Monday, December 5, 2011

Just a quick update!

Well there haven't been any super-exciting trips in the last week or two, just mundane old schoolwork and hanging out in the city, but I'm sure not complaining :)

We had some weather that was very reminiscent of the good ole Pacific Northwest for a while there (you know, grey, dreary, altogether very depressing), but last weekend, and this one, we have had the most beautiful sunny days.  It's been absolutely spectacular.  And unnaturally warm.  It's freaking my Slovakian flatmate out a fair bit, because it has been in the 40s all this weekend, and today.  Which, for December in Prague, is pretty much unheard of

In any case, Christmas markets in Prague are still in full swing, and absolutely beautiful at night with the twinkling lights and the Christmas trees!  Martha and I took a stroll through the market at our square this weekend (after a ridiculous adventure trying to find a drug store that was open on the weekends.. apparently they close at 1pm on Saturdays.. sometimes this city baffles me.).  It was so busy with people socializing, looking at the crafts, enjoying some mulled wine or třdelník or pancakes (they're pretty much crepes, except made from potatoes).  It is so great!  I wish we had them in the states.  With all the sunshine this weekend the market was especially crowded with people taking advantage of the beautiful days.

In short-- I love this city just as much as the day I moved here.  Despite some cold, rain and grey days, it has treated me pretty well so far.  

Now, I just have to survive finals (yikes) and all will be well. :)
Can't wait for my parents to come in only  2 1/2 weeks!!
Much love!
<3 Alyssa  

PS.  you know those annoying ads that pop up on the side of websites/blogs?  I get a few cents per click, so if you're feeling generous.. I will soon be a starving college grad who will need all the funds I can get. :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A whole lot of things have happened in the last 2 weeks :)

I've got to play catch-up on the last two weeks worth of events, I've been so busy I haven't had time to blog!

So, Martha and I went on another one of our famous long unintentional hikes (as Martha very aptly coined them) on the 1st, up this place called Petrin Hill here in Prague.  There's a tower at the top that people call the "mini Eiffle Tower", and there's a cable car that goes up the hill, but we were running a little short on time so we decided to hike instead.  Whew.  Great view of Prague, though :)  And we want to go back soon to climb up the actual tower itself (because after walking up the giant hill, it seemed a little ambitious to go up a tower too).  There was a pretty sweet playground there also, with a hammock!

There was a communism memorial at a park near the foot of Petrin hill, and i couldn't resist. ;)

The tower!

Having fun on the playground!

That Friday (the 4th) my Gender class took a day trip to Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.  We went to Brno because it is where a Queer Film Fest called Mezipatra, was started in 2000.  It runs every year, and now runs 10 days in Brno, and 10 days in Prague annually.  So we went to see that, and talked with prepresentatives from STUD, which is an LGBT organization that was founded in Brno which helped found/run the festival.  We saw a really interesting film called Orlando.

What made this so interesting is that Brno is much more religious than Prague, so the fact that the largest Queer Film Fest in Central Europe, (and also the 1st pride parade in the Czech Republic) started there, is really curious.  Anyway, so of course there was a beautiful church :)

Then that Sunday I went to Lidice and Terezin with my Jewish History class.  Earlier that week we had talked to a Holocaust survivor who had been interned at Terezin.

This is where the town of Lidice stood.  The entire town of Lidice was destroyed by the Nazis during WWII.  They did it after one of the Nazi bigwigs was assassinated in Prague, so they wanted to prove a point.

All of the people were separated and sent toward concentration camps.  All of the children were separated, and put in trucks, and their mothers were told they would meet them at the camp in only a couple hours.  They were instead taken and gassed.  These statues are of each of the children in the last photos available of them before Lidice.  Needless to say, it was an emotional visit.

This weekend Martha and I went to Vienna to meet her sister who is visiting for a bit. :)  It was a bit of a stressful journey.  I kind of forgot my passport in Prague, but when the bus stopped at the border the guard kind of looked at my license/student ID.. waffled a bit.. and let me thru.  The problem was, getting back.  So we made a little trip to the US Embassy, and they told me to just risk it, rather than try and do anything official.  But of course, to get on a train back, they required a passport... and to get on a bus to get back they required a passport... It was extraordinarily frustrating.  The irony of being unable to get out of the country I got into illegally.  In any case, I got a copy of my passport emailed to me, and they let me on the bus (telling me that I would probably not get across the border) and then WE DIDN'T EVEN STOP AT THE BORDER!! Anyway, whatever. 

