Who would’ve thought that me, the girl who would make herself physically ill over the thought of sleep-away camp, could leave home for an entire year? For as long as I can remember, I’ve let my anxiety hold me back–whether that be not trying new things or telling people how I actually felt. I allowed myself to sit on the sidelines and write my disorder off as a “quirk,” to be laughed off. I’d joke that I knew I really liked a guy if I became nauseous just thinking about him. Or how I threw up after my first kiss because I had a panic attack. That story doesn’t include how I had to miss an entire day of class because I couldn’t stand up without almost passing out…because that’s not funny, that’s too real. It was easier to use humor to mask how extremely devastating my mental illness actually is.
But something about leaving for Prague was different…that anxiety wasn’t there. Maybe because I finally took a long hard look at my life. No jokes, no humor. And made a choice, for better or for worse, to challenge myself. I turned to my mom at the departure gate, one last look before heading off to my gate and I saw tears rolling down her cheeks.
“If I don’t go now, I never will,” I said, with a firm nod of my head, and walked headfirst into one of the most decisive moments of my life.
Sitting there all alone in the Oslo airport as I waited for my connecting flight, I remember thinking: “What the f**k have I just done?” I hadn’t showered or slept in almost 14 hours, and had no one to turn to. But I made myself stand up and get on line for a cup of coffee, and while I waited, I looked down and found 20 Euros on the floor. Funny how things work out…
There is nothing quite like walking into a room swarming with people, and not understanding a word they say to you. The buzz of foreign words in your ear, the way your brain desperately tries to make sense of it all. It’s enough to drive you insane, just trying to tune into a conversation. You eventually get used to the cacophony, and can appreciate it for what it is. But I could’ve cried tears of joy at the London-Heathrow Airport, when I finally heard the English language again. I didn’t have to walk up to the barista and ask, “Excuse me, do you speak English?” There are so many little things that you don’t think about when moving to a foreign country.
It was amazing to get to learn the Czech language and absorb as much of it as I could, through street signs, metro announcements, and of course, with some help from my students. I probably won’t have the occasion to use Czech back home but it is incredible to realize how much you can pick up in one year. Immersion is key!
People have been asking me if I loved my experience of living abroad, and the answer is a bit more complicated than “yes” or “no.” I would be sugar coating it if I said that it was all so perfect and peachy. At times, it was hard…even impossible. Living abroad for a year is not a vacation from the real world; it’s the real world on steroids! Being in our mid 20s, we are figuring out how to live on our own: renting apartments, finding career paths, dating, and making new friends. Imagine doing all of this in a foreign place and with a language barrier. There are endless miscommunications and screw-ups on both ends. People will take advantage of you for being a foreigner, and underestimate you due to your age and experience. On many occasions, I felt so defeated that I wanted to throw my hands up and just go home. But I’m glad I didn’t. This year, I learned that, regretfully, I am a naive and overly trusting person and put my faith into people who ultimately let me down. You want to assume the best in others but there are so many people out there who will screw you over and try to reverse the blame. I learned that I need to be more careful with what contracts I sign, where I decide to work/live, and how I expect to be treated.
I picked up some of the stereotypical Czech “hardass-ery,” for a lack of a better term. If someone was staring me down in the metro, I finally learned to stare right back. I am not so concerned with what everyone thinks about me and I don’t feel the need to impress people who don’t really matter to me.
All in all, a year abroad changes you. For better and for worse. I will look back on this time in my life and think: I did that. No one else, it was all me. I said I was going to take this leap of faith and I actually did. All the trials and tribulations, the failures and glorious successes. I made all of it happen, and no one can take that away from me.
As impossible as it seems, my year of living abroad is finally coming to an end! I have extremely mixed feelings about leaving Prague, but I do feel more than ready to be back in the USA. I never thought I’d feel this way: for most of my first year out of college, I dreamed about escaping my current circumstances and now I can’t wait to return home. All I needed was a little perspective, and to see more of the world to realize where I wanted to be.
But before flying back to New Jersey, I had one more amazing trip in store. Lucky for me, two of my best friends, Kira and Michael, are both living in Europe for the year. Michael, who currently resides in Troisdorf, Germany, has been able to visit me twice in Germany and I was so excited to finally return the favor. And best of all, Belgium is only a two-hour ride from his small German town. We decided to take a three-day trip to Ghent and Bruges, and I got to officially add Belgium to the list of countries I’ve visited…I’m now up to 21 by the way!
