Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Graffiti on Union Lane, Melbourne

Touring the city of Melbourne for the past 3 weeks has been great. Viewing all the famous sights has been fun, but what I enjoy most are the hidden treasures of the city; the things that really give it character. There are many arcades or alleyways that include small boutiques, cafes, and amazing graffiti.

The other day we were walking around the city, seeing how Australian clothing stores compare to those in America. Bright and colorful graphics were peeping out from the corner of a small alleyway, catching my eye. I crossed the street to take a picture to find a long, narrow alleyway covered on both sides with graffiti. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. It took a dark, dingy alley people would maybe take as a shortcut to a colorful, vibrant street art gallery. The graffiti was mainly images, rather than words or slogans. There was a great deal of stencil work as well as freehand images. Images covered everything from the brick walls to the grated door coverings, varying in styles and subject matter. Some were attacks on politics or main -stream media, while others resembled the works of Tim Burton.

As I walked around Melbourne, I paid more attention to the graffiti culture around the city. I had never seen anything like this in Philadelphia. The graffiti here could be comparable to the murals painted on the sides of certain buildings in Philly, but I think the graffiti offers an urban culture vibe. Although most graffiti images are illegal, people seem to like this style and what it brings to the city. Many galleries are showing “street art” and famous graffiti artists are now starting their own businesses. A specific crew, known as the “Citylights”, has started a 24- hour light box gallery in a dead-end alley. Every month they have a new exhibition. The medium is images, inspired by street art printed onto vinyl and placed in a light box. It is amazing how "street art" can spread into different avenues and how a city culture can embrace it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Prague Bucket List

It is my final week studying in Prague, and I am sad thinking that next weekend I will be leaving Prague and continuing my travels throughout Europe. The four week program went by so quickly; it all seems a blur. My classes for the most part were very relaxed and laid back, so I found myself really enjoying the time spent “in class”. The group as a whole got along great, we were always doing something together, so it’s no wonder how time flew by.

Since it is my last week, I am trying to cram in all the tourist attractions that I kept putting off. This week, before my afternoon classes I went to Prague’s famed TV Tower, which is perched quite high on a hill. The TV tower can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city. Although, it always seems to be in the distance. There is a metro stop for the area around the TV tower, so it’s easy to access. I wanted to visit the TV Tower not only for the landscape view of the city but also for the unique art installation on the exterior.

Prague TV Tower

The Prague TV Tower has quite a few large sculptures of babies crawling on the tower, and they are visible from afar as well. Although you cannot make out what the figures actually are until much closer, it’s obvious that there is something on the tower. The babies are an art installation piece by famed Czech sculptor David Černý. The babies are made of fiberglass so they are pretty lightweight considering their size.The babies were originally suppose to be a temporary exhibit, however the citizens of Prague grew so found of them, the city decided to keep the installation installed permanently.

The TV Tower babies were so popular more were created and placed on Kampa Island near the Charles Bridge. Later that day my group went to go see the babies on the ground. Once I was face to face with the babies, I realized that they did not have faces! I did not notice these unique traits on the tower babies because they were placed so high up. I thought the babies on the ground were quite large, but I later found out that the babies on the tower are actually twice as large compared to the size of the ones on Kampa Island. Those are some large babies and large sculptures!

The Baby Sculpture on Kampa Island

The few other things on my Prague Bucket List include: dinner at Clear Head Vegetarian Restaurant, The Kafka Museum, and going up inside the Astronomical Clock to view Old Town Square from above!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Samara and I at our first Aussie Rules Football Game

If you truly want to experience Australian culture and mingle with the locals there is only one thing you can do- go to a Footy game. Mainly popular in Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria, Australian Rules Football is a very popular winter sport. Fans battle the cold, and usually unpredictable weather, to come cheer on their home team.

