Wednesday, July 31, 2013

When in Trastavere...

Anyone who knows me can vouch that I have been dreaming of traveling to Italy for years. This past weekend, while most of the American students in Prague took a train ride to Vienna, Sam and I made a tiny Rome!

Our apartment ended up being located in what was touted as the perfect neighborhood, Trastavere. Trastavere is on the southwest side of the Tiber River, below Vatican City, and it consists of several universities and an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, shops, churches, cafes, and local Roman residents.

On our first night we found an aperitif bar that was just around the corner. At L'aperitivo, one pays around 8 euros for an aperitif, or an alcoholic drink that is normally consumed before one's meal. Then, with the show of your receipt, you have access to a delicious and variant antipasto buffet. Freni e Frizioni was apparently appeared to be the most favored bar in the neighborhood, with groups of younger local patrons and tourists alike spilling out of the small locale and into the square along the main street.

Despite being intrigued by the nightlife that was peaking all around us, we collapsed in our beds soon after dinner, weary from our day of traveling, and woke up early the next morning when our tourist endeavors ensued!

The Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Sistine Chapel - we saw it all. The fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, and the Pantheon is extremely well preserved and has been in used consistently since its construction. Sam was an awesome tour guide and, having been to Rome before, she managed to map out some pretty efficient routes. Over the course of just less than 3 full days we were able to witness a striking collection of some of the most significant remaining architectural and historical structures that are still standing today. Watching slides of the Pantheon flash before your eyes during an Architectecture & Society lecture more than pales in comparison to seeing these structures in person.

What struck me the most about Rome is how condensed the city way. The historic center especially has several monuments packed into such a small area, with modern building having sprung up around every corner. I can only imagine living and working in a city where you pass the Fontana di Trevi every morning when you ride your moped to work.

And on our way to the airport on Sunday, only minutes before we caught the Metro to Termini Station, we stopped to take in the Spanish Steps at the Piazza di Spagna.

Hola Barcelona: A Weekend Away from London

This past week was the end of our first two classes followed by a lovely "holiday" in Barcelona for me and a few friends. By Thursday, our final papers and tests had been taken and it was time to get ready for our Barcelona excursion. The good thing about London is that it is not too far from European countries and so we are able to travel many different places while we are studying here. The trip to Barcelona was my first time leaving London and it came at a perfect time. The weather has been unusually hot as I've mentioned before but when we left for Spain on Friday, it was starting to rain so we were able to get away and enjoy Spain's naturally hot climate and then return to a cooled down London.

We arrived in Barcelona at about 6:30pm, it is an hour ahead of London so that makes it six hours ahead of America! We had a delicious dinner of various tapas including chorizo and risotto along with artichoke chips; those were the best thing I have ever eaten! Although it was pretty late by the time we settled into the hostel and went to eat, the restaurants were still crowded because they eat so late there. Afterwards, we went to a beach bar and were informed that people tend to stay out all night. The beach was packed with people, some swimming, some just hanging out. I had a sort of eye opening moment that night when I realized that I was in Spain and I just relished in the thought that I had never thought I would end up there. It was one of those moments that you just think about the rest of the world and all the people in it and I felt that a lot of things became clear to me. Part of the reason that I had this moment is the fact that Spain is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Each site that we visited was more beautiful than the next. London is amazing and historic, but Spain has so many amazing views and places that really make you think.
Crowded Barcelona beach at 4am.
On Saturday morning, we went to a local market near our hostel and grabbed some food for a picnic on the beach. We got to the beach and it was already pretty packed but luckily we found an umbrella and were able to enjoy our picnic. Realizing that we were in Europe quite quickly based on the fact that some women were topless and completely nonchalant about it. The ocean water is so blue that it seems almost unreal. It was funny to think that we were on that very same beach not too many hours prior and the only difference was that the sun wasn't out, there were just as many people.
The same beach as 4am, now at noon.
Gaudi Museum.
After enjoying our stay on the beach, we went to the Gaudi museum. Anyone who has seen Vicky Christina Barcelona (I watched it for the first time in preparation of my trip) would recognize the artist's remarkable work. Many buildings in Spain were designed by him and he has a distinct style of making his works look almost like they're melting. The tour of the museum starts at the very top where you can look over the city and it is amazing. It was there that the four of us decided that we never wanted to leave. That night we had a dinner of tapas once again!