It felt like the best way to end my time here, and a major deja vu at that. When I was in Europe two years ago while studying abroad, I was able to visit Michael in Germany and spend the day in Amsterdam. It’s nice to catch up with old friends, especially ones who can sympathize with what you’re going through. I knew leaving Prague would be hard, but it really hit me when I left my apartment for the first time and arrived in Troisdorf. To be honest, it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, and I spent the better part of last Saturday crying and saying goodbye to the amazing people I had spent the past year with. But I will save all the sappy stuff for my last blog post, upon returning to the United States.
For now, here’s what I got to do and see in Belgium!
Our first stop was Ghent, Belgium, where we’d be staying for two nights at an awesome rock ‘n’ roll-themed AirBnB. We decided to grab an early lunch at this soup & sandwich place aptly named Soup’r. (I love a good pun, so I had a good feeling about this place). Michael and I each enjoyed a cup of this delicious Thai noodle soup, and got to talking to this woman from London who was visiting Belgium for her birthday. The waiter came over and gave her a brownie as a small birthday present, and I just thought it was the nicest gesture. I found most Belgian people to be super friendly and easy to talk to.
After lunch, we just wandered around the center of the city before going out on a limb and deciding to try this audio guide tour at the Castle of the Count. It was the best decision we could have made–I have to say that it was one of the funniest tours I have ever been on. The narrator of the guide was hilarious and told cheeky stories about each of the castle’s rooms. And the best part of all was that we got a discount for being under 25 years old.
Traveling is exhausting, so we decided to go back to the AirBnb to relax for awhile. To be honest, I was very upset from having to leave Prague and traveling to Germany the day before…I felt completely out of sorts. I ended up feeling more myself the next day, but needed to spend some time along to process my emotions. We went to this interesting food joint called the Holy Food Market, which is a cathedral-turned-food market full of stands selling everything from Italian spaghetti to British fish and chips.
The whole city was out of sorts due to an upcoming festival, so many of the roads were blocked with stages and food stands that were being put together. I wish we could have stayed to see the festival, but am glad we got out of the city before the madness began.
We spent our last day in Ghent, and played it by ear on deciding what we wanted to do. Michael and I took our time getting ready and enjoyed brunch at this cafe that was also part antique shop. There was a flea market happening right next to the cafe, so we perused that for a little while as well. Being the “penny pinchers” we are, I suggested we check out the Ghent City Museum for 2 Euros and Michael agreed. I’m not big into museums, but for a price like that, how can you go wrong? It ended up being a really interesting place, and on the outskirts of the city, so we took our time and walked the 25 minutes there. The museum was well worth the trip, and full of information about Ghent’s history. The actual building used to be an Abbey, and visitors are able to see the worship hall in all its former glory.
As any good Americans would do, we found a Starbucks at the train station and hung out there before it was time to take our train back to Germany.
Lucky for us, Bruges is just a 25 minute ride from Ghent, so Michael and I hopped on the train and made our way over on our second day in Belgium. We were desperate for lunch by the time we got there, and found an adorable little restaurant right on the canal. Bruges was way more crowded than Ghent, and it was sometimes overwhelming to walk along a sea of fellow tourists. We agreed that Ghent was more our speed, and left Bruges in the early afternoon.
But before heading back, we walked to city center to see City Hall and the famous Belfry Tower. And then we wandered around the side streets before making our way back to the train station. We enjoyed a make-your-own wok meal at this Asian restaurant called De Orchidee, and then stopped at an ice cream shop called Gerard’s for dessert.
How does a teacher keep herself entertained (and financially afloat) while living in Europe? By working at an English summer camp of course! There are so many of these going on in Prague that you can basically close your eyes and point at an online job board to find one that suits you. My full-time job ended much earlier than I expected, so rather than sit around, bored and biding my time, I signed up to be an English teacher for a group of 12-year-old Russian students…and boy it was an interesting two weeks!
I brushed up on lesson planning skills that I hadn’t used since last summer’s TEFL course, and prepared to be laughed at by a bunch of middle schoolers. But I always fall back on that cardinal lesson from my last blog post: Beat your students to the punch, and laugh at yourself before they get a chance to. To teach my kids “predictions” during one of our first lessons, I stood up on a chair and pretended to fly. Did they laugh at me? You bet! But did they also remember the grammar I taught them? 100%.
