Prague

After much deliberation, I have to say that Prague is probably my favorite city that I’ve seen in Europe so far. I’m not quite sure what it is about the Czech Republic but we were all completely enamored. After hearing good reviews from our friends, we decided to book an Airbnb for 4 nights and I’m so glad we did!

Our Airbnb was a quick tram ride down the river from Prague’s Old Town. The public transportation in the area is absolutely stellar and SO cheap. I’m not sure if we have just adjusted to Oxford prices or if everything really is that cheap, but either way, we were happy gals. The 72 hour tram pass will only cost you about 11 USD and a normal lunch runs from 4-7 USD. Beer is cheaper than water in this town!

Day 1

On Day 1, we decided to orient ourselves in our favorite manner – a Free Walking Tour! As I’ve said before, this is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to get familiar with a city while getting some of the history in. I think that one of the reasons I love Prague so much is because of my Eastern European ancestry. Visiting has made me all the more curious to learn about my family’s past! Our tour explored Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter. The tour guide did a wonderful job of switching the mood from light, to funny, to serious. She told stories about the horrors of the Jewish Quarter – where Jews were forced to live in the low, flooded, slums. Disease ran rampant and few jobs were available to them. The Nazi’s sent cars of Jews from here away to Poland where they were murdered and many children were left without parents. Now, you can tour a museum full of these children’s’ drawings expressing their emotions during these times.

Before the war started, Czechoslovakia was betrayed by their allies and handed over to Hitler who did not just take back German lands, as he had promised, but took over the whole country and set up a base in Prague. As a result, the city was completely untouched during the war and therefore, a large portion is original. This is completely different from many other European cities that I have visited and the contrast is stark. Prague is stunning – a mix of 11 types of architecture built along the river. When you walk around, you must look up and simply admire everything.

Now, the Jewish Quarter has been raised above river-level and is beautiful. Today, it houses many of the city’s rich inhabitants. The history in the Czech Republic is very fresh. After the war, they turned towards communism in attempt to rebuild. Our tour guide’s parents were actually deeply affected by communism. Her grandparents refused to “vote” for the communist President (which was mandated by law) and as a result, lost their jobs and their daughter’s place at her university. Despite these barriers, the grandparents stayed strong in their beliefs and continued to stand up against communism with many other Czech people. The Czech’s escape from communism is referred to as the “Velvet Revolution” and their split from the Slovaks as the “Velvet Divorce”. These splits hold a lesson for all of us – peace is possible.

After our long morning tour, we crossed the absolutely beautiful Charles Bridge to the John Lennon wall which, to be honest, was a bit disappointing! It is much smaller than we expected! However, it is still a must-see spot for first time tourists and a great photo opportunity. Truly, the best part of Prague is just walking around and soaking up some sun.

Next came nap time and after that, a traditional Czech meal. The only way to really describe Czech food is delicious, savory, and heavy. Think meats and bread dumplings drowned in gravy and delicious sauce. Duck and schnitzel are of course, also popular items. This is definitely the type of food that stays in your stomach all day! We tried to taste some Czech cuisine throughout the trip but alternate with some lighter meals.

In the evening, we Czech-ed (haha) out some of Prague’s nightlife which of course included some delicious local beers.

Day 2

For our second day of the trip, we signed up for a group day trip to the nearby town of Kutna Hora! For only about 20 dollars a person, we got a nearly all day tour that lasted from 12-6! This was a great way to do something unique and experience a smaller Czech town. After about an hour train ride, we arrived in the town of Kutna Hora. Our first stop was a tour of the Church of Bones, also known as the Sedlec Ossuary. I don’t even know how exactly to explain what this is other than to show photos. The chandelier has every bone in the human body.

The Church of Bones was decorated with, yes, real human bones of about 40,000 people after the town’s graveyard got too large, largely because of the Plague. First, they dug up the bones and placed them underneath the church, but someone eventually decided that they should be cleaned and used as decoration.

Walking through was more eerie and creepy than we expected. Nothing is really blocked off either – you are standing face to face with dozens of human skulls.

In addition to touring the Bone Church, we also got to see the beautiful St. Barbara’s Cathedral and some of the town!

Day 3

Easter Sunday! When we woke up, we were confused to find that no one really seemed to be celebrating Easter. We brushed it off, knowing that the Czech Republic is the most atheist country in the world, and decided to head to a Catholic Mass anyway. The church was absolutely stunning (as most European churches are). While I missed being home with family, celebrating with my friends was so much fun!

