Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Weekend in Paris

I had a wonderful, albeit expensive, long weekend in Paris. I left early on Wednesday morning, and took the metro into the city (which cost a ridiculous 9 Euros... the beginning of the end). I was a little early, so I walked around a little park near the Cite Universitaire, and immediately fell in love with the city. I have been to Paris before, but this was the first time as a real adult, and with my own free time. This little park right next to my friends dorm was beautiful, and one of the first things I saw was a petite bonbonerie and wanted to buy some sweets, but knew I needed to conserve my money for useful things (like baguettes and wine). There were a bunch of little children just hanging out, and, to the disregard of various signs, feeding the ducks. I was pleasantly surprised to find a public toilet. I don’t think I have seen a public bathroom since June. I know that it doesn’t sound too exciting, but it made me realize I was once again in the western world (a stupid phrase, and a little arrogant, but I didn’t know what else to say...)
After this quick meander, I headed off to meet Kathleen, who I have been married to on Facebook for a year and a half now, though that doesn’t really mean anything, at her dormitory. The place looked really similar, and I realized that we had talked about it in our French in Action course back in freshmen year of college. Every building is commissioned by a different nation, and then built in that nation’s style. It is a completely interesting area of the city, but, unfortunately, the individual rooms weren’t the greatest. However, I can never complain about free lodging, and settled into Kathleen’s characteristically messy room.
That night we played it a little low. I met some other BC kids that were studying in Paris, and Kathleen, Torie and I went out for Pho down the street. It was really good, and a nice price, so I was quite content with Kathleen’s choice. I was a little worried though because they told me to just hop the metro. It is a little different than Prague, I guess, but I was still worried I was going to be slapped with a 50 Euro fine... the first thing I did the next morning was buy some metro tickets.
The PT system in Paris is horrible. Even without strikes, the entire system is completely confusing, and it sprawls through gigantic stations. There will be signs with arrows that point to walls, or just to the ground, and you have no idea where you have to go. Plus, you need to keep your ticket to escape from the system as well... too much work.
On Thursday, Kathleen had class, so before she had to attend, we went to the center of the city to the Ile St Louis, where we got some espresso (which they serve with chocolate... my kind of city). Afterward, Kathleen had to go to class, so I was alone exploring the Latin Quarter. Of course, I went into Notre Dame, and then saw the Pantheon, St. Severin Cathedral, Ile de la Cite, some gigantic fountain, and a bunch of other things. The Latin Quarter is pretty nice, but it is a little touristy. I really liked the international section of the town, and am always really happy to find a gyro stand. I lunched on a pain au chocolat, and then met Kathleen back at Notre Dame. (I know the pain au chocolat was pretty insubstantial, but we had plans to cook dinner that night). After heading home, I made Kathleen a Czech dish, and afterward we met up with some more of Kathleen’s friends from home at the bus station... she is one popular girl.
Friday, after a long sleep, Kathleen and I headed out to the famous cemetery in Paris to see the gravestones of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, among others. The cemetery was beautiful, but overwhelmingly gigantic. Afterward, we went to a café, a favorite of Kathleen, and then bought a baguette with some goat cheese. I know it sounds cliche, but it is a really cheap way to get nutrition and tasty food... It also felt totally normal to be eating a baguette on the street. Strange town.
Afterwards, we went to Notre Dame, once again, and met up with Kathleen’s friend and walked to the Hotel de Ville, and eventually made it to the Louvre, which is free on Friday nights. I have been before, but was still excited to see some of the masterpieces. I was actually really quite disappointed. Mona Lisa is so tiny, and I don’t understand why Venus de Milo is so famous... I still really love Winged Victory, however, but that was the only part I enjoyed. All the other works seem to focus on Biblical stories, and I wasn’t that interesting. We were chatting about this, and realized that EVERYTHING was centered on Christianity until quite recently, and artistic expression has only dramatically changed in recent centuries. Amazing how one story can have such a huge impact on history....
After the Louvre, which is still beautiful, don’t get me wrong, we started heading home, but stopped to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. This sparkling show could have been really kitschy, but somehow it just amplifies the beauty of the building (funny that it was once considered a gigantic eyesore). We decided to cap off this classy moment with McDonalds (hey, I’ve been in Europe long enough that I can eat McDonalds once in a while) but I ate too much. The best remedy? Kathleen and I went for a jog the next morning, which was gorgeous next to the Cite Universitaire. The difference between her campus’ beauty, and my campus’ hideousness is remarkable. But then again, I assume there is also a great disparity in price...
That afternoon was my favorite, as we went to Montmartre: a beautiful part of Paris that was built on a hill on the right bank. This is the old home of the artist of Paris, and there seems to still be various struggling artists trying to sell their crafts. At the top of the hill is the beautiful Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Cathedral, and we were lucky to witness a band covering some great artists atop the hill. Unfortunately, we also had to witness a crazy cat woman singing songs along with the band at a high pitched shriek, mais c’est la vie.
Even though Montmartre is completely touristy, I am completely in love with it. If you can get past the huge crowds, and just focus on the atmosphere, the entire place seems enchanted. It is almost an oasis from the bustle of downtown Paris. L’Ile St Louis is the same way, but without the tourists. These little gems were the best part of my vacation.
At Montmartre, we met up with my friend Petra, who actually lives RIGHT AT THE FOOT OF THE HILL, and saw her apartment. The guys then went to the Red Light District, which was a little sketchy, but it was nice to see Moulin Rouge. We also were offered a student discount for a prostitute, but don’t worry, I wasn’t tempted. Afterward, we headed home for a quick sleep, before my last day in Paris.
Sunday was quite interesting. Kathleen headed to Versailles with her two guy friends, and I was left alone to travel around. Museums are free in Paris on the first Sunday of every month, so I had planned to visit a whole bushel of them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who knew about this great deal, so I ended up having to wait outside in the freezing rain to get into the Musee D’Orsay. My friend Tarun once told me that cinema is the last outlet that gives people a shared emotion, but I would have to disagree. Standing out there, getting soaking wet, but not caring at all because we were all heading into a fantastic museum, I felt a connection with everyone in line. We were all intellectuals braving the storm to see some art, how much better could life be?
The Musee D’Orsay is perhaps the best art museum I have ever been to. The first thing I saw was an exhibition of Ferdinand Hodler, an artist I had never heard of, but he has become one of my new favorites. His work was so varied throughout his life, and his ideas of parallelism were fascinating. Afterwards, I just wandered the museum and enjoyed the huge number of works all collected in a restored railway station. Of course, the museum is known for its collection of impressionistic masterpieces, and I got in my full share of Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso. It is funny how quickly museums can wear you out, though, and after three hours, I was back on the street traipsing across Boulevard St. Germain. I found a 80 cent copy of Animal Farm, picked it up, and headed back to the dorm to find Kathleen diligently working on her homework. Once I started Animal Farm, I couldn’t put it down, and didn’t leave the dorm again until it was finished. I know it had nothing to do with Paris, but it was a frighteningly interesting novel, and I want to read more Orwell!
Kathleen was quite busy with her work, so I went with one of her friends Oran to see the Arc de Triomphe and wind up my trip with one last espresso. Although I didn’t make it to everything I wanted to see, unfortunately I didn’t make it to Versailles or the modern art museum, but I had a wonderful time in Paris. Although it is a ridiculously expensive city, I hope I can return and see some more of the great sites. Then again, there is a lot more to traveling than seeing every site. I’ve come to find that what is a lot more important, and long-lasting, is friendships made. I now have a couple of new friends I am going to hang out with at Boston College, as well as a couple of new correspondences. La vie Paris.
Oh, and the night life was grand!! Lots of nice bars, a super club on a boat, complete randomness with wonderful friends... Then again, 9 Euros for a cocktail is ridiculous...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Today I went to a town in the northern part of the Czech Republic called Liberec. It is the 6th largest city in this country, but I don't think it is visited by tourists very often. It was nice to get away from Prague, and see another city. One of the best parts was seeing snow! Even though it is just an hour north of Prague, they already have a good 4 inches of snow!
The first thing I needed to do when I arrived in the city was buy some clothes. It was a lot chillier than Prague, so I bought a nice ugly Christmas sweater, for a nice price of 10 dollars, and went on my way. The people at the clothing store were really helpful, and they helped me learn some new Czech words as well!
In general, everyone in the city was very kind. Usually, people in Prague are very reserved, and when you ask for their help, they seem very put out. Here, on the other hand, everyone was quick to lend a hand. I felt free to ask people what certain buildings were, and where the museum was. The only person that was slightly rude was the lady at the tourist office, but she gave me a free map, so things were fine. Even old men, who would be cankerous in Praha, tried to point me to the bus station.
The town has a beautiful municipal house in the center, from the late 19th century, and it was the first thing I saw when I got to the center.

