Ahoj! My name is Andy Gnan, and I'm a junior psychology major at Susquehanna University.
This blog will detail my 110 days studying in Prague (Praha), Czech Republic.
~ Tuesday, December 28 ~
Permalink

Farewell to my journey

  (Written on December 18th)

          I almost never came to Prague. “Serious doubts” doesn’t even begin to cover what I was feeling the days before my departure in August. I don’t think people realized just how clueless, alone, afraid, and uncertain I felt. I began to wonder if studying abroad was just too unattainable  for me, and even considered attending Susquehanna during this fall semester, or taking the semester off. The night before I left was the worst. Words cannot describe what I was feeling that night. I was in a bed next to my parents, who I wouldn’t see for almost four months. I was about to fly on a plane for the first time within hours. I was going to be in Europe alone, and I was well aware of my inability to be outgoing and meet new people. And what if I hated Prague and felt that I made a poor decision? What if I wanted to go home within weeks? This is half of what was going on in my mind that night. And then, I flew.
          I told my friends and family countless times that I wanted to go through my journey completely alone. My explanation for that was I felt like surrounding myself with people would distract me from what I wanted to accomplish. I certainly secluded myself a lot at the beginning, and I realize that now looking back. I remember sitting on Facebook and seeing how other people from my program were out gallivanting around Prague having the time of their lives, and I was sitting in my room looking out the window and thinking what I was missing out on. I blame this entirely on myself. I could have accepted offers to hang out, and I could have put myself out there and gotten to know people. What made it worse is that people from back home continually began to state how much fun I must be having, and how lucky I was. I didn’t feel that way. I felt isolated and anxious for some kind of change. Eventually, that change came. It was around October when I began to feel comfortable with myself, and I also began to get to know the people who would become my closest friends. These people changed me. They gave me confidence I didn’t know that I had, and I admired their boldness and zeal. Also, some of them had personalities or interests that I hadn’t clicked with before. Their faces are flashing in my mind right now, and it makes me smile. Saying good bye to everyone yesterday was nearly impossible. I owe so much of my self-discovery to these friends I made, and I hope more than anything that our paths can cross again someday. 
          There were three places I wanted to travel to more than anything during this semester: Versailles, Auschwitz, and Salzburg. Accomplishing all three is something I am so grateful for, because they really were dreams that came true. And then I sit back and think of how I got to touch the Berlin Wall, and see the Eiffel tower at night, and swim in a Turkish bath in Budapest, and shop at a Christmas market in Vienna, and spend time with Susquehanna friends at pubs in London. For the years to come I know that I will be reminded of these travels frequently. They have also inspired me to spend my life experiencing what the world has to offer. I’m already looking forward to my Australia trip in June of next year with the psychology and biology departments. Also, I’ve decided that my goal is to travel to Tokyo in the next five years. My European excursions of the past few months will always be special to me though. It was these journeys that lit the spark, and opened my eyes wider then they have ever been.  
          As much as I may have complained over the course of the semester how frustrating and unorganized CIEE could be, I still thank it for providing me with so many opportunities. I wouldn’t have gotten around to traveling throughout the Czech Republic, attended as many theater performances as I did, gotten the chance to explore Prague as in depth, and much more. Some of the professors I had the pleasure of being taught by are some of the individuals who I will miss the most. Plus I learned, an incredible amount of new information this semester, and I know that this will benefit me in my future studies and other aspects of my life. When I walked out of the study center for the last time on Thursday, it was difficult to think that I will never be in that building again. It was a haven for me.
          I didn’t get to know my host family as much as I would have liked, but in a way I’m not surprised it turned out the way it did. Our schedules were completely opposite, and I was always away or out with friends on the weekends. I kept telling myself and others that I should have tried harder to get to know them, but then I realized that it is a two way street. Yes, I certainly could have tried to spend more time with them and made more of an effort in other ways, but at the same time, being a foreigner and living with another family is an intimidating experience. So, what I’m saying is that I believe we both could have tried harder to understand and accompany each other. Meeting Dagmar, my host sister, is something I will take away from that experience most of all. Even though we only spent a few days time together throughout the course of a four month period, I feel such a special friendship with her. We understand one another so well, and I have never seen someone with a spirit like hers before. She came home this weekend, and I got the chance to see her for the last time. I was struggling a lot with leaving and was also having a lot of issues with my flights. She stood by me throughout it all and provided me with so much positive energy. Dagmar also accompanied me to the airport this morning to help me sort some things out, before then seeing me off. As she was walking away from me, I realized just how thankful I was that I got the chance to know her.
          The support that I received from everyone throughout my journey has been phenomenal. From reading my blogs and wishing me good luck on my travels, to sending me packages and cards and asking how I’m doing, people from back home have, in their own way, accompanied me throughout everything. Some of this support came as a surprise to me. For example, an aunt of mine whom I never deemed as very interested in my endeavor contacted me before I left for Prague to wish me good luck; she began to cry on the phone saying how she was proud of me and hoped I would stay safe. She also sent me cards throughout the semester on her own behalf. I don’t think she realized how much that meant to me. I’d especially like to thank my friends, whose constant advice and encouragement helped me beyond belief. From the very beginning they were supporting me, thanks to a letter that Steph had written to me that I was only allowed to open on the plane. I just reread that letter, and was reminded of how grateful I am to have the friends that I do. As always, my grandparents provided me with their constant love even though I was an ocean away, and I feel more support from my dad than I have ever felt before. Most importantly I would like to thank my mom. Although she may be the biggest worry-wart this world has ever seen, and has a personality that perfectly clashes against mine, it doesn’t stop her from being my rock. Being away from her for so long has made me realize how much I appreciate her over-bearing nature; I should be happy that I have a parent who cares about me as much as she does. My biggest hope for the future is that I can convince my family to travel together, even if it is only a state away. As I was seeing so many incredible things this semester, I was always thinking about how I wish they were there to experience it with me. 
          And then, there’s Praha. We didn’t get along sometimes, but in the end, this diamond in the rough made me one of its own. Even though I may have gotten constantly overwhelmed by language barriers and the Czechs very difficult to read façade, I’m so glad I chose the Czech Republic as my study abroad location. It is so underappreciated, thanks to all those lameeeee West European countries (jk ;]), and I urge people to inquire about what it has to offer. I’m going to miss eating honey cake on my way to school, seeing the children at the hospital, shocking Czechs by speaking in their native tongue, hearing the woman’s voice on the metro, paying just over a dollar a beer, being surrounded by incredible architecture, learning about such a unique history, and about 320582 other things. Most of all I’m going to miss living life to the fullest with everyone who made my semester what it was. I was at a teahouse last night with Dagmar, and I kept crying because I couldn’t believe it was over. But I was also crying because, I was just so happy.
          I’m writing this entry at the Copenhagen airport, where I got stranded for a day thanks to flight delays. I was supposed to be home by now, but it turns out my homecoming will be tomorrow. I’ve had a lot of time to think about what has happened to me during this semester, and I keep thinking about one thing: I’m proud of myself. I never say that. I always think I can do better, and even if I do manage to accomplish something huge, I say it must have been luck or an accident. But I really am though, I am so proud of myself. For coming to Prague, for opening up and getting to know people, for trying new things, for seeing what I saw, for everything. I’m marveled by how happy I look in pictures these days, and how tidbits of optimism flow through me every now and then (and yes, that is a HUGE, HUGE deal). I feel like a much different person from what I came to Europe as, and I hope that I can continue to be this way when I return to the states. This whole experience meant much more than studying in another country. It meant giving me the zest in life that I was always missing. 
          James Baldwin, activist, writer, and playwright, spent a few years of his life living in Europe, particularly in Budapest and Paris. He would later write that these years were very difficult for him, mostly based on the strife that he faced because of his race. However, I also came across a statement of his that, within a few words, perfectly describes the last four months of my life: “I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.”