Later in the day, we actually realized that the Czech Republic celebrates their Easter on Monday! Their traditions are quite interesting. Men walk around with braided sticks which they use to bop women. Then, the women must thank them and give them shots of alcohol and food. Supposedly, this prevents the women from growing old. When we were headed out on Monday, we did see quite a few men wandering around with these braided sticks!

Day 4

On our final morning in Prague, we decided to book a Castle Tour! The weather was absolutely atrocious but we toughed it out in the freezing rain! The Prague Castle is the largest in the world and it does not disappoint! Really, it is more of a collection of large palaces and a couple churches. St. Vitus’s Cathedral is particularly gorgeous (and was a safe haven from the rain). While we didn’t get to go in a ton of buildings, the tour did a good job of explaining what you needed to know. You could definitely spend a whole day – or more – here going inside museums and other buildings.

After the tour, we enjoyed a great overhead view of the city and a last delicious Czech meal before heading to our next stop, Berlin! By the way, the Czech language is SO difficult. The only words we learned are hello (ahoy!) and cheers (na zdravi!).

Thanks for the memories, Prague!

Czech Republic Uncategorized

Weekend in Switzerland

This weekend, I stuffed my giant purple backpack full of the warmest clothes I own, triple checked my paperwork, and headed out for my very first weekend trip to Zurich, Switzerland!

 

Not only did I get to go to SWITZERLAND, but I got to stay with some extended family – Alice and Natalya Stämmer! I cannot thank y’all enough! Even though Natalya and I hadn’t seen each other since we were both babies, Alice welcomed me into her home and spent the weekend giving me a glimpse of their Swiss way of life!

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Here’s how we made the most of my 3 days:

Night 1

My trip kicked off with a couple bus rides to London, Gatwick where I was absolutely blown away by European efficiency. Let me tell you – America is doing it wrong! At Gatwick, you scan your boarding pass and make eye contact with a machine, walk right up to the security scanners where there are 7 mini lines at each station, keep your shoes on, and you’re off to your gate! In the bathroom, stalls are actually big enough to bring your luggage in and each sink has a personal hand dryer. Gatwick gets a 5/5 Yelp review for sure.

Alice was kind enough to pick me up right from the Zurich airport and we headed downtown via train to grab a Swiss meal! This was my first time in a non-English speaking country and I really enjoyed learning about various cultural differences. Switzerland is split into 26 cantons or subdivisions and has 4 official languages: French, Italian, Romansh, and of course, Swiss German which is spoken in Zurich! We ate at a cool casual place with a great view called Sternen Grill where I tried a mushroom veal dish with späetzle (a delicious hashbrown type side!).

Afterwards, we swung by the hotel where Natalya works to say hello before heading to bed.

 

Day 1

What better way to spend my first day in Switzerland than by heading out to the mountains! Luckily, we were blessed with incredible weather the whole weekend. We drove about 2 hours to Shilthorn, a part of the Bernese Alps of Switzerland with a 2790m summit! All bundled up, we took cable cars up to check out the views. At the Birg stop, we went on a Thrill Walk along the mountain’s perimeter. Words cannot describe how beautiful the views were and pictures do not accurately convey how immense these mountains are. You must go check them out for yourself!

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Next, we took the final cable car up to the summit for lunch and of course, the scenic backdrop used in James Bond 007. The restaurant spun 360 degrees as we ate and once again, I opted for a Swiss meal, this time a delicious Schnitzel and a post-lunch coffee with amaretto. Nothing will ever beat this lunch view!

 

Afterward, we walked around the top deck and James Bond tourist attractions. This was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget.

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On our way back down, we stopped in the mountain town of Murrän, a tiny town with a 1,630m elevation that is completely unreachable by car, yet is complete with its own post office, fire station, grocery store, and church.

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I miss the mountains already! With full hearts and tired legs, we headed back towards Zurich. For dinner, we made a pit stop in Luzern (Lucerne) Switzerland. The architecture here is noticeably different from Zurich and quite lovely! Walking around the little adorable cobblestone streets is one of my favorite activities. Alice took us to a cool penthouse bar atop the Astoria hotel that she’d discovered by mistake one night. The pizza and drinks were good but the conversation and company was even better. Alice and Natalya made me feel comfortable right away and I loved learning about the differences between us and (maybe) more importantly, our similarities.

