My host family keeps telling me I have to write about each of my trips in order to distinguish one from another, and though I’m pretty sure my elephant-esque memory won’t let me blend the trips anyway, I figure it’s a good distraction while I wait for my laundry to finish. (Yes mom, I’m doing my own laundry this week…)
View of Prague from the monastery grounds.
Last weekend Julia, Carolyn and I ventured off to the darkness that is Prague. We landed around 4 pm and the sun was already almost entirely set. Our van ride from the airport brought us through fields and countryside, and Carolyn remarked to me that it was exactly what she had pictured the Czech Republic would be like: “Lots of peasants. And people working in the fields. And darkness.” Personally, I had little to no expectations of what Prague would be like. I wasn’t sure if it would have the unavoidably post-communist feel of St. Petersburg, or whether it would feel more Germanic the way Amsterdam did. After three days in Prague, I still don’t have a real answer to that, although I’m sure my good friend Josh Brickell (aka Noot, blog at http://eneurotrip.blogspot.com) who is studying there could answer this question in typical Nooty fashion.
Architectural juxtapositions in Prague Central Square.
The architecture seemed to provide a mixed answer. Everywhere we looked, we found a mélange of baroque, gothic, and art nouveau, one building next to the other. Some of the buildings reminded me of ones I had seen in Russia that still had hammer and sickles on them, although in Prague I didn’t see any blatant remnants of its 70 years of communism. Some notable buildings we saw were Prague Castle (site of famous defenestrations I studied back in HS), St. Vitus Cathedral (probably the most beautiful Cathedral I’ve ever seen), the Powder Tower (served as a gate to Prague during the 11th century), the Charles Bridge (legend says its mortar is made of eggs, my favorite), and the Astronomical Clock (overrated but still a must-see with a funny story behind it).
New Town Square: the site of the student’s revolt in 1989 which eventually led to the end of Communist rule of the state.
We also spent some time in the old Jewish quarter, which was a ghetto during a significant portion of the city’s history. Unfortunately, most of the original buildings in the neighborhood were raised because of deteriorating conditions, so very little actually remains from the area’s 13th century roots. What does remain, though, are some of the synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery. It was pouring rain the day we went to the area, so we opted to take the shortcut of viewing the cemetery through the windows of the Decorative Arts Museum (not my cup of tea), which proved a great and cheap way to view the slanted headstones without getting drenched.
Speaking of cheap, as silly as it sounds, that was probably one of the defining factors of our enjoyment of Prague. The weather was shitty and the rain never seemed to stop, but the prowess of the Euro over the Czech Crown was unbelievably refreshing, especially compared to the prices we usually pay in Paris. Our “hostel” was really a private apartment, replete with two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and two bathrooms. Total price? 15 euros a night. (For any of my abroad friends planning a trip to Prague this or next semester, it’s called the Platan Pension and it’s in Praha 1.) The prices in Prague overall were unbeatable- I even bought a beret in Prague rather than in France because the prices were so much lower. Inauthentic? Maybe. Regardless, my wallet is highly enthusiastic about this decision.
Prague pastry called a Turtlenicki: Confusin ensued when I thought Carolyn wanted to buy an article of clothing instead of one of these.
It wouldn’t be a study abroad blog without some mention of food. Our last night in Prague, we ate at a restaurant/microbrewery in the Old Town called Kolkovna. I was adventurous and tried the “Sparrow” dish, which actually was pork prepared in typical Czech fashion, with sides of cabbage and cole slaw. I’m glad I tasted Czech cuisine, because now I don’t ever have to eat it again. Case closed.
Nom nom nom? Questionable.
As much as I’d like to keep this post relatively positive, I must include something here about the people of Prague. Everyone always says that Parisians are rude and hard-assed, and I’ve definitely observed this to be true at times. But we encountered a whole other level of rude in the Czech Republic. It reminded me of my experiences in Russia, the way there was clearly a cultural norm of answering questions bluntly and going about one’s business without apologies. The people were cold and unfriendly, which was a sharp contrast to the Dutch people who had been so helpful to us just a few weeks ago. The first restaurant we walked into, the Czech waiter glared at us. “Hi… we’re two people, for dinner? Please? Is that possible?” We stumbled to keep being as apologetic with our requests as possible so as not to offend. He just shook his head at us, menacingly. “No?” We asked, confused and absolutely terrified. “No tables, no chairs,” he replied, and then turned away and got back to his work. Unfortunately, this was not the last time this happened to us during our weekend in Prague.
