Czech Republic: “Hello from Praha” (Week 1)
Updated: Jan 31, 2021
“Hello from Praha” (“Dobrý den, Praha”) will be my series of weekly blog posts about my study away experience. Days will be longer or shorter depending on what happens (and how inspired I am to write). Some days will be only pictures, others only words. Some won’t even be in Praha!
I’ll be updating the blog as the days pass, so some posts may be “incomplete” until the end of the week (Friday this time, but every Wednesday from here on out since I’ll often be traveling from Thursday-Sunday. Yes I only have class Mondays-Wednesdays). Hoping this will be my main platform for keeping up with everyone throughout the semester, so please leave any comments, questions, and food/travel suggestions you have as I blog along.
Jdeme na to (here we go)!
August 19, 2017 – Prague is Nuts
The first thing that hits is the chilly breeze. Then the pastel colors, the tram lines, the cobblestone paths and cherry-colored street signs on the sides of buildings. I arrive at Machova dorm with RA Jakub and enter the suite I’ll be living in for the next four months. It’s nicer than what I’ll ever live in for at least the next four years.
Prague is colder than expected, which means I probably won’t touch half the clothes I brought. Nice, in a way. Now I’ll be forced to do some shopping and to think about things like classes and travel before I think about what shirt to slip on in the mornings.
My first meal is with John at a nearby restaurant called Parlament; we order a keg of beer (a giant mug for about $1), the most amazing baked goat cheese salad and beef tenderloin (your classic Czech meat and potatoes dish), and a slice of caramel cake that ends up getting me sent to the hospital thanks to my tree nut allergy. After EpiPens, IVs, and my family’s extreme concern (sorry mom and dad), I have RA Kaya write me a slip that says “no nuts” in Czech. This is probably the first Czech phrase I’ll know by heart.
Also, thank you Wes and John for calling the ambulance, sitting with me in the basement of a grocery store, and reviving me from a wheezing blob. You are my saviors. Thanks for the dinner omelet, too!
The day ends in physical and mental exhaustion tempered with a bit of optimism: There is nowhere but up from here.
August 20, 2017 – A Walk through Town
Relaxed morning over sandwiches and tea. Brief orientation, then city exploring with Wes, John, Kelly, Sean, Victor, Jessica, Jesse, and Matt! Here are some photos from our afternoon/evening walk through Old Town, the Times Square of Prague (aka lots of tourists and food stands, and even a store called “The New Yorkers”).
Food shots (a necessity for me):
A view from The Charles Bridge:
Street musicians playing modern/jazzy renditions of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven:
Personal thoughts: very happy I bought the camera I’m using to capture these shots while I was still in New York. I wanted to invest in a nicer one both for food photography and this trip to Europe, and I love the results so far. Now to follow Sean around with his massive DSLR so I can learn all the functions…
Took the train for the first time to get back home. The escalators go so far down. Is it because Prague is mountainous and needs deeper subway lines to connect everything? Also, everything is so clean and efficient. New York MTA, take note.
August 21, 2017 – Discovering our Inner Master Chefs
Went to Costa Coffee with RA Tina to buy my own breakfast just in case the pastries provided at orientation had nuts. Looks like this will be a normal thing, especially after Tina’s straightforward “Czechs like nuts.”
Slept straight through the orientation video, but made some friends afterwards by asking them to re-explain it.
Shopped at the Palladium mall and Flying Tiger Copenhagen, then came home with full bags of groceries and empty stomachs. Cue a cooking fest in our kitchen: pasta, pork belly, and sautéed vegetables. Dobrou chut’ (bon appetit)!
August 22, 2017 – Re-interpreting Old Town Square
Woke up early in the morning to listen to Studio Ghibli jazz and write the previous blog posts, then took the subway to our academic building for a Global Orientation seminar. First thought: How are our academic buildings so are insanely beautiful? Second thought: How am I going to be able to focus on work here!?
Professor Murad took us on a tour of Old Town Square that completely changed my understanding of this tourist attraction. The 27 crosses painted on the floor near one of the most historic buildings, for example, represent the 27 nobles who were beheaded during the period of Protestant-Catholic conflict. An empty section of the square is where the Marian column once stood–a commemorative statue of the Virgin Mary built in 1650 to celebrate the Habsburg victory (Catholics) over the Swedes (Protestants). It was later torn down in 1918 by Czechs who refused to tolerate this symbol of “Czech humiliation.”
Today, the Prague City Council is debating revitalizing the square with a Marian column replica. According to Radio Praha: “Today, some interpret the column as a tribute to the end of the bloodshed of the Thirty Years’ War, others as a symbol of the definitive Habsburg takeover of the Czech lands and the violent re-Catholicization that followed.”