As far as the actual city goes, it has been years since I've been to Vienna.  But after living in Prague for 2 months, I can say for certain that I like Prague much better.  Vienna is a beautiful city, don't get me wrong.  And of course it has a lot of history.  But it is also much more modernized in appearance and culture than Prague is.  Walking the streets there felt more like what I would imagine New York to feel like.  Prague just feels more homey. 

What was really cool though, were the Christmas Markets!  Apparently it's a tradition in Central Europe, during Christmas, to have these open air crafts markets.  We went to a bunch of those over the 3 nights we were there, and it was really great.  Each market sold Punsch (some kind of warm alcoholic cider-ish drink, which was fabulous to drink while you strolled since it was so cold there!) and they served it in real mugs which were each made uniquely for whichever Christmas Market you were in (and they only cost 2 Euro).  I kept 2, because they were way cheaper than any other souvenir I could possibly have found.  :)  (Speaking of money, another reason I prefer Prague is cost.  Vienna is sooo much more expensive than Prague.  Going to dinner there was outrageous compared to the price of food here.  And beer-- I'm sure I've mentioned the insanely cheap beer in Prague? Yes, not so much in Vienna.  And it wasn't as good, of course).

Statue of Franz Joseph in front of the Albertina museum of art (great exhibit on Picasso and Monet!)

The Schonbrunn Palace!

The palace at night, from the front.  This was, apparently, the first night of this particular Christmas market.  They had a children's choir singing!  It was beautiful.

This is the largest Christmas market in Vienna during the day.  Not as pretty as at night (the building, when lit up, is absolutely gorgeous), but my camera refuses to take good pictures at night so I came back the next day!

Parliament building!  They sure know how to build 'em.
Anyway, it has been a fabulous couple of weeks (and I haven't even touched on the Mezipatra festival here in Prague where I actually volunteered, and saw 6 absolutely amazing films).  I'll do a post on Mezipatra sometime later this week probably? 

Much love!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Day Trips!

So between last weekend and this weekend, I have gone on 3 day trips!  They've been great fun, and very interesting (2 of them were for classes I'm taking, so they were also informational!).  In between I've been working my ass off, and had 5 midterm tests this week.  It was.. miserable, to say the least.  But it's over now!

Last Saturday, I went to a town called Most, in northern Czech Republic.  It is a town known for strip mining, and it was absolutely devastating to see the amount of land they had ruined.  But part of the trip was fun, as well.  We went to a crazy castle that was decorated 1/2 with stuffed animals of sorts (by which I mean taxidermy, not children's play toys), and 1/2 with what they called "fairy tales".  It was.. bizarre.

So this church was actually moved from its original location to the spot it sits now, because the coal companies of Most decided that they needed to literally tear down the ENTIRE town, and move it like.. 2 km away.. in order to get at the coal that was below it.  So this church was moved, in one piece.  It was a huge feat of engineering, actually, and is pretty damn cool to think about.  It was also gorgeous inside, but they charged 100ck to take pictures, so alas.

We actually hiked to a look-out point so we could see the scope of the damage done by the mining.  I thought it was particularly sad in contrast to the beautiful castle/chateau thingy sitting so nicely on the hill.  Also, through the process of strip mining they ruined a lot of the surrounding hillsides because of acid rain etc.

Badger!!  Inside the castle.  Also, at the castle, I got to pet a goat.  That was definitely the highlight of that trip.  Haha.

Sunday, I went to Třebič with my History of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia class.  It has I believe, one of the most well preserved Jewish ghettos there.  (not a Nazi Ghetto.  A Ghetto that the Jews lived in in the Middle Ages).  It was altogether an interesting trip.  It was beautiful, and the Jewish cemetery there was absolutely fascinating.  It was a really really interesting and extremely insightful trip.
This is the Rear Synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto.  In the Medieval Period, the Jews painted their prayers in Hebrew on the walls of their synagogues and the congregation would walk from prayer to prayer reciting them at their services.