Afterward, I just walked around until I stumbled upon a little gallery near the center. I walked in, asked if there was any information in English, and, after a negative response, said that it didn't matter, because it was art, right? The lady smiled, and the ticket to get in the museum was only ten crowns, so I spent a good hour and a half looking at art from all sorts of periods. They had a wide collection, and though it started with modern grafiky, upstairs there were works from the 16th century. I joked with one of the attendants about it was so weird to walk from one room and see these incredibly modern interpretations, and then the next moment look at a painting of a Flemish landscape from 1650. I was actually able to have decent conversations with the attendants, and they all really liked me. When I pointed out my favorite work, they encouraged me to even take a picture!! Now, that doesn't happen very much at an art gallery.
Afterwards, I was getting a little pooped, so I decided to head back to Prague. On the way, though, I saw a doner place, and couldn't resist buying one of my favorite snacks. They never seem to disappoint, and I am going to miss them in the states....
I only have a couple of Wednesdays and free weekends left abroad, and I am going to try to make the most of them by seeing more traditional Czech towns. I had a really good time wandering around alone today, and was, once again, wishing that I wasn't living a city where EVERYONE can speak English.... Oh well, c'est la vie.
ps, I promise to write an update soon about my weekend in Belgium, which was great. But I am a bit tired, and am going to watch Mean Girls instead!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Family in Praha

Sunday, last Sunday mind you, not two days ago, was spent just wandering around the city. My family and I walked around Praha, relaxed, drank some coffee and just enjoyed being outside on the streets. Anna had been trying to find a shirt for her boyfriend, which never happened, but the rest of the family was very relaxed. They were grand visitors; since they have lived here before, I didn’t really need to give them a grand tour of Praha, and instead brought them to some of my more favorite destinations. (Well, in hindsight, we didn’t make many of the places I wanted to bring them, but I hope it was a very relaxing week). Anna was looking for some boots as well, but it turned out I was the lucky one and my mom bought me a new pair of shoes. It is nice to have parents.
Monday I had class in the morning, and after some Czech, I met Anna and mom outside of the Rudolfinum (the grand concert hall that houses the Czech Philharmonic) for lunch, but Anna was feeling sick, so they had to head to the doctors. She had this disgusting mono like buildup in her throat, and looked pretty awful. In my culture course, we headed to an ‘alternative’ art gallery, and met some very interesting Czechs doing some very interesting art. One artist focused on gender role reversal, she had painted a Pieta replacing Jesus with a female figure, while another artist had done a lot of work on how different kinds of light affect various visuals: very interesting. I had to skip out early to meet my mom and siter, and when they came back from the doctor they tried to convince me that Anna was getting deported back to the United States because of it, but they are pretty poor liars. Afterward we headed to a bar and all got some coffee, but we realized how silly we must have looked. It was a very Czech restaurant, and we were the only foreigners, and Czechs wouldn’t drink a coffee during a short break. We should have been drinking beer with the rest of the crowd, but either way, it was a good chance to see some authentic Czech culture (rare in the center). Afterward, I brought them to the new Palladium mall, but Anna was feeling really sick. Instead of dragging her around the place, mom and I went off by herself, and she bought me a new must-needed jacket for Christmas. It is getting cold here, and I have been buying some new winter clothes... Afterward, we met Milena and John to go out for dinner at a restaurant much loved by the Czechs. The food was delicious, and it was great to be eating with my family again (which always brings the pleasure of sharing every dish with one another... even if Anna was dying of mono). Little sister decided to sleep over, mainly so she could call her boyfriend, and after she met some of my comrades at the kolej we went to bed.
Tuesday morning is Jan’s class, and my parents decided to sit in. I was a little bored, Jan tends to repeat himself A LOT, but my mom and step-dad enjoyed the lecture. He is probably the coolest part of the program, and I am learning a lot in his class, I just wish he had a better memory so I wouldn’t have to hear the Faustian story every lesson...
After class I brought Anna and mom to Little Hanoi to find some souvenirs for the people back home. We ate at a little Italian restaurant, and enjoyed looking at everything that was offered. It is so strange how they will approach you and will barter with you until you feel so guilty that you have to buy it. I sometimes wonder how cheap the items cost for them, because the deals can be really good. Mom bought something like 3 scarves, she is crazy, while Anna settled for just one and a bag, and I got five pairs of socks. Fun time. Afterward, we headed to the bus station to buy tickets for a day-trip to Dresden. Unfortunately, it didn’t look feasible, so instead we decided to go to Karlovy Vary for a day, and I had to run to get to my political science class. On my way I picked up Timothy Ash’s “The Magic Lantern” and if you want an interesting read about the democratic revolutions in 1989, I highly recommend it. But don’t buy it in Prague; it was 20 bucks here, and I assume only about 10 in the states. Clothes, books and cars seem to be the only items that break the rule that life is cheaper in Prague. Life is great!
After political science, the four of us headed to the Palladium to go out for dinner. On the fourth floor of this gigantic, new mall there is a high-class food court. Anna had been looking for an Indian restaurant, and we all agreed to it. The meal was fantastic, and it was great to have Indian food again. I hadn’t found a good place until now, so maybe I’ll visit it again...
Wednesday we woke up rather early, after struggling to wake up Anna, and headed to Karlovy Vary. This small town in Northwestern Bohemia is known for its spas, but we had no idea it would be so visually appealing. Mom said it looked like Disneyland, and it was, but much brighter. There were a lot of Russians and Germans in this city as well, and people travel from all around the world to help cure their terminal illnesses. We drank the water from the wells, which was a little disgusting, but supposedly helped the body, and went searching for a massage. We found a place, but only I ended up getting a massage because Anna didn’t want to go to a male masseuse and we didn’t find a female in time. The city was just fantastic to walk around in, and I am glad I fit it in before returning to the states. I also had an interesting interaction with a worker at McDonalds when I asked for mléko, or milk. While it is normally pronounced with a long “a” like in bay, she didn’t understand me until a coworker pronounced with an “e” like in bleak. I asked my profesorka the next day about it, and she said there are such dialectical differences throughout the Czech Republic. It is crazy that such a small country can have such differences, past the point of comprehension, while I think most English-speaking people understand every English dialect (except maybe the Scots).
Thursday I had Czech class, and then met my Anna and mom at Bohemian Bagel. We had this huge plan that we would go to the Kafka Museum, build marionettes, and then go to Prague Castle. However, we only managed to get to the Kafka Museum. Sometimes it can be so tiring to fit in too much, so it was fine either way. Plus, Anna was able to fit in all of her homework, and we were able to enjoy our walk up through Prague castle. We headed to Maly Buddha for the second time, one of my favorite restaurants here, and I think my fam liked it as well, and then parted ways. I had to rest and then pick up my friends flying in from Paris at the airport, while they went out to dinner with a friend. At the airport, I think I found one of the happiest places in the world. Standing outside the gate, waiting for my friends, I watched as other people met up with their family, and the great amount of love that filled the airport. I feel that if I was ever depressed, I could sit at the airport and just watch everyone reunite with the ones they love. Of course, I made my own scene with the arrival of my great friend from Boston College Kathleen, and was extremely excited to see my friends here in Prague. I brought them to my place (they are grunging it up a little this weekend) and was so delighted to see them, that we got lost en route. The airport is kind of a ridiculous distance from the city, and only accessible by bus, so we were a little tired, and after a rest decided to go out to the Chateau so they could see the town at night. It was a blast, but after a long night, we went to bed.
No sooner did I close my eyes before I had to wake up again Friday morning, as I had promised to meet my mom at 11 in Old Town Square. I breakfasted alone, and finally woke up Kathleen, Ellen, and their friend, and my new friend, Petra. We headed down to OTS and waited at the Astronomical Clock for my mom and sister as well as a group of girls from Belgium. One of my great friends, Lauren, has a cousin who is studying in Brussels, and we had become friends in Minnesota. It was great to see Allison, and I told her I would be glad to give her a tour of the town. I brought everyone around from OTS, to the Municipal House, around to Wenceslas Square, to the upside-down horse in Lucerna, quick stop at Paneria, around to the National Theater, where they bought ballet tickets, across Charles Bridge, and then up to Prague Castle. At this point, Allison and her friends headed off, but I bumped into an old friend from freshmen year near the castle: Martha Pitt. She is studying in Rome, and just happened to be in Prague at the exact same spot as me this weekend. Crazy how life works...
We didn’t tour the castle, but instead decided to go out for dinner. I told them of a nice place that I wanted to try, but it was a lot further than I had thought, so they ended up complaining about the walk, and when we finally arrived, they refused us (they needed reservations). Luckily there was a Italian restaurant next door, and we all gorged on cheese and bread and yummyness. Afterward, the group split up as the girls went to take a nap, while my sister, my mom, and I headed to the Rudolfinum for a concert. We arrived before John, for once, and got in at the last moment. The concert was Dvorak’s Cello Concerto and a tone-poem by Richard Strauss. Even though I was physically completely beat, the music was fantastic, and I doubt I will forget this concert anytime soon. Afterward, the girls from Paris and I headed out to see the town, and our night was probably one of the most laughable and happy nights of Prague. Hopefully, we can have such nights in Paris!
The next morning I woke up and met my sister and my mom to tour Prague Castle (FINALLY!). It was a lot of fun, but they really should have more stuff up in English. We couldn’t find where to buy the audio guides, but we had a great time wondering around anyways, and looking at the beautiful St. Vittus Cathedral. This was my first time visiting the Castle complex, and I enjoyed it greatly. Afterward, we headed back to my room. I was getting a little sick of eating out, so I offered to cook while my sister and my mom rested. After our quick bite to eat, the ladies went off to explore, while I headed off to a movie with my friends John and Dan. The movie was disappointing, but afterward I headed to Martin’s, one of John’s old PhD students, to meet with the family and have some dinner. This was the last night of my family’s visit, and I was glad it was very low key and casual. They looked a little sad when I left, but I will see them in a little more than a month, so there is nothing too sad about the occasion...
The girls and I met all of my dorm friends at Cross Club and danced the night away.

