Czech-ing out Prague

Every student at UMass who I had talked to who had studied abroad told me to go to Prague.  When I asked, “what was your favorite city you visited while abroad?” there answer would almost always be Prague.  “Why?” I asked.  “It’s cheap and beautiful,” they usually replied.  And both of those reasons could not have proved to be more true.

Prague, like most cities in Europe, is very old and very significant.  It played one of the most pivotal roles during WWII and was even a major base for the Soviet Union during the Cold War all the way to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  Prague is often called “the fairy tale city” and “the city of a thousand towers” for its beautiful castle and the many towers that dot the city landscape.  You get a sense of the gothic architecture that was once they style for building in Europe and I had never seen so much of that particular kind of architecture in one place before.  You can also still feel the remnants of communism, something that was at this city’s core  for decades, as recent elections yielded a new president who identifies as a communist.  The sour taste of communism has yet to completely leave the mouths of all Czechs, and ensuring that democracy survives in a place that knew authoritarianism for so long is a daily struggle.  On a hill overlooking the city, a giant metronome swings from left to right.  Left symbolizes a step backwards towards communism, and the right points towards progression into the future towards democracy and openness of the system.  And so this metronome is a constant reminder that Czechs must constantly be working to move forward, because slipping back into their old communist ways is all too simple.

I stayed in a hostel called “Cozy Homes” in Old Town Square right in the heart of Prague for three nights.  And the hostel was very cozy and actually was nicer than my apartment in Rome.  Old Town Square is where the fairy tale of Prague begins as it includes a massive cathedral with steeples that remind you of a tower that perhaps Sleeping Beauty of Rupunzel lived in.  It also included the world-famous Astronomical Clock which puts on a show for visitors every hour.  It reminded me of the Hyannis, MA Christmas Tree Shop clock tower in which mechanical dolls would come out every hour  to play music. and entertain young children.  This clock is the longest operating clock in the world and has been working since the fifteenth century with only one interruption as it broke and no one was able to fix it until nearly a century later.  Still, it is one of the most impressive clocks I have ever seen.

You also cannot talk about Prague without talking about its currency, the crown.  Inflation is one of the consequences of communism, and even though the Czech Republic is a member state of the European Union, it is not part of the euro zone.   1 euro equals about 25 crowns, meaning that every time you go to the ATM you leave feeling like you’ve just won the lottery.  One night my dinner cost nearly 500 crowns, but that was only about 20 euro or so.  It was also a nice change of pace from Italy as there were plenty of American chains like Starbucks there to keep us warm and have  a peppermint mocha latte ready for me.  We went on one of the best guided tours of the city and Prague Castle that I’ve ever been on and it was known as the “free tour.”  The tour itself is so good that at the end of it you feel like you are robbing the tour guide if you do not give him or her something for their efforts of showing you around one of Europe’s best cities.  Prague Castle was also unbelievable.  But though it is widely thought to be a castle and in many ways resembles one, it actually isn’t a castle like most people would visualize one.  The combination of the Presidential Palace and the charming cathedral perched high up on a hill give the illusion that this is a castle.  But for the purposes of tourism and the feeling of connecting with your inner prince or princess, it can be a castle if you want it to be.

In the morning, we would get bagels from a bagel shop around the corner called “Bohemian Bagels.”  The name connotes Prague’s earliest beginnings as the Kingdom of Bohemia.  Since this was my first time outside of Italy since arriving in January, bagels were a much-needed breakfast food as they are rarely available in Rome.  I also saw the John Lennon Wall, a tribute that Prague citizens started after Lennon’s death for their love of the Beatles’ member.  I also walked across the magnificent Charles Bridge which has a statue that you are supposed to rub to ensure your return to Prague someday, and rub I did!  I would go back to Prague in a heartbeat, it is another city that you could spend weeks in and its beauty is unlike anything I’ve ever seen of its kind.  The pictures that I’ve posted  from the weekend on my Flickr account help explain the beauty and almost magical places that I saw better than the written word can.

This weekend, my study abroad adventure is taking me to the gorgeous island of Corfu, Greece, birthplace of Prince Phillip of England and also deeply connected to Greek mythology, namely the story of Poseidon.  This island is also a popular vacation get-away for Hollywood stars like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  It is a long, narrow island off the west coast of Greece, right across the sea from mainland Italy.  This will be my second trip to Greece, but my first to Corfu and this particular part of Greece.  After having seen pictures of my fellow API friends on their spring break trips to Greece, I am anxiously awaiting to touch down on this world-famous island and bask in the warm Greek sun which has been at the center of the culture there for thousands of years.  I look forward to experiencing all that the island has to offer and sharing it all with you, I still can’t imagine the amount of fun that lies in store on this picturesque Greek island.

Stay tuned for my other posts on Tivoli, Cinque Terre, and my spring break trip to Ireland.  I have all of the pictures that I have taken so far this semester up on Flickr with the exception of the last half of pictures from Ireland that I still need to post which I am hoping to put up tonight, check them out because they show rather than tell so much better than a blog post!


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