I’m not going to lie, my main reason for the trip to Poland was that it was included in our program, so I figured, ‘why not?’ but, Poland just wasn’t my cup of tea, as many would say. Oh, Krakow was beautiful, and full of people – student, not tourists! (This is a strange thing to someone who lives in a city where the tourist to native ratio is 3:1 in most areas). But Poland was windy and foggy, so…cold. However, we did see the Jewish ghetto – what’s left of it. And the super cool Salt Mines. I’d already been to Auschwitz, so I chose not to go again. Some things really are only meant to be done once in a lifetime.
Since it was so foggy, my pictures of Poland are not as pretty as my pictures of Vienna or Berlin, I haven’t had the energy to sort through them and edit them. I have some good shots of the salt mine, though.
We got into Krakow on Friday after taking a night train from Prague to get there. We didn’t have reservations, which was not my call, and a very bad idea). We saw a castle and went to a church concert at the Church of St’s Peter and Paul. It was beautiful quartet, and the church was a fascinating background. It wasn’t something I’d normally do, but I recommend doing it at least once. Saturday we went to the Salt Mines, which took a good chunk of the day, most of it really, and since we were beat, we decided to be lazy, and watch the new James Bond movie (with Polish subtitles, maybe not such a good idea). Sunday a few of us travelled back, while the others went off to Auschwitz.
This weekend, since I’m feeling a bit sick, I might just hole up here in Prague. I have tickets for the opera (Carmen) and ballet (the Slovak National Ballet is coming for a joint show with the Czech Ballet) next week, that will be exciting. And I also have tickets for an Advent Concert in December. The beautiful thing about Prague is that with an ISIC card, you can get 50% off of all tickets at the National Theater, which has Opera, Ballet, and Theater tickets, as well as occasional concerts. My seats weren’t fantastic, but they were very very cheap (I got all three tickets for less than $15 USD)
No matter where you go in the world, some things will be the same, and some things will be different. Some of these things you notice right away, like 24-hour time. To the rest of the world, 4:00 means 4am, and 16:00 means 4pm. There is no 4:00am and 4:00pm. Get used to it. Other things we don’t notice for months, or even until we return to our home, and our dear friends and family point it out to us. It’s then that you realize that you’re the strange one.
A few differences between Europe Prague and the US.
Bread. Bread in the US is toast. Plain and simple. Unless you’re buying a fancy loaf of bread, it’s just not that mind-blowing. In fact, in most cases, it’s a sad excuse for carbs. But in Europe, it’s possible to snag croissants fresh from the bakery, or baguettes that crunch just perfectly on the outside, and are soft on the inside. It’s fresh. And as such, it’s bought every few days.
Weight. You’ll gain it. No matter how hard you try not to, or how much exercise you do, you’re still going to gain it. Be it the bread, the beer, the Nutella, or some combination of other influences, you’ll gain weight. I eat less, am more active, and eat healthier…and still have gained. On the other hand, you should be able to lose it pretty quickly upon arrival back in the US. I think it has something to do with what our bodies are and aren’t used to consuming. I’m curious to see if that is true over longer (more than a year) time.
Stuff. You come over with one little suitcase, and after a few months, you start to ponder the question “how am I going to get all this home?” It’s especially difficult when traveling to multiple places. We buy “stuff” or trinkets, as my roommate calls them. And presents for family. And clothes. And shoes. And all those stupid books for classes (or just books in general) and are stuck pondering the questions What do I take home? What do I get rid of?
Australians. Everywhere we travel, we meet a couple kids from Australia. They are super nice and love to party. They aren’t studying abroad, they aren’t on vacation, they’re just traveling. For months. In Switzerland, we met a guy who’s traveling for 10 months. In Berlin, we met some kids traveling for about 4 months.
Train etiquette (mostly CZ). It’s proper and polite, that if you don’t have a reservation, you always ask if the seat is free. Also, when leaving the cabin (Czech trains are split into groups of 6-8 seats, depending on the train) you always say goodbye, even if you haven’t spoken to the other occupants the entire time. If you forget to ask if the seat is free (because it might not be, and seats can be coveted if the train is full), you will most likely get glared at by some older Czech woman. They’re grumpy – don’t mess with them!
Prazaks. AKA – the people of Prague. They’re grumpy. In general. Maybe it’s because their little city of 1 million is routinely flooded with about 3.5 million tourists a year. Or the rain. Or the crowds on the public transportation. It could be the fact that their beer gets more and more expensive. Or that there are smelly bums all over town. Who knows. But, Prazaks can be the one blemish upon the beauty of Prague. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of nice Czechs. But most of them don’t live in Prague. (I’m sure that someone is going to dispute me on this. Go ahead. I’ve lived in Prague. I’ve lived elsewhere in the Czech Republic. The Czechs who didn’t grow up in Prague are nicer.)
