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…).

IMG_8400

The yummy wine

IMG_8404

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

IMG_8406

My dish– lamb shoulder

IMG_8413

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.

IMG_8430

Vysehrad fortress wall (with church in the back)

IMG_8434

 

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.

IMG_8467 IMG_8468

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!

Advertisements

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.

IMG_8162

The neighborhood Bata built.

IMG_8169

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.

IMG_8299

Inside the wine cellar.

IMG_8323

Sucking the wine out

IMG_8338

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.

IMG_8199

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).

IMG_7685

The Seine

IMG_7687

10170962_10152374991534612_1685651956_n

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.

IMG_77171925256_10152374991559612_1237345010_n

IMG_7728

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.

IMG_7744 IMG_7751 IMG_7749

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.

IMG_7760IMG_7762

Outside of the Palace

IMG_7764

Inside

IMG_7788

King’s Chamber

IMG_7916

Hall of Mirrors

IMG_7815IMG_7806

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.

IMG_7825 IMG_7829

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.

IMG_7830

IMG_7833 IMG_7841

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.

IMG_7853

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.

IMG_7863 IMG_78711173698_10152374996999612_1639843573_n

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.

IMG_7881 IMG_7886 IMG_7887 IMG_7889

Laduree

IMG_7912

Arc de Triomphe

IMG_7913

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.

IMG_79301978856_10152375000144612_301812579_n

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.

IMG_7937

Luxembourg Gardens

IMG_7947 IMG_7962

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.