly more drunk than the rest, and he provided much of the entertainment. However, at this point the clouds began to roll in and we started to get really cold since we were wet and not moving. It also did not help that we had been on the boat for over 3 hours at this point (it was around 3:30 pm), and we had not eaten since 9 am that morning so we had absolutely nothing in us to help warm us up. When we finally got to the restaurant, the following scene was quite hilarious. We all ran to get our backpacks, found a parking lot, and ripped off our wetsuits. We mindlessly put our stuff on the hoods of other people’s cars and were hardly discreet about the fact that we were getting dressed. The thing was, we were so cold, so hungry, and so desperate that we didn’t care who saw us or what they thought of us. It was kind of funny to realize what happens when humans’ basic needs are not met– we turned into animals.

Pre-rafting-- still dry and happy

Pre-rafting– still dry and happy

The next day was the one really nice, sunny day we had all weekend so we decided to go to one of the beaches. It took a while to find it, but once we did, it was so nice just laying out in the sun, chatting, reading, and relaxing. We were only there a few hours before the clouds started coming in and covering the sun, but I think I got a bit of a tan. For lunch we went to a pizza place that was recommended by our rafting guide. He was not lying when he said this place was good. It was thin-crust, Italian style pizza with a wide range of toppings to choose from. I got the seafood one (when in Croatia, amiright?), which had mussels, tuna, anchovies, and shrimp. I loved it.

On the way to the beach

On the way to the beach

The beach

The beach

My pizza

My pizza

That night, we had a birthday dinner for Ella since it was going to be her birthday the next day. We went to this cute little seafood place near our hotel that had a bunch of different fresh catches of the day as well as other options. Ella and Rachel tried out the fish platter which came with a sample of all the different catches (it was huge, but looked amazing). I tried the tuna steak. This was also large, but really good! You can’t really go wrong with tuna. We also tried some local Croatian wine which I enjoyed as well.

The catch of the day

The catch of the day

The fish platter

The fish platter

My tuna steak

My tuna steak

On our last full day we went on an island hopping tour. Unfortunately, there would be no sunshine on this day. In fact, there would be no sky at all, just clouds and rain. It made for a funny experience, though. Picture five girls were sitting on the top deck of the ferry, drenched, hair pulled in all directions by the wind, pathetically attempting to use one of their tiny umbrellas to shield them from the rain. That was us. When we finally reached the first island all we could really do was find a cafe to sit in since it was raining. After about an hour we got back on the boat and had our lunch (I had chicken, which turned out to be super salty and gross. I wish I got the fish.) as we made our way to the next island. It was still pretty rainy and miserable out when we got there, so we found another cafe to sit in. Overall, this potentially very fun and relaxing trip turned out to be a little less than what we had hoped for. However, it still made for a fun memory to look back on and laugh at.

On our very last day we left around 8 am for Krka National Park, which is a huge national park with great waterfalls and hiking trails. This was the coldest day we’d had so far, so we couldn’t swim in the water or anything which was a little disappointing. However, the path down to the waterfall and the waterfall itself were really cool. The path was laid down super close to the water level, so it was almost like you were walking down through the river. I kept wondering if the path floods frequently because if the water level rose any further, we would be under the water. After a few photos, a quick look at the waterfall, and lunch, we were off and headed back toward Prague.

Krka National Park

Krka National Park

One of the big waterfalls

One of the big waterfalls

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The bus ride back was a lot worse than the bus ride there. It may have been because it was during the day so the hours seemed to pass more slowly, but it seemed to take forever. But, if you think about it I can’t really complain since I’m short and can expand my legs out if I want to. The tall people on the bus must have been extra miserable since they were literally cramped in a tiny seat for 13 hours. By the time we got back it was 3 in the morning and I was so excited to sleep vertically in my bed for the last few hours of the night.

I’m hoping that someday I get a chance to go back to Croatia in the summertime, when it’s less rainy and warmer, so I can get the full experience of it all. At least I got my fix of seafood (probably ate seafood twice a day for four days) for at least the next couple of weeks. Still craving some sushi, though. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer for that.