Meeting people. I have met many different people from all over the world – on the train, in hostels, while visiting castles, and just walking through the street. Sometimes we talk for a couple hours, sometimes for only a few minutes. Most times, I never learn their names, and they never learn mine. And even if they do, we often don’t exchange numbers or email addresses in order to keep in touch. (which, as I write this, is kinda stupid. I would have a lot of couches to crash on if I got all those phone numbers and names). I finally understand what it means to be two ships passing each other in the night. You meet, you wave, you exchange some tips, ideas, philosophies, and then…you’re gone. A guy from Nigeria, a couple of kids from Texas studying in Vienna, a fellow historian and philosopher from Ireland, they’ve all made impressions on my life, but half the time I don’t even know their names.
Yesterday we went to the top of Europe. Amazing views, and there was snow! I was super happy 🙂 We also had traditional Roesti and chocolate fondue for dinner at a little place called Des Alpes. Yum. And bought lots of chocolate as well. Today we’re off to Innertkirchen and Understock. This trip is crazy, but so much more than I imagined it could be.
By the next time I write, I’ll have hopefully accomplished the following tasks. Wish me luck!
So here goes. The plan is to stay in Interlaken, which isn’t too far from where my Great Grandma grew up. It’s kind of a jumping-off point for all sorts of tourism in the area, most of it of the adventure sports variety. We’re arriving on Friday around noon, and we plan to explore the city and around it on Friday. Saturday, we’ll probably head up to the alps – the weather is kinda iffy, but Jean and I want to do some hiking or go up in the train, gondola, whatever. Sunday, I plan on making my way farther east to Meiringen and Grund, then eventually to Unterstook, which is a small village. My Great Grandma grew up in the mountains nearby, and since I don’t know where exactly (and the family that has visited said it’s hard to get to), I probably won’t find the house. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will all work out and somehow we’ll find the house.
After the weekend trip to Vienna, I spent the following two weekends being an absolute coffeehouse, art-seeing, park-strolling bum in Prague. And it was wonderful. I went to the Mucha Museum and fell head over heels in love with his work. There were quite a few pieces I had to refrain from buying full size posters of. I did promise myself I buy a few when I got home and settled into my apartment. The coffeehouses were lovely, and one of the ones I went to used to be a favorite haunt of Franz Kafka.
The weather even decided to warm up, and so I was blessed with a beautiful babi leto (Indian summer) for those couple weeks. I also got to spend tons of time catching up on homework and took plenty of photos of Prague, but the weather distracted me and I never did as much as I’d planned.
On Thursday evening Jean and I are leaving for Switzerland. This trip is super special for me because I’m traveling to the area where my Great Grandma lived when she was a young girl, and she used to tell me stories about it. It’s always been a dream of mine to go visit, and so now I’m getting the chance.
Vienna is, in a word, charming. It doesn’t have the stunning cityscape of Prague, nor the young and funky culture of Berlin, but it has charm. Vienna begs you to step into one of its millions of coffeehouses and have a drink or two and spend an hour or two just contemplating life and dreams. One of the great things about Vienna is that a lot of the museums have days where they offer half price or cheap tickets, or sometimes have free exhibits.
We arrived in Vienna on Friday afternoon, dropped some things off at the hostel, and our professor took us on a quick tour. Afterwards, we grabbed some dinner, and then Jean and I made a mad dash back to the hostel to change, and were off to the Opera. We read in our copy of Rick Steve’s that for a mere 3 Euros, you can buy a “standing place” ticket for the Vienna Opera. The view isn’t very great and after 3 and a half hours of standing, I was beat. However, it was great to see an Opera in Vienna, especially for 3 Euros. After the opera we went out for some of the best gelato I’ve ever had, and then back to the hostel.
Saturday morning dawned bright and early. Jean and I headed over to the Naschmarkt, which is basically like Pike Place market combined with a flea market. And when I wandered past the stalls selling fish and seafood, I felt like I was back in Seattle. After spending about three hours there, eating falafel and hummus with fresh fruit and bread. After lunch, we split up for some museum wandering. I went to the Kunsthistorische Museam (The Art History Museum) and spent almost another three hours wandering the halls. it was great, and I only left when I got too hungry that I couldn’t focus on the art anymore. I decided to head to a cafe for a while, since that’s what Vienna is all about. And after a “short” 90 minute stop at a cafe near St Stephan’s Cathedral, I went to see some sights and another museum at Modern Art and Architecture. Then we all met up at the hostel for some dinner and just hung out.
Sunday morning I went to the History of Vienna museum (which is free on Sunday mornings), which had tons of cool artifacts from Vienna’s past. After that, I ran around to see some last sights and spent another hour in a cafe and ate way too much. With a quick, final jaunt to visit the Belvedare Palace, we went to the train station and left for Prague. All in all, I believe that Vienna is a beautiful and charming, but very expensive city. However, I felt proud of myself because I was able to speak German for most the time.