 

Day 2

You know how you typically Google image search a place before you go on a trip and then end up being disappointed because the place doesn’t fully live up to your expectations? I solemnly swear that this will not happen with any city in Switzerland. Zurich is full of history, cute places to eat and shop, and stunning views everywhere you turn and of course, the lake! Even though it is winter, locals and tourists alike take every sunny opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

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Natalya and I spent the afternoon just the two of us. Our first stop together was Cafe Felix, an adorable coffee and cake shop with a grand staircase and elaborate decorations.

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For dinner, we cooked cheese fondue together! (Okay, mostly her) before heading out to check out Zurich’s night life.

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Day 3

On our final day, we started off with a beautiful hilly hike in the forest near their home. There is so much nature to be enjoyed in Switzerland and I got just a taste. The hills were full of kids sledding down and dogs happily prancing. Sometimes, you just have to take it all in.

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After our walk, it was time to say goodbye to Natalya as she had to work. It was a sad goodbye! Alice and I finished up our day with a short trip to the nearby Rapperswill! Once again, this small historic looking town had an entirely different look than the others I had experienced thus far. We walked around, saw a castle, and watched the sunset. Alice knows so much about each of these places and the history behind them and it was incredible to have her as a friend and guide.

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After a lovely risotto dinner cooked by Alice, I was off again.

Goodbyes

Once again, I would like to thank Natalya, Alice, and her husband Zeno for being so generous as to host me and spend their time showing me around! It is always so lovely to spend time with family and truly relax for a weekend.

To Switzerland: your mountains, cheese, chocolate, and people did not disappoint! (However, no one would mind if things were a bit cheaper!)

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Study Abroad 2016 Switzerland Trips

Pre-Abroad Feels

My plans –> Oxford, England

For those of you who haven’t heard, in exactly one month and two days I will be headed abroad to Oxford, England! My semester in Oxford at St. Clare’s International runs from January 8th – May 6th with a couple breaks in-between. I will be flying out of DFW on January 7th and returning on May 18th after a visit from my mom! While at St. Clare’s, I will be taking my usual English and Education classes, completing an internship in a local school, and spending my free time immersing myself in English culture and traveling as much as possible.

I cannot believe that my lifelong dream of traveling Europe will actually be set in motion in such a short time! Meanwhile, I have been spending my time procrastinating my finals work by spending my time researching trips.

 

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Travel Plans

As of now, I have a one trip in the works and a couple others on the list. We have two weeks off in the middle of April for Spring Break during which I plan to backpack with a couple friends through Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, and Amsterdam over the course of 17 nights.

Several friends and family members have also been kind enough to plan trips with me! My boyfriend, Harrison, will be visiting me during his March Spring Break and my good friends Morgan and Ally are coming the week after! Additionally, extended family in Switzerland have offered to host me for a long weekend – an opportunity I am all too excited to take advantage of. At the end of my semester, my mom and grandparents are visiting and we will be exploring London, Paris, and the surrounding areas.

If you have any connections abroad or will be in Europe from January-May please let me know! I would love to make plans with you.

 

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Visa Applications & Internships

I had absolutely no idea that my Visa application would be such a hassle! This semester has been filled with Study Abroad meetings and numerous hours dedicated to filling out my Visa, going to fingerprint appointments, and getting everything in order. I will be on a Tier 4 Student Visa which allows me to work/intern.

Luckily, Teaching Fellows has hooked us up with awesome teaching internships when I am abroad where I will be working with 15-16 year old second language students at Cherwell Secondary School in Oxford! One day a week we will be spending a full day working in the school. Additionally, I will be enrolled in a comparative education course as part of my studies and am really looking forward to studying a new culture while living there.

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Nerves

Despite being ridiculously pumped to go abroad, I’ll admit that I am a bit nervous too! I don’t think that it has really set in that I will be away from America for a full 4.5 months! Mainly, I am worried that the time difference will create a barrier between those who I have relationships with at home and myself. I know that balancing will be necessary so that I do not spend too much time communicating with those back home to the point of missing out on new things! Furthermore, I really want to make friends with some of the international students which I know will require extra effort since they may not be in my classes. Like any semester, being abroad is full of ups and downs that I must prepare for.

 

Overall, I am extraordinarily excited to embark on this journey! Please feel free to follow this blog to keep up with what I am doing abroad and here at Elon! Again, if you have any advice or insight on what places I must visit, I would love to hear it.

 

Thank you to my family for making this all possible!

Much love,

Courtney

 

 

 

Reflections Study Abroad 2016 Trips