Finishing Off Strong in Prague

The penultimate day of our time in the Czech Republic started off slow and relaxed, as we didn’t have anything scheduled until 4:00, which was when our final activities in the city would be experienced: a theater performance and a farewell dinner on a boat sailing across the beautiful Vltava River at sunset.

Not content with just spending our morning and afternoon holed up in our hotel room, Jack, Matt, Carolina and I all went out to Wenceslas Square for one last souvenir shopping hurrah. In addition to buying the usual gifts for our family, friends, and significant others, we all decided to chip in together and buy some souvenirs for Zuzka – who truly helped us to have a wonderful and memorable experience in the Czech Republic – and for Professor Andes (Professor Slavishak was excluded from this final souvenir shopping hurrah on account of us already having had bought him a tacky captain’s hat while in Czesky Krumlov).

We then decided to have lunch one last time at our favorite riverside restaurant in Prague, the beautifully scenic Strelecky Ostrov – which serves the best beef fillet I’ve ever tasted (this being on account of the fact that I had never had this meal before eating it at the restaurant).

At 4:15, we met up to head out to the theater performance, which turned out to be a modern interpretation of a Vaclav Havel play, Audience, which we worked with earlier during our trip in the Czech Republic. The performance was phenomenal – incredibly comedic, surreal, deep, and evocative. The two main actresses were incredible, as they physically acted out key scenes while wearing giant cast heads – thus leaving much of the story and acting up to their physical movements, which were timed in a comedically perfect manner. The performance was also amazingly unpredictable; one moment the characters would be drinking bottle after bottle of beer, the next they would be dancing to Country Roads, and then they would be silently contemplating their hallowed existence. It was fantastic, every second of it.

From there, we made our way to the riverside, where we boarded the boat for our farewell dinner – which was, surprisingly, reserved solely for us. During the dinner, several members of the group presented Zuzka with all of our collective gifts to her, as we thanked her for being such an amazing host and guide for us. Some tears and feels were had. She thanked us for being such wonderful guests, reminding us that when she comes to America next Spring that she’ll be a guest in our country and that hopefully we’ll be there to be her guides. We assured her that we wouldn’t forget her, and that she was a big part of what made this trip so unbelievably memorable for us.

And truly, this trip has been an unforgettable experience. From the wacky antics of circus day, where we all learned how to do that which we may have once thought was impossible, to seeing firsthand the scenic beauty of the Czech urban centers and countrysides, and to the wonderful interactions we had with the Czech population, we’ve all experienced something that shall forever bind us as a group. While we all may have had our own individual experiences on this trip, we all experienced the true cultural beauty of the Czech Republic in our own special way. We may process the experiences uniquely amongst ourselves, but it is in those personal considerations of the journey one has had that one learns and grows. Isn’t that life in a nutshell after all?

We will all carry with us the lessons and experiences that we had here in the Czech Republic for the rest of our lives, and that is something that can never be taken away.

And you know what I think? I think that’s pretty damn incredible.

Ian Rush

Nearing The Finish Line

Prop Room at the Studio

Day 14 of our adventures in the Czech Republic began bright and early today as we left for the CIEE Study Center shortly after 8 a.m.

When we arrived at the study center, we met up with designer Simona Rybakova for a morning workshop. During the first part of the workshop, Simona shared with us details about her occupation and working in costume design for film and theatre. Two of the many points she made about designing costumes were the ability for costumes to say something without verbal communication as well as the difficulty of being cautious not to repeat designs.

After this brief meeting at the study center, we all traveled to the studio where Simona and her colleagues design and create their costumes. We were able to see costumes being built as well as the massive collection of costumes ready to be worn and used.

We were also able to enter the prop room which seemed to be filled with every type of prop imaginable.

We finished our workshop by the start of the afternoon. As the day moved into the afternoon, the temperature and humidity increased. To escape the unbearable heat, I returned to Hotel Golf with my friends to cool down for the afternoon. When we moved into the evening, I went back into the city with Ian and Carolina and we paid a visit to the Torture Museum. At the museum, we learned about different torture devices used over the centuries in Europe. After the museum, Ian and I met up with Jack and Sarah and had dinner at an Italian restaurant.

All in all, today was another fun and entertaining day in Prague. While I’m saddened that our trip is nearing its conclusion, I’m also looking forward to our last full day tomorrow.

Matt Rohrbach

Goodbye Cesky Krumlov, Hello Prague

Today we had to leave the magical town of Česky Krumlov to head back to Prague for the last part of our adventure. The day started with breakfast at the hotel and then checking out before going to explore the town one last time.