Prague mayor Bohuslav Svoboda is one of its chief backers, claiming that “a new Old Town Square – where the statue of Jan Hus, representing Protestantism, and the statue of the Virgin Mary, as a symbol of Catholicism, could stand side by side – would show that Prague is truly a city of the third millennium, where differing world views and religious views can naturally co-exist.”
But does co-existence represent true or fabricated history? Which is better? Instating a replica to restore history that was literally erased, or letting the square stand for what it is and preserve past events, destructive or not?
This question then led to a discussion of Czech identity. What is a Czech, geographically central Europe but “culturally in the West” and “politically in the East”? What is a Czech, when Czechoslovakia was built on multiculturalism across generations; endured a period of ethnic cleansing, expulsion, and purges; and now is once again returning to a state of ethnic diversity?
What an interesting start to a semester of business, history, and culture classes.
Dinner with the RAs at U Bulínů finished off a great day. Rabbit leg with sautéed vegetables, lamb shank with bell peppers and mashed potatoes, beef sirloin with bread dumplings and cranberry double cream…yes. After dinner, a group of us stayed behind and asked the RAs about their lives at grad school, their hobbies, and favorite restaurants and TV shows (Game of Thrones!). We also asked them for useful Czech phrases, the most useful of which they said was how to order braised beef. So now we all know how to order one braised beef (“svíčková”), please.
August 23, 2017 – Czech-mate
3 hours of Czech language classes made me question my intelligence. I cannot pronounce the number 4 (“čtyři”) for the life of me, and the phrase for “goodbye!” (Na shledanou!) made me want to say “na shledanou” to the class.
But to be fair, the language is beautiful, complex, and intriguing. I’m incredibly determined to learn as much Czech as I can here and will be stealing my roommate Ashley’s vocab lists whenever she lets me.
So far, I’ve met some great students studying music, liberal studies, and more in my classes. Excited to spend most of my time with people not like myself, both from NYU and around Europe.
Global orientation class today was again fascinating. Discussed Czechoslovakia’s initial history and the differences between Nazism and communism, two totalitarianism regimes that shape much of Czech history.
Spent the afternoon walking miles in a giant Tesco store looking for Ziploc bags, Greek yogurt, donut peaches, and oatmeal. Grocery shopping, I’ve discovered, is one of my greatest hobbies.
Cooked coconut curry chicken thighs and broccoli and mushrooms with honey, garlic, and soy sauce for dinner with Jesse and Kelly. Ready to be a seasoned (haha, get it) chef by the end of this semester!
Side note: People are beautiful here. Striking. Much more relaxed than those in New York City. A little more reserved. I wonder how much of an outsider I am to them.
August 24, 2017
Time is flying. I’m living in a dream. I study in a castle (didn’t realize how much I missed school) and cook in a kitchen that’s basically the size of my NYC apartment. I’m surrounded by mountains of history and culture waiting to be mined. I love that the city is mine (ours) to explore. Even the whole continent.
I’ll try to keep these shorter so we can all enjoy more time offline, plugged into the beautiful world (with beautiful people!) around us.
Saw the circus show “Forever, Happily” at the annual Letni Letna festival in the evening–and it was absolutely fantastic. Comedy, acrobatics, singing, and more in a parody of classic fairy tales. I laughed way too hard at the performers’ renditions of “Little Red Riding Hood” and ‘The Little Mermaid.” It also helped that the male and female performers were ALL SO ATTRACTIVE. Why are people so attractive.
Captured a night view of the city from the hilltops before heading back to throw a surprise birthday party for Winston (!!). Goodnight, Praha.
August 25, 2017
During our lunch break, Professor Murad took some of us to see Ai Wei Wei’s refugee exhibit “Law of the Journey” at the National Gallery in Prague. It is a “powerful tribute to the human tragedy of the present moment as well as to humankind’s eternal desire for home and a sense of a belonging.” I felt sad, frustrated, hopeful…while I was there. The question rings: What am I doing to help?
Beautiful boat cruise on the Vltava River for all NYU Prague students in the afternoon. Took a couple of minutes also just to stand by myself, soak in the colorful castles, the warm sunlight, the fresh breeze…what a perfect day.
Went off with Wes afterwards to explore. Climbed up the hills to capture this daytime view of the city:
At night, finished booking travel and lodging details for Vienna and Salzburg next weekend. I’m going to Vienna and Salzburg next weekend. I’m going to see the birthplace of classical music and the places where The Sound of Music was filmed. I’m going to explore 18th-century palaces and enjoy views of nature like none other. No matter how many times I say these things to myself, I won’t believe it until I’m there. And maybe it’ll be a dream, even then.
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