Still, I thoroughly enjoyed our trip. The company was superb, the history rich, and the scenery beautiful. I am excited to hear about how my sister and grandma review the city when it’s filled with summertime beauty this summer, but until then, Prague, Na Shledanou!
Off to Berlin demain…
Last week was the equivalent of fall break here in France and I used it to start my travels through Europe. I started with five days in Amsterdam with Carolyn, Audree, and Cat (who met us there from London), and then flew to Rome for four days to I met up with high school classmate/kwatchie Ali Vitali and her friends from Aix en Provence. With only minimal hiccups, the trips were a great way to break up my Paris routine.
Photo of Old Amsterdam by a girl from New Amsterdam.
Amsterdam was exceedingly more beautiful than I expected it to be. Of course, it took me until my second day to realize this. When we first got in Friday night, Carolyn and I were convinced that we had flown into a city serving as a facade for hell. Fast food in vending machines greeted us at the train station, public (open) urinals stood out in the middle of squares, “smart shops” selling almost every drug imaginable lined the streets, and signs for the red light district glinted with the light of the tram as it careened its way through the streets to our hotel. Over the next few days, though, we explored more of the city and came to truly understand its beauty.We went to the Van Gogh Museum (unbelievable), the Rijksmuseum (very cool although missing its regular installation about New Amsterdam), FOAM-Fotografiemuseum (current exposition on refugees from war-torn nations), toured the canals by boat (booze cruise), visited Dam Square (there were carnival rides!), Jordaan (the village of Amsterdam), the Red Light district (seriously disturbing), and the Anne Frank House (well done and extremely moving). We also got to meet up with three other Wesleyan students, two of whom are studying in Amsterdam for the semester and who introduced us to God’s gift to the Netherlands aka the stroopwafel. Unbeatable.
Somehow, this gibberish translates to “It is your birthday.”
It was hard to get a sense of the authentic culture in Amsterdam. The people were friendly and helpful and all spoke English, and no one seemed particularly mad at us for being Americans. The architecture was unbelievable, reminding me at times of Copenhagen but even more aesthetically pleasing. We heard more French than Dutch during our trip, which was probably for the better because I’d definitely rank the latter among the top three ugliest languages I’ve ever heard. The food seemed to be relatively tame, with a (welcome) focus on pancakes. Our last night in Amsterdam we went to a bar recommended by my favorite travel website (unlike.net) called The Two Swans, where we made friends with the bartender and the regulars. The rest of the night we all talked about American and French politics, plus the drug policy in the Netherlands and the way it affects their society. The most striking part of the conversation was when the bartender asked us about safety in France. “Who commits most of the crimes?” he asked us. We weren’t totally sure what he was trying to ask, or rather, we were trying to avoid understanding his question, when he clarified it for us. “For instance, here in Amsterdam, it’s all the Moroccans who stir up trouble.” After singing a quick rendition of New York, New York with our new racist friends, we left the bar to avoid having our Wes bubble idealism further punctured.
Ridiculous Amsterdam moment: As I was walking to Dam Square with some Wes kids, I ran into another familiar face- that of one of my high school classmates, Gideon Pine, on vacation in Adams from his semester in Rome. What makes this even more strange is that our graduating class was a mere 160 students. What makes this ABSURD is that I ended up running into him AGAIN back in Rome. I’m terrible at math, but I’m pretty sure the chances of this happening even once are next to zero. It’s a small world after all…
After a few flight changes (France striking as always), I was able to travel from the land of one of the ugliest languages to the land of one of the most beautiful. It was not my first trip to Italy, but it was my first time in Rome. I took Italian for a year back during freshman year at Wes, but have not practiced or thought about it once since then, so I was expecting the language barrier to be a serious handicap. Within a day, I felt an inundation of Italian vocabulary and grammar emerge from the depths of my memories. By the end of the trip, I was legitimately speaking Italian again in a city where, shockingly, very few people speak English or French.
Magnificent manifestations of wealth within the Vatican.