It was a great blast, but really ruined the girls idea of getting up early to see some more of Prague before their flight home. After bidding the girls farewell, I went back to bed and slept until 4 pm: bliss. I had been so sleep-deprived, and it is nice to be back on schedule. The rest of Sunday was about studying for my mid-term on Monday, homework, and visiting my friend Jiri for our Czech-English tandem after another poor film. (If you have any good film recommendations, let me know!) It had been a while, and I think my Czech had suffered, but it was good to refresh what I have learned in my language classes.
Monday morning and I was back to being in Prague, without external influences, and it was grand. Language class was refreshing, the mid-term wasn’t too difficult in my culture class, and we watched a very interesting movie on the punk movement in the United States and Great Britain. Afterward, I went out to buy some more clothes for the winter (it is getting colder everyday) and headed back to the room to get started on “Darkness at Noon”, a novel we are reading for history class. So far, the book is fantastic, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the Stalinist regime from a literary perspective.
Last night, my friends Dan, Matt and John came over and we watched a fantastic movie about an Israeli and a Palestinian who fall in love, despite the obvious societal pressures. It was called Bubble, and I have been recommending it to everyone I have seen since last night. Early this morning I woke up to start laundry, and am still working on it. That is right, it takes about 8 hours for laundry. My goodness, I guess we are caught up to the present, and I can go check on that horrible dryer and see if my clothes are ready.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Halloween, Family in Prague, Lidice

I know you probably don’t care too much that you haven’t had me filling your inbox lately, but I still feel bad that I haven’t written in ten days. More for myself though, because with my horrible memory, I don’t know if I will remember what I did, and where I went. However, I can hopefully figure it out, but it probably will be some rough outlines. To je život... (That’s life)
The 29th of October... hmm. That was the first day returning to classes after fall break and I remember it was kind of difficult to have to follow a routine again. However, it is spectacular to be back in Czech class, because I was lost in that Germanic world. I missed working on a language in which I really feel like I’m making progress. After class. We tried to find Halloween costumes up the street sifting through thrift stores. I didn’t have much luck, but my roommate found a spectacular purple leather jacket for his Tyler Durden costume.
Tuesday was all about finding a Halloween costume. First I had to go to history class, however, which was fascinating, but a little boring. Jan tends to repeat himself a lot, unfortunately, so I ended up playing the scribble game to pass the time. You can make some interesting pictures when you are hearing a lecture on World War II and letting your mind wander... Afterwards, though, I headed down to a little shop near my old dormitory and looked for a Halloween costume. I found the perfect paruka (wig) to be Carol Channing as the White Queen from Alice in Wonderland. I also found Smetana’s score for Hubička at an Antikvariat, which was quite exciting. The music is really nice, and I was also surprised to find Dvořak’s Song of the Moon in the book as well! After all this fun shopping, I had to go to class. Poli-Sci class has been getting VERY interesting, but also very long. A three hour seminar can get quite tiring when it starts at 5 in the evening... The material fascinates me though, and I love learning about democratic revolutions. Our teacher is also very enthusiastic, and he gives me a lot of great thesis ideas.
Wednesday was all about resting up for the big Halloween party. I didn’t have class, so I just relaxed and waited for the big night. I decided to go to Aspects of Alice (kind of a preview of my costume), which is a black light theater show. Sarah and David had gone when we were in Prague last time, so I was really excited. Unfortunately, it ended up being quite kitschy. The first half was poorly done Cirque de Soleil, while the second half became very sexualized and seemed to replace Alice’s “growing-up” process with her sexual maturation. Black light theater could actually be very interesting if it was done well. They are able to use black lights to make, for example, Alice fly, objects float, and giant puppets come to life on the stage. I am not too disappointed that it was poorly done, however, because, as my mother told me, I will probably remember this experience forever because it was so bad, unique, and strange. After the show, it was time for our big Halloween party. I was shocked by how many people not only came, but actually dressed up. We had it in our dorm room, which isn’t the biggest place in the world, and probably some 50 people from our program showed up throughout the night.
It was really difficult to get up on Thursday morning early enough to get to my class, but I made it. The rest of the day, I explored Prague and went to some of my favorite parts (the tv tower, Café Erra, the ambassador’s residence homes, Vinohrady, etc). I also found a new and interesting sight at the Prumyslovy Palace; every night they have light shows at the fountains, for a kind of steep price, set to music. I saw one on Tuesday to music by Andrea Bocelli, and it was fantastic. Completely random, but also completely lovely. It is interesting how you can plan something and have such a letdown, like Aspects of Alice, while some sort of random event can completely take you by surprise and enthrall you. I hope I can go again before it gets too cold for water fountain shows...
Friday was the day of the arrival of my parents. I headed to the airport to meet them, and really surprised my sister with a gigantic hug. It is great, and odd, to see my relatives in Prague. It is the first time I have had visitors from Lindstrom since Robby Monson, but boy has it been fun. (I don’t know why I just used boy in that sentence, but I think I am going to keep it) Milena also came up with her grandson to great the fam, and since then I have been running around Prague, and the greater Czech Republic, living a more comfortable lifestyle. We headed immediately to their hotel, via car, which I haven’t been in for a while, but got lost. Their place is in Prague 3, but it was a little hard to find. It seems a good deal, however, and with my tram pass, I don’t mind traveling to the other side of Prague. That night, we all went out for dinner and enjoyed some Italian food (which wasn’t the greatest, but it was fantastic to go out to eat). I left them early and headed back home to get some sleep.
Saturday morning we headed to the norther part of the Czech Republic with my history Professor to visit this historical city of Lidice. We started by visiting a church in Prague where paratroopers had hidden from Nazis after they had assassinated Reinhard Heydrich (a really popular Nazi). Jan gave a great speech about the courage of these men, and the cowardice of the man that had betrayed them, and afterwards we watched a movie. It described the entire situation, and it was so strange to be in the same church that had been flooded and machine gunned 65 years ago. The entire story is fascinating... google it. Afterward, we headed to Lidice and saw the town that was destroyed in response to the assassination. The story of this small town was incredibly sad, and I suggest looking up the history of this city if you don’t already know it. It was completely destroyed, all the men were immediately assassinated, only a handful of children survived, and the women were sent to concentration camps. It was a perfect example of the terror and brutality of war.

On a lighter note, I was very hungry while in the city, and as there was no plan to stop for lunch, I went to a little vendor and, in Czech, told her I was quite hungry, but only had 10 korun and needed to buy some rolls or something. The lady, in the grumpiest manner possible, slipped a sausage into my bag of rolls without even cracking a smile. It was incredibly nice of her, and I think it kind of reflects the attitude of older people here in the Czech Republic. They may not be outwardly friendly, but they do have a good heart.
Goodness gravy, I am trying to remember what occurred after that, but I am having the hardest time. I’ll write another entry tomorrow, which will wrap up the rest of the week (if I find the time, my family is loving me too much)

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Day of Traveling

Thursday was my last day in Berlin. I tried to see some more of the city, and decided to just wander around. The first thing that I saw when I exited the S Bahn was a huge mass of people surging toward these pallets. Everyone was given a box, so I decided to be a lemming and took one myself; each box had about ten packages of pre-made dumplings. I was kind of excited, but cooked some the other day and they were horrible. Guess I can’t complain though, as they were free.
At the stop, Alexanderplatz, I just wandered northwest. I walked for an hour or two, and suddenly realized I was lost: my goal in the city! I stopped for some coffee, which, by the way, is a lot stronger in Germany than in the Czech Republic, and was asked by a German, in German, why I didn’t speak German. I told him that I was from the states, but my father’s father was German, which is the only German I know from Schubert’s The Erlking. Weird how songs can stick in your head. It was just grand to wander around the city one last time, grab another bite to eat, and just relax. Street food is fantastic there, and I already miss doners....
I left Berlin at midnight, and half-slept on the way home... Dresden looks really nice at 2 in the morning, and I would like to return. I arrived in Prague at 4:30 in the morning on Friday, and since the metro does not start until 5, I decided to walk to a nearer stop. Prague is creepy at this time of night, but it was fantastic to see the center without tourists crawling around everywhere. I finally got home at around 6, and went straight to bed; the rest of the day was all about rest, and watching episodes of Heroes (my new passion).
Saturday morning I had this grand plan to head to Moravsky Krumlov and see Mucha’s Great Slav Epic, but I slept in a little late. I finally reached the bus station at 11, and headed to Brno, where I switched to a train, but did not get into Moravsky Krumlov until twenty minutes until four. I sprinted to the museum, but it closed at four. The lady was very nice, and let me go into the museum until it closed, without paying, but I still wish I would have had more time. I wanted to stay at the exhibition for two hours, but it ended up being only ten minutes. I would have been really upset, but the lady was very kind, and she understood my desire to see the masterpiece. I would have canceled the whole trip, but the museum is closed during the winter months. Moravsky Krumlov is dead, and there is no reason why the 20 gigantic panels are not in Prague, or at least in Brno. After the quick museum tour, I headed back to the train station, returned to Brno, and returned to Prague at 10 pm. On the bus home, my neighbor did not speak English, but I was brave enough to start a conversation; we chatted for two and half hours in Czech and I was really surprised that I could catch most that was going on. I hope that I will have more chances for these long conversations. All in all, it was eleven hours of travel for ten minutes of museum. I didn’t let it put me down though, and had a great dinner party at my friends place, and was able to play a piano and oboe duet with my friend Adam. Completely random, but a nice end to the hectic day.
Everyone is getting back to Prague, and it is nice to be back at home after our week of vacations. I wish that I was in the states this week, but just for Halloween. I hope we can have a good time, but the holiday is not really celebrated here... I’ll eat a lot of candy either way.