Not the best picture, but we went into this lady's house in the Ghetto, where a wealthy Jewish family had a well dug in their living room when it was built.  It was really interesting, so of course I stood on top of it!  :)

This was the oldest part of the Jewish Cemetery.  They were forced to bury their loved ones over this hill so that they weren't in view of the church in the center of the town.

After WWII, many Jewish families returned to their family's burial sites and scraped the German off of their grave stones.  They sometimes just left them blank, or replaced them in Czech.  Also, a lot of Jews who had German last names translated them to the Czech equivalent.

Yesterday, Martha, Rachel and I visited Karlovy Vary!  It is a Russian Spa Town about a 2 hr. bus ride from Prague.  It was absolutely gorgeous, though the day was extremely foggy.  We saw the center of the town, which is in a valley, and was just beautiful with all the fall colors.  So the town is known for its hot springs.  There are 16 of them around the town, and we found 6 of them.  We also bought really cute mugs so we could drink the spring water (which was fairly disgusting, it tasted really metalic, but considering how cold the day was, drinking natural hot mineral water from fountains wasn't a terrible thing).  We walked around and encountered a couple churches, a theatre, and then we went to the Jan Becher museum.  Jan Becher was the creator of Becherovka, which is a Czech hard liquor that was originally manufactured for medicinal purposes-- stomach issues specifically.  Anyway, it was really interesting, and for only 100ck, we also got to try 3 different kinds of Becherovka.  It was really cool.
Gorgeous Fall colors!!

Dvorak statue!

The first colonnade that we found with a fountain!

Martha and I with our mugs!  Yes, my mug is a giraffe.  :)  Also, it has a straw built into the handle.  It is awesome.

Pretty building.

Gorgeous church we ran across randomly as we kind of traversed around the town.

Russian Orthodox Church (as the town is mostly populated by Russians)

A statue of TG Masaryk, a huge symbol of Czech nationalism.  It was one of the Czech Republic's many independence day things on Friday, thus the ribbons at the base.

At the Becherovka museum!
And that's pretty much all that's happened in the last week!
Much love!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Česky Krumlov and Třebon (or how to get your study abroad program to give you awesome free overnight trips)

So this weekend there were a bunch of different overnight trips available for people here in Prague through CIEE.  My roommate Martha and I decided that we both wanted to go to Česky Krumlov and Třebon.

Česky Krumlov is a really cute Czech town, that is mostly tourists, but there's a nice castle, and some really beautiful architecture.  Also, some pretty interesting museums (had we had more time, and the inclination).  Aside from being absolutely freezing cold, it was a really great weekend!

Some highlights:
1) I got served trout with a head.  I had to have someone at my table decapitate it for me before I could eat it.  (in true gentlemanly style he also graciously took the head and kept it on his plate so I could eat without my fish staring at me).  
2) There was a castle, with a tower, and everything was gorgeous.
3) A brewery tour in Třebon.  It was really interesting, and we got to taste some delicious beer.  Also, dark beer = vastly superior to light beer.
4) There was a baroque theatre in said castle, which had fully functioning stage machinery.  You heard me correctly oh theatre peoples.  It was literally the only reason I wanted to go on this tour.  I mean, after you see a theatre with fully functioning baroque era stage machinery, the rest is just icing.  (Unfortunately it was also the only place I went where I couldn't take pictures...).  In any case, it was just as glorious as I expected.  The perspective scenery was breathtaking, and actually getting to see the trap doors, and all the insides below stage, it was just absolutely a dream come true.  Thanks, History of Theatre I for starting my love for stage machinery.  I cannot even express how much I wish we still used it.  So absolutely amazing.

Some pictures:
Delicious garlic soup in a bread bowl.  It was absolutely freezing this weekend, so soup was our saving grace.

Česky Krumlov from the Castle!!

So we couldn't take pictures outside, but here's the theatre!!