Some of us ended up at a crepe place in town for a late breakfast and early lunch. The food was amazing and we also got some sunrise Trdelnik! 

After our brunch we wandered around the town and ended up sitting along the river until it was time to go to the bus station. It was the perfect way to end our time in such a beautiful place.

The highlight of the day was Ed finally getting the hat he has been talking about for so long! I’m hoping it will be at GO class every week! 

Traveling around here had been one of the best things for me, I love getting to see more of the country traveling between places. There were many times when it was just yellow flowers for as far as the eye can see! Just getting to see things like that made the long bus ride enjoyable for me. Well, that and a good nap!

Once back in Prague we found an Italian restaurant in a part of town we hadn’t explored yet for dinner. The food was wonderful, and after we got to see more of Prague and get lost a little bit. We went into a few stores and eventually ended up in the Jewish quarter of the city.

We arrived a little late in the day so we didn’t get the change to go in and explore but we got information about the tours and what time best time to come visit is.

The day ended with a walk around old town where we stumbled into what looked like an art exhibition and then the tram ride home. It is nice to be back in a city that is familiar because it feels almost like coming home. That’s all from me today! Na Shledanou from Prague!

Jennifer Brown

Is this a fairytale?

We started the morning eating a rather bland breakfast. Most of us really only went for the coffee. After a very light breakfast we walked to the castle for our tour. The castle is very steep. We were all waking up while waiting for our tour guide. For 10am on a Saturday morning the entrance way to the castle was quite packed with tourists.

I have always been a fan of tours where you can see how people lived. We entered the castle and quickly realized we couldn’t take pictures. The guide started by saying that he had no clue when castle was built. The castle was originally the home for lords and was passed through multiple families.

The first room we saw on the tour was castle chapel. We then went to Renaissance Hall which featured many portraits of the time. The guide shared that there are many historical mistakes in these portraits. I found this intriguing because the clothes of the lords did not match the time.

We then ventured into the apartments. The apartments were the living quarters of the lords. They are extravagantly decorated. We walked past incredible frescos in great halls. The frescos were very well preserved.

The first rooms we saw were the rooms of the Rosenberg’s. We then moved to time of Edinburg’s. Which was also extravagant in its own right. The guide then shared the strange fact that every bear that lived in the mote surrounding this castle now is preserved in the castle.

As we continued the tour the rooms became more and more extravagant. We then entered the ball room which really took me back. It was actually a masquerade room. The room was used for balls, plays, concerts and much more. The guide discussed the importance of wing symmetrical in the ball room before abruptly ending the tour.

Following the tour of the castle we went on a tour of baroque theater. The theater had no pictures but was beautiful and cold. This was built by the Edinburg family. The theater was rebuilt by the family that followed to be a baroque theater. The guide announced that they had an almost a complete collection. There were attempts to restore the theater in the 60s. Our guide showed us how the noise machines works and trap doors.

 

After our tour we walked to a garden. The walk to the garden was a hike up hill but worth it. My sandal was a victim of the streets of Český Krumlov while walking back down this hill.

After running back to the hotel for a quick change we ran back out for a day of lunch and shopping for our loved ones. As we walked the streets we quickly realized that Český Krumlov is a town that is very easy to see in the sense that you really only need a day to see it.

Following a quick break, we all headed back out to a cafe called Kolek. We drank some tea and had some girl time. While we were sitting and talking we ran into our CIEE guide, Zuzska who also joined in on our conversation. We talked about a variety of things and continued the conversation into dinner. After dinner we all went our separate ways before traveling back to Prague tomorrow.

Jackie Bauer

Just Clowning Around

Today marked our last night in the beautiful city of Brno. The day was jam packed with fun workshops and activities. We began our day with a Clowning Workshop. Most of us didn’t really know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what we got. We began the workshop by doing simple stretches and exercises. Running around, doing leaps and jumps, etc…

After that we moved on to a more mental game in which we had to work together to clap to 20. The hard part was that no two people could clap at the same time (spoiler alert: We did it!!). The next step in the program involved a lot of rolling around on the floor and dancing. Overall it was tons of fun. The space itself felt very safe and I, as well as many others, was not afraid to let loose and be myself.

After the workshop we got the amazing opportunity to work with Roma children who come from unfortunate backgrounds. While we were not told the specifics of their situations we knew that we needed to have as much fun with these kids as possible. They go to a program that helps do this every day. The organizers of the program also taught us some of the cool circus tricks that they teach to the kids. The whole experience was very fun and refreshing. We have been running around so much these past few days that getting to run around with young kids was a welcomed change.