Sunday was a full day for us! We started out eating an amazing brunch and then made our way to Park Montjuic, it is a mountain with a castle on top that has the most amazing view that I have ever seen. We took a cable railway, known in Barcelona as a funicular, up the mountain and were able to look out onto the city as well as the beautiful water. Every time I turned around or walked a few more feet, I had a better few than where I was before. After that, we went to the Sagrada Famila, a church designed by Gaudi. The church is still under construction, but the inside was quite impressive. The stain glass windows were nothing short of impeccable and the ceilings were so high that when I looked up, I felt like they went on forever. That night we had paella on the beach, to say that it was delicious would be an understatement. I am not a very daring person when it comes to trying new things but I am very happy that I was brave and ordered this dish!
View from Montjuic 

                                Left: Stained Glass Windows Inside- Right: Outside Sagrada Familia

Monday we didn't have class so we were able to walk around and go shopping at Las Ramblas where there are some international stores such as Zara but there were also local Spanish designers. Luckily, I took Spanish in high school so I was able to navigate my way around but surprisingly enough, most people were able to speak English. Monday afternoon was our flight back to London and I have to admit I was pretty happy to be coming back. It took a trip out of the country to realize that after five weeks, I am starting to think of this place as a second home. When we got back, it was nice and cool out, I've been waiting for this weather since four weeks ago when it started getting hot!
Our last night in Barcelona! Enjoying what we can of the beach, there were even fireworks!
Yesterday, we started our new classes. It is crazy to think that in a short five weeks, we will be back in the US! Today I have my first class of Food Society and Culture in Britain, yesterday was History of Modern Design. We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum and were able to look at actual pieces of work from the period we were learning about; it was a very helpful aid in fully learning what we are being taught. I look forward to what these next five weeks and two new classes will bring!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Five Steps to a Happy Day in Prague


I have successfully gotten through more than a week of the Prague Summer Seminar! It is crazy how fast it is all going by.  Prague is a really easy city to get used to and the metro is pretty simple for appearing so complicated.

I have discovered there are things that need to be accomplished right away when visiting Prague! (I plan on making a top ten or so list when my trip is finished!)

First things first, get your money converted into crowns! You will feel rich when you exchange your money and get 19 crowns for a single US dollar. Most meals cost between 80 kc and 150 kc, so make sure you have enough! Understanding the conversion rate is pretty simple, just round up to 20— for example, if something costs 150 crowns, you move the decimal in to 15.0 and then divide by 2 and that is the cost approximated in American money: $7.50.

Second, and probably most importantly, you need to learn the metro. It is not complicated at all. There are three basic lines: the green line, the yellow line, and the red line. The metro can basically take you anywhere you need to go! All public transportation is really easy to figure out as long as you know what stops you need to get off.

Jan Huss monument in Old Town Square
Third, you need to visit Old Town Square. In Old Town Square, you will see the monument of Jan Huss and thousands of people. There is the clock tower there too that is home to the Astronomical Clock. This clock was made in the 1400s and it still works! It goes off every hour and it attracts hundreds of tourists. It is definitely a stop to see at least once! (Although, I have stopped and watched it multiple times so far!)

This tall arch is the entrance to the Charles Bridge: Karluv Most
Fourth, I think it is important to go to the Charles Bridge. It is impossible to miss and you will certainly be one of the hundreds of tourists on the bridge. The bridge was built by King Charles IV and has many statues along it. It is an awesome place to watch street performers and view the Vltava River.

View of New Town Square-- that large Neo-Renaissance building is the National Museum
Fifth, and the last immediate destination, check out New Town Square on Narodni. Here you will see the giant National Museum building and a clear view of shops, restaurants you may want to visit or just to walk through. I do recommend just walking from the museum down to Old Town Square.

These are five things that I think you should do when you get to Prague… yes, all within the first day! If you are planning on staying for a few days, don’t worry I will later give you a list of all the sites I 
recommend to visit.

But for now, I hope you all have a great week!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Vienna, Austria

A rainy evening in Prague means it’s time to blog!  It’s been twenty days abroad and this is the first time we have had rain!  I am not complaining because there has been record-breaking heat here the last couple days (with no air conditioning to be found).  A little rain will do us some good!