There is nothing worse than standing in front of a group of teenagers who don’t wanna be there. I literally dreaded going to this camp the night before I was having flashbacks to my horrible middle school days. But I was pleasantly surprised with how sweet my students were. They actually gave me hugs on the last day of class, and also chanted “Boss Baby, Boss Baby, Boss Baby” until I turned on the movie during our last lesson. See, tweens try and act so cool, but they’re really just goofy kids at heart.
I left the experience feeling accomplished and with extra spending money for my upcoming (and last) European adventure. Don’t worry, that will be a whole other blog post.
I’ll be honest, it’s really hard working in a foreign country. There’s a good chance you’ll be taken advantage of, gossiped about in another language, and made to feel like an outsider. I had a rough go of it at the beginning of my time in Prague, and was forced to change jobs a few times. I will say that part of my struggle was the fact that teaching is not my calling in life, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t care about each and every kid who was in my care. But sometimes, you have to do what’s best for yourself and leave a situation that makes you feel continuously uncomfortable and alienated.
After a few false starts, I found a job that I really enjoyed: working as an after-school teacher. Did the kids disrespect me and call me mean names in both Czech and English? You bet! But there were so many students who made coming to work a privilege, and they know how much they impacted me. I could barely keep myself composed while saying goodbye on my last day…my two “English buddies” from the second grade came over to give me hugs and that’s when the floodgates broke. But that is certainly not the first time I’ve cried at school, which in the eyes of my coworkers, probably made me seem weak.
I hold steadfastly to the belief that tears actually make you stronger, and are a result of how much you care. You might have to listen to me cry through a difficult conversation, but we will still have that conversation! Because I care so much, I do take things personally, but that does not mean I can’t take constructive criticism or handle a tough situation. Vulnerability is strength, people!
I’m really glad I came to Prague and gave teaching the old college try, because now I have a clearer idea of what I might like to do in the future. (The verdict is still out on exactly what that will be). I know that I love kids and want to be a mom someday, but maybe not work in a preschool. Working with elementary-age children and babysitting on the side was the perfect balance for me this year, but I don’t see myself going into the field of education. If you’ve always wondered if teaching was for you, I’d recommend a year abroad. All you really need is a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certification; not a full-fledged degree in education. It’s the perfect way to dip your toe into the world of teaching and see if it’s something you’d like to pursue.
Here are some important lessons I learned while teaching abroad for a year:
You have to learn to laugh at yourself, because your students will ABSOLUTELY be laughing at you. Beat them to the punch!
But also, if they take something too far, know when to shut it down. We can have our fun, but boundaries are important.
Take as much as you can in stride: having to go back to the playground with a student who forgot his lanyard, watching a student projectile vomit on the carpet, constantly waiting for the one student who takes the longest to do something. There’s usually a good reason for why they’re doing what they’re doing, and kindness and patience goes a long way.
Sometimes, the students who act out the most are the ones who need the most love. This is not to say that their actions are always warranted, but it helps to try and understand where they’re coming from.
Listen! Remember when you were a kid, how adults would just talk over you because they felt like what they had to say was more important? I do, and man, that was the worst. Making eye contact and asking follow-up questions when a student tells you a story goes a long way in aiding their confidence.
Don’t be afraid to walk away from a situation that feels off. I was miserable at my first school, and almost signed a yearlong contract because I felt obligated. But in the end, it was best for me to move on and find something better. The longer you stay, the harder it will be to leave.
“Because I said so” is not going to make someone stop misbehaving. Sometimes, kids don’t realize the extent of their actions and words. If they’re using a “bad word,” (I had a student tell me to ‘shut up’), explain why it’s wrong and ask how they think it makes you feel to be talked to in that way.
You don’t have to be best friends will all your coworkers. Due to language barriers, differences in personality or any other number of reasons, you might not really connect. But it’s important to be professional.
Last, but certainly not least, please don’t take teachers for granted. I always knew how hard teachers worked, due to watching my family members struggle with the weight of it all, but experiencing it firsthand really drove that point home. Teachers never take a break; there were so many nights when I would call my mom saying, “These kids just take and take and take, then ask why I don’t have anything left to give.” And I certainly went home most days and worried about my students: about the girl who cried because she said she didn’t have any friends or the boy who didn’t speak Czech and was teased by his classmates.
Instead of a criticizing a teacher, try reciprocating the love that they give to your children every single day.