                                         

 

           


~ Tuesday, December 14 ~
Permalink

Elan, elan.

               It’s the final countdown. This is my last week in Prague. It feels so anti-climatic to be honest. It feels, not real at all. Leaving in four days seems like something that can’t be possible. How am I expected to leave the friends that I’ve made? Walk away from a city that I feel in love with? Leave a school that I go to? Say goodbye to weekends of traveling around Europe, meeting new people, buying interesting things? Up until this week I told people that I felt, indifferent about leaving. I told them that it would be bittersweet, but in the end I was ready to go back to America. However, as the days go by, I’m feeling less and less prepared to go back to America, both physically and mentally. I think I’m one of the last people from Susquehanna to still be in their study abroad location. Seeing everyone’s remarks about being at home and how it feels when the journey ends is making me dread the transition even more. I felt horrible when I called my house last night, and my aunt answered the phone and asked if I was ready to come home yet. I replied, “…..not really.” Yes, I miss my family and my friends so much, and there are certainly things that I’m looking forward to doing when I’m back in the states. But, I’m not ready to leave Europe yet. There is so much I still have to do, and I just prefer the way of life here.  I think I’m going through a crisis right now, and maybe this is what my program meant when they told us that we might experience some reversed culture shock even before we return home. I feel a lot better than I did yesterday about leaving thanks to a postcard that I received from my friend Kayla. Her postcard made me realize that I really do have a support system to go back to when I return, who will help me with the transition. I talked to my mom about it last night and she simply stated, “It’s just something that we are going to have to deal with”. 
              
Two weekends ago, I traveled to London, where my friend Robin is studying. She had told me throughout the past few weeks that if I ever made it to London, I could stay with her. It worked out perfectly because the same weekend I decided to go, my friend Sam also was in London, and we both stayed with Robin! I was very unsure about going to London, because as I mentioned before I felt very traveled out and thought I should have spent more weekends in Prague. However, just as with the Berlin trip, I felt so happy that I decided to go. I had gone the entire semester without seeing anyone who I had known, so it was refreshing to finally, after over three months, see familiar faces. It was incredible to hear about my friend’s journeys, and what they have experienced this semester. It made me realize that we will all go back to the states a little different from what we left as. I did the typical touristy London things, like visiting the palace and Big Ben. Robin took us to some amazing restaurants too, like this place that we devoted to chicken! I even got to see Les Miserables, a musical I had wanted to see again for quite a long time now. It was an incredible performance, and I felt so blessed that I got the opportunity to see it. Sam had come to London along with a few friends that she made from her program over the course of the semester, and they spent a lot of time with us. I had such a great time with them, and they only added to the list of incredible people who have met on my excursions over the course of these last few months. I seriously want to host a party in twenty years where all of the people I met can reunite, just so I can see them again. Other things I did in London consisted of buying luxurious cupcakes, buying some new clothes, visiting some really relaxing pubs, and seeing even more people from Susquehanna who are in London studying business. Although I might be very eerie about returning to America, I can say that I am still quite exciting to go back to Susquehanna. Seeing everyone that weekend made me excited to enroll in new courses, join new activities, and see the friends who I have missed so much.
              
Going to London was something that ended up being very special to me in another context. I have been babbling about wanting to explore Europe since I was in preschool. I had especially always mentioned wanting to visit London, and made this very known to my family. No one ever took me very seriously, which I don’t blame them for, except for Erica. Erica was my uncle’s girlfriend at the time, who has since moved to Florida. I haven’t seen her in many years, but she’s still someone who made an impact on my life. I recall sitting in my grandparent’s backyard with Erica, and telling her about wanting to travel when I was older. She took me so seriously, and encouraged me to do it. I recently came into contact with Erica after many years, and told her that I was studying in Prague and visiting many places around Europe. She told me how even though no one else took me seriously and thought I would do it, she always knew deep down that I would. That means so much to me.
              
This past weekend, I lived at the apartment of my friends Anita and Meghan. Long story short, they allowed me to stay with them because of some issues that I’m having (and can’t really discuss on here). It was, such a great last weekend in Prague. I loved spending time with a lot of people in the program, eating at some restaurants that I haven’t been to (I experienced Mexican food for the first time in my life. OH. MY. GOD), clubbing, and of course I did homework as well =]. It was, a fast-paced weekend, but simple at the same time. Whatever it was, it was incredible and I was content and pleased when Monday came. 
               On Monday, I had my Czech oral exam. I’m usually extremely nervous about language oral exams, but I went into this one with a “Lets just do this” mentality. I surprised myself, so much. Of course I am by NO MEANS fluent in Czech after a semester of living here, but I was able to have a basic conversation about myself, my semester, my future plans, etc. I think even my professor, who knows that I have struggled in class, was surprised at how I did. So now, my language class is over. My Jewish History course is also over for me now, since I handed in my final paper and did my presentation on the first day. Today, I went to my last Contemporary Czech Culture class. All I have left now is a paper/presentation for my Psychology of Transition and Transformation class, and an exam tomorrow in Art and Architecture. It’s a little unfortunate that my last weekend in Prague has to be completely consumed by schoolwork schoolwork schoolwork. But, I am studying abroad after all. 
              
Before I return to the stars and stripes, I need to do some shopping (for other people, and naturally myself), visit the Kafka museum, go to the Staropramen factory, visit a jazz club, go hang out at the five story club, and soooooo much more. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to accomplish everything, but I’m going to try and do as much as possible. This is turning into such the whirlwind, and its reminding me of how flustered I was when I left to come here.  I can’t say enough how it is so hard to believe that in one week I will be sitting in my home, surrounded by my family and friends. Maybe I’m more ready than I thought. We’ll see.


1 note
~ Wednesday, December 1 ~
Permalink

A Vienna Christmas market!


1 note
Permalink

Taken during my trip to Salzburg, on the Sound of Music tour.


