Wednesday, November 08, 2006

a new love

In the last three months I’ve been to a lot of beautiful places with rich histories.  I’ve fallen in love with various places over and over again.  First Budapest, then the Romanian countryside, then Poland and, of course, I’m head over heels for Greece.  Last weekend our group traveled to Prague.  Did it measure up?  You bet it did, and I find myself with yet another beloved place.

We left early Thursday morning, as has become our routine on excursion weekends.  We were all very pleased to see Tamara Fetzer, wife to our dear Professor Fetzer, when we got on the bus.  It was her first weekend excursion with us, and we were looking forward to spending time with her and getting to know her better.  I was not alone in napping for the first three hours or so until we reached the Slovakian border.  Upon crossing the border we began to drive through some snow flurries.  Now, if you don’t know the group, you wouldn’t know with how much excitement we are anticipating Christmas.  I am not alone in the childlike joy that the Christmas season brings.  Granted, this was only November 2, but there’s something magical in the first snow of the year, and this was ours.  There were a number of ipods playing Christmas music as we drove through Slovakia and into the Czech Republic. 
We stopped near the border in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, for lunch.  We were given approximately two hours, the first of which I spent with eight other students in a pizza place enjoying some warm food.  Then a number of us went into the main square and wandered around the absolutely lovely town. 

It was probably a combination of the snow, the fresh air, and the company that caused us to be in such high spirits.  Even Nate, who is sick with mono, was upbeat.  There were flurries in the crisp air, and the atmosphere of Brno is charming.  We particularly liked the main square, the old church we visited, and the snow.  There were a few snowballs thrown.  :)
       
When we got back into the bus for the drive to Prague many people napped, and those of us who didn’t just listened to music and watched the scenery go by until it got too dark (around 4:30).  We ate supper at our hotel that night.  The hotel was housed inside an International Baptist Seminary, and our accomodations were similar to dorm rooms.  It was a real testament to how close our group has grown that we were assigned roommates alphabetically (with boys and girl separate of course) and everyone was totally fine with all their roommates.  The campus was very nice, too, with a running fountain in the middle, even though it was below freezing.

That night some of us went into the city to see the main square at night, and we were absolutely blown away by how fabulous it was. 
 
Friday was Castle day.  The Prague Castle is the largest castle in Europe, and the St. Vitus Cathedral inside the castle walls is simply breathtaking.  Many of the buildings inside the castle walls were home to famous people, too, and we saw where Mozart spent some years, and Madaline Albright’s residence of a year.  Mary, the political science major, was especially excited by this.  We took a tour of St. Vitus and some of the Castle with a very knowledgeable tour guide.  Here are some pictures of the Cathedral.
   
After our tour we split up for a few hours until reconvening for supper.  Julia, Rachel, Aron and I got a traditional Czech lunch together and then wandered back to the castle where Julia and I went one way and Rachel and Aron went another.  There are such great views of the city of Prague from the castle, and there is such a nice atmosphere inside the castle walls that it was easy to spend a few hours there.  We particularly enjoyed the street musicians - who knew a flute, accordian, and string bass went so well together? 
     
We were to meet the group at Wenceslas Square (and we did sing the “Good King Wenceslas” song once or twice over the weekend) for supper at 6, so around 4:30 we decided to begin wandering over there.  We walked over the Charles Bridge, which is lined with statues of Czech heros and saints, including Saint John of Nepomuk.  It is said that if you touch this statue you will be blessed with good luck.  While I don’t believe that I need luck to get by in life, it seemed like the proper touristy thing to do, so I gave it a quick pat, and so did Julia.
 
We walked across the bridge as the moon was rising and the sun was setting, and the resulting view of the city was simply stunning.

Supper that night was a rowdy familial affair at a medieval themed resaurant.  The menu was divided into witty sections like “Delicacies from the Water Realm.”  That was, of course, the fish selections, from which I chose an herb roasted salmon, which was delicious.  I love salmon, and it had been a long time since I’d had any.  It’s not the easiest thing to make in our little apartment kitchen, nor can I find salmon at the grocery store even if I wanted it.  Anyway, we listened to each others’ experiences from the day, we talked politics, and we laughed ridiculously hard when Julia and Rachel ate blueberries and ice cream for dessert and died their mouths blue.  A true family dinner.

The next day, Saturday, dawned overcast and drizzly, so we headed to the Alphonse Mucha Museum.  I hadn’t really ever heard of Mucha, but he did the Art Nouveau posters promoting French actress Sarah Bernhardt.  To learn more about Mucha, or to see some of his work, go to http://www.muchafoundation.org/mucha/page.php?page=front.  I really liked what I saw in the museum, and I was glad to be introduced to a new artist whose work I liked so much.
After the museum we went out for lunch as a group, ate fabulous chicken covered in cheese and peaches, and then split up for the rest of the day.  I went back to the main square with Ryan, Nate, Eric, Julia, Chandra, and Christy to see it in daylight.  There is an astronomical clock in the square that puts on a little show every hour on the hour.  Hundreds of tourists gather for this display each hour, and as the clock begins its show, cameras go up and pockets are picked.  Prague is known for being pickpocket heaven, and I could see why.  No one is paying any attention to their belongings, and if you get jostled you just assume it was the tourist next to you, or the one behind you, or the one on the other side of you.  Anyway, the clock itself is cool-looking, even though the hourly display is not worth getting pickpocketed for.

We tried to get into Tyn Church, which is quite possibly the most amazing and impressive church I’ve ever seen, but it was closed on Saturdays.  So we just looked at it from the outside and also saw the rest of the square in daylight, and also saw some Dixieland street singers.  Ryan and I danced.
       
From there Ryan, Chandra, Julia, Christy and I went to the Marionette and Puppet Museum.  Some others were going to the Communist Museum, but we’ve seen museum displays on Communism multiple times by now, and learned a good deal about it, but we didn’t know much about Marionettes!  The museumm was not easy to find.  We went to the place where it was supposed to be (according to a tourist information booth), and were told it had moved to number 44, just down the street.  So we found number 44, but it was another tourist information booth, with a fancy restaurant behind the booth.  Asking this booth where it was couldn’t hurt, so we stepped inside and were told that the museum was in fact there, but we had to go through the restuarant and down some stairs to get to it.  Good thing we asked!  So we headed down into what was basically a dungeon, where there were marionettes hanging up all over.  At first we didn’t see anyone, but then we ran into a middle-aged marionette connoissuer man who showed us how to use various styles of marionettes and told us a few things about the history of marionettes.  We enjoyed it immensely. 

After that we went to the Communist Museum (after much wandering around trying to find it, but I won’t go into that hour), but only for the gift shop.  We didn’t want to pay to get into another museum, and we really only wanted to get some sardonically funny postcards.  “It was a time of shiny, happy people.  The shiniest were in the uranium mines.” 
And then came the best part of the day: bagels for supper!  Bagels are simply unheard of in Hungary, so I hadn’t had one in almost three months.  There was a fabulous bagel shop in Prague, however, where we could get a bagel for 9 crowns (22 crowns equals a dollar).  It was so fabulous.  They had carrot cake, too, so I was in heaven.  What a fabulous way to end our time in Prague.

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 11/08 at 02:59 PM
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