Images of Dejvice

Watch this first :

An old woman practically surfs on the tram with one hand on the door, and the other on a nearby open seat. The school CVUT is part of Dejvice, and a campus compared to Charles’ sprawl. What with the weather, the red bricks, and the college campus, it is almost like a Boston Autumn, and the students fit right in. Older people, on the other hand, yell orders to their dogs in simple Czech; I could be a Czech dog. Up the hill, there is space and room for gardens. Rare sight... Couple of kids are speaking Czech in French accents. Completely impossible to understand. Both industries and wealth are prominent here, and the wide streets make for pleasant walks. These are my last images of Prague before heading off to Berlin for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Impressions of Berlin

This is my second day in Berlin, and it is a really fascinating city. It is completely different than Prague, and there is so much to do. The city is GIGANTIC. Second biggest city in Europe, and trying to see everything is exhausting. I don't feel like listing everything that I have seen, but here are some of the highlights...
Yesterday was all about exploring East Berlin. I'm staying with a friend from BC, Chris Young, and his apartment is east of the East Center. The public transportation system here is great, so it is pretty easy to get to the center on the S-Bahn (the above-ground train) in about 15 minutes. One thing that is kind of eerie on the train, however, is that no one speaks. It was weird to chat with Chris, when I knew everyone could hear what we were saying (even if it was just a whisper).
Chris went off to university and I explored the center for a while. I saw the Reichstag, which is the lovely German parliament, and Checkpoint Charlie, but cannot remember the names of any of the other buildings I saw. The architecture here is very different. Although there are some buildings that look very old, they alternate with buildings in a modern style. This contrasts greatly with the continuation of very similar architecture throughout Prague. It obviously is one of the many effects the war had on Berlin's architecture. I tried to get lost in the city, but unfortunately failed. The streets are too straight, and they all intersect at right angles; my mental compass cannot be fooled when wandering around in a grid. This is a huge contrast with Prague's narrow and winding roads, but easier for a tourist!
I also saw the huge Berliner Dom, which is a gigantic Protestant cathedral. It was spectacular, but like many of the buildings, damaged by the war. My tourist book says that the reconstruction was not as spectacular as the original. It's a shame, but understandable. Right now they are constructing a new castle that was destroyed. Should be interesting to see the final product.
My favorite part of the day was stumbling upon a museum that described the road to democracy of Germany. I thought I was going into a church, but instead found a huge museum funded by the Bundestag. Not was it only free admission, they also provided free headsets in the English language: perfect for a student. The museum chronicled Germany's political history from unification to today. As a geek, I was fascinated; I stayed for two and a half hours, but had to leave to meet up with Chris.
At the end of this long day, I cooked Chris pork-chops with ginger, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and pea pods as a thanks for letting me stay at his place. Afterward, we met up with some of his Kiwi friends and I met some new interesting people. It seems like it is pretty easy to get a job as an English speaker in Berlin...
I slept in pretty late the next morning, but headed out to explore more of the East Center. I was trying to find the Museum Island, but as the city is so big, and the island as well, I could not figure out if I was on the island, or on the mainland, so I eventually gave up. I use the giant tv tower as a landmark, but without a decent map, this city can be frustrating. I decided to jump on a double-decker bus and wound up in the Western Center. This side is much more modern, and as Chris says, it feels more like the states. I spent the day walking, and walking, and just looking at all the interesting architecture. The streets in Berlin are so wide, and it feels like there is so much open space. Maybe that is why the city is also so huge. Instead of compacting it like in Prague, they just let it grow farther out.
I really like the German language. I used to think that it sounded ugly, but the more I hear it, the more beauty I hear in the sounds. I kind of am upset I didn't take the language in high school. (Then again, I wouldn't give up Spanish for any other language). It is also interesting to look so German. I don't look like a tourist at all, except when I whip out my video camera, which is nice, but frustrating. I feel really stupid when people approach me in German and I have to answer with an "I don't speak German, sorry". They always respond back in their perfect English, and I want to say something like "I'm only here for three days, otherwise I would know some German!" but refrain. Oh well... one day maybe I can study it.
Wish I had the time and the money to go see a Wagner opera, now that would be fantastic. However, I am just content wandering around the city, and exploring this new world. When I get home, I'll upload the video I have taken so you can see some of what I have seen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Don't Think We Are in Disneyland Anymore...

How did Disney screw around so much with these fairytales and give me false expectations for life, when really I am destined to view a world that does not work like that? Don’t worry, I’m not talking about my own personal life, but two new shows I saw here in Prague.
Wednesday night, I was quite excited to see Dvořak’s famous Rusalka. I know it was a cross between a Czech folktale and Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, but I had no idea that the story was so sad. I kept hoping that somehow the mermaid would be able to find a happy ending, but her choice to become a human had cursed her to a life of hell on earth. Prince charming cheats on her with another princess, and only too late discovers his mistake. Rusalka is forced to bring him to his untimely death, and spends the rest of eternity wandering the world, luring travelers into the mist. Happy, right?
Another huge difference is Disney’s glamourous portrayal of these characters. But when you need a fantastic voice, you don’t look for physical beauty. When we switched to the third row of the theater, the prince was no longer so charming, and Rusalka certainly would not have stolen very many hearts...
Saturday morning we had the chance to see Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty, and were treated to a happy ending. But my goodness, this fluffiness of this performance was so far on the other side of the spectrum that it made Disney look like a frightening story. The battles were more beautiful than dangerous, and after the beauty woke up, there were about 30 minutes of solo dancing by kittens and Little Red Riding Hood. The theater was filled with children, and I think we were a little old for the kitschiness of the performance... Regardless, the dancing was magnificent.
I guess the lesson I learned is you need a happy medium. When it is too tragic, it is to lifelike and I cannot look at the story as a fairytale. But if you do a fouette in order to defeat to kill the evil wizard, something is wrong.
Couple of questions to answer:
1) From mom: Tell me more about your professor Jan and how he has survived psychologically after the Holocaust. How old is he and therefore how old was he during the Holocaust?
Jan seems to be in a pretty good shape psychologically. Like I mentioned before, the one downfall I have seen in his psychological state is he is very stubborn, set in his ways, and he is still a fighter. He has problems listening to other people’s viewpoints, but that may also be just an effect of his age. He lost all of his family in the holocaust, his father committed suicide in front of Jan to escape being capture, so I am sure there is a lot of grief he still faces. I believe he was born in 1919... eventually he was a pilot for England during WWII after he escaped, and this led to his imprisonment in Communist Czechoslovakia for helping the West. Great way to honor a war hero.
2) From Colleen: how do you say i love you and thank you and let's go (like vamanos) in czech?
Well, I love you is mám tě rád, thank you is děkuju, and lets go is jdeme. Vowels with the accent are pronounced exactly twice as long as vowels without an accent, and the haček changes vowels to soft (like pronouncing a y before the vowel). Hope that answers the otazka.

ps, I illegally taped part of Rusalka... you can watch it if you like:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Images of Liboc

This is going to be kind of a new series... going to places, videotaping things I find interesting, and having a video log as well as some words ... Hope you enjoy. Check out this link either before or after you read the blog...

On the tramvaj out, the smell reminded me of church basements, but not in a good way... like when there is a potluck and everyone makes a different casserole, but none of them are any good...
Out of nowhere, I find this park, and rocky cliffs pierce the edge of Prague. Perhaps it would have been a better site for Prague Castle, as I had a hard time getting up that hill. Instead, a McDonalds looms over the valley...
On the top of the cliff, however, there is a perfect leaning rock to lay down and read some Kundera. Even the ground has a small dip to make your butt feel comfortable...
Next to the river there is a huge yellow double diving board and looks like something from an 80s summer camp movie, but attacked by age and neglect...
Finally, the leaves have begun to change, and the best of two worlds make life brilliant. Oranges, reds and yellows, and perfect weather to boot...
Old people find seats on the tramvaj and they hang on like leaches. Its understandable, and I will always give my seat to an older person, but they do it in a rough manner...
Jesus all by himself, surrounded by cars and apartment buildings and a lonely church on the hill help highlight the isolation of the Czechs from Catholicism...
Oh, to see children and families, and parks and green. The center is all tourism and offices, but out here there are families...
And for once, English speakers are not catered to. What a relief!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Loving Prague