Permalink

Empty your purse, and start a new life…

Winter has taken Prague by the throat. “Winter wonderland” is an understatement. Coming from Pennsylvania, I’m used to the snow/cold, but I still find it to be very unbearable sometimes. Luckily, Prague’s beauty seems to busting at the seams even as I’m slipping on ice, getting snow in my shoes and ears, and suffering from numb fingers and toes, so I can’t complain. My favorite part about winter here, and Europe in general, are the Christmas markets. I haven’t explored the markets in Prague much yet, but even walking by them makes me feel very happy and ready for the holiday season. The holiday season technically started last week with Thanksgiving. It was the first Thanksgiving I’ve ever had away from my family, so I was a little uncertain about how I’d feel. I ended up spending the day at the apartment of my friends, Jonathan and Harrison. I felt ill all day, but other than that, it was a fantastic time. I get so amazed by how well people my age can cook. And also embarrassed since I can barely pull off a Poptart. Dinner with people from the program was such a great experience, and even though I couldn’t be with my family, I still felt very at home and warm. My family, however, did end up skyping me, which gave me the best of both worlds. I was able to introduce my friends to my family, and my mom was so happy for me that she, in her true form, began to cry. Typical. She worries so much about me, so I think it was just very comforting to see that I’m in good hands here.
            The day after Thanksgiving, I left for Vienna. I almost sold my ticket for the Vienna trip since I was already in Austria and I’m quite frankly pretty traveled out. I ended up going though, and the whole time I felt like I was in The Polar Express. Vienna is home to the best Christmas markets in Europe, and they left me speechless. The streets, the stores, everything…all decked out with thousands of lights and decorations. I could have spent an entire week exploring all of the markets, which is the frustrating thing about visiting a city only for a weekend. Besides the markets, I also ended up visiting some of the landmarks that were prominent with the Hapsburgs, and drinking coffee in a café that was a favorite of my boy, Sigmund Freud.  I also indulged that weekend and spent entirely too much money on food, and enjoyed every minute of it. Austria has been my favorite country that I visited so far, and I have been thinking about how ideal it would be to live there someday. I love how it has both an urban and naturey feel to it. The cities don’t seem to be too bustling or overcrowded. The people seem welcoming. And, I also wouldn’t mind learning German. Actually, that is something that I have gotten really serious about. I decided freshmen year to take French as my foreign language requirement, but haven’t taken the second course yet. Even though I love listening to French being spoken in conversations, movies, songs, etc, I absolutely despise attempting to speak it. German, however, is a different story. I took German in high school and loved it, and traveling around Austria and Germany during the past two weeks has reminded me how much I enjoyed it. So that’s why I ended up switching my schedule for next semester two nights ago, and dropped French. I’ll be taking German my senior year, and although it might be risky to try to squeeze in two language classes into my last year of college, it’s something I think is necessary. I love that this whole experience is making me see a lot of things much clearer.
            I leave for London on Friday morning, and I’m nervous. I’ve never dealt with flights being cancelled or delayed before, and I feel like that is a huge possibility with all of this snow that Mother Nature is gracing me with. Also, I have to take a bus from the airport to the center of London, and I only have a few minutes to find the bus station after I leave. I LOVE LOVE LOVE traveling, but not the getting there part. When teleportation is invented, I will be the first person buying into it. I keep trying to remind myself that I need to think about what is in London wait for me: friends from school, a seemingly great city with a lot to explore, and hopefully a nice finale to all the trips that I’ve taken over this past semester. I can say one thing for sure: after London, I am absolutely done with traveling for the semester. For the rest of my days here, I just want to soak up the rest of my experience in Praha.
            When I get back from London, it will also be time to get serious. Final papers and exams will be hitting me in the face as early as next week, and I’m not going to lie, I am completely unprepared for all of it. I don’t understand how I’m supposed to conquer everything academically, while also managing to do all of the things I wanted to do in Prague that I haven’t done yet. What I’m most worried about is the Czech oral exam that I have to perform in two weeks. That is going to be one of the biggest jokes of my life. I can barely talk about what I did over the weekend, let alone have a 20 minute conversation about how my semester was, and what my plans are for the future.
            The future. I’ve been asked a lot this week about if I’m ready to come back to America, and I have also been bombarded by statements such as, “TIMES ALMOST UP” and “I WILL SEE YOU IN 18 DAYS”. It makes me excited, but also overwhelmed. As far as the answer to that question, I am indeed ready to come back to America, but I am just not ready to leave Europe. I want both. My fear is that the first two weeks after I return home will be fantastic, only to go downhill from there. I know that when I get back, I’m going to do everything possible to keep my mind from reminiscing. I went to the mall today and printed out around 50 pictures from the past few weeks. Included were the pictures from the week that I managed to somehow pull off Paris, Berlin, Dresden, and Salzburg within a few days. I started to flip through them as they were being printed it out, and I felt incredibly lucky for all the people I’ve met, and all the places I’ve seen.
            Last night my Jewish history professor managed to get us free tickets to a new ballet in Prague titled Faust. The ballet was also being performed at the Estates Theater, which is the theater in Prague where Mozart debuted two of his operas! The opera has been getting rave reviews since it premiered, and the rabbi told us that American ballet companies want to fly the Czech company to America in order to perform it because that’s how amazed they are by the production. The ballet follows a man who makes a deal with the devil, and has to suffer the consequences. The devil is portrayed by Hilter in the first act, and Stalin in the second. It covers times both under Nazism and communism, and it was just….incredible to see everything I’ve been learning about performed in a dance on stage. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen, and I was so intrigued by the themes and talent of the dancers. If you are in Prague in the next few months, you need to see it!
            While in Vienna, we saw an advertisement that became the theme for the weekend. Enjoy:

 

                   


