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First Impressions June 4, 2012

Posted by kmorrisey3 in Travel Log.
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Today marks the beginning of my third week abroad. It’s strange to think it’s only been 14 days! I feel like I’ve already become a world traveler! So far, Oxford Group 3 has visited Budapest, Hungary, Prague, Czech Republic, and Vienna, Italy. Currently we are in Venice, Italy and next on the itinerary is Florence, Italy. To say I’ve been having the time of my life would be an understatement. The experiences I’ve already gained in the short amount of time I’ve been abroad is remarkable. In just two short weeks, I’ve attended 3 concertos  (an instrumental performance centered on contrast between soloists and a string-dominated orchestra), 1 opera, 1 ballet, 6 churches, 9 museums, and other numerous historic monuments. A couple of things I’ve noticed about Europe…

  1. Bread, meat, and cheese are a part of nearly every dish-especially for breakfast. Nutella is nearly as abundant!
  2. NOTHING is free. Water and public restrooms included.
  3. Wifi is hard to come by…explaining my lack of blog posts thus far!

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest was Group 3’s first stop on our trek across Europe. It was absolutely beautiful-clique, I know. Upon my arrival in Budapest, I quickly realized two things: 1) I was definitely no longer in America, and, the more painful realization, 2) I had packed way too much (shocker)! We had to carry our suitcases up and down a few staircases in the city of Pest (Buda and Pest are actually two main cities that are separated by the Danube river-I had no clue either!) to get to our hotel. Taneisha and Derek, our group leaders, weren’t kidding when they said to practice carrying our suitcases up three flights of stairs before we came on the trip. The ornate architecture of the city of Pest distracted me from the weight of my suitcase as we trudged through cobblestone streets and down into underground tunnels to get to our hotel.  The city’s architecture was very strange to me; it is nothing like the architecture of American cities. Throughout our stay in Budapest, we visited multiple museums, cathedrals, historic monuments, and, of course, local pubs. One of my favorite tours in Budapest was our visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica. I was overwhelmed by the amount of detail in the interior and exterior of the building. European architecture is just so different than what you see in America-the history here  is so rich!

St. Stephen’s Basilica- Budapest, Hungary

Another tour I enjoyed was our tour of Castle Hill. The Castle Hill area was just precious. It’s a picturesque blend of cobblestone streets, quaint restaurants, and historic monuments. The most impressive part of Castle Hill was the view atop it. A couple people in our group watched the sunrise from atop Castle Hill one night. I decided to get some sleep instead of trek up the hill early in the morning-a decision I’ve regretted ever since. Who needs sleep, anyway?

View overlooking city of Pest from atop Castle Hill- Budapest, Hungary

Prague, Czech Republic

I was sad to leave Budapest (and their incredibly weak currency, the Florin), but excited to be in Prague! Unfortunately, our trip to our second city was rough. We got little lost, and then held up at a gas station, but our hilarious and amazing bus driver, Baloo, got us to Prague safely, and that’s all that matters, right? (I’m trying to not stress about things this trip…..mission impossible, but I’m trying) Our welcome dinner in Prague was DELICIOUS. The caprese salad was so fresh, and my chicken dish was cooked and marinated to perfection. But even that delicious meal doesn’t compare to the new dish I discovered in Prague….KEBABS! Kebabs are kind of like European burritos, made from skewered and slow roasted meat, fresh veggies, and a creamy ranch like sauce. I can already tell I will miss those in America! I saw my first opera in Prague called Tosca. Tosca is a melodramatic piece set in June 1800 in Rome, a time when the leadership of Rome was threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy.  This opera centers on the main character, Tosca, a famous female singer, Mario Cavaradossi, a talented painter and Tosca’s lover, Scarpia, the police chief and main antagonist, and Cesare Angelotti, the imprisoned former consol of the former Roman Republic. Angelotti escapes imprisonment and seeks refuge from Cavaradossi, his longtime friend, causing a chain of events which end tragically in torture, murder, and suicide. Initially, I didn’t think I would like Tosca, but I made sure to keep an open mind throughout the performance. I was pleasantly surprised by the opera; it was fairly enjoyable! I’m definitely coming to appreciate art and music through my experiences on this trip.