Twelve of us ventured to cheer on our local team the Hawthorn Hawks on Saturday morning at the famous MCG Center (Melbourne Cricket Ground). We were pleasantly surprised to get $13 dollar tickets that allowed us to sit 5 rows behind the goal posts, a deal rarely heard of at any professional sporting event in the states! As the Hawks battled the Melbourne Devils I learned a great deal about this Australian pastime. Besides actually learning the rules of the game, I was also introduced to some common passionate (and colorful) phrases of fans, much like American sporting events. A popular way for fans to show their team spirit is to wear scarves with their team’s colors. Looking around at so many necks adorned with stripped scarves made me feel as though I belonged at a Harry Potter Festival. Another fun aspect of the game was that both teams had songs, much like anthems, that fans knew by heart and recited as their team took to the field. Although we did not know the words to the Hawks song, the tune did resemble the famous American song Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The game lasted about 3 hours (total playing time) but I was never bored or ready to leave. There was always something happening. Very few times was the game stopped for penalties, and there are no such things as “time-outs”. The game is extremely physical, bodies constantly being thrown to the ground (keep in mind players wear no types of padding). Scoring occurs relatively often, with two different types of goals. Kicking the ball through the middle post results in six points, while kicking the ball through the side posts is one point. Lucky for us, the Hawthorn Hawks came out on top and continue their run to the Grand Final. The final game is a huge event in Western Australia, one that requires the purchase of tickets months in advance. Although I will not be able to attend the game, I will definitely be watching, hopefully having a reason to wear my yellow and brown-stripped Hawthorn scarf.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Koala Bear resting at Healesville Sanctuary

G’day from Australia! My name is Molly and I am a Design and Merchandising student at Drexel University. For part of the Summer term and entire Fall term I will be studying at Swinburne University near Melbourne, Australia. Australia in general has been the most friendly and welcoming place. Although Melbourne is 10,294 miles away from Philadelphia, people here have made it feel like home.

As part of our orientation at Swinburne, we took a trip to Healesville Sanctuary, located in the Yarra Valley, about an hour outside of Melbourne. Here we were able to see first hand the indigenous wildlife of Australia in their natural “bush” setting. The animal everyone is anxious to see is the cute and cuddly koala bear. Although adorable, the koala bear sleeps about 18 hours a day, so we were not able to see much movement from them. We were also able to see kangaroos and wallabies. It was surprising how much larger the kangaroos were than how they appear on television. The Sanctuary also provides a home to the Lyrebird. Although it may look like a regular bird, the Lyrebird is one of the best impersonators. It is able to mimic sounds such as a chainsaws as well as people talking. Unfortunately, we were not able to hear this impressive skill firsthand.

One of the most interesting animals at the sanctuary was the Tasmanian Devil. The Tassie Devil (as locals refer to it) looks nothing like the American cartoon. This native Australian animal resembles a groundhog, until it opens its mouth lined with sharp teeth. It was interesting to learn that this marsupial is dangerously close to extinction. A certain cancer is being transmitted among the Tassie Devil population at a fast rate. It is transmitted through biting, which is common among these animals during mating season as well as feeding. Fortunately, Healesville Sanctuary has been rescuing healthy devils and breeding them to make sure this species is around for years to come.I really enjoyed the trip to Healesville. I learned a great deal about the indigenous wildlife of Australia while having the experience of seeing them firsthand.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weekend in Wien (Vienna), Austria!

Our third weekend in the program included an optional trip to Vienna, Austria. The majority of students attended the trip, and I am so glad I was able to go explore this beautiful city. We left on a Thursday morning and took a five-hour train ride to Vienna. Austrians speak German, so our limited and basic Czech was of no use in this city. However, I found that most people spoke English and were able to assist me and the other students.

We checked into our home for the next three nights at Hotel Academia, which was pretty close to the central hub of the city. The rooms were very small with only one outlet, but we hardly spent any time in there other than sleeping. The first day we took a walking tour of the city and saw the Parliament, museum buildings, the Coal Market (shopping district), and a variety of buildings associated with the Hapsburg Dynasty. That night we ate a delicious meal at local Viennese restaurant near our hotel. The best part about Vienna was the apple strudel, which as also delicious, and the white wine that is grown on the vineyards outside of the city!

