“Prague never let’s you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.”- Franz Kafka.
This is one of the truest quotes I’ve ever heard. I knew it before I came to Prague, but I finally understand what it really means. I already miss my gorgeous city and I’ve only been gone ten days.
In fact, I haven’t even fully unpacked. But I have the rest of break for that, right? So then, let’s see how I did on my goals:
1. Get to know Prague inside and out… well enough to be able to give others directions and discover places that only the locals know about.
✓ (or shall I say “czech”). Living basically in Zizkov, this was unavoidable seeing as no one spoke English. The menus were all in Czech and every place is local. The Vietnamese man at the Potraveny on Slezska even knew me by the time I left.
2. Personalize Prague to find my places in the city: my parks, coffee houses, my restaurants, my bars, etc.
Definite czech. I can say the park in Zizkov was definitely made my own, as well as Café Slavia, Sudicka, U sudu, Legenda, Big Lebowski, Soho, etc. etc.
3. Learn the Czech language to the level of being able to order my own meals at restaurants and carry out small conversations.
Myslím, že mohu říct, ja jsem docela dobra. Radka would be very proud.
4. Go paddle boating on the Vltava River on a nice day.
Mission accomplished not once but twice.
5. Go to a Czech hockey game.
Not only did I go to a hockey game, but a soccer game as well.
6. Go to Oktoberfest in Germany. Who knows when I’ll have that opportunity again?
Did it big.
7. Go snowboarding in the Swiss Alps.
So this is the one thing on my list I never got to do. However, how can I complain when I went to 19 different cities in 7 different countries? One day, when I’m older and richer, I’m going to plan a trip exclusively dedicated to snowboarding along the Alps. I’ll not only visit the Swiss Alps, but the Italian and French. I hear those are better for snowboarding anyway.
8. Keep in contact with friends from home as well as friends I meet while in Europe.
I sent multiple emails, postcards and facebook messages, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.
9. Make new friends from all over the world.
I feel like I now have friends from every nook and cranny in the United States, a bunch from Czech Republic, as well as a friend in Paris, Berlin and Witten, Germany.
10. Do well in my classes.
Pretty sure I aced them all. Knock on wood!
11. Have an amazing 21st birthday. There’s no Nitty in Prague (gonna miss the Garlic Burger L), but I’ll still attempt to make turning 21 a big deal.
Let’s just say it was a 21st birthday I will never forget. I will have to go to the Nitty soon, though, because burgers in Europe just don’t compare.
12. Keep up this blog and post frequently. I’ve tried this before once and it didn’t work out too well, so I’m making it a goal this time.
18 posts and counting. Great success.
Well it seems as though I did quite well for myself in terms of goals. Do I regret not going to Switzerland? Absolutely not. I’m only 21 years old: there will be plenty of time. I was planning on traveling Europe after my program ended, however, it was too expensive to change my flight and I was completely running out of money (sorry for the whimpy Christmas presents, everyone). So, you may ask then, do I have any regrets at all? Honestly, there’s not a thing I wish I could have changed. I mean, there’s a few times I slept through class or that one time I lost my ipod in Berlin, but nothing to beat myself up over. I suppose I should have taken more photos, but my DSLR broke half way through so it isn’t really my fault. Besides, I have enough memories to last a lifetime.
As a concluding post, here’s a last run-down of my time spent abroad.
What I’ll take away from Europe: A greater understanding of European and Czech history, a knowledge of Czech customs (however strange they may seem), a real/more tangible perspective of the horrors of WWII, an understanding of American stereotypes, a greater love for art and architecture, mild fluency in the Czech language, lifelong friends from all over the US and Czech Republic, a couple of bruises, a couple of scars, a new found love for KFC, some serious beer snobbery, about 10 different beer mugs, a big bottle of Becherovka, the strong desire to live in Berlin (at least for a little bit), and a thirst for exploring the rest of the world.
What I won’t miss about Prague: No free tap water, my commute to school, language barriers, pay-as-you go phone, no IPA’s, crocodile sandwiches
What I will miss about Prague: Just about everything else: feeling all cosmopolitan in a real city, walking past beautiful/historical/colorful architecture every day, overlooking Prague from Vysehrad, Prague’s excellent transportation system, giving tourists directions, a wonderful nightlife, the crown, fried cheese stands, Princess bakery, cheap delicious beer, easy accessibility to the rest of Europe, and (above all) my beautiful roommates and all the other people I’ve met this past semester. They really made the experience that much more incredible. Miluji vám všem.