And just like that, we are halfway through June: marking the last month I have left of my “year abroad” experience, and the end of the school year. Before my teaching position officially ended, I took some time off for a rather audacious “Euro Trip,” which included stops to Munich, Zurich, Luxembourg City, and Frankfurt. So without further ado, here’s how that week went. And brace yourselves, this post is a doozy.
After a 6-hour train ride, I finally arrived in Munich! Before checking into my AirBnB, I made a short stopover to Marienplatz to see Munich Town Hall. And what would a trip to Germany be without some good old bier? I treated myself to a Beck Pilsner at a cafe in the city square, and people-watched…I also might have eavesdropped on a group of Americans at the table next to me. Hey, I take the English language where I can here!
I really enjoyed the location of my AirBnB, because it was conveniently located but felt less hectic than the city center. The apartment was in a residential area, with an authentic German restaurant just around the corner. After a delicious dinner of roast pork and potato dumplings, I went on a walk where I admired the roses and met this adorable (and super friendly) cat. See? Traveling solo doesn’t have to be so lonely.
In typical fashion, I started my morning at a cafe (Schreibwaren am Schloss, to be exact), grabbing brunch and a delicious homemade apricot croissant. The cafe had a lovely terrace and it was nice to just sit outside and read my book before heading to my next destination: Nymphenburg Palace.
I loved watching the swans at the palace, even though I made sure to keep a safe distance. I hate swans even though they’re beautiful, because they bite! During my study abroad trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, we encountered some of the biggest swans I’ve ever seen; people seem to like to rile them up and get them out of the water. At the palace, this one kid was screaming in their faces and then acting surprised when he got chased!
I had a Weißbier and a pretzel the size of my head at the Hirschgarten, which I walked to after seeing the palace. It was about 80 degrees outside, so I just hung out in the shade and read my latest Stephen King book. The park as a whole is enormous and the largest in all of Munich, and maybe even the world according to its website. It has enough space to seat 8,000 people! No wonder Munich is where people head to for Oktoberfest.
The main reason why I went to Munich is because it’s in between Prague and Zurich, and I didn’t want to do all of my traveling in one day. I really didn’t expect to like the city so much, and would absolutely go back again.
My first impressions of Zurich: It is a gorgeous city, but WOW is it expensive. I was warned by basically everyone I talked to that the farther from Prague you go, the pricier it gets. A coffee and breakfast croissant was about $12! But luckily, I had saved up beforehand and came prepared to contend with the high prices. I have always wanted to go to Switzerland, so it was (literally) a price I was willing to pay.
To get myself acquainted with the city, I walked around the old quarters for awhile and made my way to the Grossmünster Cathedral, one of Zurich’s most recognizable landmarks. I walked along a few of Zurich’s more “posh” streets and wandered in and out of high-end stores and past cute cafes. Keep in mind that a single coffee was $6, so I was very deliberate with where I stopped!
I read a lot of amazing reviews about the the Swiss National Museum (“Landesmuseum” to locals), and decided to go see it for myself and get out of the hot sun for awhile. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed. It was one of the most modern and interactive museums I have ever been to, and the entry was super reasonable with my student ID. There were iPads and touch screens everywhere, so that you could take quizzes and learn more about what was in front of you. Plus, all of the descriptions were in German as well as English.
I stayed in the most wonderful apartment during my time in Zurich, and it was hands down one of the best AirBnB experiences I’ve had so far. My host had two beautiful white Siberian dogs named Archie and Betty (named before the Riverdale craze, because they’re trendsetters, not followers). Her place was in Dubendorf, which is on the outskirts of Zurich, but only a 25-minute ride to downtown. I loved being close enough to nature (I could see the Swiss Alps from our backyard), but able to get to the “big city” whenever I pleased.
Most of my second and last day in Zurich was spent at the Zurich Zoo, which was a wonderful experience despite the heat! I still can’t get over the price differences between Zurich and Prague…the Prague zoo is $10 for adults, and the one in Zurich was $26! But I made sure to get my money’s worth by staying for over four hours, and got to see a lot of unique animals. I loved the Australia exhibit because I finally got to see a koala in person, plus a handful of adorable little wallabies.
I took my time seeing every section of the zoo, and made sure to stop a few times to sit in the shade and enjoy an ice cream. Being the poor mid-20s year old that I am, I brought leftovers for lunch!