Dinner on our first night in Vienna

The next day we took a tour of City Hall. The building looks similar to that of a cathedral. Also, we also took a tour of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the exterior of the Belvedere palace once owned by the Hapsburg Family. Saturday was a free day, so I took a tour of the summer palace of the Hapsburg’s, called Schönbrunn palace. The palace was absolutely gorgeous! I went inside and took an audio tour that showed the ornate rooms of Maria Teresa (Maria Antoinette’s mother) as well as the apartment rooms of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth. Later that night, as a group we went to an orchestra concert that performed Mozart’s last written work, Requim.

Thus far, Vienna has been my favorite city. It was clean, had wonderful food, and the overall architecture and structure of the city is breathtaking. I hope I will be able to visit the city again for a longer period of time.

In front of the Parliament building

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Palace at Knossos

The ruins at Knossos

Our first week in Crete was an immediate immersion into our surroundings with a field trip beginning on Monday morning. Our first stop was the palace at Knossos, where King Minos lived eight thousand years BC. The most important king of Crete, he ruled over the ancient Minoan civilization, and was both a historical and a mythological figure. In Greece, history and folklore are equally important and their stories often blur and overlap.

The King Minos legend is slightly redolent of a modern teen television drama. He himself was said to be the son of Zeus and Princess Europa. When King Minos offended the gods, they caused his wife, Pasiphae, to believe she was in love with a bull. After a sodomitic excursion, she gave birth to the infamous Minotaur, a monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man.

In order to restrain the beast, which ate seven young men and women per year, King Minos assigned the talented designer Daedalus with the task of building a labyrinth. His name is now used as an adjective to describe any structure, which is architecturally complex. Many Cretans believe that the labyrinth was actually the palace at Knossos based upon its intricate design including five levels as well as a sewage and ventilation system.

I really enjoyed the archaic ruins at Knossos, especially the vividly restored wall paintings. The most famous of these is the Prince of the Lilies, which can be seen throughout the island on souvenirs and postcards. Others included wonderful depictions of the elaborately braided hair and bare-breasted costumes of Minoan women. Anyone who has taken History of Costume I would instantly recognize these distinct fashions.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Greetings from Beautiful Crete!

The sunrise on my first morning in Crete

Hello. My name is Rachel and I am a Design and Merchandising student at Drexel University. For the Summer 2010 term, I am participating in the Drexel in Crete program. The study abroad program is open to sophomores, pre-juniors and juniors in any major at the university. The curriculum is comprised of four courses regarding Greek culture, history, economy, society and language. The classes begin with two weeks of study in the States, continue with four weeks on the glorious island of Crete and conclude with four additional weeks of online learning.

Crete is the largest and most populous island off of the southern coast of Greece. It is the bride of the Mediterranean, serving as a cultural crossroads that links Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The island was the birthplace of the Minoan civilization, the first advanced society in Europe dating c. 2700-1420 BC. It passed under the control of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Arabs, Venetians and Ottoman Turks before gaining autonomy and finally joining the independent Greek state on December 1, 1913. These various influences created a complex cultural identity, evident in all aspects of life on Crete.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving on the island was the unique landscape. There is a striking play between harsh, dry mountainous terrain and the marine shores of the Mediterranean. Our hotel, Xenia Helios, is located in Kokkini Chani, a town fifteen minutes outside of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. It is run by students who study tourism during the year and work at the hotel in the summertime. This is amazing because it allows us an inside view of the youth culture on the island. I am sharing an adorable little room with my friend Devon, another D&M student.

Xenia Helios at night

Our program advisor, Dr. Maria Hnaraki, is a native of Crete and knows practically everyone on the island, which grants us some spectacular opportunities like meeting the first female governor of Crete. Our graduate assistant, Theodore, is also from Crete and instructs our classes on economics and business. We take classes at the hotel three days a week with the other two days reserved for lengthy field trips. On those days we all pile into the Golden Bullet, which Devon has so fittingly deemed our tour bus, and take off across the island to an assortment of fascinating locations.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tours and Such...