This weekend I traveled with a large portion of our group to Vienna, Austria!  Although we were only there Thursday through Sunday, it was an amazing and fun filled weekend!  We arrived mid-day on Thursday and were guided on a walking tour by a physician who just loves Vienna.  We all thought she was a historian based on her wealth of knowledge but came to find that she just enjoys history as a hobby.  Nevertheless, she was funny, informative, and very excited to be showing us around the city.  I really enjoyed seeing the historical buildings that have so many stories behind them.  My favorite place was the Belvedere Palace.  It now houses a ton of beautiful artwork that features very reputable artists, including Manet, Renoir, and Klimt.  It was a lot to take in but definitely worth taking a couple of hours to see.

Our city tour guide!

In front of the Belvedere Palace.

One other feature that I really enjoyed in Vienna was the festivals!  While we were there, the city was hosting a Film Festival as well as a Pop Festival.  Some students ventured to the Film Festival while I accompanied others to the Pop Festival.  The Pop Festival featured multiple indoor and outdoor stages as well as variety of music genres.  It was a lot of fun and something different than what we have done so far in Prague.

My favorite stage at the Pop Festival.

Lastly, one of my favorite experiences in Vienna was attending a classical concert in St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  The concert included three violins, one cello, and sometimes a trumpet.  The audience sat in the pews and enjoyed the musicians that were playing in front of the alter.  The cathedral was more than beautiful and it was a relaxing way to appreciate the classics of Mozart and more!

Our group at the classical concert in St. Stephen's!

I am looking forward to a great week back in Prague!

My Return to Rome

This past weekend, while many people went to Vienna, I headed down to re-visit my favorite city, Roma! Luckily, it was easy to convince Courtney to join me, so the two of us spent a lovely 4 days and three nights in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

On thursday we flew in, landing around three and making our way to the city and eventually our apartment by seven or so. After a long day of travel and heat, we opted for a local meal in the part of town we were staying--Trastevere. This part of town is filled with young locals, street performers, and countless resturants, bars, and cafes. Our meal was delicious, as expected, and we headed to bed in preparation for a full day ahead.

A full day, indeed. Starting with breakfast at a small cafe, consisting of a cappuccino and pastry (chocolate filled, of course), we then headed to our first stop, which is probably the city's most iconic--The Colosseum. As mentioned, I have been to Rome before, but it was about 4 years ago. Seeing everything for the second time was just as amazing. Everything was even more beautiful than I remembered. The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Piazza Navona were our big stops for the day, but even the walk through the city to get to each place was filled with sites that you can't see anywhere else.

The next day we visited the Castle of St Angelo and the Vatican. The highlight for me was the view from the top of the Castle, simply breathtaking. Then we enjoyed another night of roaming around Trastevere, filled with people watching and gelato eating. 

The entire trip was wonderful, despite being fairly short. I know Rome will always be a city I look forward to revisiting, because it really is beautiful in every sense. The best part of it all is even though we had to leave Rome, we are still in Prague for two more weeks! Theres a lot more to do here and I'm looking forward to everything else there is to discover.

Happy travels, everyone!

The Hills Are Alive-- Vienna and All Its Beauty

Guten Tag!

I hope everyone is doing well! I am still enjoying my time abroad! It is hard to believe I only have 12 days left in the Czech Republic before I return to the United States.

At the end of the Staropramen Brewery Tour.
This week was rather eventful! For my history class, we went to the Staropramen Brewery-- it is a popular beer made right in Prague. It was interesting to drink a free sample of beer at 11 am. But when in Prague, right? Czechs love their beer. I also visited the Kampa Museum which is right along the Vltava River that runs through Prague. There was beautiful and thought-provoking modern art there, along with an awesome Klimt, Kupka, and Mucha exhibit. Then, Thursday I left Prague.

I am currently writing this post from a train on my way back to Prague from Vienna! For the weekend, those of us who signed up went on a weekend trip to Vienna, Austria. It was a great experience! We were taken on a tour by Dr. Marietta Rein, a trusted source on the city of Vienna, and got to walk the streets of the city. It was incredible to walk around every corner and see a historic building that was constructed during the Hapsburg's reign of the Austria-Hungary Empire. We visited the Kunst Haus Wien which had the Hundertwasser Museum. Please look up his art! It is mesmerizing:

On this balcony, Hitler once stood and gave a speech to Austria.
For me personally, I had never felt so excited to be in Austria! I even sang out the window of my hotel-- they don't put screens on their windows in Europe-- most likely annoying the locals! But nevertheless,  I was so excited to be in a German speaking country. I have 6 years of German under my belt, so to finally be able to read it on every street sign was incredible-- a moment I had waited for since I had started learning the language in 7th grade. However, it also made me realize how much I forget! Therefore, my new goal: take more German classes!

