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)