4 notes
~ Wednesday, November 24 ~
Permalink

Running out of adjectives

             I have no idea where the last few weeks went to. I was flipping through my planner on Tuesday when I realized that December is next week already. I triple checked the planner, as if Moleskin had made a mistake and accidently left out a whole week of November. But alas, December is creeping up on me, which means my time in Prague in drawing to an end. I remember in the summertime how anxious I was to come to Europe. It was never out of my mind. It even caused me to make mistakes at my job because I would be in these huge day dreams, imagining I was walking by Charles Bridge, or laughing with friends that I didn’t have yet at a bar. When August 29 was getting closer and closer, it became more and more real. Before I knew it, I was at the airport in Prague with dozens of strangers surrounding me, making me feel extremely overwhelmed. I realized recently that I became comfortable with Prague much later than most of the others, but I’m thankful that I’ve finally found ease here. Last week, I visited Berlin, Dresden, Salzburg, and Paris within a one week period. It was the most exhilarating week of my life, and by the end of it, I was shocked that I was still able to stand up. Let’s start with Salzburg.
            When asked why I wanted to visit Salzburg, I would replied, “Obviously because of the Sound of Music Tour!” Quite honestly, other than one of my favorite movies of all time and Mozart, I didn’t know anything about Salzburg, Austria. What I discovered is that Salzburg is so much more than that. Going on the Sound of Music tour was one of my goals for the semester, so when my friend Colleen told me that she and her friend Aurelia were going to be taking a train there, I knew that I couldn’t say no. We met up with Colleen’s friend Jennie, who is studying in Vienna. The four of us had a fantastic weekend, thanks to amazing weather, the beautiful landscapes, and the great people we met. In our hostel, we met Francie. Francie is an Australian who now spends her time traveling and running a hostel of her own in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Small world! She became our mentor that weekend, and I found her to be one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Hearing how established and happy she is, and all the traveling that she has gotten to do really inspired me. Also, it seems like Australia keeps popping up in my life! (I’ll be traveling around Australia in June 2011). In one of the pamphlets I read about Salzburg while I was there, it stated “It is as if the word ‘charming’ was created just for Salzburg!” I couldn’t agree more. It was extremely breathtaking, and the epitome of my perfect city. Seriously I want to move there someday, into one of those little towns nestled into the mountains and lakes. It was so surreal getting to accomplish one of my main goals, and it still seems so unreal to me that I actually went to Salzburg. I’m so happy I got to meet Jennie and Francie, and hope to see them, and all of the other fabulous individuals I’ve met over this semester, again someday.
            Paris is my least favorite city that I have visited so far. When I told this to people, I got “OH MY GOD! WHY?!” Let me explain. I loved Paris, so much. It was gorgeous, I really took to the French people, and I appreciate their way of life. However, it is being sold out. What I mean is that all of the men who are running around the Eiffel Tower shoving key chains in your faces, or women who have you read sad postcards by children who have cancer and want your money (these children don’t exist, it’s a scam), or guys who put bracelets on your arm “for free”, only to then badger you for money afterwards, are ruining the city. It is SUCH an amazing city that it makes me furious that all of these people have to taint it for me. It’s all about making money I guess, and although I’ve seen this in every city I’ve visited, it was most prominent and aggressive in Paris. Aggressive to the point I got slammed into a tree by a man who was angry at me because I wouldn’t give him money for a fake ring that he “found on the ground.” I didn’t get to experience Paris the way that I wanted, and I am so eager to go back someday and do everything I wanted to do. Paris isn’t a city you can accomplish in a weekend, believe me. I spent a full day in Versailles which, like going to Salzburg for The Sound of Music Tour, was a dream of mine that I wanted to accomplish. I’ve always been fascinated with Marie Antoinette, so walking in her footsteps on that day was just, incrrrrrrreedddible. I can’t even explain it, or explain how GORGEOUS Versailles is. It was my favorite part of that trip by far, and I could probably go into a 89 page blog about it. However, since it takes me a month to get the opportunity to write a 3 page blog, obviously that won’t be happening. Long story short, Paris is amazing if you spend more than three days there and are willing to look past all of the unfortunate individuals who are trying to sell it out. Just my opinion ya’ll.
            Germany was the last country that I visited that week, and by the time I got on the bus to head to Berlin, I was severely questioning whether or not I would be able to survive three more days of traveling. It turned out to be one of the best weekends of the semester yet. Berlin is one of my favorite cities that I have visited so far. I didn’t know much about Berlin, and discovered upon getting there that it is an extremely modern city that is twice the size of NYC and jammed packed with art. Art is EVERYWHERE. People live, eat, sleep, bath, in art. Art art art. And I loved every second of it. The history of Berlin is incredible, and we got to see things from where Hitler’s old office used to be, to the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall. Having the opportunity to visit the wall was, such the experience. Berlin decided to take advantage of the wall, and dozens of artists each took sections of the wall to display fascinating paintings. My friends and I walked alongside it for almost an hour enjoying all the artwork and taking everything in. It was just one of the numerous great times I had in Berlin last weekend. Wow, it really was just….amazing. Oh! We were also in the middle of a terrorist threat. We visited the German Parliament building (you MUST visit it if you ever go to Berlin) which, four hours beforehand, received warning that terrorists threatened to take hostages there. We ended up going anyways (for some reason?), and the whole time I felt so paranoid that something was going to happen. Luckily, nothing did. There is this vibe that Berlin has. It has sass, spunk, and warmness. I absolutely recommend it. On the way back to Prague, we stopped in Dresden for a few hours (where I ate at an Australian restaurant. See?! Australia again), and Germany impressed me yet again. Although it may be a small city, it is packed with gorgeous architecture, so much to do, and sosososo much more. If you ever visit Germany, make sure you visit both Dresden and Berlin. You won’t regret it.
            I feel like I cheated my week of traveling by wrapping everything up in one huge paragraph each. I could write for days and days on everything I saw and did, but it’s nearly impossible. Also, there are some experiences I just like to keep to myself. It helps me to cherish everything just a little bit more. This weekend I will be heading off to Vienna, Austria. I almost sold my ticket in order to go somewhere else or stay in Prague, but I keep hearing what an amazing city it is, and rumor has it that Vienna is home to the best Christmas markets in Europe! So pumped. Also, I booked plane tickets today for London, and I will be traveling there next weekend and meeting up with a few people from Susquehanna! I can’t imagine meeting up with my friends from school in Europe, who have been sharing similar experiences to me. I know we have all grown so much, and have had our own unique journeys. I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s stories, and what their feelings are about going back to America soon.  My last full weekend of the semester will be spent in Prague, even though I was planning on visiting Amsterdam, or somewhere in Italy. The truth is that I have been feeling a disconnect from Prague lately, and I want to soak in as much as I can before I leave. Spending my final weekend not in Prague just doesn’t seem right to me. I want to leave feeling like I’ve made my own mark on Prague, and have gotten a full experience. I’ve already been reminiscing lately on the semester, but I really need to stop that. There are still a few weeks left, right?!
            Classes are going well, although I find some of my class requirements absolutely ridiculous, considering it’s a study abroad program in Europe. Classes that have a final paper, final presentation, AND final test all due in a few weeks? Really? It just seems like too much to me. Also, even though I’m aware Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I wish we would be given off school tomorrow. I’m planning on visiting some friend’s apartments and having dinner with them, and also skyping with my entire family from back home, who will be eating at my house in order to see me.  I can’t wait to see my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, parents, siblings, etc. all together! Volunteering at the hospital is still something I’m very grateful for, and I am in denial that I will only be spending three more times there before I leave. The children have been, incredible, and they are teaching me so much too. With all of the responsibilities I have in Prague and all the traveling I’ve been doing, I haven’t been spending much time with my Czech family, and that’s something I wish I could change. They have done, and still do, so much for me, and I don’t think they realize how much I appreciate everything. Hopefully I will have the chance to spend more time with them before I go back to the states.
            I dyed my hair dark brown last week. It was a thought that has been lingering in my head for months, and on an impulse, I went to the mall and bought hair dye. Before I knew it, my hair was brown. I surprised myself that day. I’m picking up on certain parts of myself that are different now. Boldness that wasn’t there before, and some more confidence maybe? Its more than that though, and maybe not that at all. It’s also something that is very difficult to explain. haha What I do know is that I am now a brunette, and I’m happy with it. I’m happy.  

             