We were fortunate enough to experience the wine bars and local beer gardens where they mostly serve wine and wiener schnitzel. Also, the cuisine was great-- better than Czech food, in my opinion! (But I am also a biased source.)

Outside the Belvedere Palace with my friend Liz!
I even visited museums there: the Natural History Museum and the Albertina! Both were fantastic. The Albertina was a former palace owned by a duke who wanted to store his art collections there! Also, we visited the beautiful Belvedere Palace, which had also been formerly owned by the Hapsburgs. It was awesome! Some friends and myself went to a film festival two nights where they had over 20 food vendors and a giant screen playing an operetta and the one night a concert! The backdrop was the Rathaus-- city hall. Unbelievable! Seriously, it was a fairytale.

At the Film Festival at the Rathaus-- doesn't it look like a church or a castle?!
Sorry for the long post! I just had such a lovely time that I needed to share it! I hope the pictures help show it justice!


Sunday, July 28, 2013

My Viennese Weekend

This weekend we left for a long weekend in Vienna, Austria. After a tiring train ride we kicked off the weekend with a city tour, followed by an authentic dinner of schnitzel and wine. By Friday we were ready to tackle the city with another city tour, a visit to Friedensreich Hundertwasser's gallery, and dinner under an ivy canopy outside of the city.

The Hundertwasser exhibit was one of my favorites art exhibitions in Europe so far. The artist lived a frugal life, using recycled papers and art supplies to survive in the career he desired most. His art uses the common motif of nature and spirals to reflect the circle of life and interconnectivity. His painting style uses distortion and breaks all rules set by the Renaissance artists, which I found attractive along with the vibrant colors. Not only was the artwork spectacular but also the architecture of the building itself. Within it was a small fountain, and what to me seemed like the living machines I learned about in sustainability class (essentially plants used for water purification). Hundertwasser became involved in the architectural world when he created a model for a new cityscape. The model utilizes organic and free flowing homes, built into hills like that of ancient civilizations.

Saturday we explored the city on our own and visited the Natural History and Albertina museums. The Albertina was another great art museum with popular artworks by Monet, Picasso, Kirchner, and so on. One of the featured exhibits by the Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein bothered some of us but was one of the most powerful exhibits I’ve seen. The artist’s focus is on violence and the way society ignores it’s existence in our lives. Helnwein uses young children in most of his pieces and shows them vulnerable, with bound hands and eyes. Many of the paintings were hard to take in but shed light on a prevalent issue.

The last night in Austria we spent at the Film Festival, which is free of charge and has some of the best food tents imaginable! I could go on about Vienna but simply put, found it to be a culturally packed city that I would visit again. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ath Cliath

Ath Cliath, is the Irish term for Dublin. On Sunday the group and I were able to get tickets to see the Dublin vs. Galway Hurling Match. Hurling is a very interesting sport, in my eyes it honestly look like a Harry Potter Quidditch Match! Others in my group said it is a combination of lacrosse, baseball, and American football.  The ball is awfully small just like the snitch in Harry Potter.  The teams can gain points by scoring two different ways (below is an image of the goal): the top portion of the goal looks like football posts and a lacrosse net. The top portion is only worth 1 point, and the bottom is worth 3 points. Here is a video of part of the match (Click Here).

Aside from going to this crazy sporting event we were given tickets to see Riverdance. This production of Riverdance is seen all over the world. When seeing the broadway show phenomena, Riverdance at the Gaiety Theater my perspective of river dancing has changed. The costumes and music solos made me focus on these important aspects of this dance. The comparisons between jazz dancing and flamenco dancing was key to allow the audience to differentiate all these similar tap dancing styles. I believed river dancing was a tap dancing in a chorus line, but in some of the performances it was sometimes portrayed as that way. To learn more about Riverdance (Click Here).