Allison and I at the Prague State Opera House before Tosca- Prague, Czech Republic

Vienna, Austria

Prague was definitely too short of a trip. I wish I could’ve spent more time there! I was eager to move on to Vienna, though. Our first day in Vienna was crazy busy-we only had 3 hours of free time to eat dinner, change, and get ready for a concert later. After our classes and tours for the day, my friend Mary and I decided to skip dinner and shop (shocking). There is literally an H&M every 3 blocks, so we just had to stop in one. We shopped for a little (I only got a pair of shoes, mom and dad! …..and two dresses…..and a shirt….hehe) and decided to explore the city for an hour and then walk back to our hotel. BAD IDEA. Mary and I got so hopelessly lost. With every turn we took, we just walked deeper and deeper into the city and away from our hotel. To make matters worse, it started pouring-not just raining casually-POURING. Our map, of course, got wet and ripped. We asked many locals and eventually found the underground metro, where we discovered the routes to take us back to our hotel. We had to switch routes so many times; we had unknowingly and unintentionally wandered so far! The good news is we made it back to the hotel safely. There is no better feeling than getting lost in a completely unknown place and finding your way back. I felt so empowered and independent! It was definitely a learning experience. The bad news? Well, by the time we arrived at our hotel, we were supposed to be ready and at the concert hall for our second concert, a Mozart Concerto featuring the premier violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter. I’m not sure how we did it, but Mary and I changed into our business casual and got back downstairs to the lobby at the same time as our professors/group leaders. We walked with them to the concert and all was well. It was definitely a success.

Mary and I in the Musikverein (Vienna Concert Hall)- Vienna, Austria

 

I’m currently in Venice, and loving every second! I can’t wait to write about the rest of my experiences in Italy! Ciao!!

Kelliann, World Traveler.

Czech Marks the Spot: Praha and Má Vlast July 4, 2011

Posted by Joseph Mattingly in Travel Log.
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First of all, Happy Independence Day (or Good Riddance Day, as they call here) from the British Isles.  I regret to inform you that all pyrotechnic devices are strictly discouraged in the 700-year-old tinderbox that is the Worcester College of the University of Oxford.  More on that later.

There are so many great things about Prague that I don’t even know where to begin.  Also, in a futile attempt to salvage what is left of what might be my significantly thinned-out readership, I will warn you in advance of the multitude of really bad Czech puns.  If this would cause you to stop reading my blog, this might not be a bad post not to read.

In preparing for our adventures in Europe, I was most eager about and had the highest expectations for Prague.  I am 25% Czech and extremely proud of that heritage.  I took a Czech name (Wenceslas, the one with a Christmas song) for my Confirmation.  I watched Czech cartoons at my grandparents’ house.  I loved my Czech ancestry.  Obviously, there was a bit of pro-Czech bias on my part on the travel portion of the trip.  As a special multimedia treat, I offer you a bit of fine Czech music for your listening pleasure while you read or don’t this entry.  It is “The Moldau” from Smetana’s Má Vlast.  “The Moldau” tells the story of the Vlatava River (also called the Moldau) which flows through Prague as a part of a seven-piece collection which, when translated into English, means “My Country.”  If you are particularly inspired (or just need more than 13 minutes of background music to read this blog), use your favorite music listening service to check out the rest of Smetana’s Má Vlast.

^Hit the play button!

So, Czech out my adventure in Prague.  We drove to Prague through some of the most beautiful Czech countryside in all of Europe.  (Aha! you say.  The only Czech countryside is in the Czech Republic.  You would be correct, but realize that this just means that the Czech countryside is the most beautiful in Europe.)  This was especially true after driving through kilometer after kilometer of Bavarian hops fields in (you guessed it) Bavaria, Germany.  It was finally nice to see accent marks that we haven’t seen before on letters that we would never accent (consonants) to make sounds that are very clearly not there in the spelling.  When we finally rolled into Prague, the beauty and wonder was no less.  After crossing the Vlatava, which is a much more impressive river than any in the other European cities we have explored, we pulled in front of the hotel in a matter of minutes.  The hotel was fantastic, and the welcome dinner delicious, but this is a post about Prague, not our hotel, so I digress.