I had left my luggage in storage at the Zurich central station, and while I waited there for my bus to arrive for my voyage to Luxembourg, I met a group of really nice guys. They happened to be speaking Spanish, so I figured “What the hell” and started speaking with them. My skills are definitely rusty, but I think they were just happy that I had the courage to go up to to them and try. You never know who you’ll meet when you travel, especially on a solo trip, and I’ve learned that it’s best to always take the chance and be friendly. (Of course, while also being safe).
While I was excited to finally leave for Luxembourg, the dreaded leg of my trip was finally upon me…I’ll get to that in the next section of this blog post. But let’s just say that after officially locking up and leaving my AirBnB room in Zurich, I didn’t get to sleep again for 30 hours.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Technically, my final day in Zurich never really ended because I never went to sleep…let me explain. When I was planning this trip a month before (not considering the consequences future Alena would have to endure), I booked a bus from Zurich at 10 pm which would arrive in Luxembourg at 4 a.m. But knowing me, I didn’t sleep a wink on the bus and tried to keep myself occupied with books and movies during the 6-hour ride. I envied the American guy in front of me who snored his way through the night.
When we finally arrived in Luxembourg, I wasn’t dropped off at the central station liked I had hoped, but in a random parking lot in the dark and freezing rain. Luckily, taxi drivers seemed to know the drill and were waiting to give rides. I arrived at the central station an hour before it officially opened, and sat on the floor. As exhausted as I was, it was really cool to see what the world is up to before the sun rises: deliverymen dropping off newspapers, baristas starting up coffee makers, and of course a few “characters” to add color to the scene. (One woman was screaming about something or other in French for a good thirty minutes).
Despite it being a cold and somewhat rainy day, I finished my breakfast and went for a walk along the Adolphe Bridge and snapped the photos below. It looks like a scenic view of Hogwarts, right? One thing I loved about Luxembourg is how much room there is for greenery. The city is really spread out and more spacious than your typical European capital, since there are only about 100,000 residents. One of Luxembourg’s biggest attractions is its Notre Dame Cathedral (no, not that one), but I enjoyed this church as well. A lot of the city’s architecture is in the gothic style, and the cathedral is no exception. It was originally founded as a Jesuit church, and is the only cathedral in all of Luxembourg.
I had some time to kill before checking into my AirBnB, so I strolled around Luxembourg’s old quarters for awhile and stumbled across this “writing tree” covered in adorned with postcards in plastic bags, where visitors were jotting down reasons why they liked to write (some even added a few mementos). Naturally, I took one down and wrote a little something, and placed two pieces of Jersey Shore sea glass in as well. I had been carrying them around in my backpack for awhile now, and had finally found the perfect way to share them.
Maybe it was nostalgia or just my need for a really good burger, but when I passed Five Guys, I knew I had to stop there for lunch. It was just as good as I remembered, and I only let myself feel a little ashamed for eating at an American joint in Europe. By that time, it was close to noon and I went to my AirBnB to drop off my luggage. Torturously, I wasn’t allowed in my room until 4 pm, so that they could clean it, but sleep was calling out to me. I almost fell asleep right at the kitchen table but forced myself to get up and out, and went to see the World War II Deportation Memorial instead. The spot was rather unassuming; it would’ve been easy to walk by had it not been for Google Maps. But it marked the train station where hundreds of Luxembourg citizens were detained and sent to concentration camps. The city was eventually taken over by the Germans, and later freed by the Americans in September of 1944. It made sense why I walked along the “Rue de Franklin Delano Roosevelt” earlier that day.
Despite being completely worn out, I’m proud of myself for powering through one of the longest days of my life and also making the most of the time I did have. More than anything, I wanted to just sit in a Starbucks and fall asleep on a couch. But as I complete more and more solo trips, I’m realizing how much confidence and independence I have gained. From figuring out complex metro systems to booking AirBnBs, I’ve done it all with considerable language barriers working against me. But it’s only made me more self-reliant and strong.
I had the best luck with museums during my trip, and the Luxembourg Historical Museum was no exception. With my student ID, I got in for free and spent a good hour and a half learning all about this small country’s background. Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in all of Europe, alongside places like Liechtenstein and Malta. But it has a rich history. The country become somewhat of a “ragdoll,” being fought over by France and Germany, and constantly invaded by the latter during World War II. It’s one of the main reasons why the European Union was formed in the first place: to ease tensions between the two countries, so that Luxembourg would be left alone!