This may be my last weekend in Dublin, but it was a great experience! I'm surprised in myself of how many places I've gone in Ireland. This is a trip I will not forget. Not stop LONDON! Slán go fóill (Goodbye in Irish). 

Mala Strana

The city of Prague consists of several different neighborhoods. The more metropolitan city center exists on the east side of the Vltava river with Náměstí Republiky, Old Town Square, the Municipal Building, and the National Theatre. On the west side of the river is where our dorm is located. We live just north of Hradčany, the castle district, and just south of the cast is my favorite neighborhood: Mala Strana.
Mala Strana is nestled just under the Charles Bridge along the bank of the Vltava. A small man-made canal runs through this neighborhood to create a scene straight out of a fairy tale. I developed a penchant for this quaint little section of the city after our first day's tour. I was captivated by the winding cobblestone streets and quirky shops toting puppets, artworks, handmade glass, and even vintage and secondhand stores. On one end of this section is Alchemists Alley, in the center is the magnificent St. Nicholas baroque church, and you'll even find the Franz Kafka museum.
I've chosen to highlight this neighborhood as the subject of my special topics photo class, so any and all of my free time, both before and after classes, are often spent wandering the alleys of Mala Strana. Follow the progress of our class over on our blog, People & Places: Prague. And if you're ever in Prague, I'm emploring you to spend a day in Mala Strana.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Half Way

Hi everyone,

I can't believe we are half way through the program. (For us in Prague, at least) Last weekend (July 20th-21st), some people went on an organized weekend excursion. I opted to stay in Praha, however. I'm very glad I decided to stay because the weekend here turned out to be great!

Saturday we started the day with doing laundry; a task I was dreading that went surprisingly well. From there we headed up to Prague Castle. I was very much looking to this trip and boy did it meet expectations. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking and it was one of those moments when you realize that in America, not much can compare. The cathedral at Prague Castle, St. Vitus, was truly stunning as well. I've seen many a churches throughout Europe and I've got to say, they start to look the same, but St. Vitus really amazed me. Definitely one of my top 5 favorite.

Sunday was a nice day as well. We headed to the Zoo, because who doesn't like a good day at the zoo? It was definitely fun to see all the animals and spend a day feeling like a kid. Below are a few of my favorite animals we saw :)


Monday was mid term presentations in Art History class--yea, we are already at mid terms. Did i mention I can't believe we are half way through the program? Anyway, they went well and today (tuesday) in History class, we went to the Staropramen brewery. Only in the Czech Republic can you have a beer with your class at 10am. I've said this before, but I'm really happy with the classes I ended up in. The teachers are great, the material is interesting, and the almost daily field trips are a great way to learn!

In other news: Off to Rome on Thursday! Seriously excited. Hope everyone enjoys the rest of the week (& survives the heat--it's worse in Philly, though, right?!).

Cesky Krumlov

This weekend I participated in an organized weekend trip to Cesky Krumlov, the “country-side” of the Czech Republic.  It is in the South Bohemian Region of the country and features the Cesky Krumlov Castle, small market shopping, and incredible sights!  Upon our arrival, we settled into our hostels, which were more like bed-and-breakfasts, and had a group lunch.  We then ventured to the Cesky Krumlov Castle for a tour of the Castle Theatre.  This theatre was built in the 1680’s and is one of the only original Baroque theatres that still exist in such good condition today.  We were able to sit on the original theatre benches, experience the workings of the shows from under the stage, and hear the original sound machines that were used.  We were unable to take photos so click here for some extra information and images of the Castle Theatre.

 A beautiful view of the town, Cesky Krumlov.

The next morning, we left Cesky Krumlov to visit the Budweiser Budvar Brewery.  This brewery is home to one of the best local beers in the Czech Republic and has nothing in common with the Budweiser we know in America.  The tour was extremely interesting as we were able to see each step of the brewing and packaging processes.  We also sampled some beer right from the barrel before it was pasteurized.  That’s about as fresh as it gets!  I thought that the best part of the tour was the packing plant as it was equipped with state of the art technology.  The precision that the machines possess is truly impressive.

One of the impressive machines at the Budweiser Budvar Brewery.

This is a short week for most of us in Prague as we are traveling to Vienna, Austria on Thursday!  We have a lot planned for our long weekend and I am excited to experience another country.  Check in next week to see how my trip went!