The ‘Rents Come to Town

My parents came to Prague last week, and it was so much fun hanging out, catching up and showing them around. It was a pretty funny experience to act as the tour guide and explain things like Czech customs, history, food etc to them since I’m used to them acting as the guide whenever I’m traveling with them. The weekend was filled with lots of different wine and beer, and of course good food. Out of all the new restaurants I tried out with my family this weekend, my favorite was probably Kalina. We went to this restaurant for my mom’s birthday (her birthday was last Thursday). It’s French-style Czech cuisine, right off of Old Town Square. We weren’t originally going to go there, but all the restaurants we had intended on trying were full. I’m guessing it’s because it was Easter weekend. It’s actually kind of funny that the one restaurant we didn’t need a reservation for was the fanciest one, but I’m not complaining. It was a restaurant I probably would not have had the chance to go to otherwise, so I’m grateful I had the opportunity to. I highly recommend to anyone who’s in Prague and looking for a place to go to for a special occasion. The service was amazing and the food was so artfully made and everything we tried was delicious. I tried the lamb shoulder, which was super tender and flavorful. I felt like I was in Japan again with the small portions. Yet, I was quite full by the end (maybe it had something to do with the giant platter of cheese we got as dessert…).

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The yummy wine

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Appetizers– puff pastry filled with pate, cream cheese and salmon wrapped in avocado and topped with caviar, and unidentifiable fois-gras type thing.

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My dish– lamb shoulder

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Happy birthday to my mom!

On Friday I showed my parents Vysehrad, the area that my school is located. It’s actually a pretty big tourist attraction because of its history. It is where people first settled in Prague, and where the first castle was established before the current Prague Castle was built. I’ve never actually took the time to properly explore the area so I got to see some parts I hadn’t seen before. I went inside St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is right next to my school, and the inside was amazing. It has Gothic architecture with Baroque-style art– the grandeur of it was very impressive. There were also several overlooks that give great views of the city.

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Vysehrad fortress wall (with church in the back)

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View from one of the overlooks

On our last day together, I took them to a farmer’s market that has a lot of really good food and drinks (including tons of samplers). I made my family try kolac, which is a traditional Czech cake, and I tried a mango muffin from one vendor and spinach quiche from another. Both were delicious, but I’m definitely going back for more of that mango muffin because it was unreal.

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I also took them up to Petrin Hill to go to the Petrin Tower. I had been there once before already, but I guess I forgot just how much of a hike it is. I was pretty tired by the time we got to the top of the hill. I’m glad I got to go again though, because this time all the flowers were in bloom, which made the journey to the top a lot more enjoyable.

It was a short couple of days, so I’m hoping I showed them the best of Prague and that I didn’t leave too much out. I hope I get another chance to show my parents around some day 🙂

This weekend I’ll be heading to Barcelona with Morgan, which I’m super excited about. I’m ready for some good tapas, sunshine and the Mediterranean lifestyle. We’ll see if I remember any of the Spanish I learned in high school. Adios amigos and hasta luego!

Moravia: shoes, animation, and wine.

So before I write about my weekend with my parents, I think I will start with my weekend trip to Zlin, a town in the Moravian region of the Czech republic. I went there last weekend as a school trip for my Czech Cinema class, and at first I was not really looking forward to the whole spend three days on an academic trip thing, but I have to say it was an amazing experience.

The first day that we got to Zlin we got a tour of the town, which was basically built by one man named Tomas Bata. He was an entrepreneur who opened up a shoe factory there in the late 20th century, which caused immense growth of the city as he created thousands of new jobs. The town’s population grew from 3000 people in 1894 to 35,000 by the time he died in 1932. He also built houses for his workers, and we got to walk through this neighborhood and even go in a couple of the houses. Throughout the tour, I gradually learned that everything he did for his workers (build houses, provide good working conditions/hours and welfare) were to increase production and to help the company grow. For example, he set curfews and encouraged his workers to have families so that when they got off of work they would not be tempted to go out drinking, and instead go home to their families and get a good night’s sleep for work the next day. I asked my teacher if the people in the town liked him, since he basically controlled their lives in order to better his company, and she said that since he provided so much for the town and was responsible for some of the its positive social changes, they did not mind the restrictions.

