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

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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.