From Paris to Prague
The nice thing about living in Europe, and the thing that makes me feel extra continental, is the fact that I can easily travel from one country to another in such a short amount of time.
Because of my first six-week block of classes coming to an end, I got a break! My friend Maddy wanted to go to Prague, and I knew very little about Prague, but thought "What the hey!" and booked my plane tickets. It was an experience almost as soon as I got off the plane. Though they are a member of the EU, the Czech Republic uses its own currency. When I went to withdraw money from the ATM, I was very confused by the exchange rate and ended up withdrawing the equivalent of $600 from my bank account, who tried to warn me when I was about to withdraw ABOUT TWICE AS MUCH at the start. I obviously did not end up spending that much on the trip, and I just exchanged the rest for euros at the end of our stay. We called for a taxi inside, at an indoor taxi stand, and the driver met us inside, where he told us how much a ride would cost. Apparently, Prague has had issues with dishonest taxi drivers in the past, so I guess this was their way of preventing that? It was the first of a few cultural differences I noticed. I was struck by how weird it was to get off the plane, and that it was not a familiar place. That sounds weird, but I calculated how much time usually passes before I go home on a break when I'm at Oberlin, which, in the case of start of spring semester to spring break, is roughly six weeks. It had been that long since I had been to anywhere that seemed like home, so I guess my body had some sort of subconscious reaction where I felt like I was making a return to see something familiar. I can't really complain, because I was in Prague, but still. Weird.
Maddy and I checked into our hostel, which was surprisingly nice. I mean, I'd prefer a room of my own to sleeping in a bunk bed, sharing the space with seven other girls. But I'm glad I got the European hostel experience that seems to be a hallmark of being in your 20s. We got a meal down street, where I had my first Czech beer. Beer is huge in the Czech Republic. They drink more of it than any other country. We called it an early night and got some rest for the next day.
The next day was all about the major sites. We started at the Astronomical Clock, which was...cute...but kind of a letdown. It's been around since the 15th century, so I can appreciate its longevity, but I couldn't quite understand the crowds around it. We crossed the Charles Bridge, which again, not sure what the big fuss was all about. The bridge was pretty old and decorated with religious figures, and there were a ton of people on it. I feel like I'm really not painting a good picture of why you should check out Prague in the first place, but trust me, it was all quite beautiful, even if it wasn't, like, monumentally life-changing. After a nice lunch of some sort of potato dumplings and sheep's cheese for me, and some sort of meat and sauce for Maddy, we headed over to the main event, the Prague Castle. The Prague Castle is kind of a misleading name, because it's a castle, but also multiple churches and monuments. It's a whole compound, and it could take you the whole day to do. We got the ticket that allowed us to see most of the sites, but not everything. That was enough for us. We saw St. Vitus Cathedral, a beautiful old church. We saw where the royals used to live at the Old Royal Palace. St. George's Basilica was chilly and quaint. Golden Lane was this kitschy little street which used to be populated by people who worked in the Castle. Also Franz Kafka, for a time. For dinner, we went to this American bookstore/cafe/restaurant thing that served CHICKEN TENDERS and also wine that was worth $2 a glass! Obviously, it was a good meal. It was also karaoke night, which was fun to watch, even though Maddy and I couldn't gather the courage to go up and sing ourselves (had we had more alcohol, a duet of "Summer Nights" from Grease wouldn't have been out of the question).
The next day we tried to go to this art museum, but we got confused because apparently there isn't just one location, but rather, locations all over the city. Not wanting to deal with this extra-ness, we headed into one nearby that promised exhibitions on Dali, Warhol, and Alfons Mucha. Maddy didn't think she would like it, but she was pleasantly surprised by Dali, who had a lot of drawings and works he did in his later years on display. As a big Warhol buff, I kind of knew that I had probably reached my limit in terms of novelty, having been to both the MOMA and the Menil multiple times, but it was still good to catch up with an old friend, so to speak (the old friend perhaps being my 13-year-old self, who was very into the Velvet Underground and the whole concept of the Factory). I don't think there were many original works in that exhibition; it was more of an overview of his life and career. I hadn't heard of Alfons Mucha before, but he was a Czech artist who was a prominent figure in the Art Nouveau scene, and I enjoyed getting to see his work. After a lunch of goulash and mulled wine, we checked out the Museum of Communism, which was kind of shabby and small, but a worthy stop. Later that night, we did a beer tasting, because when in Rome, I guess. I can happily say that though beer is not my favorite drink, I learned a little something, and drank a lot of something. I can now openly admit to drinking, as a 21-year-old! RAs, you missed your chance with me!
Monday was a day unlike any that I've experienced. We went to the Terezin concentration camp, about 45 minutes away. Visiting a concentration camp is not something that anyone is necessarily excited to do, but I definitely suggest a visit if you can. To comprehend that scale of human suffering is a sobering experience. It was strange and sad to walk around the barracks and prison, to take in the fact that people lived here and died here. We left Terezin and didn't much feel like going out that night.
Overall, Prague was old and charming just like I expected. Like with any good vacation, I was sad to see it end, but happy to be back in a country where I can (kind of) speak the language. This weekend, I'll be in Brussels, which promises a lot of beer as well. I'd obviously prefer wine, but at least now I know what the heck hops are!