                                                                          Berlin Wall


~ Sunday, October 31 ~
Permalink

1/2

            Today I had to turn all of my time devices back one hour because….IT IS THE LAST DAY OF OCTOBER (Happy Halloween)! November is tomorrow people. Say what?! I woke up this morning and my watch was ahead of the time on my computer, and I thought, “It seriously can’t be time to turn back an hour yet.” Oh, but it is. What is most exciting about it being November is that Prague is the city of the month on my Romantic Europe calendar. This weekend was also fall break, and I ended up staying in Praha for the weekend. I had decided at the last minute I wanted to take a bus to Paris, but the tickets were already sold out, and getting to Paris right now is really difficult because of the transportation strikes. Surprisingly enough, I wasn’t that upset about the plans falling through. After midterms week being craycray, I was way too exhausted and in no mood to attempt conquering a city by myself. I enjoyed spending time in Prague this weekend, especially because this is my last full weekend here until I leave. I spent it by going to a clubs and cafes with friends (and a delicious Greek restaurant with my friend Anita), getting lost in the city, and mentally preparing myself for the last half of this surreal life I’m living. I felt completely relaxed and at ease this weekend, and that is exactly how I want to feel before heading into my final weeks here.  I’m possibly traveling somewhere this upcoming weekend, but at this point it’s just that, a possibility. Ultimately I would love to spend the weekend in London, because I’ve wanted to visit the city since I was very young, and also my friend Robin from Susquehanna told me I was welcome to stay with her.   However, I’m still determined to visit Paris, and for some reason, the thought of going to Amsterdam keeps lingering in my mind. I have to be strategic in planning my trips around orphanage trips, required class trips, and classes. Hopefully I get to visit at least one city on my own terms before I head back to the states.
            This past weekend, I was overcome by homesickness. It all came full force after my mom had sent me a message saying that my grandparents were considering moving out of their home in the next two months. My grandparent’s house is my favorite place in the world. I lived there until I was eight, and all of my most precious memories happened there. It’s also the family homestead, which means that the rest of the family was also upset at the thought of giving up the home to someone else. I immediately wanted to be back in St. Marys at that moment with the rest of my family. I wanted to be sitting in my grandparent’s living room where I feel most secure.  Missing my family turned into missing my friends, which manifested into me going through hundreds of old pictures on Facebook. Skyping with some of my friends and talking to them on AIM only made me miss them more. Then I thought of Susquehanna, how beautiful the campus must be right now and of course my friends there. On top of all of this, its Halloween weekend. Normally I’d be at my grandparent’s house helping my grandma bag candy for the trick-or-treaters. My mom also told me it snowed this weekend, and I even missed that! That’s right, I said it: I MISSED SNOW. Luckily, my friends in Prague kept me busy, which helped to distract me from my homesickness. I was also told by my mom yesterday that my grandparents were keeping their home after all, which made me so realived. I know I have to focus on the now, and not my life in PA. The last thing I want is to get home and realize that my body was in Europe and my mind was in America.
            As I have stated before, I’m volunteering at an orphanage in Northern Bohemia, and also at a hospital in Prague. I volunteer at the orphanage once a month, and my first time there was last Friday. The bus ride only took us a little over an hour, and we rode in style in a bus that was completely encompassed by a Pilsner Urquell advertisement. When myself and the other volunteers from CIEE arrived, there were around ten of us, we discovered that CIEE’s disorganization had struck again. The orphanage was completely unaware that we were supposed to volunteer that day. It was a mildly awkward introduction, since we were technically barging in on their day, but they were nice enough to let us stay with the kinds for around two hours. The orphanage was in a beautiful location (especially in the fall), nestled in the forest, secluded from the rest of the town, and has been taken over by Bieber Fever. The orphanage itself seemed to be doing a fantastic job taking care of the children, whose ages range from toddlers to teens. It was very organized, and the rooms they provide for the children were charming. We met the children after they were finished with school, and although they were shy at first, they quickly welcomed the handful of Americans that had randomly appeared. We first played in a playground in the woods, and then moved to the soccer field. My athletic abilities aren’t even good enough for playing soccer with children, so I instead played tag, drew with chalk, and helped to keep track of the children. They were an absolute joy to be with, and the perfect motivator to help me want to learn more Czech. It was SO frustrating to have an adorable little boy babbling at you in Czech, and having absolutely no idea what he was saying, or how to respond. We all wished we could have stayed longer, but since they weren’t expecting us, they didn’t have much prepared for us to do. I ended up making it back to Prague in time to see Eat, Pray, Love at a movie theater with some other people in the program. The theater was spotless, had the most comfortable theater seats I’ve ever sat in, and was….just fabulous. The cost to get in? A little over six US dollars. Incredible. The only bizarre aspect to the theater, which I later found out is common in much of Europe, was having assigned seats.
            I began volunteering at the hospital two weeks ago, after almost a month of the volunteer organization not receiving my emails. The problem all started when CIEE gave me the incorrect volunteer times, which meant I had to change around my schedule in order to volunteer. I emailed the organization, Lekorice, for weeks telling them I was now able to volunteer, but they wouldn’t respond to me. I then got an email from CIEE stating that “They had gotten an alarming email from the hospital that the kids and teachers were asking about where I was”. Long story short, I eventually got everything sorted out, and after receiving my show stopping t-shirt and hospital I.D., began to volunteer. I was told again and again that I would be working in the child’s surgery unit of the Thomayer Hospital, helping to teach the children English. I was naïve to assume “children” meant individuals up to around ten, because when I walked in my first day, I was faced with a bunch of teenagers. Due to a confidentiality document I signed with the hospital, I can’t say too much about the actual children. I volunteer every Tuesday, and go door to door in the child’s surgery unit. I spend about 15-20 minutes in each room, having a basic conversation with the kids (the oldest has been 17, and the youngest around 6-7). It’s required that they speak only in English to me, but sometimes to help them I’ll say a few words in Czech so they understand me better. We talk mostly about family life, hobbies, and our favorite things. Of course, I encounter other questions too, such as “Do you have Facebook?” and “Do you like Harry Potter?”  I mostly enjoy questions that they ask based on random words they know. For instance, I introduced myself last week, and the boy responded by asking, “DO YOU LIKE BANANAS?!”It turns out he was very good at English, especially for how young he is. Actually, my translator, Alexandra (who THE most cheerful Czech I have met thus far), told me that younger children seem to be better at English than those that are older. The reason is based on how children are taught English, which mostly comes in the forms of games and cute little jingles. Alexandra told me that when they start growing up, the children become less motivated to learn English, because who wants to be a teenager playing games about colors and singing a song about your favorite animal? The hospital staff doesn’t know much English, and always laugh at my lack of Czech language skills. However, when I leave, they always love to exclaim, “Bye Bye!”
            Being in Prague over midterm break gave me time to think about the last half of the semester. I thought about the cities I want to travel to, the places in Prague I want to visit, the things I want to buy, the food I want to try, the activities I still want to get involved in. However, since time is dwindling, I’ve also began to think about what I want to do and change when I get back to America. Scheduling for spring semester classes at Susquehanna begins tomorrow, and having that small dose of reality creep into my life has woke me up a bit. Currently, I’m struggling with a decision I have to make very quickly: whether or not I want to keep my minor in Health Care Studies. My advisor told me to stick with it, but trying to fit all the classes I still have to take into 3 semesters is going to be such a pain. On top of that, I don’t even know if the medical field interests me as much as I thought. In the months after I return to the states, I also have to start thinking about grad school. This is an issue, because I’m still unsure about what direction of psychology I want to take. Why must I be so indecisive? I was hoping that some sort of experience or vision in Prague would give me insight into the kind of future career I want, but so far that hasn’t happened yet. Next semester at Susquehanna, I want to get more involved in campus life. I want to continue with yoga and kickboxing classes, APO, and chorale, but I was thinking about joining a fraternity, or maybe band. But, Ill cross that bridge when I get to it. I shouldn’t even be thinking about what I want to do in January, because I can’t even make up my mind about what I’m going to be doing this weekend!


3 notes
~ Saturday, October 23 ~
Permalink

Říjen!

          I have not written anything in, forever! I don’t know what else to say besides I feel horrible about it; however, I can explain myself. Firstly, midterms are next week, which means I’m in the midst of deadlines, quizzes, and presentations. Secondly, I was not in Prague for the past two weekends (which I will elaborate on). I traveled two weeks ago with CIEE to three cities in the Czech Republic, and this past weekend was my trip to Poland. And lastly, I am still spending hours attempting to find a fall break location (which is not looking promising), while maintaining some sort of social life, and trying to manage talking to my friends and family in the states. Sigh. My to-do list is growing, and so is my stress. This entry is probably going to be really haphazard, but….enough about that!

          CIEE requires that we attend two organized trips to other cities in the Czech Republic. My Jewish history class already has two of these trips as a requirement, but I still wanted to go on the psychology trip to Velkě Losiny, Olomouc, and Přibor (which is pronounced without the “P” and a rolling R. Go Czech.) All of these cities are located in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, and is known for beautiful mountains and stinky cheese. We departed on the morning of October 8th, and after a few hours on the bus we stopped in Velkě Losiny. This city is known for the witch trials that took place in its mountains years ago. We were supposed to hike in these mountains, but didn’t have the opportunity to after all. I’m still really upset about that haha. Instead, we were taken to an exposition on witch hunts and trials. This place was, creepy. We were all given headphones, and this man with an ominous voice walked us through the typical doings of a witch hunt/trial. We got to see the torture devices that they used, and watch some clips that gave us a very descriptive history lesson on it. Let’s just say, I was glad when it was over. We then made our way to Olomouc, a city that I ended up adoring. Olomouc is known as being a college town these days, since there are a few popular universities there. It’s also the baby version of Prague, and less touristy. We stayed in a hotel that had a communist vibe (aka: not the warmest place on Earth). One of the highlights of my weekend was seeing my homestay sister, Dagmar. She attends school in Olomouc, so I don’t get a chance to see her very often. When I discovered I’d be traveling to the town where she studies, she said we should meet up. On Friday night, Dagmar took me on a tour around Olomouc, and showed me where she attends school. We also had some incredible dessert, naturally. I really enjoyed spending time with Dagmar, and I wish I’d see her more. It’s likely the next time I’ll see her is in December right before I go back to America.