Unfortunately, I did not make it to a single one of my classes this past week. Regardless, I was still able to experience parts of Prague and learn more about my life here in the Czech Republic. On Tuesday, the history students went to a documentary, Fighter, about our history professor, Jan Wiener. It was fascinating to see his life told from an outsider’s point of view, and one point really stood out; although he has lived this incredible life, and has fought his way out of a number of difficult situations, there are times when it is not appropriate to be a fighter. I wonder if sometimes his experiences have made him confrontational when such confrontations are not needed. Then again, I can get quite defensive at times, so maybe I shouldn’t be so critical. After “history”, I was quite excited to have my first Czech politics class in an actual conference. Unfortunately, it was canceled because my professor was still in Slovakia, so I returned home dejected.
Wednesday was my free day, and I decided to engage in my new favorite activity. I’ve coined it ‘skirting’, and it basically involves taking a tramvaj to the end of the line, exploring, and finding your way back. (Skirting is actually also a real word, but not nearly as exciting, just a wooden board) I headed out to the end of the 25, in Praha 8, and found a nice park for hiking and maybe picnics. Sometimes I do not know at all what to expect at the edge. What happens at the end of the city? Does it dissolve slowly, or is there a definite boundary? At the end of the 25, I did not find my answer, but I did find some magnificent mushrooms. I wish I was in touch with my mushroom hunting skills, because I would love to pick a bunch of mushrooms and cook a delicious mushroom soup. It would be a very Czech thing to do. Then of course, it would be a very stupid thing to pick one of those really bright colored mushrooms and end up in the ER.
Afterward I started my trek back home, and stopped at a nice thrift store where I was able to buy a nice used pair of dress shoes for two dollars and fifty cents. Sometimes the prices hear are so incredibly different between the center and the edge, that I cannot understand why anyone is fooled into shopping in the center. I also found some Czech books, but they are taking me quite a while to translate. Perhaps I need to find books with an even younger audience...
Praha 8 was wonderful for practicing verbal Czech; hardly anyone speaks English, and that is what I like. I am surrounded by English all the time, and need to cut that out of my life. In one drastic step, I decided to change my songs in my iPod from a majority of English songs, to a new majority of Czech songs. It really helps you learn new words when a little tune gets stuck in your head.
On my way back, I saw an interesting looking market in Praha 7. I jumped out of the tramvaj and was pleased to find the Czech version of the Turkish Grand Bazaar. There were brilliant scarves, shoes, household appliances, everything anyone would need. The best part? You were allowed, and needed, to heckle for prices. I was tired and headed home, but returned the next day to buy a new pair of faux Pumas... well, they might have been stolen, but either way they were at a great price. I think the nickname is the Hanoi Market, and most of the marketeers were of Asian descent. It is nice, but I really wish there was a China town in Prague.
Friday morning I went on an organized trip to Levý Hradec, Nelahozeves, and Mělník. Levý Hradec is considered the place where Christianity began in Bohemia, and is the site of the oldest church. We also visited a chateau, that may have been an interesting, but we only glanced at the courtyard. Its exterior was brilliant, but we saw nothing. I did find a CD of operatic arias, however, and was excited that it was only five dollars.
The best part of the trip was the vineyard at Mělník. It was here that Princess Ludmila began the wine-growing tradition in Bohemia. The chateau Nelahozeves above the vineyard is fantastic, although the recreation of certain elements was a little kitschy. We were surprised to get an introduction by Jiří Lobkowicz, however, who is a member of one of the richest families in the Czech Republic, which was exciting.
Saturday and Sunday were days of rest (except for my ten mile on Sunday, yikes), but I was excited for the start of a new week. Once again, I have classes to occupy my time, and will continue exploring the outskirts of Prague. I also should not fail to mention my continued obsession with the theater in Prague. I recently bought a membership at the Narodní Divadlo, and saw four shows last week. Tosca, by Puccini, was the only disappointment, but I blame it on the director. I saw a českou komedii on Friday, which luckily was based a lot on body humor, or I probably would not have had a clue on what was going on. Saturday I saw a spectacular original ballet called “Mozart? Mozart!” The first piece was to his Petite Mort and created these amazing sexual images and forms which fit perfectly with the piece. The second act was to his Requiem, which I adore, and was also incredibly staged. I especially liked the way Petr Zuska correlated movements of the male and female dancers to correlate with the voice parts.
I think that is all for now. However, I would like to ask if you have any questions that you would like answered. Perhaps you have suggestions of places to see in Praha, and I would love to take up these suggestions. I stole this idea from my friend Colleen in the Peace Corps, but I think it would be spectacular to have the opportunity to answer your questions. Plus, it will keep me on my toes, and I can maybe stop slacking and write shorter and more in depth entries.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tajemstvi or the Secret

Once again, I had a very relaxing and quiet weekend. I have been feeling a little under the weather lately, but I hope that these long sleeps will help my body fight off whatever may be trying to attack me. Something is supposedly going around, so I have been trying to drink a lot of water and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables (and occasionally a garlic clove). It seems as if it is working, as I have not yet been sick, but my breath sometimes isn’t the greatest.
Saturday was a very lazy day (in fact, I never changed from my pajamas into street clothes...) At 7:30, however, I had a ticket to go to Smetana’s opera Tajemství, which means secret in Czech. Once again, I went with my opera buddy Rachel. It is great to be here with someone else who enjoys theater as much, if not more, than I do, as I would much rather see a show then spend my money eating out or going to a club. The opera started out interestingly; there were two families feuding, Romeo and Julietesque, and Kalina had at one point been in love with Panna Róza from the Malina family. However, their love failed because of financial reasons, and when he returned later to claim her hand, she no longer was in love with him. Kalina learns of a secret treasure from the late monk Barnabaš and spends the remainder of the play trying to discover the answer to the secret. At the same time, there is a secret affair between Vít, the son of Kalina, and Blaženka, the daughter of Malina. Until quite near the end, it looks like the story will end sadly, but right at the end, all the secrets are revealed. Kalina discovers that the great treasure is his love for Panna Róza and the entire town learns of the secret love between Vít and Blaženka. It isn’t until the truth is fully known that a true happy ending can be realized. The tenor, Tomáš Cerný, was fantastic and the sheer talent of these performances are going to keep me coming to Narodní Divadlo. Of course, it always helps to have a wonderful score written by one of the greatest Czech composers...
When my family was in Prague, we often visited our friend Milena Cislerova. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet with her “pod konem” (under to the statue of Svatý Vaclav on horseback) and we had a wonderful chat. She is a very fascinating and positive person, and I was glad I could speak to her now that I have a couple of years on me, and can have a somewhat intellectual conversation. Halfway through our conversation she asked if I would rather speak Czech. Obviously, I was quite intimidated, but we spent the rest of the time chatting away in a very basic Czech, and I learned some new words. I was tired though, still training for that half-marathon, and Milena was sick, so we cut our meeting short. I’m sure that I will meet up with her again.
Today was perhaps one of the most exciting times in my life. I was fortunate to learn from my Czech culture profesorka that there was going to be a political conference here in Prague this week. I signed up, and received an invitation to attend “Forum 2000". Looking at the invitation, I was quite shocked by some of the names... I was going to be rubbing shoulders with some very important people. I had no clue where the Zofín Palac was, but when I got of the metro, all I had to do was follow the suits.
Vaclav Havel, a dissident playwright and the first president of the Czech Republic, opened the conference by speaking of the theme of the entire forum: Freedom and Responsibility. In the words of Wikipedia, Havel set up the conference with Yohei Sasakawa and Elie Wiesel in 1996 to “identify the key issues facing civilization and to explore ways in which to prevent escalation of conflicts that have religion, culture or ethnicity as their primary components.” After his opening speech, the keynote speaker of the first panel, Freedom and Responsibility in Politics, was introduced: Madeleine Albright. Her speech was fantastic. She talked about the problems the world faces today in terms of international politics, and the key issues we must focus on. Practically everything she said coincided with my ideologies, and I wish that being born in the United States was not a precedent to being the president. At one point she said that “None of us have the right to say we have a monopoly in truth,” which corresponds exactly with my strong beliefs in pluralism. I could have listened to her speak for the entire panel, but there were, obviously, other participants. Kim Campbell, who was the prime minister of Canada in 1993, moderated the discussions and let various political voices from around the globe voice their viewpoints. Among the participants were Karel Schwarzenberg (the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the CR), Prince Turki Al-Faisal from Saudi Arabia, and various opposition leaders and dissidents. The entire panel was fascinating, and at the conclusion we were invited to coffee and juice in the adjoining room. While sipping at my coffee and eating a pastry, I saw Kim Campbell walking my way. I wasn’t sure what I should say (you were a great moderator?), but I didn’t need to say anything. As she passed, she announced that getting through the crowd “is like a salmon trying to swim upstream; I’m from salmon country!” and I could just laugh. Canadians are so nice.
The second panel’s theme was Freedom and Responsibility in International Law. Once again, this was right up my alley, and I was very excited to hear what the keynote speaker had to say. Ricardo Lagos, the former president of Chile, talked about the two basic needs of international law: equality and reciprocity. This theme was reflected throughout the rest of the panel, and Kishone Mahbubani, a Dean from Singapore, had an excellent speech that described one of the greatest problems in the legitimacy of the United States. Although we follow some of the laws, which we help produce, we do not follow those that would be against our national interest. He provided Guantanamo Bay as an example, and his point was quite valid. If we want international laws to have legitimacy, they must be applied equally. The United States should act as an example, and follow international laws like the rest of the international community. Finally, we heard a speech from Trudy Stevenson, an opposition leader from Zimbabwe. What she said shocked me greatly. I was expecting some sort of philosophical discourse, but instead, her speech was more of a plea. Life in Zimbabwe is horrible, and the international community has not done much. Of course, it can be quite difficult and dangerous to interfere, but the complicity of other nations is despicable. It really makes one question the motives of the US in the Iraq War when there are horrible human rights violations in countries around the war (Zimbabwe and Burma for example). If you have no idea what is going on in Zimbabwe, wikipedia it now.
After this heartfelt plea, I headed downstairs for what the program described as a luncheon. I was expecting sandwiches, maybe some dessert, but it was a full-fledged meal. What was particularly delicious was the chicken tikkah masala, as I had not had Indian food for months. Before the feast, we were treated with a speech by Paul Wolfowitz, the former president of the World Bank. He was very charismatic, but I still don’t know how I feel about what he said.
The final panel that I attended was Freedom and Responsibility in Media. Although I am not as interested in this field as the others, when I found out the keynote speaker was Christianne Amanpour, I had to go. Her speech was fantastic, and stressed the importance of truth and objectivity in media. I was also quite excited to see Jeffrey Gedmin, the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty again. His speech highlighted the words of Amanpour, and I was quite content that I had gone. In my opinion, the entire conference highlighted the importance of knowing the truth as a way to create international peace and cooperation. Just like in Tajemství, it is only with the truth that we can have a happy ending.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Requiem for Terezin