Best Czech Beer: Pilzner Urquell
Best Czech Liquor: Becherovka
Best Prague Club: Cross Club
Best Prague Bar: impossible to choose
Best Live Music Venue: Meet Factory
Best Movie Theater: Lucerna, though I do love the “popcorn free culture” commercials at Svetozor
Best Views: top of Clock Tower/top floor of Dancing House/Petrin Tower
Best Meal Deal: U Trajcu (aka 100 Crown for a meal and a liter of pivo)
Best Bar Deal: Big Lebowski (you name the price)
Best Czech Foods: garlic soup, smažený sýr, and gulaš
Best All Around Restaurant: Sudička
Best Restaurant If You’re Feeling Fancy: Celeste on top of the Dancing House
Best Place for Reading/Homework: Café Slavia
Best Microbrewery: Pivovarsky Dum
Best Outdoor Activity: paddle boating
Best Beer Garden: Rieogrady Savy
Best Late Night Meal: fried cheese on Wenceslas Square, gyros at Narodni Trida, KFC
Best Fried Cheese: Penguin stand by Vysehrad
Best Vietnamese Food: Pho near TV tower
Best Souvenir: beer mugs from the bars
Most Underrated Prague Location: Zizkov
Places Visited by Car: 1 (from Kvacice to Vienna)
Number of flights: 2 (Paris and Amsterdam)
Number of trains: 5 (Kvacice, from Brno, Cinema Dance, Kolin, Munich)
Number of buses: 8 (Kvacice, Cesky Krumlov /Trebon, Jachimov, to Brno, Lidice/Terezin, Budapest, Oświęcim/Krakow,/Wieliczka, Berlin)
Number of countries traveled to: 7 (Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, France, The Netherlands)
Number of cities/towns traveled to: 19 (Prague, Kvacice, Cesky Krumlov, Trebon, Jachimov, Brno, Lidice, Terezin, Cinema Dance, Kolin, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Oświęcim, Krakow, Wieliczka, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam)
Number of museums visited: 25+
Number of live concerts/shows: 7 (The Opera “Magic Flute,” The Bloody Beetroots, Austra, Plastic People of the Universe, Franky’s show, Wolves in the Throne Room, Opeth)
Favorite Weekend: The weekends spent in Prague with good friends esp. the last weekend. I also had a blast in Amsterdam, which comes as a close second. Oktoberfest, close third. Paris is definitely up on the radar as well.
Final Thoughts: It’s hard to have final thoughts on an experience so amazing. All I’m doing right now is replaying my amazing semester in my head, wishing it could have lasted just a tiny bit longer. Overall, though, I learned more that I ever would have thought this past semester. I learned Prague inside and out. I learned what it’s like to live in Europe. I learned the differences between Europeans and Americans whether they are lifestyles, customs, etc. I learned history form a different perspective. I learned how to overcome language barriers. And, above all, I learned what my passions really are. I learned how to travel alone and how to enjoy my own company (plus, it’s extremely relaxing and an awesome way to meet people). I learned how to deal with tough situations, how to challenge myself and how to pursue the things I truly love.
So here I am in Park Ridge, Illinois. 10 days in the US and counting. I’ll return to Madison in less than a month with a whole different perspective of the world. A quick note on culture shock: it’s a lot milder than I thought. I thought it was going to take me a while to get used to life back in the US and I was kind of looking forward to it. However, 4 months away from somewhere where I’ve grown up the past 20 years isn’t long enough to make it foreign. I’m sure I’ll feel it more in Madison with school and work and the like. For now, the biggest shocker was how big the 2L bottles of soda are. They are so fat and round and adorable! I forgot that those don’t exist in Europe. Also, seeing English everywhere sort of hurt my eyes. It looks so strange. I have yet to go to a grocery store, but I feel like I’ll miss the challenge of trying to figure out what each item is. I’ll miss the cashier speaking in Czech and me nodding my head, pretending I know what he/she said. Or, in the rare case I actually understood the Czech, I’ll miss answering back.
And so, now I’ve got to czech back in and pick up life from where I left it, a more experienced and cultured Lesia Witkowsky (or shall I say Leša Vitkovsková). I will never forget this wonderful experience as well as the people who experienced it with me. Na Shledanou, přátelé. Na Shledanou, Evropa. Na Shledanou, Praha. I hope you all enjoyed following along on my European journey.