          On Saturday, our group got an extensive tour of Olomouc, and then was given hours of free time. I spent the afternoon with some people who I hadn’t got to know quite well over these past two months, and I really enjoyed getting to know them. We ate at a really chill restaurant, and spent some time in the autumn sunlight at a park near our hotel. The whole CIEE group met up later that night to watch the movie The Witches Hammer, which was supposed to add on to our witch trials theme. This movie was, not up my alley. What was great, though, was having the opportunity to spend time with local Czech psychology majors. We went out with three of them later that night, and I got to know two of them: Barbora and Jakub. They inducted me into the “Buffalo Club” (it’s a secretive club, so obviously I can’t spill the deets on here), and made it really difficult to say good bye to them. I’ve gotten to know a handful of random Europeans on a good basis, and it’s odd to think that I may never see these people who I’ve developed quick friendships with ever again. Sunday meant it was time for Přibor, which also meant a visit to the house of Sigmund Freud! I’m a psych nerd, so you can imagine I was anticipating this visit. Although Freud only lived in the house from birth until he was four or five, he still said it was those years that most influenced his life and career. To top of the visit, I bought a Sigmund Freud teacup. =] The ride back to Prague from Přibor was a great one, because we were on the road as dozens of planes were in the sky and the sun was setting. Whenever I leave Prague on the weekends, I now begin to get a little homesick.

          Last weekend, I traveled to Poland with around thirty members of the CIEE group. We left on Thursday night, at midnight, and traveled six hours to Auschwitz. When I was in the fifth grade, I was first introduced to the Holocaust. Our teacher had us read excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary, and from that moment on I began to have an unexplained interest to this tragic moment in history. Over the years, I’ve read books on the Holocaust, watched numerous movies, and even took a class on it last semester at Susquehanna. I’ve always wanted to visit the place that filled my mind whenever I read, watched, or learned: Auschwitz. I knew that reading a book or watching a movie wouldn’t truly allow me to understand at least a tiny bit what happened there decades ago, and when I discovered we were going to get the chance to visit, I knew I had to go. On the way there, all I kept thinking about were the innocent people who were taken to Auschwitz at night time, following perhaps a similar route to the one we were taking. I couldn’t even imagine what that must have felt like, or what I would have done. We arrived early on Saturday morning, and I was immediately shocked by its location. The concentration camp was located not too far away from the center of a small town. I’ve always assumed it would have been located in some hidden area on the outskirts of a discrete, unknown location. Our tour guide was the granddaughter of two individuals who went through the Holocaust, and she was also the most amazing tour guide I’ve ever had. I’m not going to go into detail about my visit to Auschwitz, because it was an experience I want to keep to myself, and those I shared it with. I will say that for a decade I’ve came across the same picture of Auschwitz, taken from the railroad tracks, and focusing on the main building of Auschwitz II: Birkenau. I went into that building on Saturday, and looked out onto the camp. I never felt an emotion that was so heavy before. Our tour ended by our guide telling us that whenever we witness injustice, or extreme hate, to think of our experiences on that day. It’s something I’ll never forget.

          We traveled to Krakow afterwards, and I woke up just as we were driving past the castle. It was a beautiful thing to wake up to. When I got to the hotel, I took a hot bath immediately. After almost seven hours on a bus, my body felt like this bizarre mix between Jello and concrete. Sadly, the weather that weekend proved to be very gloomy, but Krakow still managed to maintain a very welcoming atmosphere. The people were very friendly, the currency was fairly easy to figure out, the nightlife wasn’t obnoxious, the food was superb (I had one of the best meals, ever), and the markets were so delightful. I also got to see some very interesting parts of the city, such as Shindler’s factory that helped to save hundreds of Jews during World War Two. I’m thankful I got the chance to travel to Poland, because it seems as though Western Europe always gets more attention. Eastern Europe surely has a lot to offer as well! On our last day in Poland, we went to a salt mine that was 54 stories below the surface. It. Was. Massive. A town full of people could have thrived in this mine, and there were restaurants, stores, a chapel, bodies of water, and a lot more. We also were able to lick the walls, which was really overwhelming (and I am a huge fan of salt, too). I bought a lot of bath salts too haha. I was extremely impressed with Poland, and if you ever get the chance to visit Krakow or Auschwitz, please do.

          I impressed myself in Poland. Normally, I absolutely hate spending money. I’m not all about souvenirs and paying to see places, but that weekend I allowed myself to indulge. I bought trinkets, from a handmade wooden flower to a mini tree made out of salt. I bought a gift for my mom, and a book at Auschwitz. I found this smokin’ hot shirt in the mall, and without thinking, purchased it. I ate Kebabs at night, wasn’t afraid to order drinks, and had delicious desserts. For me, this was more than usual. A few days ago I went to the bankomat (ATM) to check the balance in my account, and was surprised to see that I was pleased by how much I have left. I think during my last two months in Europe, I’m going to be a lot more carefree when it comes to money. Obviously I’m not going to roll back into America with 78 suitcases filled with fur hats, leather pants, and luxury chocolates. But, I am going to worry less about $$ and think more about what I can do to make the most out of this experience.

          And, this experience ends in approximately 55 days. Looking back, September went awfully slow, but now? Time is moving faster than it ever has before. I have midterms next week. November is days away. In November I’m visiting more cities in the Czech Republic, going to the orphanage, and traveling to Berlin and Vienna. Then, its December. Honestly, I’m freaking out a bit. I definitely have made progress on some of the things I set out to do, but I still have sooooo much I want to accomplish in these next two months. My fear is that on my flight back to the US, all that’s going to fill my head is “I wish I would have _________ or “I so should have ________ when I had the chance.” However, what I can say is that I have never felt more alive in my entire life. I was thinking about that in the bathtub in Poland last weekend. It’s difficult to describe other than, I feel different. I think I’ll know how to better explain it towards the end of my journey. My weeks lately have been filled with volunteering at the hospital and orphanage (which I will elaborate on later), class trips, getting to know new people, having some great times with friends (80’s jazzercise party. Hell yes), exploring more of Praha, and so much more. I could honestly write a 5 page blog for every day that I have here, which is why not writing after a month proves to be extremely difficult! I know I’m leaving out important details and people and facts but, it will come back to me eventually. Or maybe it won’t, but at least I got to experience it. A popular saying among the participants in CIEE is “This is not real life”. I absolutely agree with them. I’m just a little afraid to wake up from the dream.

                       


1 note
~ Saturday, October 2 ~
Permalink

My parade got rained on

Warning: This blog contains a lot of venting.   

