Archive for April, 2012

The Tourist Bubble

The picture you see to your right is a representation of what one would encounter if they decided to visit the most

popular sights in the city on a holiday. You would inevitably run into hordes and hordes of people on the street, on the train, on the bus, in the bathroom, virtually any place in the city would be swarmed with tourists and locals who have the day off. Today and tomorrow are bank holidays here, in celebration of Labor Day. If I’m not mistaken this is the equivalent of a federal holiday in the states, which means unless you are one of the unlucky few who happens to work at a place that sells things you have two days off.

I was sitting in my room today, bored out of my mind and I decided I might as well step out and venture into the city and visit the major sites, all of which I have so far neglected to visit. First, I underestimated how hot it is outside today as soon as I stepped out into the sun I thought to myself, “I wonder how long I’ll be able to force myself to amble aimlessly in this unbearable weather”, my answer would come 45 minutes later, but I’m getting ahead of the story. I took the metro towards Staromestska, which is close to the Old Town Square, I’ve been there before but hadn’t participated in the whole “touristy” thing. In the end, I decided that maybe it would be better to go across the river and explore completely uncharted territory. I got off instead at the Malostranska stop and took a tram to Namesti Malostranska (Malostranska Square). Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the amount of tourists I saw and heard all around me. I noticed a lot more Czech school kids who were out and about (how could I forget that they get the day off of school, too?) families with babies and huge awkward strollers abounded all over. I looked around and thought, “I’m not feeling this”. I settled for grabbing some goulash soup in a bread bowl at a nearby cafe and promptly headed home, the Charles Bridge could wait for me to conquer it some other time. Besides, I saw some pictures my friend took of when she went to the bridge at dawn and it looked so beautiful and serene. I think I would enjoy having it all to myself and watching the sunrise, than sharing it at three in the afternoon with a bunch of hot, sweaty tourists.

Tomorrow, one of my professors at school is taking us on a “field trip”, we’re meeting at the Old Town Square and walking around Prague to see if we can find any protests or demonstrations…not that we’re not warned about staying away from political demonstrations while abroad or anything, right?

In any case, at the bottom of this post are a few photos I took today…enjoy. Please note the crowds and babies, I am not exaggerating!

Expect the Unexpected

This weekend I was supposed to travel to the beautiful city of Venice, Italy and spend a long weekend traveling across the region and maybe even visit the beach. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control (ok, well partly out of my control) I was forced to forfeit my trip and any visions of me eating gelato on a water taxi. I would have been more upset by the way these events unfolded if it had not been for the fact that I had a final the morning my flight was set to take off. While, I welcome the opportunity to travel, skipping a final is completely unacceptable (stay in school kids!) and so on Thursday morning I took my final exam and brainstormed what to do with all the extra time I would have doing nothing in Prague. I’m lucky because at UMW I never find myself troubled with TOO much extra time, it just does not happen, something else that does not happen is pleasant 80° F weather in Prague.  So in essence, if there was one weekend to stay in Prague this one would be it. It seemed like out of nowhere the flowers bloomed, the trees sprouted leaves and the world was filled with color, I think I even saw the native Czechs walk around……smiling?! Even though I was forced to give up one of my most coveted trips at least all my accumilated good karma resulted in incredible weather for exploring a city that I learn to love (or cope with, same thing right?) more everyday.

The Italy expert.

I’m taking a class here called EU Integration, I signed up for it because I’m an International Affairs major, I’m supposed to learn stuff like this eventually, right? The class meets twice a week and pretty much focuses on how the European Union came to be. Up until the midterm we studied the Maastricht Treaty, and vague terms like the “Enlargement”, “Deepening”, and “Expansion” of the EU. Class always has the same structure and my classmates have picked up the same routine. We were each assigned a country that is a member of the EU and at the beginning of every class period we must provide a brief summary of a news story that is relevant to the state of the EU. We are dubbed “experts” on our respective countries, and from the title of this post you may have gathered that I’m the expert on Italian affairs. What’s funny to me though is that when class starts you can see everybody frantically connecting to the school wifi on their phones or iPods and scrambling for a computer  in search of an EU relevant article about their respective country. This routine always amuses me for two reasons:

#1- You know that you have to do this ahead of time, twice a week!

#2- It takes at most 10 minutes out of your life.

I pride myself on keeping up with world events, so I usually don’t have to scramble for some information on my country 30 seconds before the professor walks in the door, but I must admit it has happened before. I think I even read a news headline straight from my phone when it was my turn to share on one occasion. If all else fails, every once in a while our professor let’s us get away with “there’s really nothing going on with [insert country] today” this is easier to do if say you’re the expert for Estonia or the ever neutral Switzerland. Sometimes one of my classmates who (obviously) didn’t read the news over the weekend will fib and say that there was nothing in the news, and the professor will spend 15 minutes talking about all the different news stories related to the country. I never mind because it takes away from the actual course content which is unbearable to listen too. After midterms the class turned to focus on the Lisbon Treaty, and of course the best way to go over the Lisbon Treaty is to talk about every article in the treaty which by the way is made up of  290+ articles. Let’s just say, I started running out of things to doodle in my notebook and started coming up with blog post ideas instead. Upon my return to the States I plan to regale strangers at parties with my extraneous knowledge on Silvio Burlesconi’s prostitution trial, Italian bonds, or the riveting content of the articles that make up the Lisbon Treaty. Do not be jealous if I suddenly become the most sought after figure for UMW social events, you have been forewarned.

