Krakow was not even on my radar of places to visit the semester, but others who went on the trip last semester persuaded me and, I must say, it was definitely worth it. The city is small in comparison to Prague, which was a nice change of pace. It is probably the one city I see as the equivalent of the Madison college town atmosphere of the CEE. However, with the addition of priest and nuns around every corner and churches lining the streets. This is definitely a place to go to see some gorgeous and ornate church interiors. I mean, look at this:
UNBELIEVABLE. I was in awe when some friends and I went for the closing of the altarpiece ceremony the evening after we toured this basilica in the heart of the old square in the center of the city.
After visiting the Jewish Quarter, Schindler’s Factory, the Krakow Castle (where I saw an original Da Vinci—Lady with Ermine), and plenty of churches, the group moved to Southern Poland where we went to the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine (only to be greeted with even more churches!).
Berlin is the epitome of avant-garde. A friend told me it’s supposed to be “like Paris in the 20’s.” Everything is fresh, modern, and eclectic—to the point of unsettling in its weirdness. I met a friend from London there (we decided to meet somewhere in the middle) and she would walk into a bar and feel weird because she couldn’t place the scene of middle-age men and teens raging together. Another word to characterize Berlin—masculine.
While I would agree that the city could be unsettling in it’s ahead of its time quality, it is also the most exhilarating, exciting and enthralling place I have ever been to. You go out every night excited with the endless possibilities the night could bring. I really did not want to leave.
My friend and I stayed in a new hostel in Prenzauler Berg, which is supposed to be the coolest and hippest area in Eastern Berlin (it definitely was). This was my first unorganized trip through my program, so we got to wander around on our own time and really explore the U-Bahn system and how to get from one district to the next. Berlin was a slap in the face saying, “welcome to adult life, wake up and be independent.” I never experienced travelling or being in a city alone really except for the flight to Prague, because everywhere I’ve gone and since being in Prague, I’ve always been with adults from my program, guiding me step by step. Berlin, to me, stood for independence.
Brno is mainly an industrial city in the Czech Republic, and a pretty big university town. CIEE organized this trip based around gender because it is the biggest city for NGOs centered on gender studies. We met with a representative at Brno University and chatted over tea and coffee about the ways they are advancing gender studies around Prague.
The reason I am writing about Brno is to encourage people who plan on visiting the Czech Republic to not just stay in Prague, but travel to other cities and the countryside to experience a different side to Czech life. It really is totally different than the city life in Prague where everyone speaks English. Totally worth it if you want to advance your Czech skills!
This annual conference is a series of panel discussions held in two days around Prague focused around the years’ topic: Media and Democracy and the Legacy of Vaclav Havel. First of all, I love Vaclav Havel (as do the majority of the Czech population). He actually founded the Forum 2000 organization with the intention to create intellectual discourse (which all the panelists have noted is essential to a free democracy) as well as, to not only spread knowledge to a wide group of people in the Czech Republic, but to also bring together intellectuals and important politicians, economists etc.
I literally have 15 pages of notes from the four panel discussions I attended, which is frankly, 2x more notes than I’ve taken in any of my CIEE classes. The Forum was not only informative, but also totally enthralling and inspiring. Havel’s genuine character and his way of governing for the people while always considering what is right and best for humanity as essential to his political philosophy leaves a citizen, or anyone for that matter, wanting to do the same and live up to the great contributions Havel made to advance the peoples’ rights. I think it is necessary for US citizens to learn about the importance of Havel’s legacy as First President of the Czech Republic, as well as playwright and contributor to the dissent movement of the Underground during Communist times, in order to understand how to incorporate humanity into everyday thinking and self-governing, as well as learning to be critical of our government today. I left this conference inspired to continue to grow intellectually and understand my place as an intellectual in today’s world.
Here’s a link to the Prague Post article about the conference if you’re interested!
Surreal extra photo:
Me and a friend with Pavel Z from the underground rock band DG307 from the 60’s dissident movement. He read some of his poetry in our class! Unreal to meet a man as influential as he was to the Underground movement in the Czech Republic. Here’s a link if you’re interested in reading more about him: http://www.twistedspoon.com/PZ.html