To top off the day we had the rare opportunity to see a Czech theatre group perform a style of theatre called Playback Theatre. Since this kind of theatre involves audience participation we were really able to get involved with the show. With our help, the actors were able to re-enact a version of a story we had just told them about ourselves. For example, when I told them about our day learning circus tricks in Prague, they re-created my story on stage using just their body’s and sound effects (which they also made).

The entire day was truly incredible. From start to finish we never stopped moving (or laughing). I cannot wait to see all the amazing things that Česky Krumlov will bring!

The halfway point

As I woke up today I realized that today was day eight of the GO trip, the halfway point. I didn’t view it as the trip being half over with less and less days to spend in the Czech Republic but instead I view it as eight more days with friends on a once in a lifetime trip.

Today we went to a forum theater (which encourages members of the audience to swap roles with actors whose characters are being oppressed in a scene and interact with the other actors seeking a solution to their situation) workshop at IQ Roma and met with Lenka and Ondrej and did a series of fun activites, such as; creating dances to the tune of our first names then grouping up in fours to make oné collective dance and tune, a sort of variation of Marco Polo but with noises we would find in a forest and splitting off into pairs and follow our partners hand with our nose. While it was super awkward, it was fun nonetheless.

IQRoma 5/24/17

After our lunch break we did more activities, this time focusing more on oppression as an overarching theme of the activities. While the activities were about oppression we were able to enjoy them and by the end we realized the true effect that theater can have, as emotions ran high.

We then wrote poems about how we felt about scenes we constructed and acted out in front of everyone

Afterwards my friends and I went to an Irish pub, named St. Patrick’s. We had a good time talking about movies and comics over chicken sandwiches and beer before calling it a night. I look forward to the rest of the trip, even though we have reached the halfway point.

Bienvenue à Brno!

Today, after a two-hour train ride, we arrived in our second destination in the Czech Republic: Brno!

It’s the second largest city in the Czech Republic, with a population of about 400,000 and a student population of almost 80,000 during the school year. That’s why when we first arrived, our tour guide told us that Brno is largely considered a student city–there are a whopping 30 universities, faculties, and colleges in the area. Because of this, it’s much more lively when students are here, since they made up such a big portion of the population.

Interestingly, our professors told us before we left the United States that if we knew a second language, we would find ourselves defaulting to it when we couldn’t remember Czech. They also told us that in Brno, people might not speak as much English. That’s probably why when we ate lunch at a local restaurant today, I found myself trying to order in French–I knew that I shouldn’t be using English, but I just didn’t know enough Czech to complete my sentence. (Hence the title of this post–“Bienvenue!” is French for “Welcome!”)

This has probably been the most frustrating part about being in the Czech Republic for me: the fact that while I understand snippets of Czech and can pronounce most of the words I see, I still end up running into language barriers almost constantly. That was one of the things that we discussed at lunch today, when four of us spoke with Dr. Slavishak about our study-abroad experience thus far. It’s definitely been fun, and some aspects–such as navigating the cities and interacting with locals–have been easier than we expected. However, the fact remains that we are foreigners; it’s impossible to assimilate completely, which often makes me feel guilty about so obviously being an American tourist.

After lunch and a quick stop at Hotel Slavia, we headed into the city for a walking tour. I had made a list of things I wanted to see in Brno, and our tour actually hit most of them. Our first stop, as I recall, was a cathedral with a pink tank sitting in front of it. The tank was painted by David Černy–a famous Czech sculptor whose work can be found throughout Prague–sometime during the 1990s. The tank is usually located in Prague, but it happened to be in Brno for a special exhibit at the same time that we were here!

The next main stop was Špilberk Castle, which was mostly used as a prison throughout history. Now, it offers one of the best views in Brno, as well as a great concert venue.

Another interesting sight was the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which rings its bells at 11 instead of 12 as a nod to the Swedish siege of the Czech Republic during the Thirty Years’ War. According to legend, the Swedish army planned to call off its attack if it did not win by noon; Czech citizens thus ran the noon bell an hour early, tricking the invaders into withdrawing.

I could go on and on, of course, about the other things we saw around Brno: a clock that’s supposedly shaped like a bullet, a crocodile figure commemorating the “dragon” that was thought to have appeared in Brno once, and a horse statue that provides an interesting view if one chooses to stand beneath it. But if I did that, this blog post would never end–so suffice it to say that Brno is full of fascinating sights!

When we left Prague this morning, I thought that I would miss it. While I certainly do, I am definitely excited to see what Brno has in store for us tomorrow!