I have finally had enough time to sit down and write another substantial update. Prague continues to fascinate me, and I am starting to picture myself living here permanently. Of course, I still want to return to Boston College, go to graduate school, and explore various career opportunities, but this city seems like a very pleasant place to settle down. It also has many job opportunities for English speakers; combined with my growing knowledge of Czech, I feel like I could land a pretty decent job. Recently, I have been looking at careers after I finish my undergraduate studies. As an English native speaker, there are jobs around the world that have caught my attention. I really have become interested in teaching English abroad; right now, I am looking at a position in Japan. These jobs pay well, and would be a incredible way to learn another language. The Boston Language Institute also offers classes in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (or TEFL), and I would love to complete one of these programs. It looks like I will be staying in Boston for the summer, and there are summer programs that I could easily complete while working...
On Monday, Mozart’s Requiem was performed at St. Nicholas Church. Last year, our chorale performed this piece, and it was wonderful to see it from the other side of the orchestra. Although the concert was obviously catered toward tourists, fifteen dollars still seemed a fair price to see it professionally performed. I was not disappointed. The acoustics of this church was wonderful for the performance, although we were a little too close to the orchestra, and the solo tenor was phenomenal. The second he started singing during Tuba mirum, I could not take my ears off of his part.
Earlier that day, our Alternative Lifestyles professor had taken us to a coffee shop in the middle of Prague. Although it was so close to the center, there is no way I would have ever found it. We had to beep ourselves in and walk up five flights of stairs. Apparently, it had been a venue for groups in opposition to the oppressive Communist regime. For some reason, the communists thought that jazz was a viable music source, so underground clubs would pose under the name of a jazz club. The same held true for this interesting spot. The store also sold “alternative” CDs and magazines, and I wanted to buy something, but I was afraid of disappointment. Western music is quite popular in the clubs here, and I have not heard very many Czech artists. I want to extend my study of culture into the musical realm, but it is hard to do when I do not have access to a Czech version of VH1 or unlimited resources.
Tuesday morning I have history class bright and early. The professor, Jan Stodola, seems to like me, and when I spoke up about his authoritarian tardiness policies (when I come in 3 minutes early, I’m late), he went off on a tangent about the importance of punctuality, but in a very kind manner. During class, he mentioned “The Grapes of Wrath” and, seeing my Boston College sweater, he pointed me out and said, “You must have read this book!” I was quite embarrassed, since I hadn’t, but shrugged and said I saw the movie. His references to great literature are quite frequent in class, and I have a great desire to take a class on Russian literature when I get back to BC (it might even go toward my minor). After class, Jan talked to me about Boston. When he immigrated to the United States he settled down in Central Mass. It was kind of awkward and difficult to talk to him, he is almost completely deaf, but he is an extraordinary man and every conversation is quite rewarding.
Political Science was once again a very unique experience. For the third week in a row we have not been able to get into the University building for our class, so we had it in a small café. We drank Burčák, Czech young wine, which symbolizes a huge difference in the University setting at home and abroad. Classes here can be a lot more laid back, and the relationship with the professor is totally different. Sometimes, these settings can be difficult, but it makes the learning process easier and more approachable. We talked about the political formation of the Czech state for about two hours after studying the Czech constitution. Apparently, the president, Vaclav Klaus, cannot be impeached. Furthermore, he has impunity. Combined, this could make him a very powerful president indeed. If he desired, he could commit horrible crimes and not get punished in the least bit for them, and not even face losing his position in office. I assume that this right has never been greatly abused, but it seems a little authoritarian for a democracy...
Wednesday is my free day. I had great plans to leave the city and go somewhere exciting, but these plans never took fruit. Once again sleep got the better of me, and I enjoyed sleeping in till quite late. I did a short run, continuing my training for that marathon, and then worked on some Czech vocab words. That night, we decided to head to Mecca which is free on Wednesdays. They play 80's music at Mecca and we danced for hours, before getting home exhausted.
Thursday was also quite a chill day. After class, I took a long nap, and my roommates and a couple of my friends headed out to Istanbul. Since I have already been, I decided to stay home for the weekend (and save a lot of money) but I’m going to miss them. The rest of us in Prague went to the Globe for happy hour (Pilsner, the best beer in Prague, for a meager 17 korun) and then we headed back in for dinner. I made some Thai food, and went to bed quite early after some discussions about religion and politics.
Today we had to wake up at 8 AM to head to the concentration camp at Terezín. You may remember that I went there earlier in the summer, but this experience was completely different. Jan, my history professor, was in charge. He brought us to the same magnificent museum and showed us similar parts of the town, but it was completely different than last time. I felt emotionally disconnected. I am not sure if I was blocking my emotions, or if I had got them all out during my last stay. The most emotional part was watching Jan. His mother had died at this concentration camp, and he obviously had personal connections with it. Like many of the Jews who perished, she did not receive a gravestone, and he has no idea where she was buried.
One new thing was touring the Small Fortress at Terezin. This prison was where Gavrilo Princip was locked up after he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust, and a political prison under communism. With all these black moments of history under its belt, it was quite impressive. It was not too difficult to imagine how horrible life in this prison could be, and there where many times when I had the shivers. At one point, we walked through an underground tunnel where prisoners had to walk to reach the execution block. It was horribly small, and not a walk you would want to take on the way to your death. It also took forever; expecting a two minute trip, I was shocked to find us still underground after about 15 minutes. Being alone, walking toward your death, and thinking about your life, I couldn’t imagine how you could come at peace. As we walked, our footsteps made strange echoes throughout the tunnel. Strangely, the first thing that came to my mind was the drums in the beginning of Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique”. The resemblance was uncanny, and fit perfectly; Berlioz’s piece tracks one man’s last thoughts on his journey to the guillotine. When we finally reached the end of the tunnel, I was quite relieved. Even though the journey was shocking, the light as we reached the surface was so soothing, that I think I could have found relief in my last moments before execution.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

To the Edge and Back

It turns out my body didn’t want to go to Ceske Budejovice today. Instead, I slept in till about one. Luckily, I have been to this small city before, but I wish I could have made it out again. I don’t know if the weather is making me tired, or if it is the long jogs. Either way, I felt great after my 11 hours of sleep and headed out to explore in the city.
Today I decided to walk towards the outskirts of the city. Tramvaj #22 goes by our dorm, and ends at a stop called Bilá Hora, or white hill, which was my destination today. After getting of the tram, I immediately noticed a difference in the amount of noise. Although I was still in the city, there wasn’t a huge amount of cars or, thank heavens, tourists. The area was incredibly Czech, and it felt like I was closer to what the city must have been like before the tourist invasion that has come with globalization. At the same time, the lack of tourist money could be seen in the establishments. Though they were livable and beautiful, they were not up to par with what you would see near the center. For example, there was a large church with the typical Czech red roof and towers with oxidized copper domes, but the years had seemed to take a toll on its upkeep. There was a bunch of graffiti on the walls surrounding the church, and part of the church ground had an auto-service company. The church probably does not have enough money to go through reconstruction; since it is so far from the typical tourist traps, and since Czechs historically have little taste for organized religion, I would have no idea where the money would come from.
There were some old looking clubs and restaurants here as well, and I would like to return with a couple of friends. It would be a great place to practice Czech and have an opportunity to mingle with another culture. The farther you get from the center, the more useful Czech becomes. The people also seem to be friendlier. I said “dobry den” and people responded in kind. It was great to see interaction between people rather than the typical Prague indifference.
There was a great hill overlooking some trails and I climbed to the crest hoping to find a spectacular view of Prague. However, I was greatly disappointed to find that the buildings that were most prominent were some of the least attractive the city had to offer. The TV Station kept catching my eye, as well as the industrial buildings. Prague isn’t much for a skyline; although the majority of its buildings are fascinating when two feet away, from a distance they all become a jumble only broken up by the giant modern eyesores.
There were some trails near the end of the line and, feeling adventurous, I decided to explore them. After a quick hike, I came upon a very unique part of the city. In Prague 6, in the far west, there is a section of town that was obviously influenced by communism. All the apartment buildings seemed to be carved out of a gigantic block of granite and then colored with pale pastels. These imposing buildings look so awkward when they are covered with these dainty colors. It is like coloring a pit-bull pink and pretending it will now be a polite dog. Walking through this section of Prague is like an Easter Sunday gone horrible wrong. What is really interesting is that these colors are used a lot through Prague. However, when you see these pale pinks and blues on Art Nouveau buildings, the architecture seems grander and more beautiful. On blocks of concrete, the effect isn’t inspiring, but nauseating.
After this unique hike, I decided to head back into the center. I got into the nearest tram, and headed back east. The length of the tram really made me realize how far I had ventured, and it took quite a while before I realized I was nearing the huge mall in Andel. Once I got back in the city, however, I quickly realized I wanted to get back home. Being so isolated and away from the noise and crowdedness of the city really made me dislike how many tourists are here on the weekends. It is hard to walk around when everyone is snapping photos and staring at every other building. I don’t want to sound like a snob, I can still be quite touristy at times, but now I understand why Praguers leave the city during the weekend.