I’d always dreamed of coming to Rome. I have a real interest in classical civilizations, undoubtedly encouraged by my four years of Latin classes in high school with Mr. Scott, and so I pictured that Rome would be one of my favorite cities in the world. False. I did love the ruins- sitting in the forum was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It wasn’t just my Latin education that was keeping me wowed, though. My inner politico (politica?) felt a surge of significance sitting in the exact spot where the roots of modern republicanism were realized. And of course, the love of Shakespeare I inherited from my Grandpa came into full force as I staged a re-enactment, much to the embarrassment of my friends, of Marc Antony’s famous Caesarean eulogy on the same exact rostra where the real thing took place. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” I could practically feel GK reciting the words alongside me. I didn’t want to leave the forum.
“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
I found the rest of the city dirty and overly touristy, and that’s saying a lot coming from a New Yorker living in Paris. The men were beyond creepshows, although some of what they were saying was more comical than disgusting because it was in such bad English. I had a great time in the city nonetheless because the company was so good (thanks AL!), and I got to see nearly everything over the four days I was there: the Vatican, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, all the famous Piazzas, and enough ruins to write my own version of Ecce Romani, including the Coliseum which was absolutely unbelievable. Plus we got tickets to the Roma V. Lecce soccer game at the Stadio Olimpico which was an experience I’ll never forget. I always thought Briarcliff soccer fans were expressive- I was legitimately scared at times during the Italian soccer game due to the passion being expressed all around me. What a night. Halloween was a blast too, but less worthy of blog write up, especially in the interest of preserving my dignity. Hint: Ali and I wore bright pink and purple wigs. Enough said.
Ridiculous Rome moment: While leaving the Coliseum, the vendors were going crazy trying to sell me and my friends every light up and squishy tchotchke under the sky. They were trying to get our attention by speaking to us in the language they assumed we spoke. The first few who exited got “Hi! Hey! Hello!” shouted at them. When I exited, one vendor looked at me and yelled “SHALOM!”… I was floored. That has never happened before.
By the end of the trip, I was exhausted and psyched to be heading home to Paris. Monday night I got dinner with Julia Jonasday plus Anne Rosenthal, Ruthie Lazenby, and Dave Layne- three Wesleyan alums who are all living in Europe this year. It was a great way to feel once again at home in Paris. The next day was election day, and after spending all day in the library (I call it Frolin, even though it will never truly compare) catching up on work, I got to come home to a delicious meal with my host family. It was a good way to start off a bad night- Julia and I headed to Joe Allen bar in the first arrondissement where both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad had gathered to watch the results coming in. It wasn’t a good night for the good guys, and it was hard to be in the same room as the Republicans as they cheered every time they gained a seat. After working at the DCCC this summer, I was particularly saddened to see the loss of seats of some of the Representatives I had gotten to know a bit in passing. (Hardest loss was undoubtedly Representative Mark Schauer from Michigan, the sweetest Democrat who biked to work most days, got to know us by name, and always had the best ties.) On a positive note, I got interviewed by a French tv station at the party and the next morning woke up to a text message from Dave Layne saying he had seen me on television. (http://www.itele.fr/dossier/usa-elections-de-mi-mandat) Possibly the most nervous I have ever been to speak French, but a much needed distraction from the upsetting results of the evening. I also got interviewed for a news article which is interesting, apart from the fact that they confused the DCCC with the DNC. The article can be found here: http://www.leparisamericain.com/2010/11/03/midterms-une-nuit-americaine-a-paris/#more-103
Last night I headed to the Opéra Bastille for the second time with some friends to see Les Noces de Figaro by Mozart. It was fantastic but definitely a challenge to stay awake during all three and a half hours. I didn’t fully succeed. Tomorrow, I head off to Prague with Carolyn and Julia. I have good friends studying there and have heard great things about the city so I can’t wait!
À la prochaine,
CLICK to see me on French tv!
VOTE the right way today.
Warning: This post may cause jealousy, drooling or just an overall want to book a flight to Rome. -
Exhausted from zero sleep and conquering Rome, I figure it’s better to put something up about the trip than nothing at all, even if I didn’t write it myself. I again bring you the wise words of Ali Vitali, with whom I shared four glorious days in Roma!