A great benefit about studying abroad, as opposed to just traveling through Europe, are the unique opportunities we receive through the UNO program. These opportunities have included a tour of the interior of the Prague Castle, the Parliament building, Senate Building, the Municipal House and most recently the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I really love taking tours, and learning about the history and design of the places while actually standing and walking through the various structures. One tour I found quite impressive was the Foreign Ministry, which is near the Prague Castle. The building itself is actually considered a palace, formerly known as Czernin Palace.

We were given a tour of the various rooms, and our tour guide provided us with personal anecdotes, as well as myths and legends that go along with building. He showed us where President Obama was greeted, where drinks are served before a dinner party, as well the suite of former executive minister Jan Masaryk.

One thing the Czernin Palace is particularly known for is the defenestration (the act of pushing someone out a window) of Mr. Masaryk. On March 10th 1948 his life came to a tragic end by falling out of his bathroom window under unexplained circumstances. For some odd reason the Czech Republic’s history is filled with multiple defenestrations. One incident occurred in 1419 and other incident in 1618. During the tour, we were taken the bathroom where Mr. Masaryk was thrown out his window.

View from window in Mr. Masaryk's bathroom

In my Prague 20thCentury Art and Design class we had a class tour of Prague’s Municipal House (knows to Czechs as the Obecní dům) to observe the Art Nouveau style that was incorporated into the design of the structure. The interior of the building was beautiful, from the rich wooden floors to the chandeliers and light fixtures. During the tour, we were shown a series of rooms in the building that were painted and designed by famous Czech artists, including Alfons Mucha and Jan Preisler. The Mucha room was painted deep hues of blue and purple contributing to a mystical ambience in the room. Mucha designed everything in the room, from the curtains, to the furniture and the paintings on the ceiling. Out of all the rooms designed by the artists, his room was by far my favorite.

For my last week in Prague I have a tour of the Muller Villa with my Art and Design class. The Muller Villa was the first building of it’s kind in Prague, and it was designed with the Functionalist style. I can’t wait to go and see it!

Stain Glass Window in the Mucha Room from the Municipal House

České Jídlo (Czech Food!)

After living in Prague for about three weeks I have finally grown accustomed to the Czech cuisine. I was a little nervous about the dietary habits here. Being a picky eater and reluctant to try new foods does not make the dining situation much better either. It has been an adjustment eating new foods, but I have tried some really delicious meals from an assortment of different places.

Breakfast is included with the housing fee we pay for in the program. We are given tickets that are worth 100 Krowns (about $5) to use in the cafeteria located in the dormitory. It is pretty low-key and comes with limited selections, but there usually is yogurt, bread, some pastries, coffee and juice. You also have the option of ordering scrambled eggs or an omelet. Meat and cheese is a common staple item for breakfast in Europe. I personally could never eat meat in the morning, but some of my friends now enjoy eating bologna and cheese sandwiches for breakfast.

The Czech diet as a whole is heavily concentrated on starches and meat. Ham, beef and sausage are the most common meats in most dishes. Sometimes you can find poultry items on a menu such as chicken and duck. Most dishes usually come with a side of potato or bread dumplings. I have tried both forms of dumplings at a few different dining establishments and they are really great addition to the main entrée. Soup is also a common item to order at a pub, and it usually comes in a large bowl of bread.

Typical Czech Dish called Goulash

I have personally found it difficult to find fruits and vegetables in Prague, both in a restaurant as well as on my own. Salads generally are not an option on the menu. If by chance you are given a side salad, it usually consists of a little lettuce with a lot of toppings (cucumbers, peppers, beets etc). Fruit is most commonly on the dessert menu, either in crepes or fruit dumplings. There is a small fruit market near the school where I will get apples, but the fruit in general can be a bit pricey to purchase and not always that fresh.

All in all, the food in Prague is pretty good. I have grown to love their dish called Smažený sýr (fried cheese), and I do love all the desserts and gelato! I will surely miss the fruit crepes when I am back in America.

Smažený sýr and Potatos