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The neighborhood Bata built.

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Inside one of the houses, now owned by an architect.

We also got to experience a really unique wine tasting in a privately-owned, non-commercial wine cellar. It was full of giant jugs filled with various types of wine, and the back wall was completely covered in bottles of wine. I learned various things like how to hold a white wine glass versus a red wine glass (white wine you grip only the bottom stem of the glass, red wine you can grip the entire glass with your hand) and how to look for the purity of the wine (hold it up against the light). At the end of the tasting we had the option to buy however many bottles of any of the wine we tasted, and each bottle cost just 80 crowns (about 4 dollars)!! I bought three bottles– two for my parents and one for me.

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Inside the wine cellar.

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Sucking the wine out

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My three bottles. 🙂

The main part of the trip was the animation workshop, which was an all-day thing. We tried out four different animation techniques– cutout, puppet, pixilation, and computer animation. My favorite was the puppet animation, which is like claymation but uses puppets instead of clay figures. We had a miniature kitchen as our set, were given a camera and some puppets to choose from, and had to develop a short story. We decided to use several robot-like puppets along with a woman puppet. The plot started with the woman eating an apple in her kitchen, with robots lurking outside of her house. She drops the apple, and as she bends down to pick it up the robots start entering her house through the window. She turns around and realizes what is happening to her, and the robots crawl toward her and eventually corner her. However, instead of attacking the woman they all go for the apple on the floor instead. It was meant to be a sort of twist on the regular robot-human attack that would be expected. It was really fun developing the plot, figuring out what to do technique-wise, and seeing it all come together.

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Our set for the puppet animation.

I have a new-found appreciation for animators after that workshop. It is freaking HARD. It took us an hour to create a 10 second story; I can’t imagine how long it takes for them to create a feature-length film or video. It requires so much patience, attention to detail and determination.

I’m really glad I got to go on this trip and learn so much. I don’t think there will be another time in my life where I will be able to try out all different types of animation, go wine tasting in a private wine cellar or even see as much of Moravia as I did this weekend.

A Little Reflection

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my time here and how fast it’s going by and it’s starting to freak me out a little. I figured writing my thoughts down in words would help me– so, it’s reflection time.

When I think back to the first couple of weeks here, it’s all a blur. I really have no perception of time or the sequence of events; things that seemed to have happened a while into my stay actually happened within the first few days, and things that happened within the first few days are all just a clump of memory that I have a hard time sorting through and separating. It makes me wish I had written down my feelings on a daily basis for those first couple of weeks so that I could remember the little details. I remember the first few days of orientation, with the constant “nice to meet you”s and “what school do you go to?” introductions. I remember one day CIEE gave us each an individual box of pizza for lunch and we were all bewildered by the fact that they gave us so much food. I think if you combined the leftovers from that day you could make about 100 whole pizzas. So wasteful…

Anyway, it’s weird to think that even though the beginning of the program was only a couple months ago, it seems like so much time has passed. And yet, it also feels like no time has passed at all. It has gone by so quickly. I’ve tried, truly tried, to go through every day and remind myself to live in each moment and cherish everything that I experience. I did not want to come here and just go through the motions of everyday life and let it pass me by without really stopping and living in the present. However, no matter how hard I try to grasp all the moments and memories, it seems almost impossible to not feel like time is slipping through my fingers.

It’s also weird how smooth the transition from State College life to Prague life was. Maybe it’s because I’ve already had the experience of moving to a new city, but I really didn’t have much trouble adjusting. The only major, tangible difference was the “European-ness” of Prague, with its rich history and architecture. The other thing would also be its communist past. This is definitely something that I think about on a daily basis and something that I’m continually learning more about.