In the event of the last one happening, do it - we’re here til Tuesday. It’s been a jam packed two days in Rome so far, and nothing short of amazing. After arriving around dinner time Thursday night to a room of 6 beds packed into a room, the size of which can only be described as Polly Pocket-esque, we decided to ease our pain at a cafe down the street with some good (much needed) wine and pasta - tagliatelle to be exact. We awoke the next morning, rectified the room sitch and were off to our 1pm Coliseum reservation where Dana and I clearly got into the whole gladiator, Gate of Life, kill or be killed thing. Hey, when in Rome…
After that, we crossed the street (traversiamo for all you Italian/”Eat Pray Love” enthusiasts out there!) to the ruins of the Roman Forum where we spent time in Cesar’s old stomping grounds - his living room really provided us with a great view of the rest of the Senate area.
Cesar’s old coffee table? Anyway, Hannah’s years spent in Mr. Scott’s Latin class really came in handy here and we sat and listened as she regaled us with tales of Sextius and Cesar, Romulus and Remus, Optimus Prime and - dammit, that’s Transformers. We then walked through Rome to buy our tickets to the Roma vs. Lecce soccer game. Because the world is so absolutely small and it’s so insanely normal to see a kid from your graduating high school class of 161 people - we would of course literally walk into our old classmate Gideon and his parents, freshly arrived from the 914!
We proceeded on to a wonderful dinner, made for us by some new friends in their Rome apartment. Pasta tastes better in Italy, even when it is out of a box and made by Americans. We then went to the Ice Bar (gloves and futuristic jackets included!) for our first real night out in Rome. Sadly, my camera didn’t make the trip to this winter wonderland with us - I learned my lesson about water and technology in Munich - but I’m sure these pictures will appear on Facebook soon enough. From what I’ve seen of the photo archives, these are shots to be on the look out for.
Needless to say, waking up was a bit difficult this morning. But we managed to turn our 12:30 start time into a jam packed day of Roman conquering. We started at the Vatican and saw, of course, the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica. I’ve been lucky enough that this trip is a series of 2nds and 3rds for me and when my friend Jamie asked me if it was boring to re-do all of these landmarks and tourist sites, I didn’t even hesitate to say ‘no’ because, honestly, who can scoff at seeing the Sistine Chapel twice? It’s been fantastic for me to get to revisit these things, not only with a new group of people, but (selfishly) with no pressure to have to see everything because, well, I already did. It’s like getting to eat the whole cake and then being told you can lick the spoon - and don’t even pretend you’re too cool to lick the spoon.
After this ever so attractive shot in front of the fountain in St. Peter’s we made a quick-change and headed out to the Roma vs. Lecce game that we were tipped off about by our resident trip planner, Steve Antenucci. Quick aside: Steve, if we could’ve bought you a plane ticket, we would’ve. THANK YOU SO MUCH for everything. And I’m sure we’ll be kissing your feet after dinner at Tony’s tomorrow night.
Our view from our seats!
(Sorry for the size! This one’s a mobile upload) We were oh so spirited in our Roma tee’s and jersey’s - #10, Totti for me! After the game we hopped the Metro and headed to the Trevi Fountain. My wish for amazing pizza was obviously granted because we stumbled upon a great restaurant a few blocks away. Oh the magic of throwing coins into Italian fountain water!
And now, I am one exhausted Italian. Well toured, well fed and teetering on the brink of food/gelato coma, I sign off happy and exhausted but completely and totally ready for Halloween in Rome tomorrow night (YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYYAYA). I’d get ready for stories and photos. One word teaser: pinkbobwig. Okay, maybe that was a phrase where I took the spaces out but still, the point stands.
France’s plans for a national strike again tomorrow (surprise) were seriously jeopardizing my chances of making it out of the country to meet some of my friends for Halloween weekend in Rome. With a little maneuvering and a lot of iPod/smartphone switching off (thanks Carolyn,) I was able to schedule my flight to Rome a day early directly from Amsterdam, with no stopover in Paris necessary. I’m psyched to have made it to the eternal city- now I just have to find a laundromat! Porrei lavare… my clothes? Memories of my Italian education are constantly fading in and out, mixed with remnants of high school Spanish, overly rehearsed French, and somewhat exasperated English. Charlie Brown’s teacher, anyone?
ROME TILL MONDAY- ciao ragazzi!
vacation from vacation in AMSTERDAM till Wednesday!
This past week has been one of the best weeks of my life. I don’t have time to write about it as well as it merits (Globalization of Subsaharan Africa quiz tuesday!), but I know I’ll be kicking myself at the end of this whole abroad shebang if I don’t at least make some effort to remember the details. What a week.