A Humbling Experience

Today we went to Terezín. I had the idea that is was along the lines of Auschwitz, vacated but preserved for the sake of education and history. This was not exactly was we were introduced to. What we saw was a town that had been touched by both the Nazi and Communist regimes and still stood and functioned as though the pain and suffering of thousands had never even happened. There were restaurants and shops and lots of privately owned properties occupied by everyday Czech citizens. This came as a shock to myself and most of my fellow GO classmates as the idea of living in an area and even sending the mentally ill to a still- functioning Sanitarium, was deeply disturbing.

With growing negative sentiments towards the town and the trip, we marched on to the small barracks where much of the tireless work and merciless imprisonment and torture happened to the Jewish people, POWs, and political prisoners during world war 2 and the cold war. This was a highly emotional part of the tour in which we saw not only the cold isolation cells and living quarters, but the “spa” where the Red Cross was tricked into believing that Terezín was as luxurious for the Jews as it was said in the German propaganda. All I could think about were “what if” questions. What if the Red Cross had just looked a little harder, turned a knob and seen there was no plumbing, looked in ANY of the living quarters, would things have turned out differently for all the innocent souls who died here and in transit to all the death camps during WW2?

We ended the tour by looking into Magdeburg Barracks, which now serves as a museum of all the art and music of the Jewish “VIPs” that were “so fortunate” to have lived in Terezín instead of other places. I was thankful for this part of the trip, but once again saddened to see such beautiful artwork and know the terrible fate that befell the artists behind them.

Today was, simply put, hard. It was full of emotional scenes and hard to hear facts. However, for me, my disgust at what seemed like blatant disregard for the past changed to an understanding of why it seems to be ignored. The Czech Republic has not only suffered under Nazi rule but also Communist rule. Both are anti-semitic in different ways and both have forced the people to push aside religion to get jobs done and survive. Communism and the socialist society that came before the present day in the Czech Republic forced the people to build over the horrors of WW2 and move on without looking back. They have built the memorials and erected their museums, paying respects to the dead, but life goes on. That does not mean they are heartless, or that they don’t recognize what occurred on the streets they now lead their children down to church, or in their low income apartments. It means that they are living despite the ghost of deep struggle and that is, in its own way, brave and admirable. I am deeply humbled by my experiences in Terezín today and I can now look towards the future with an even deeper respect for the past.

Bliss in Prague

When I woke up this morning, I was not convinced it would be an incredible day. I barely slept last night and woke up sore from head to toe because of yesterday’s circus activists. (Which was totally worth it, by the way.) But when we arrived at the CIEE building my mindset changed immediately. Even though there was a huge hill to climb beforehand, the structure was amazing.

Once we were inside, we had the privilege of watching a group of kids perform a short play for us in Czech. After the show, we talked about what we could understand just by watching, even though there was a big language barrier. (Although we did hear a few words we knew!) It truly was amazing how most of the story still came through and we understood just by the way it was performed, and not just from the words.

After this, we saw a beautiful graveyard where a lot of famous/important Czech have been buried. Specifically, we got to see Milada’s grave, who we learned about yesterday. Her stone says “executed but not buried.”

When we were done we had some free time, so a few of my friends and I hopped on a tram and ate some delicious crepes for lunch, then took another tram and met Katie Ford at a cafe with the rest of the group. She’s a Susquehanna alumni and lives in Prague, so she told us all about her experience moving abroad and how she’s in love with the culture here. I found this so inspiring, because I have a passion for traveling and it was great to see someone else do it successfully.

My friends and I then headed back to the hotel and took naps/relaxed before going out again. This time we decided to take the tram from our hotel far into the city, past where we’d been with guides so far. We found a big park and a beautiful historic train stop with a huge ceiling, so of course I had to stop and represent with our GO flag!

On our way back to the tram, we thought we could see the top of the TV tower, so we decided to track it down. We took the tram one more stop, then walked around in circles (up many hills) for a long time, until we finally stumbled right onto it!

A few days ago, our tour guide told us it had been voted the second ugliest building in the world.

However, once we wandered inside and bought tickets to go to the top… all that ugliness vanished. The view was absolutely phenomenal! We could see the entire city, and then some.

Once we came back down and outside, finding our way back to the tram was a breeze. I rode the half hour back to our hotel watching the sun go down and feeling exhilarated! The day that had started me out feeling so rough had finally glided me into bliss. This city is truly one-of-a-kind, and I’m beyond grateful for choosing this trip.

Carolina Nicholson