As I enter the last month and a half of my time here, I really think it’s important to seize every opportunity that arises and not stress so much about the little things. I’m going to try harder to worry less about sticking to the schedule I’ve set for myself (I make myself a schedule everyday to make sure I finish all the work I need to get done) and just let myself do things as I please (to a certain extent). If I see a cute cafe on the street, I’m going to walk in and have a little snack. If someone wants to see a different part of the city one day, I’m going to join them. This is the only time in my life that I have the luxury to do whatever I want in a new country with new friends with endless possibilities for memories. As cliche as this all sounds, I feel like it’s necessary to think about and realize.

On another note, I’m going to be away again this weekend for an overnight trip to Zlin for my Czech Cinema class. Zlin is in the Moravian part of the Czech Republic. We’ll have an animation workshop at a local university, visit a wine cellar for wine tasting (hooray!), explore some caves and there is a boat ride, too! It sounds like a fun trip and this is definitely one of those things I would not have experienced otherwise, so I’m excited.

I’ve also decided to make a google map and pin all the restaurants/clubs/cafes I’ve been to and include little reviews to go along with them. I figured this would be helpful for anyone coming to Prague in the future. I’ll probably post that later next month since it’s kind of a big project (and I still have many more places to visit).

And finally: I was offered an internship at BrandLink DC today! I’m really excited about it, 1. because it’s a PR company and I really wanted to intern at a PR company this summer, and 2. because I was starting to freak out about my summer and the possibility of not having an internship at all. I still haven’t accepted the offer but it’s a really good feeling to know that I have something set up for the summer. I can even post a status on Facebook about it if I want to! So many likes! Instant gratification!

Well, this concludes my little reflection of a post (along with irrelevant updates). Only 6 more weeks to soak it all in! Wish me luck.

Paris, Je t’aime.

Get ready, this is gonna be a long one.

This weekend I went to Paris, and it was absolutely beautiful. I went knowing that it would be pretty, but it really exceeded my expectations. Everything is so monumental and so picturesque, it was truly unreal. You cannot rely on movies or other media to capture its beauty– you have to go there and see it for yourself.

The first day I got there in the late afternoon, and after dropping my stuff off at the hostel I went to meet Carolyn and her friend from her program in London (who goes to Penn State as well). We met by the Eiffel Tower and walked along the Seine toward the Louvre. It was a beautiful, sunny day that made it perfect for a long walk. All the bridges, museums, churches, gardens, parks (literally everything) that we passed were so amazing I could not stop gasping and stopping to take it all in (and take a pic, of course).

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The Seine

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Carolyn and I

We got to the Louvre around six, went in and were pleasantly surprised to learn that we get free admission since we are students. In fact, all museums in Paris are free for students studying in Europe. I didn’t realize that part of the museum was actually inside the glass triangle, so I thought that was pretty cool. We didn’t have time to see the entire thing so we focused on the Greek and Italian sculptures and of course the Mona Lisa. I think it’s a taboo to say this but the Mona Lisa was pretty underwhelming. Maybe it was because it was surrounded by a mass of people all trying to make their way to the front to get a picture, but I thought the other pieces of art were more impressive. It was actually a little sad to see all these people with their phones/cameras out, not even taking the time to look at the painting itself and only worrying about getting a picture as a souvenir.

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After the Louvre we crossed the bridge over to a French restaurant on Blvd Saint-Germaine. It was a cute little place with a funny waiter who kept making fun of us for not knowing French. It was refreshing for me, since this would never happen in the Czech Republic (waiters barely talk to you there). I tried escargot for the first time, which came with scary utensils that looked like eyelash curlers. They have the same texture as clams, which I like, so naturally I liked the escargot as well. I had to ask the waiter to help me pull out one of my snails though, which did not help us debunk the American stereotype. Luckily he was nice about it, which I appreciated. For my main dish I tried “moules,” which is mussels and fries. And when I say mussels, I mean mussels. I think my bowl had about 50 of them in it. And I ate them all, of course. For dessert I tried the apple crumble. Needless to say, I loved it (it’s really hard for me to dislike a dish, as you can tell). After dinner we were exhausted from a day of walking so we parted ways for the night and I headed back to my hostel.