Because we had to take our art midterm on the first morning in Prague, we were given the rest of the day off.  Armed with a map and a list of things to do in Prague courtesy of my aunt and grandmother, also known as the Czech aficionados, I set out into Prague with a few friends for an afternoon of exploring the capital of my homeland.  First on the destination list was Old Town Square, the heart of Prague.  The main fixture in Old Town Square is the Astronomical Clock, which you see in the picture to the right.  Being the curious Tech students we are, one of our main interests was ascending to the scenic top deck of the clock tower, which cost a mere 50 Kč (16 Kč = US$1), which was by far the least expensive ascension rate of any of the European ascendable monuments.  The view from the top was incredible, as there was an excellent 360° panorama of the entire city.  Next was the church of St. Nicholas, a very small, but very fancy chapel that made for a great quick photo shoot.  We then made our way to the old Jewish ghetto, which is a significant part of the history of Prague.  At that point, I found that I didn’t withdraw enough Czech money from the ATM, and thus only had 50 Kč, so we had to tour the Jewish monuments from the outside.  (Admission was over 100 Kč!)  Perhaps most notable is the old Jewish cemetery.  The density of graves can only be well-serviced by a picture, and this is just the small part we could see through a small fissure in the wall.

The final stop on our journey was to Wenceslas Square, the new city center, which is bustling with activity.  Most importantly, at the top of Wenceslas Square is a monument to St. King Wenceslas.  It was a personal high-point in the trip to meet the memorial to my patron and the patron of the Czech people.  (Fun fact, Czech Statehood Day, September 28, coincides with the Feast of St. Wenceslas!)

Me and my man Wenceslas

Our second, and unfortunately last, day in Prague was more class-oriented.  We made our way to the charming Charles Bridge (which actually was also done the day before on our explorations, but was left unmentioned because a certain blogger forgot to Czech his work…), an old bridge central to Prague history filled with statues of many Czech notables.  From there, we ascended the hill/mountain to the Prague Castle, which is actually more of a cathedral than a castle.  The Castle is notably home to such things as the remains of St. King Wenceslas (again, not seen on account of budgetary concerns) and the Defenestration of Prague, which sparked the Thirty Years War.  (Ask me about the Thirty Years War in person.  There are some non-PG things recounted by my high school history professor/demigod that will not be recounted here.)  The Castle was absolutely beautiful inside and out, but even more impressive was the view from atop the hill, which overlooked the city.

Equally important to my Prague experience was souvenir shopping.  I should probably preclude this account with charming stories of my Czech-influenced childhood.    There is a quite wonderful Czech cartoon that most Americans have not seen (and that’s their loss) called Krtek (Czech for “the Mole”), of which I have seen many episodes on account of my relatives bringing home Krtek VHS’s from the Czech Republic.  When I saw a plush Krtek in a souvenir shop, I knew I had to get it, as Krtek was an important part of my childhood.  Because Krtek is a licensed product (think about trying to get a plush Bugs Bunny), I nearly had to sell a kidney to come up with the funds to meet the price tag.  Fortunately, as you may recall from earlier, I am part Czech, and I had full intention of using this to my advantage.  After sweet-talking the clerk with stories of growing up watching Krtek and my incredible pride in my Czech heritage, as well as throwing in some Czech words here and there, I was able to get a nice discount and nice souvenir from my homeland.

The worst part of all was leaving.  I had very few intentions of leaving because I loved the place so much.  Even though I can Czech Prague off on my list of places I’ve been, you can bet I’ll be back again for a much longer rendezvous with my ancestral land.  Until next time, dobrou noc!

Praha August 25, 2010

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My first experience with eastern Europe started as our night train worked its way through the suburbs surrounding Prague. Compared to my previous experiences in Germany and France, with two of the EUs strongest economies, Prague defined a new Europe. Rust from exposed rebar and an abundance a graffiti (a surprising amount of which was in English) dotted the landscape outside of the train window. What had been modern buildings, quaint and well-kept towns, and masterpieces of Gothic and neoclassical Architecture was replaced with the remnants of life under the Soviet Union, plain tired buildings, rusted out factories, and a generally feeling of depression, both culturally and economically.