A brief ode.

Every time I ride a tram in Prague I look for the opportunity to get a window seat. Why? I suppose it’s because it still does not seem real to me how picturesque this city is! It’s gotten to the point where I don’t notice the ugly graffiti letters on the buildings anymore, I just look around and take in the views of the river, the castles in the distance, and the many spires atop churches and buildings across Prague. It certainly doesn’t feel like home but it also doesn’t feel foreign, it’s like I’ve discovered my own little haven away from Virginia, the state I’ve lived in my entire life. I definitely haven’t fallen in love with this place for the people. To start off, Czechs are overall serious and reserved, furthermore, the language barrier has prevented me from really getting to know any true Czechs. The food here, as I think I’ve said before, is not exactly to my liking. However, I’m a sucker for the cobblestone paths and winding roads (even though I’ve ruined my favorite pair of boots this way) and Prague’s history is interesting and impressive. I don’t think I could spend the rest of my life here, there are many things I miss constantly but for now I’m content and I don’t see myself anywhere else.

—-This could be YOU if you lived in Prague!—-

 

The place I call “home”.

This post is meant to serve two purposes. First, I hope that anyone who might be considering studying abroad in the future takes into consideration my advice and uses my experience as a cautionary tale for their own future endeavors. Secondly, I hope to vent a little steam in regards to my current housing situation.

So let’s begin, in Prague I live in a lovely flat near the center of town with four other girls from the program. I’m used to living with other people, I’ve grown up all my life living with extended family in cramped quarters where I’ve learned the value of sharing and keeping what I hold near and dear far away from any greedy hands. At UMW, I’ve lived in doubles, I’ve had a single, I’ve even stayed in Eagle Landing and shared a “full-blown” apartment. I would like to think that all this experience makes me an AMAZING roommate, ok maybe not, but at least I can stay out of people’s way.

As I researched study abroad programs a year ago, I was very focused on the type of living arrangements available, for the most part my options were living with a host family, apartments with program students, and some universities also had on-campus housing for students. I knew going into my search that I did not want to live with a host family. The idea of living with a family I didn’t know was something I didn’t feel comfortable with and I also realized that I would have to put a lot more effort into making friends, which can be frightening in a new country. A host family is a great way to live and “get local” but I didn’t want to be tied down by curfews or feel like a house guest who overstayed a visit. Call me crazy, but those are the things that came to mind when I pictured myself going home to a host family every night.

Dorms or apartments became a better option for me because I could come and go as I please and I would be surrounded by students who were going through the same trials and tribulations I was facing. Well as most things do, apartment life started out well, I have the freedom I want and the proximity to my peers but there is A LOT more responsibility. This responsibility manifests itself in the many chores that the five of us are required to do in order to keep our apartment livable. As the weeks have gone by I can certainly say that my quality of life has gone waaaaay down.

I’ve always semi-mocked the roommate agreements that we have to fill out when living on campus every year, but I completely regret not having at least a discussion about chores and responsibilities around the apartment at the beginning of the semester. Trust me, communication with your roommates is key! Had we opted to sit and talk about who’s turn it would be to buy toilet paper or dish soap, or set up a cleaning schedule it would have made the experience of living in an apartment a lot more comfortable. I mean, I like surprises just as much as anyone else, I just ask that we keep dish soap around, people!

At this point there is less than a month before we all leave and I don’t think I will be having a roommate discussion, so if you’re non-confrontational or lazy like me, I’ve found an alternative to a roommate intervention. Keep a secret stash of the essentials and eat out as much as possible!

 

Mazel tov!

 

Don’t smuggle cheese into the EU

I love to open up my e-mail and have a notification from the program director that there is mail waiting for me in the office. Usually, it means that my friend Zach has sent me a postcard with updates on his life and the on-goings at UMW; on one particular occasion though, I was certain that the “mail” being referred to in my inbox was a long-awaited package from home. During a weak moment of homesickness I had called home and whined to my mom about how Prague and it’s cuisine was not satisfying my dietary needs she agreed to send me some staples of my favorite home foods. She put together a package filled with latin spices, refried beans, dry pasta sauce, authentic Salvadoran cheese, and corn masa, among other things. When I went to the office at school I was bewildered to find a letter from the Czech post office in place of my long-awaited items from home. After a rather lengthy translation of my letter courtesy of the program director, I foound that my package was being held in Customs and my cheese, of all things, had been confiscated. Was I still allowed to pick up my package? Yes, but I had to pay a fee of 900 czk for it’s disposal that’s about $45 USD, needless to say I was incredulous but I paid it. Moral of the story, when it comes to cheese, the EU doesn’t play games my friend.