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The next morning I met up with Carolyn and Sarah to catch the train to Versailles. It’s only about a 30 minute ride so it’s pretty easy to get to from the city. The palace was even more stunning than I imagined it to be. I was shocked at how shiny the golden gates were. They must polish them or restore them or something (I don’t know how these things work) quite often. The inside was even more spectacular– each room was so immaculately and purposefully decorated. It was cool seeing rooms I’ve learned about in history like The King’s Chamber. I cannot even begin to imagine all the money and time spent building that palace. The Royal Gardens were just as impressive as well. They were so vast and well-maintained. I could probably spend all day walking around the property and still not see the entire thing.

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Outside of the Palace

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Inside

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King’s Chamber

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Hall of Mirrors

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Royal Gardens

After Versailles we went back into the city and had lunch at the famous Cafe de Flore. Apparently lots of famous artists and writers eat/ate there and it is now a cultural hub. It was nice enough out that we got to sit outside, which was great. I felt like I was getting the true Parisian experience. I had the eggplant gratin, which was cheesy and yummy.

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After lunch we headed to the Notre Dame. Oh my God this place is ridiculous. First of all, it is ginormous, and the architecture was overwhelming with all its detail and grandeur. However, I only saw the exterior since we didn’t have enough time to see the inside as we wanted to make time for other sites as well.

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We walked over to the Sainte-Chapelle Cathedral, known for its massive stained glass windows. Like the Notre Dame, this cathedral is Gothic. The stained glass windows were really beautiful and interesting– each of the 15, 50 foot tall window tells a different biblical story. Part of the church was undergoing restoration so we couldn’t see all of it, but the parts I did see were well worth the visit. Now that I’m taking an architecture class and have some knowledge of architectural history, it’s nice to be able to apply what I’ve learned.

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Next we went to the Love Lock Bridge. This bridge puts all the other Love Lock bridges I’ve seen in Europe to shame. Every inch of the bridge was covered, with multiple layers, in locks. Some of the locks were inscribed, which I thought was a little excessive but to each their own. Carolyn and I bought a lock and put one on for fun. I’ll be interested to see if I can ever find it again if I go back to Paris. The whole process of buying the lock, writing our names and the date, finding a spot on the bridge to place it, and throwing the keys into the river was a lot of fun.

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Throwing the keys into the river

After that little adventure we walked on toward the Champs-Elysees, the famous shopping street, for our final stop: the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped by Laduree (a macaroon/pastry shop) along the way. The place had a line that spilled onto the street of people waiting to get their hands on some of their world-famous macaroons. There was a separate line for those that wanted to sit down inside the restaurant. We opted for the latter since we were tired. The interior design was really pretty and classy. It was apparently inspired by the Sistine Chapel. I had the coffee eclair (had to get an eclair in Paris) and a raspberry macaroon. This was my first macaroon, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought the outside would be crispy and crunchy, but it turned out to be soft and delicate. The inside was a delicious jam-like filling. It was very sweet and I liked it very much.

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Laduree

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Arc de Triomphe

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With our bellies full of delicious pastries, we went back to the hotel to wind down and research some restaurants for dinner. We ended up taking the metro to a neighborhood called Montparnasse and randomly picked a restaurant on the main street. It turned out to be more of a bar than a restaurant but… oh well. I had a salad with smoked salmon. It definitely wasn’t the best meal of the trip but I wasn’t really that hungry either so it was okay. It came with free French bread (as does every meal in Paris), so that made everything better. I am an easy one to please.

The next morning we met up to go to the Luxembourg Gardens. Before going into the gardens we decided to have brunch since there were a lot of cute cafes in the area. The cafe we chose had outdoor seating, and it was a lot of fun people-watching as we sat chatting and munching. This brunch was one of the best meals of the trip– fresh croissants, toast with apricot jam, eggs, and ham. Not to mention the fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee. Just remembering it all now is making me hungry. As far as last meals in Paris go, I think we did pretty well.