                Today was….not good. Although it appears I’m living a dream, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without a fair share of bad days. It’s been one of the roughest days I’ve had here so far, which is leaving me a tad homesick and ready to start a fresh week.
                The day was fine until I left the apartment in the afternoon. The complex I’m living in will be getting new windows installed for the next two months, and the process began today. As I was leaving the entry way to go outside, I saw there were a bunch of workers with all their construction garb. I’m 90% sure they saw me walking out the door. Well, as I was walking past them one of the construction workers started yelling things at me behind my back, so I turned around and he continued to scream at me. I responded, “Mluvim Anglicky” (I speak English), and he waved his hand at me and said “Čau”. I’m assuming he was yelling that I used that door since they were throwing down materials from the scaffolding, which is understandable. However, I was still confused as to why a.) They couldn’t have told me sooner to not use that door/have it posted somewhere not to and b.) It was necessary to get all up in my face. When I returned home around two hours later, I didn’t know how I was supposed to get into the apartment, so I went up to a worker (which of course was the guy who had yelled at me) and said “Can I—-” before he barked at me, “No speak English” and walked away. Luckily, I found another entrance behind the building, so I’ll be avoiding the other one for the next few days. I understand I have to be open-minded when I’m in a new country, and accept that there will be cultural and language barriers. Understanding that doesn’t make it any easier sometimes.
                While I was out in the city, little frustrations began to build up. I decided that instead of going to “The Globe” and doing homework, I would go and visit the Lennon Wall (which I will explain more when I actually get to visit it, because it turns out I never found it today haha).  So after getting yelled at by construction workers, I decided to go to the bankomat (ATM) to put credit on my phone. I think the idea of putting money on your phone via an ATM is a glorious idea, by the way. ATMs, however, are not glorious. Actually, ATM’s freak me out. Every time I stick my card into it and it makes any sort of noise, I immediately think the worst. After I entered all my information into the ATM, it gave me my card back and a message came up that stated, “CURRENTLY OUT OF ORDER”. It never added the credit to my phone, and hopefully it didn’t take any money out of my account.
                The next issue was the escalator. I had gotten off the metro, and started towards the escalator when I heard it was making really bizarre noises. Nonetheless, I got on. While riding the escalator, I saw my friend Meghan, who was accompanied by her mom and aunt, who are visiting for a few days. I would have loved to actually gotten the chance to stop and meet them, but that’s kind of impossible to do on an escalator. Ten seconds later, the escalator suddenly stops. I don’t know if there were too many people on it, if there was some prior issue, but it totally threw in the towel. I know you may think, “An escalator stopped working, and you think your life sucks today?” I understand there are more pressing issues in people’s lives than this, but it’s just one of those small nagging situations that continue to build on an already less than perfect day.
                I had to cross Charles Bridge to get to the Lennon Wall, and this proved to be extremely difficult. This bridge is a tourist magnet with hundreds of people that make it take over 15 minutes to get from one end to the other. It baffles me how some people walk slower than a 100 year old tortoise, knowing very well there are crowds of people behind them. In general, tourists have really been bothering me (I know that technically I’m a four month tourist). I get really upset when I see how Praha is just an exhibit to some people, and even more upset when it’s citizens play into the act (i.e: the stores that sell Russian merch, and the people on Charles Bridge today who were dressed up as if they are from medieval times). There is so much more to Prague than all of that, and people live here. When I think of it in that context, I find all the tourism really unbelievable. I cannot imagine how I’d feel if millions of tourists were invading my space every day in my hometown. I think once a week Prague should close its borders and let it be a tourist free day. Still, I know tourism does great things as well, especially economically. Okay I’m done babbling.
                In the end, I never found the Lennon Wall. By the end, I kind of gave up. I was so frustrated that I quit asking for help and just decided I’d save it for another day, which means I went through all my melodramatic distress for nothing. On the way back over the Charles Bridge, I decided to just go to the side and look out at the city. It looked like I was staring at a painting, and I can’t wait until autumn completely takes over here. It is going to be even more breathtaking, if that’s possible.
                During this whole experience, I was constantly being looked at by people. No, not looked at. Stared at. It got so irritating towards the end when one woman literally stopped talking to look me over from head to toe and just stared me right into the eyes like I was an alien. So I stopped walking, turned around, and gave a big stare right back at her. She didn’t like that very much. But seriously, I was looked at all day as if I was wearing Lady Gaga’s meat outfit form the VMA’s, when really I was wearing jeans, a tee, and a jacket. I think I got really annoyed because it brought me back to times back at home. When I’m in my hometown and I decide to wear something MILDLY bold (a purple long sleeve hoodie), people stare..and stare..and stare. Because in St. Marys, camouflage is the new black twelve months a year. My friends told me for months before I left that Europe would do me some good, because I could wear whatever I wanted and get away with it. So far that has proved to be pretty accurate, until today. They were probably just looking at my massive Chia Pet hair. I really need a haircut.
                The moral of this story is that there will be rainy days in paradise, maybe even more rainy days than usual. I’ve been thinking about this quote I read recently, and its helping me put days like this into perspective. It goes something like, “If it’s not going to matter in ten years, it doesn’t matter now.” The escalator and ATM stopped working. A construction worker gave me attitude (that I probably deserved, he really was looking out for me). There are slow tourists in Prague. People stared at me. Are these things going to affect my life in the long run? Probably not. With all the experiences I’ve been blessed with recently, I really shouldn’t complain about a bad day.
                The ending of my week was phenomenal. On Thursday night, a bunch of people in our program went to a tea and hookah house. It was such a chill atmosphere, and I am looking forward to visiting more often. I ordered caramel tea, and was expecting it to come in a decent sized cup. I was handed, a tea pot filled with caramel tea (and this is what you get when you don’t read the menu correctly). It turned out to be the best mistake I ever made, because this tea was..adjectiveless. Earlier on in the day, my Contemporary Czech Culture professor took us around an area of Prague called Florenc to analyze graffiti. I never looked at graffiti as an art form until recently, and it’s now something I appreciate. This professor, by the way, is one of the most interesting people I have ever been. All I have to say is, she left us that day, with her orange/red dyed hair, to hop on a plane to NYC so she can tour with her band. Enough said. I also went to a few clubs on Thursday night, and it was actually the first time I have experienced Prague nightlife. It was one of the best nights I’ve had in Praha. Last night, another professor of mine, who is a Rabbi, invited us over to his home for a Shabbat dinner. In order to get to his apartment, we had to ride this freeeakkky elevator. (I’ll leave a link to the elevator at the end of the entry). The evening went really well, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow when he takes us to a town in Prague called Třebíč. We’re going to be exploring the former Jewish ghetto and Jewish cemetery, as well as visiting the well-known St. Procopius basilica.
                I was planning on going out tonight, but now I’m in the mood to just relax in my room. Tomorrow is my sister’s birthday, and I really wish I was home to spend the day with her. It seems like a wave of homesickness is coming my way. My friend Allison, who is studying in Granada, told me something a few days ago that made me feel better about my next two and a half months here. One of her program leaders, when discussing homesickness, said, “This is three months out of your entire life”. It’s so true. In the grand scheme of time, my stay in Prague will last only a few more seconds. I have to put homesickness aside, and accept the gift of more bad days.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ro3Fc_yG3p0
The elevator I went in!


~ Wednesday, September 29 ~
Permalink

Hungary for more

         

          One month ago I was on my way to Newark, New Jersey with my parents, preparing to fly out the next day. I can’t decide if it feels like it’s been a month or not. Part of me feels like this journey is going so incredibly quickly and yet the other part of me feels like I’ve been here for a year, not a month. I think it’s because I have never had so much happen to me within a period of only a few weeks. I’m ready for October though. I’m ready to feel more at home in Praha, to travel, to learn, to explore, to change. I was already thinking yesterday how once October ends and November comes upon me, I’ll be able to say “I go home next month” and I KNOW that will freak me out. I came here with an agenda. There are places I want to visit, and so much I want to do. I will admit that so far I’ve just been nestled in the backseat of this rollercoaster ride, afraid of facing it upfront. I’m hoping in the next few weeks this huge dose of boldness will get to me. At the same time, I’m still very proud of what I have accomplished in September.

          The weather last week in Prague was incredible, and autumn is definitely making its presence. This week has been nothing but rain, but I don’t mind. Classes are going well, although I’m finding it difficult to stay on top of everything. My planner is filled already with all these assignments and requirements and exams and its week two. I think I wasn’t ready for the slap in the face that said, “Um, yeah Andy, this is not a vacation.” I’ve learned so much in my classes though, probably more than I have ever learned before. What is incredible is having two classes, Art and Architecture and History of Jews in Bohemia, which have out classes every Wednesday. This means we get to actually go out into Praha and witness what we’re learning about. For example, last Wednesday I got to go with my Art and Architecture professor to visit the oldest homes in Prague, which are situated underneath Old Town Hall. Old Town Hall is beautiful inside, by the way, and I actually got to be inches away from the Astronomical Clock figurines. We went down a number of staircases, and finally ended up in homes that were built in the 11th Century. The city has literally built upon itself, because now these homes are completely underground. It was one of the most interesting places I have ever been. The homes were almost completely intact, the floors were made out of stones from the Vltava River, and we even got to see a section that was turned into a prison cell. In the cell, the former prisoners etched their names and the date they were there into the walls, so we got to see things like, “VACLAV: 1603”. I didn’t bring my camera on this excursion though, and I do apologize. This actually brings up something I want to discuss. There are going to be days in the future when I don’t take my camera along, because I want to experience what I’m seeing fully, and not behind a camera lens. It was great to explore these homes and pay attention to the information and take everything in, without getting distracted by my camera. It made me realize I should do that more often, but don’t worry, I’ll still be taking plenty of pictures. =]

          I decided to sign up for the November trip to Berlin after all. Even though I originally thought I’d rather visit other cities that weekend, I realized I’d wanted to go to Germany for quite some time, and I’ve heard that Berlin is incredible. In the next two weeks, I’ll be planning my fall break. I decided that I’ll be spending four days in either France or Italy, but trying to pick one and then focus on a city is going to be so difficult. Versailles, Rome, and Venice are all at the top of my list though. If you know me, you’ll also know that it’s possible that I’ll end up going somewhere like…Zurich instead haha. I don’t even know why I plan these things.