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Prague August 17, 2010

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For our last big weekend trip of the summer, we decided to go to Prague, the “city of a thousand spires,” or something to that effect. The architecture is beautiful–it ranges from cubist to gothic to modern–and the city is full of fun stuff to do.

Our train ride was pretty nice; we had one of the best sleeper car experiences (probably because it was a German train instead of French). We arrived in the morning on Saturday to drizzly weather and a bleak street, but we soon hopped a tram and headed to “breakfast” at a nice restaurant. It was more of a sit-down dinner type setting, and the place seemed great for swing dancing–pretty hard wood floors and an old mic standing on the raised platform at the front.

While waiting for the tram, we admired this awesome building.

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Times gone by… July 10, 2010

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Hey everyone! I’m writing to you now from Oxford, England after concluding the first four weeks of travel as part of the Oxford Study Abroad. Most recently I have visited the cities of Prague, Berlin, Brussels, Bruges, and Paris. In Prague, the highlights of my trip included an opera performance of Carmen at the National Theater, and exploring across the Charles Bridge up to the marvelous overlook of Castle Hill. Evenings in Prague were almost as entertaining as the days, to see the city lit up along the canal, and to sample Prague’s exceptional night life. (more…)

Ahoj! June 24, 2010

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(a.k.a. ‘Hello’ in Czech)

We finally left Italy and headed on to Austria, Vienna specifically. At first I was sad to leave such a beautiful country where their language is so similar to Spanish that communication is not a problem, but three cities later I was about done with pizza, spaghetti, and gelato. We also had a change of pace when we got to do more music stuff than art lecture and museums! Our second day in Vienna we visited an old opera house and attended an opera that same evening. Not to say we did not see any museums: we visited the Kunsthistorisches museum, the Upper Belvedere museum, and the secession house. Vienna marked a transition from older renaissance style artwork to modern pieces (we skipped all the years in between because we have not visited those cities yet). (more…)

Grüß Gott! June 24, 2010

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Grüß Gott!

After an early morning boat taxi away from Venice and to the bus, we were on our way to Austria! Our first day there, we were really busy with tours…we started at 8:00A.M. with a tour of the Opera House, which had been somewhat destroyed in WWII. Seeing the contrast between the very new (from the 20th century) and very old architecture (from the days of the Hapsburg empire) was very interesting. Next, we met at the Kunsthistorisches Museum to see more art, and the day finally ended with a Baroque concert, Il Nascimento dell’Aurora. The next day included a few more museums, and the day ended with a classic German dinner from Beethoven’s Bar (above which Beethoven is rumored to have composed).

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Praha Sun June 8, 2010

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It’s amazing how much life you can live in a short amount of time. Back home, on a typical Saturday, I’d rouse myself around eleven or so, eat something, bum around the house, eat again and perhaps spend some time with friends. Here in Europe, on a typical Saturday, I travel hundreds of miles by train over night, awake in a country I’ve never seen before and explore everything is has to offer. Praha (Prague) is a beautiful city! From castles to cathedrals, from clock towers to cemeteries, everything I saw this past weekend was amazing. The weather was gorgeous: sunny without a trace of cloud. What is most astonishing is that for some people living in a city like Praha is completely normal. They get up, get ready, and walk along the castle walls on their way to work. It certainly makes my route to class past Bobby Dodd stadium seem less impressive!

Along the way, I also was fortunate enough to meet people from all over the world. It is pretty interesting to hear the story of a world traveler and what keeps them moving along. We met people from Australia, Belgium, Great Britain, Venezuela and even some from Atlanta, Georgia! For some, travel is a vacation, for others, travel is a lifestyle. Whatever the case, no matter how different our stories may be, something brought us altogether in the same place on the same weekend. I think that is pretty amazing.

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Already in the three weeks I’ve been abroad I can say that this has been a worthwhile experience. (more…)

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