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The gardens were really lovely; all the flowers were in bloom and it had a large fountain with little kids running all around (and old men playing with their remote-controlled toy sailboats). There were women doing yoga on the lawn, and lots of people jogging around the garden. It was such a pleasant atmosphere and I didn’t want to leave. I had a flight to catch, however, and had to go to the airport a little past noon. It was so hard saying goodbye not only to Paris but to Carolyn as well. I’m so glad I got to spend time with her and explore Paris with her this weekend.

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Luxembourg Gardens

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Final thoughts: I love Paris!!! The people, the architecture, the atmosphere, the food… everything was amazing and I want to go back again sometime. I would live there if I had the money to afford it. Maybe one day. I didn’t think I would love the city as much as I did, but how can you not love somewhere so breathtakingly beautiful? Readers (all three of you), if you haven’t been to Paris, you must take the time to see it. Just take my word for it. You won’t regret it.

I’m done!

Midterms are finally over! This week was insane, as I had midterms for all of my classes. I’m not used to having everything accumulate all at once, since at Penn State my workload ebbs and flows from week to week. This was probably the first time I’ve felt a considerable amount of stress since I’ve been here. I was pretty much either in my dining room studying or at school studying all week. Reviewing for every subject all within a few days is definitely not easy. It would be nice if they spread the tests out over a couple of weeks so that we’re not scrambling to memorize everything. It’s so weird that it’s already mid-semester though… I feel like I just started class.

Last weekend, before the midterm mayhem, I went on a school field trip to Lidice and Terezin. Lidice is a town in the Czech Republic that was completely destroyed and eliminated by Hitler during WWII. After the assassination of Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich (protector of the Czech Republic), Hitler chose this town to avenge his death. He ordered the Nazis to kill every adult man, send the women and children to concentration camps, and burn the town down entirely. All 173 men over the age of 15 were murdered, and several hundred women and children were sent to concentration camps. The site is now a memorial. Seeing the completely barren landscape and imagining that it used to be a town full of houses, buildings, schools, and people was pretty scary. It’s so hard to believe that these kind of events actually occurred in our history, and not too long ago either.

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Lidice

Our next stop was Terezin, which is the “model” concentration camp. It was originally a military fortress built in the 18th century, and was later turned into a ghetto and concentration camp by the Nazis. It wasn’t an extermination camp, but thousands still died at the camp from things like starvation and disease. The Red Cross came here to inspect the conditions of concentration camps, so the Nazis had a huge “beautifying” project where they made sure everything looked hygienic and humane. It was interesting to compare and contrast Terezin to Auschwitz, as they are sort of on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Terezin acted as a labor camp, where people had more of a purpose than at Auschwitz. However, the barracks and living conditions were strikingly similar, with extreme overpopulation and lack of nutrition. As I was walking through the camp, I didn’t feel as emotional as I did when I walked through Auschwitz. Perhaps it was because I was distancing myself since I didn’t want to feel those intense emotions that I felt in Auschwitz again. I felt guilty for feeling numb– but I guess it was a defense mechanism.

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Courtyard in Terezin

I’m really glad I got the chance to visit Lidice and Terezin. I’m so lucky to be able to experience and see first-hand such significant parts of history. It extends beyond World War II, too. I see buildings and houses from the communist regime, architecture from the 10th century, and remnants of the communist mentality in Czech culture on a daily basis. I am surrounded by it, and it is truly fascinating.

Anyway, weather here has been absolutely wonderful and it finally feels like spring time. I love being able to pull out my lighter jacket and wear it comfortably outside. This weekend I’m going to Paris to meet up with Carolyn, who is studying abroad in London. I’m so excited to see her! It’ll be really nice to see a familiar face, one that I’ve known for more than just a couple months. It’ll be my first trip that I’m traveling via plane, too! I plan on consuming many delicious pastries this weekend.

Ciao 🙂