Six Days Later

It’s been six days since my last update, and I am sorry that I have been so negligent in my updates. I promise you that I will try to write more frequently, if not for your enjoyment, than for my memories sake. Plus, as my friend Tyler wittingly remarked, it is better to watch a couple of commercials than sit through an infomercial. It will be hard to try to boggle my mind and remember what has passed since the last entry, but I will try.
This week is my second week of classes, and on Monday I have Czech language and Czech/European Culture-Alternative Literature, Music, and Lifestyles. My language lessons are going along well, although they are a little too slow for my taste. I have decided to do some independent studying as well, and have been creating micro-lessons to help increase my vocabulary. (Don’t worry, I know that I am a huge geek) The culture class is also quite fascinating. Although at times the “alternative” part can be a little forced, it always reminds me of when Sarah used to see “I’ve always been alternative”, we have had some interesting new perspectives of the city and Czech underground life. We went to a fascinating art exhibit, which showed conspiracy theory connections between mind control in the US Army, MGM Studios, Mussorgsky, Fantasia, Witchcraft, and the USSR. Some of the connections are actually very surprising...
Once again, I had the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular performance at the Narodní Divadlo. On Monday, they played Bizet’s Carmen. This is my first time seeing a French opera, but everything I learned in my Introduction to Music course seemed to apply. While Italian operas focus almost entirely on the virtuosity of the singers, French opera plays up the importance of scenery and action; the Italian operas I have seen have had very basic sets, leaving the stage open for the soprano’s brilliance. However, Carmen had grand scenery and a gigantic cast that filled the entire stage. Furthermore, dance played a much larger role in the drama that was unfolding, and the main characters moved more than in the other operas I have seen. There may have been some sacrifice in voice quality as a result of this movement, but if so, it was quite slight. The voices were spectacular, especially Dana Buresova, who played Micaela. At the end of the show, it appeared as if she received an even larger applause than the title character.
Like last time, I was able to switch my seat during intermission and had a better view for the second act. I was surprised by what I saw; although the actors looked quite young from our seats in the first gallery, on the ground floor, you could see how much makeup was used to create this effect. In hind-sight, I was stupid to expect young actors in these challenging roles, but I was surprised at the age of many of the stars.
On Tuesday, I have history class at 8:15 in the morning. Our teacher is a fascinating man who survived World War II and teaches history from a personal perspective. He has told stories already about his escape from Nazi guards and the life of a Jew during Nazi occupation. He looks like a combination of Colonel Mustard and the Monopoly Man, but his personality is probably closer to the Colonel. He is very particular about punctuality. He gave us a ten-minute break, and I could have sworn I was only gone for nine minutes, but when I entered the class room, he reprimanded me harshly.
I also have a political science class on Tuesday. The lessons so far have been irregular, for some reason the University keeps closing during our class time, but our lesson was spectacular this week. We traveled to a small commuter village outside of Prague and had a wonderful dinner of potato soup and goulash while he lecture about the scope of the course: the political development in Central Europe during the past hundred years. After the dinner, my friend Angela and I played hide-and-go seek with an eight-year-old Czech boy. It was great to practice my Czech with a kid; they seem to have more patience and want to make sure you understand them. Afterward, Angela and I sat across from our professor on the train ride home; like most professors, he has a very unique life story, and it is great to study politics under someone who has lived through communism.
Wednesdays should be a very good day of the week, as I have no classes, but this week, it was quite boring. It was laundry day, and once again I made the mistake of doing it here at the dorms. There are three machines, but they are extremely slow, and the entire process of washing and drying my clothes took eight hours. Of course, I was able to read and surf the net while I waited, but laundry continues to be a frustrating process in Prague. During one of the wash cycles I went for an eight or nine mile jog. I have decided to run a half-marathon with my friend in Dresden and want to be in tip-top shape. Jogging around the city is also a great way to see streets and parts of town you have never seen before as well. I saw a section of town that seems to have a lot of the foreign embassies, and I can’t wait to live in a similar neighborhood.
Yesterday was a very lazy day as well. I went to class bright and early, but spent the rest of the day lazing around the dorm. The weather wasn’t the greatest, and I did not want to go out. My friends headed out to Munich to go to Oktoberfest, but I wasn’t able to go with them; unfortunately I have been having some trouble with my bank account and the time it takes for deposits to show up here in Prague. They rented a car and headed out, while I stayed in an watched the rain fall down. Finally, at about 10, I went out to a club with some of my friends who remained in Prague. It was called Cross Club and is perhaps the best club I have ever been to in Prague. It has some sort of robotic theme, and everything is very Matrixesque. It feels like you are in a different world ... I wish I would have discovered it sooner. I got a poster from the place with a gigantic brain wearing sunglasses with lips on the cerebellum. Pretty cool.
I woke up today very late, at about one, and then spent the majority of my day exploring Dejvice. This section of Prague 6 reminds me of Boston, except older and grander. I could imagine living in one of the flats that overlook the broad avenues. I really like that there are all sort of restaurants and shops in Dejvice that seem tailored for Czechs rather than tourists. There is also a surprisingly large Asian population if the number of Chinese restaurants reflects the diversity of Dejvice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry, and today was a holiday and so I wasn’t able to go into the stores. However, I’m glad I know this part of town better. After making dinner, I wrote this entry, and will go to bed soon. Tomorrow I have an excursion to Ceske Budejovice! Ahoj!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stumbling on Memories

Prague is a gigantic little city, and I have yet to explore all of its wonders. On Wednesday, however, I discovered a world that occupied a small part of my memory. When we lived in Prague for two months, I had wanted to do some of the things that a kid does during the summer in the United States. I remember wanting to go to the swimming pool, to go on picnics, and especially to go to an amusement park. Our family kind of had a tradition that we would go to Valleyfair once during the summer. During my summer in Prague, I also wanted to have a typical American past-time (I was still young and didn’t have the ability to understand the value of experiencing new traditions and life styles; even today I have troubles shaking off the desire to live the life I’m comfortable in.)
Luckily, our family friend Milena knew of a amusement park in Prague. The children, especially Anna and me, were extremely excited. We thought of how cool Valleyfair was, and we expected an even bigger and better park since we were in a bigger and better city. We were quite mistaken. The amusement park was actually just a collection of dusty old rides, and we seemed to be the only people visiting. The highlight was a single roller coaster that was fast, but quite short. I am not sure if I could recall this memory so well, if it hadn’t been for my stumbling upon the park again on Wednesday. It was exactly how I remembered it; in fact, the rides were entirely the same. In all this time, it still has not been renovated, and I do not understand how it makes enough money to stay open. I didn’t go on any rides, but I my return to the park was incredibly more satisfying the second time around.
The amusement park is right next to the grand Prumyslový palác, which is a grand palace in, I think, Art Nouveau style. When I was younger, this entrance fascinated me because I thought a spectacular theme park lay ahead. However, the building drew me forward in a different manner in 2007. The architecture is fascinating, and many of the neighboring buildings are also in the same style. They all are somewhat neglected, but I discovered that there is a marine life aquarium and a museum located in the buildings.
After studying the palace, I walked around to the back where I knew there were giant fountains. These fountains had originally brought me to Praha 7; I knew that there was a spectacular view of a beautiful building somewhere north of the center. I found the fountains, but unfortunately they were not running. I think I have to return at night to view a show...
However, this was not the end of my adventures. The entire region around the Prumyslový palác is, architecturally, very interesting. Surrounding the fountains is a massive structure that must have been built during the communist era. It is an ugly white concrete structure that sprawls out like a spider across an area the size of a football stadium. I was there quite early, I had just finished my 8:30 class, and no one seemed to be around. Out of nowhere, I had this urge to climb, and I tried to climb up the stairs to the top of the structure. However, I could not reach the top, it was locked, so I decided to explore the edifice. It is so abandoned and isolated. Everything that you see from the communist period has this feeling of despair. I could not stand it for too long, and eventually continued with my exploration.
Next to the white spider, there is a huge black cube. I walked all around it, but could not figure out what its function was. It is some sort of building, but covered in a very strange stringy material. It looked like it could be a interesting modern concert hall, but there was no way to be certain.
There was also a great pyramid shaped building. At first, I thought that it was abandoned as well. There were a bunch of signs around it advertising musicals, like Les Mis and Miss Saigon, but looking through the windows, it looked quite deserted. However, as I was about to head out after failing to open the doors, a man ran out of the pyramid and started yelling at me in Czech. I was quite worried that I had done something wrong, so I said the first thing that came to my mind: chci koupit listeky (I want to buy tickets). His mood changed immediately, and he invited me into the theater. It was not abandoned after all, but seemed to be in the middle of changing shows. The guy led me through the theater, past dressing rooms, past the costume shop, and into the back, where another employee helped me. I don’t know if it was my excitement at finding this theater in the middle of nowhere, but I was able to talk with them about when the shows were playing, where I could buy tickets, and when they are playing Les Mis, all in Czech. I am thinking of buying some tickets in December, as it would be interesting to see this musical performed in a foreign language.
After this self-guided tour of one of my new favorite places in Prague, I decided I should start back home. First, however, I wanted to explore the park that I saw nearby on my map. It is adjacent to the palace, and probably one of the biggest in the city. It stretches on for what seems a mile, and there is a beautiful lake in the center filled with wildlife. There are also huge lawns, and it seems the perfect place for a picnic and some European football. I just wish it was closer to my kolej (dormitory), as it would be the best place to go for a jog in the city.
On Thursday, I had a job interview after my classes. I was really nervous, I had to explain to my interviewer, who was pretending to be an intermediate English speaker, when one has to use past tense versus the past perfect tense, but it actually went quite well. I was offered a second interview, in which I would have to give a 45 minute lesson to Czech banker with an English speaking boss, but I have decided that the job would be too much work. I need to keep up my studies, and teaching English would not be the best for my greatest goal in Prague: learning Czech. However, it looks like this could be an excellent job after I finish my undergraduate work and need a job before I can start grad school. She had offered me 17 dollars and hour, and if I would have had a TEFL certificate I think I could have fared much better. I will keep in touch and maybe return one day to James Cook Languages.
Yesterday was another day full of cultural events. Well, full is not the right word. Actually, I was quite lazy for the first part of the day. I am lucky enough to not have classes on Friday, and slept in and cleaned the kitchen. However, at 7 pm, I went with a group of my friends to the Czech Ballet Symphony at the National Theater. I have never been to the ballet before, and it is an experience I doubt I will forget anytime soon. The pieces were all original works, and we were experiencing the second premier of these pieces. The first piece began with a Dvorak orchestral work, which slowly turned into modern music. The story was beautiful; it described the love between a man and a woman, and the pain that they felt when this love could not be survive. The choreography was spectacular, and the first piece was my favorite of the night.
I spotted some empty seats from our view in the first gallery, and after the first intermission we went to the ground floor and asked if we could take the empty seats. After some confusing Czech inquiries, we sat down in the fourth row. The second piece began, which was extremely emotional and beautiful. I have never seen someone move their body in a way that can produce an image of such inner turmoil and pain. Once again, it seemed to focus on the search and inability to find love. (Of course, that was just my interpretation, but it was nevertheless a touching work.) Right after the piece finished, the guys in front of us sprinted out of the theater. I thought they were being quite rude until I saw them up on the stage. The man in front of us had been the choreographer! As soon as he returned to his seat, I told him the dance was excellent.
The next dance was in an entirely different style. It was to one of Smetana’s orchestral pieces, and it was very upbeat and positive. It starred six men, who all had very distinct characters. It was a nice break from the earlier sorrow. After the second intermission, the fourth and final piece began. Although it was quite beautiful, it was my least favorite of the four pieces. The others had all seemed quite original, and not anything that I expected to see. The last was very Nutcrackerish, and, though beautiful, a little boring.
If you managed to get through this, I congratulate you. Next time, I will try to write more frequently, so I do not have to compose a novel.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Two Operas and Job Searching