They had a whole bunch of little chairs like this.  Couldn't resist a photo op (mom, dad, I'm looking at you ;)

Steps up to a beautiful church.  This image was actually on a lot of postcards, so I thought I'd recreate it.

Brewery in Třebon.

Bohemia regent kegs. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cemetery, Paddleboats, and... Other cool things. :)

So, like, a week and a half ago I went to the Vysehrad cemetery, which is quite literally right next to my study center.  It houses a majority of the important historical Czech persons (the culturally relevant ones, not the political ones).  Vysehrad, in case you were interested, was a huge fortress back in the day, and our study center is kind of right in the middle of it.  So getting to class often involves walking through gaggles of tourists taking photos of shit as you're trying to get from the metro to the study center in under 10 min. in order to be on time.  Always fun.  :)  But I digress
This church stands right next to our study center.

Dvorak's tomb.

This is the view from the top of the hill above the study center.  It was a beautiful day, so many sail boats!

Here the wall of the fortress still stands above the Vltava river.

Those pictures were taken quite a while ago, but somehow I kept forgetting to post them.  Lo siento!  But anyway, this week has been so incredibly busy!  Tuesday, I had a meeting with Bara, who is the volunteer coordinator of Mezipatra-- (a LGBT film festival that originated in Brno, and is now hosted both in Brno and in Prague) who I will be volunteering/interning for this fall!  The festival here in Prague is in November, so I'll be helping them organize the database etc, and then volunteer at the festival itself as a runner, or someone in the shop etc. as a kind of english liaison.  There're 4 of us who will be volunteering so it should be great fun.  Then Tuesday night, I had a pre-conference meeting for this thing called Forum 2000 -- -- which I am interning at.  It's this amazing political conference here, which features panalists from all over the world etc.  I'm going to be a "reporter" at the conference, sitting in panels and writing up summaries for... something or other.  And then I'll be carrying on helping after the conference with editing transcripts of the panels etc.  I'm so incredibly excited for this opportunity, I cannot even express. 

Then!  Wednesday was St. Wenceslas Day here in Prague, which meant no classes!  And also meant a special once-a-year mass held in St. Vitus cathedral (the one that's in Prague Castle).  They had vespers before, and then the mass, which was super-traditional (or so I'm led to believe by Martha, who is actually Catholic, so I trust her).  They had incense, and a bunch of men in robes (I'm actually very curious to know exactly how high up these men were in the Catholic church of the Czech Republic) and THE SKULL OF ST WENCESLAS HIMSELF.  WHAT.  We both about hit the floor when the head priest dude walked out with a skull on a pillow.  St. Vaclav (as he is known here, why we translate that to Wenceslas, I don't understand) watched the entire service from a pedestal, just chilling.  In any case, it was a really amazing service.  And it was just unreal to be singing in a church which has been worshiped in for hundreds of years.
The lighting was just.. so incredibly perfect.
Thursday we went to a concert at the Senate Gardens right below Prague Castle.
They had peacocks (including this beautiful albino one) just roaming around!

The Senate building itself.  Gorgeous paintings inside the arches.
Then we went paddle boating yesterday!!  The weather has been absolutely unreal.  Our roommate Maja, who's Slovakian, keeps trying to tell us that summer is over every day that it is a little bit overcast.  But then we get a week like this one where it was in the mid-70s, and absolutely perfect weather outside, and it's hard to believe that it is ever dreary or cold here. 

The National Theatre-- it is such a gorgeous building.

Rachel, Martha and I in our little car!!
Today, Martha and I decided to walk to the Farmer's Market.  However, being slightly unsure of how to get there on foot (we could have gone by metro, but it was too pretty out not to walk it) we decided to wing it, and got a little lost.  But look what we found!
There were these 2 gorgeously graffiti-d garage doors side-by-side on this random street we found, and it was the first artistic graffiti I had really seen here so far.  There's a lot of graffiti, but mostly just people scrawling their names, or random words or whatever, but nothing really artistic like this. 

Then we found an entrance to a secret garden!

Fall has arrived!!  So many beautiful fall colours, but yellow is definitely my favourite.

Okay, sorry for the long post, especially with all the pictures!  But I'll leave it off here now.  :) 
Much love! <3