Monday, I went to the Monet exhibit at the Grand Palais with my host dad. I’m working on an entry about some of the emotions evoked by this enormous collection, but for now suffice it to say I enjoyed it immensely, especially thanks to the fact that we got to cut the enormous line and then had a guided tour from a woman who knew her shit.
Talk of the Town: People waiting to see nearly 200 of Monet’s paintings collected at the Grand Palais.
Tuesday was spent mostly at Reid Hall, between my two classes and my speaking tutorat, but it the jubilant protest going on all day long added some spice to what would have otherwise been a pretty normal day. Sitting at a computer in the Wesleyan Vassar library (not sure it qualifies as such), I heard drums beating, people chanting, and Shakira blasting from speakers for nearly four hours as the “protest” marched by. (Unfortunately, the Parigots decided to seriously increase the level of their protesting later in the week which seriously cramped my style Friday)
Thursday night I went to a screening of a short film called “Obama States of America” with my host mom. It was a documentary made by a half French half American man who made his way up from New Orleans up to Chicago interviewing people on their opinion of Obama. I was excited about the subject matter but definitely did not appreciate the lack of sensitivity or of context provided to the predominantly French audience who found considerable amusement in the ubiquitous lack of education exhibited in the interviews the filmmaker chose to include. That wasn’t the important part of the night for me, though. Sitting in the audience, I heard the women next to me speaking American English and found out they were from Philadelphia. After briefly discussing the Phillies impending game and the fact that my father somehow weaseled his way into field access for it (still waiting for an update dad), they asked me about my political affiliation. It turns out they organize, under the lead of another woman who was there, for Democrats Abroad. They introduced me to her and a friend of hers who happens to work in TV production and lives in Larchmont, small world, and the five of us went out to a local café for drinks and some good old American politics. It was exactly what I’ve been needing, as my appetite for discussion about the impending elections is whetted on a daily basis through Mike Allen’s Playbook emails, Politico tweets, and of course messages from political guru Marissa Shapiro (hire her). I’m beyond to help out my new friends at Democrats Abroad in France.
Yesterday was the real winner. Three friends and I made the trek (daunting with the strike) out to Vernon to see Monet’s gardens at Giverny. Though the weather was less than perfect, the gardens were truly breathtaking. Rachel and I are both from Westchester, but you’d think we’d never seen flowers before the way we were fawning over all the greenery. Everywhere we looked, we could practically see Monet’s broad strokes overlaid on the gardens.
Hanging out at Claude’s crib.
Upon our return to Paris, the protest was in full swing. On a mission to see Ali Vitali before we hit up Rome together Halloween weekend, I found myself directly in the action at the Bastille metro stop. As I was trying to get out of the metro, people were coming into it through the exit doors, fleeing the madness of the “manifs” going on above us. Thankfully I made it without a scratch to Ali’s hotel, and got to eat some delicious fondue with her and her friends for dinner.
Bracing Themselves: Les Policiers prepare for the onslaught of protestors.
Then came one of the most ridiculous nights of my life. Thanks to an invitation and tickets from my host family, three friends and I took the RER out to a suburb east of Paris called Noisiel. There, on a “farm” called La Ferme du Buisson, was the culmination of an arts festival that’s been going on for the past two weeks there. The night was titled “Nuit Curieuse,” and from 10:30-4 am basically was the artsy, adult version of halloween. Highlights included mini concerts, short films, burlesque performances, shadow puppets, fire pits, hair cutting and massage stations, art exhibitions, and of course, our favorite: outdoor jacuzzis, replete withnew bathrobes and bathing suits. The scene was like some weird mix of Eyes Wide Shut and Jersey Shore, and my friends and I kept looking at each other in disbelief of where we were. Parts reminded me of Wesleyan, and the smell of fall all around us reminded me of Briarcliff. It was incredible.
NuitCurieuse at La Ferme du Buisson.
Tonight Carolyn’s hosting a themed dinner party with her host parents. My life is so great, and I feel unbelievably lucky for everything I’ve gotten to do this past week. It’s been a great way to spend my last weekend in Paris till Thanksgiving.This week will be a little more school-focused, but then on Friday we fly out to Amsterdam! Welcome to the good life.
Love (and fingers crossed for the strikes to end) from Paris,