The country itself is said to have been settled in 963, over one thousand years ago. The sheer vastness of Europe’s history captivates me; being from a country that came to be in 1776, I will always be impressed with how “old” everything is here.
And speaking of history, I also went to go see one of the city’s most popular sites: Grand Duchy Palace. It is in a rather unassuming location, amidst shops and cafes in the old quarter, and I definitely walked past it a few times before pulling out my map and actively searching it out. Visitors are only allowed inside of the palace when the Duchy family is away, which is around late July to early August.
It was about to begin raining again, so I quickly got inside at my dinner destination, Nirvana Cafe, and had a tasty vegan Indian meal of chickpea curry.
Today was a shorter day, because I left for Frankfurt in the afternoon. But before I went, I got to check out the city’s fortifications…or what’s left of them. Because of its strategic location, the fortress was used by other countries during the War of the Reunions and the French Revolutionary Wars before being torn down in 1867. And whoever had control of the fortifications also had control of the Left Bank of the Rhine River.
After its destruction, Luxembourg became a neutral country. It’s crazy to think that all this work, done over the course of nine centuries, was undone in just one year. But what’s left of the fortifications (mostly below-ground and a few buildings above) is so well-preserved that it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.
It was time to say goodbye to Luxembourg in the early afternoon, and I boarded a bus headed to Nuremburg, then transferred onto a train heading to my final destination: Frankfurt.
I got to Frankfurt at around 7 pm, and was so ready to get to my AirBnB…but experienced some hiccups along the way. What was supposed to be a 25-minute metro ride turned into a 2 hour fiasco, mainly due to my Google maps sending me in a million different directions. By the time I had boarded the third wrong train, I had had enough and decided to walk the rest of the way. With my suitcase in tow, I trudged down residential streets and random alleyways for 35 minutes before finally arriving to my AirBnB.
For the Afternoon:
After a restful night at my AirBnB, I had to brave the S-Bahn again to get back into downtown Frankfurt. To be honest, I didn’t really know anything about the poet Goethe before visiting Goethe Haus, but I’m glad I went anyway. Thanks to my trusty student ID, I got in for just 3 Euros. The experience reminded me a lot of my visit to Mozart’s birthplace in Salzburg. I got to see the rooms where both of these artistic masters were born and grew up, and gained insight into what inspired them to pursue the arts. Goethe’s grandmother gave him and his siblings a puppet theatre for Christmas one year, and as an additional gift, put on a play of her own for them. Goethe was so inspired that he began creating his own and eventually went on to write Faust, his most well-known piece.
Here are some fun interior shots from the house. I’ve realized that I’m in love with old-time stoves, because most of them are ornately decorated with painted porcelain and metal doors. There was actually an entire exhibit in the Luxembourg Museum dedicated to these stove doors.
If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, thank you for taking the time to follow my adventures here in Europe. Today marks my last month of officially living in Prague, before I do some traveling and then head home!
After months of planning and scheduling (and a few hiccups along the way), my parents were finally able to come visit me in Prague! I’m really glad it all worked out like it did, and that they came when they did…after more than 8 months here, I’ve really begun to feel like a local. I was able to show them both the bigger tourist attractions and some of my personal favorite haunts.
I picked them both up at the airport, and could sympathize with their jet lag and travel weariness. Flying to Europe is no small feat: from JFK, you typically have to layover in another city before getting to your destination (Oslo, Brussels, London, you name it). Prague is a rather small city, compared to other European capitals, so there aren’t too many direct flights to and from the USA.
After lunch and a nap, the three of us went for a walk down to the Charles Bridge and then grabbed dinner. Here are a few of the many selfies and photo ops we took along the way.
Before my parents arrived, I had asked if they’d be interested in doing a day trip somewhere, like Dresden or Kutna Hora, but there’s so much to see in Prague that we decided to spend all of our time in the city. One of our bigger excursions was to the Prague Zoo, after walking around city center and seeing Charles Bridge.
Easter Sunday started with a service at St. Clement’s, an Anglican-Episcopal church near the Dlouha Třida tram stop. I haven’t been to church in a really long time, but all the hymns came back to me like muscle memory, and there’s nothing like being surrounded by native speakers in a foreign city.