On Tuesday night we went to La Traviata at the National Theater. The price of theater in Prague continues to astound me. We bought second balcony tickets, with a great view of the opera, for 5 US Dollars. I don’t know how they can continue to put on such cheap shows, but they are comparable to the level of talent found in Boston or the Twin Cities (I cannot compare it to Broadway since I have not yet been). La traviata is a Italian Opera by Verdi, and, like most Italian opera, focuses on vocal abilities. The lead soprano was fantastic, and the story made Rachel cry; I had goose bumps, but was not brought to tears. The night was very classy, and we all dressed up formally and drank champagne during the intermission. It seemed like an entirely different world; it was one of aristocracy, and I have never experienced anything similar. Best of all, you do not have to actually to be loaded to enjoy good theater here in Prague.

Throughout the week I have been searching for a job. I would love to be able to work, my favorite day is a busy day, but I have not been entirely successful. I have been able to get a job subbing as a conversational English teacher. The job pays well, but I don’t know how often they will need a sub, and have not been contacted yet. I also have a tutoring job (tutelage?) set up with a Czech friend of my professor. I am going to start giving one hour lessons next week, but it isn’t a very time consuming, or money producing, job. I really want to get a job at a restaurant, because I feel it would be a good way to support myself as well as get practice with my Czech. I have started an English-Czech tandem with my friend Jiri, and I hope that it continues, as it is a great way to learn more.
I was forced to buy a phone so if I do secure a job, I can be notified. I kind of miss the sense of freedom I had when I didn’t have a cell phone. I never worried that someone was going to call, and could always do my own thing. With a cell phone, I feel like I have more responsibility, which can be good and bad. Not having a cell phone has also made me more reliable. If I say that I am going to meet someone in front of Tesco at nine, for example, there is no way to back out at the last minute, and I have to be there at nine. It is a good thing to learn, because at home I am always running late (which I blame on my mom).
Last night, we went to another Opera. This one was a little more expensive, a whole seven dollars, but was worth it. Don Giovanni is one of Mozart’s most famous works, and was first conducted, by Mozart himself, at the Estates Theater in Prague, which may be even more beautiful than the National Theater. The theater exemplified the beauty of Prague. It was robin’s egg blue with gold decorations, a grand chandelier lit the building, and ornamental pictures were everywhere. I cannot really describe it in words, but it was brilliant. The opera itself was spectacular, but I think it was less of the actor’s talent than Mozart’s genius. Don’t get me wrong, the actors were great, especially the actress who played Donna Anna. However, the best actors are at the national theater. Interestingly, even the actors at the National Theater do not get paid terribly well. Czechs have told me that it is in commercial acting where the real money lies. I guess it is similar in the states, but at the same time actors on Broadway, especially leads, must make tons...

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Substantial Update

It’s been a week since my last update, and what a long week it has been! Class for 5 hours a day, we only focus on Czech language right now, and then walking around the city for a while, and studying every night. My teacher thinks we should study at least two hours a night, which makes a total of 7 hours a day of Czech and then trying to use this Czech for the other nine waking hours. I really enjoy the language, and it I have been able to act as an interpreter for my group at times.
This weekend, I went to the Pilsner Brewery with my friends, and we learned more about the beer culture here in the Czech Republic. I was the only student in the higher level Czech class, so at points I was able to act as a translator. Even though I know such a small vocabulary, I’ve been able to get my point across with the words I do know, and the Czechs really like it when you speak their language. I was able to get a student rate for our group, and, after a giant-sized game of chess with big beer bottles as pawns, we toured the brewery. It started with a video that spoke of the history of the brewery, and the manner in which this was portrayed was hilarious. They had filmed the story in a style similar to the history channel. It was so serious, and made the beer look like it occupied a significant part of European history. The story of the master brewer and discovering the recipe was portrayed like the drafting of the constitution. I have never seen such hyperbole used in advertising a beer.
Afterward, we toured the rest of the brewery and saw how beer was made and tasted unique beers that only visitors of the brewery can try. They were created in the same fashion as the first beers, and were more authentic and delicious. After buying a couple of souvenirs and a game of beer chess we headed into the city.

Pilzen is not the most interesting city. Some of the building’s facades are interesting, but there is not much to see there besides the brewery. We couldn’t even find a restaurant that looked good, but we were lucky enough to stumble into an exhibition, which portrayed the earth from above through photography. The pictures were gorgeous, and showed the world from various countries under various conditions. Many of the photos showed pictures of calamities and described the differences in life-style between the third world and developed states. It was kind of sickening to see how much better off I am than people around the world. The fact that I can have fresh water, a clean home, and food everyday is such a gift, and looking at these pictures really accentuated how lucky I am. The pictures also showed many different geographical wonders around the world, and the negative impact of the human race. There are so many places in the world I still want to see, and I hope we can continue conserving what is left, and stop the destruction of the beautiful world we live on.
When we finished looking at these interesting photos, we had to head back to the bus. We were kind of lost, but I was able to ask everyone we passed where the bus station was, and we slowly made it back to the station. I could understand snippets of the directions, but never enough to fully understand where to go. Fortunately, we made it back to Prague safely.
Sunday was a day of rest. I was pleased to discover that we have a piano in our dormitory, and I spent the morning practicing piano for the first time in three months. It was spectacular. Well, my playing was far from spectacular, but the feeling of being able to sit down and play again was great. Of course, I am a little rusty, but I am very excited that I can practice again. I just wish I had some of my music books... I’ve also gotten back into cooking. After languages, and international relations, I would have to say cooking is my greatest passion. It is so fun to cook, and I have been able to cook for my roommates and it’s great to get feedback. I really enjoy trying to copy Czech and Bulgarian dishes that I have tried; I only wish I had an oven. It is hard to make impressive meals when you only have two hot plates.
I have met a lot of great people in Prague from around the US, and it is great to be living in a dorm again. Of course, it is weird that all my friends back in the states are heading to their colleges, and that people are taking classes at BC again, but it is nice to be doing something completely different. Next week, I start regular classes. I am really excited, since my classes focus on cultural studies and political science. I also have the opportunity to engage in a lot of cultural activities; tonight we are going to the opera! This program fits me like a glove, and I am really glad I chose it.