          This past weekend was my trip to Budapest! It all began on Friday when a few of the people in our group for that weekend met up at this restaurant called “The Globe” to talk about final arrangements. I am in love with this place. It’s owned by Americans, so the menus and books that are available in their bookstore are in English, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with them since we share a commonality. One of the workers was telling us how Tom Cruise was in town, and that he actually worked on a movie set with him before. I ordered, as I always do, the hot fudge brownie with ice cream. If I spend 1/3 of my study abroad funds on this dessert, I will not be surprised. It’s that good. The place also has free wifi, movie nights, and a great atmosphere. If you come to Prague, make sure you check it out! After “The Globe”, I went to one of my friend’s apartments for a Small Time Crooks themed night. Small Time Crooks is a 2000 Woody Allen film about a ploy to rob a bank that somehow ends up with the main characters getting filthy rich with a cookie business. So before the movie, our friend Hannah made delicious cookies, cheese bread, and malled wine. It was such a relaxing night and the perfect ending to a great week.

          On Saturday, I woke up at around 4:30 in the morning in order to watch the sunrise at Charles Bridge with a few friends. It’s something I definitely would do again, and it set the tone for our trip that weekend. At 7am we departed Prague on a bus and began our 6-7 hour journey to Budapest. Our bus stopped in Bratislava, Slovakia, and we had a minor issue when one of our group members got their card stuck in the ATM machine, and had to leave it there. Thankfully, he handled the setback so well (I would have cried and screamed) and we continued on with our journey. Before arriving in Budapest, I felt like we were driving through the fields of Pennsylvania, and I got home sickness that lasted .7 seconds. Our bus dropped us off at a metro in Budapest, and we took out some cash, bought transportation tickets, and headed to our hostel. We had some difficulties getting there, but the people of Budapest were SO friendly. People were actually coming up to us and asking if we needed help (something we aren’t used to in Prague), and that was a trend the whole weekend. I was skeptical about how the hostel situation would be since I never stayed in one before, but it proved me wrong. Our hostel had a team of friendly and helpful owners, and it felt like we were all staying in this cozy house together. We stayed with a few Germans, and also a Peace Corps member who had traveled to Budapest for her first marathon. We spent Friday afternoon and night exploring some of the city, eating at this traditional restaurant (I had gulash, and it was…amazing), and meeting up with some friends who were also there that weekend.

          Sunday started off with a quick breakfast, and then we went to a tour that lasted for four hours. If you would have told me before that the tour would have been that long, I would probably have ended up just doing my own, much shorter, walk around the city; however, the tour was fantastic. We got to see two festivals that were taking place in Budapest at that time, heard the interesting history behind all the beautiful buildings, saw an old castle that looked like it was out of Lord of the Rings, and even went inside one of the oldest synagogues in Budapest on a religious day. Our tour guides were so sweet, and we made some friends throughout that day (and also saw a German/Czech couple who were also on our bus the previous day, and would be where we were later that night. SO bizarre, but we loved them). After the tour we ate at this place called the Hummus Bar, and that’s where we met our friend Richard. Richard was a really friendly waiter at the restaurant who gave us all these tips and tricks for a weekend in Budapest (one such tip was to manipulate our transportation tickets so we didn’t have to buy new ones, which worked out until two of our friends got caught and had to pay a $35 fine). The food at the restaurant was so delicious, that I can honestly say I think it was the best meal I have ever had; I ordered the hummus plate with falafel, and got lemonade with mint leaves to drink. The meal was so great that we even went back the next day before we left, and also gave Richard our names. We are now friends with him on Facebook haha. The whole Richard situation made me laugh because in Eat, Pray, Love, a book by Elizabeth Gilbert, she meets this man in India who has a great impact on her life and calls him simply, “Richard from Texas”. I now can say that I have a “Richard from Hungary”. We relaxed a bit in the late afternoon, and then went to this music club that was built under a pond. It’s still surreal to me that I can legally drink in Europe, especially because I never drank in America. I’ve actually thought a lot about the law in the US, and I really think it needs to be rethought. Here I am in Europe with alcohol all around me, and I am completely naïve towards it. I don’t know what is what, what to mix with what, what’s strong, what’s unsafe. I think it’s really important, if you’re going to be in a situation like I’m in, to research a bit before you go. Alcohol is treated with a much different mentality in Europe. It isn’t just thought of as, “Omg what a great way to get wasted and have a fun night”. It is just a way of life, and a part of culture. I really appreciate and respect how it’s viewed here (but don’t be fooled, I have definitely seen my fair share of drunk Europeans). After the club, I ended up having what would be one of the best nights of my life, because I went to a 16th century Hungarian thermal bath. Words cannot describe this place, and sadly I was not allowed to take pictures (you should google/bing/yahoo it though!). I have never felt more carefree, relaxed, and alive in my life. Here I am in this huge bath with all these people, and my friends and I are so in sync with one another. There were four smaller baths and one giant one, a heated pool, saunas, and steam rooms. The temperature of the hottest bath was 108 degrees! I spent almost three hours at the bath, and we ended up falling asleep around 4am. The city was lit up on the way home, it was raining, and I crossed a bridge that goes over the second longest river in Europe, the Danube. I feel like I’m in a dream sometimes.

          The next day, I got to visit the second largest synagogue in the world. I’ve been interested in Jewish studies since elementary school, and getting the opportunity to experience things related to such an interest (the synagogue, Jewish classes I’m taking in Prague, a trip to Auschwitz next month) has been something I’m so grateful for. Unfortunately, I started to get sick throughout the day, and still am. I think the lack of sleep, weather changing, and amount of walking I do all took hits at my immune system. We left our hostel that day, and it felt so bittersweet. We said good bye to the friends we made, to the helpful staff. To Budapest. On the way back to Prague, I kept thinking “I’m going back home”.

          I’ve begun to feel more comfortable with Prague this week. So far this week the highlights have been waking up to a playing piano, visiting the Jewish Quarter, and being on the movie set of Mission Impossible IV with Tom Cruise! I got a lot of my to do list done today, so I’m beginning to feel like maybe my phase of no motivation may be ending. I just get in these stupors where all I want to do is sit in my room and watch TV, but then I look out my window and think “GET OUT THERE NOW!” I can’t say enough how baffled I am by the fact that people in the USA know so little about Prague. This city has such a unique history, is incredibly beautiful, and is situated in such a way that you can travel to so many spectacular European cities. Praha is such a gem, and I truly believe there isn’t any other city like it out there. I feel like Prague is an actual entity sometimes that holds me close, and has taken me under its wing.

Email me! gnan@susqu.edu

*Special thanks to my friend Harrison for supplying the picture of the Charles Bridge sunrise!