Knowing my mom, we went to the Cat Cafe in my neighborhood on more than one occasion. She had already fallen in love with a grey Maine Coon kitten named Muzzle before she arrived, thanks to the photos I had been texting her. The cool thing about the cafe is that the cats aren’t up for adoption; the cafe is their forever home. The owners rescued each and every one of them, and gave them a safe place to live. Cafe rules here are much more lax than they are in the USA. You don’t need to make a reservation beforehand, and you can sit and enjoy a drink with a cat on your lap. The ones I’ve been to back in the States make you sit in a separate room to drink a coffee or eat a dessert.
We ate out for almost all of our meals besides breakfast, and typically ended the day with some gelato at my favorite shop “Angelato,” and a walk around my neighborhood (Smichov). My parents particularly liked walking across the many bridges that separates Smichov from Old Town. I had pointed out a building called the Dancing House to my mom on our first walk after their arrival, and the three of us finally made it to its lookout tower for drinks and a stellar view of the river and castle.
We spent our last full day at the Gardens at Petřin Hill, enjoying the manicured lawns and city views. The lunch we sat down to was much longer than we expected, due to an overwhelming amount of guests, but we enjoyed the sunshine and good weather as we waited. My friend Michael had told me about the rose gardens when he came to visit me back in October, but I had no idea how much there was to see at the top! My parents and I took the “funicular,” a gondola-like ride up to the top and slowly walked our way back down.
I joked with my parents that I’d make a small building next to the big church up there my new home: it was so beautiful! We enjoyed amazing weather during my parents’ entire visit, so much so that I even got a bit sunburnt.
This has to be one of the best views in the entire city! My parents and I had considered doing a cruise on the Vlatava River, but after this, realized we wouldn’t find better sight-seeing than this.
On this cold and rainy Sunday, as I sit inside and watch “That 70’s Show” episodes on Netflix, I decided it was finally time to finish my blog post on my trip to Brno. Two weekends ago, my good friend Micha and I took the train from Prague to the charming city of Brno, Czech Republic. It’s the second most populated city in the country, and has a charm all its own. Our train pulled in late Friday evening and we unknowingly decided to grab dinner at an American-themed restaurant, with Nebraska license plates affixed to each bathroom door and old Texaco gas pumps stationed in each corner of the dining room. It’s always fascinating to see how other cultures view the United States, and more often than not, they see it as apple pie, deep Southern culture, and American football.
Micha and I were so tired, that after unpacking and showering at our AirBnB, we went straight to bed to rest up for the day of sight-seeing ahead of us. We started our day with one of my favorite traveling activities: brunch at a cozy cafe, Cafe Placzek. I had a delicious scrambled egg and avocado sandwich, with a vanilla latte on the side. I’ll just have to make do with espresso until I can have iced coffees again.
Not surprisingly, Brno (as almost every European city does) has a gorgeous cathedral enveloped in the walls of its 13th-century castle. The walk up to the grounds was not nearly as rough as it is getting to the castle in Prague, and for that I was extremely grateful.
Despite appreciating the beauty of the church and its surroundings, I have to say that my favorite part of the day was visiting the Brno farmer’s market in city square. I honestly felt as though I wasn’t in the Czech Republic anymore, and instead, was perusing an Italian market. This was probably due to the 60-degree weather and fresh vegan gelato stall stationed just outside the market entrance. I enjoyed a delicious scoop of lavender-blueberry and bought a half-pint of fresh raspberries as a snack. After becoming so accustomed to the Christmas market culture of Eastern Europe, this summer-like market was a breath of fresh air.
Farmer’s market in Brno’s city square
Vegan blueberry-lavender gelato (YUM!)
And what would a trip in the Czech Republic be without a locally brewed beer? Pilsner Urquell is popular everywhere, but Brno actually has its own small brewery and beer called Starobrno, which Micha and I got to try at the Starobrno Brewery downtown after visting Brno’s (rather ugly) astronomical clock. It gave me a deeper appreciation for Prague’s own clock.
The changing of the seasons here in the Czech Republic, from damp and grey to sunny and cheerful, has really changed my overall mood. I’ve loved being able to join my students for a game of dodgeball during recess, sans jacket, and take a stroll down to the local cafe in my neighborhood in my Birkenstocks. I’m hoping that this change in the weather means more weekend trips and local excursions, too. I was experience cities like Vienna and Krakow as they are meant to be seen, with snow on the ground and a chill in the air, but now it’s time for flowy dresses and picnics at the park. Stay tuned as I make the most of my last four months here!