Czech Please

I aim to be as authentic and original and completely me as possible in these blogs, but I have to start off by saying Prague is amazingly beautiful! It has been three days and I feel like I have done so much:

 

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Prague Astronomical Clock

Day 1- 24.6: I had a personal escort from the airport to the dorm which was pretty sweet. I met fellow peers of the program who had actually been to Prague before, thus they invited me out and we walked into the Old Town. On the walk I saw the Pražský Hrad (Prague Castle), the Karlův most (Charles Bridge), and the Pražský orloj (Prague Astronomical Clock), as well as a gorgeous view of the whole city, red rooftops galore. I was not warned about how hilly Prague is, but at least I can look forward to toning my legs. I walked around this city speechless, wandering behind two friendly strangers and felt as if I had actually jumped into a postcard head first, mouth open. I wasn’t actually here. After 2 hours of walking around and picking up some hygiene supplies, we began the trek back up the hill we came down from earlier. This took 50 minutes, most of which was nearly straight up… Phew, but I made it.

 

Since I had not slept the entire night prior I decided to nap before our Housing Meeting. IMG_2043Yeah… I accidentally slept through the whole thing, but luckily I awoke in time to go to the Meet and Greet Dinner. I sat with three girls from the National University of Singapore who were very nice. I tried a traditional Czech dish: Vepřo-knedlo-zelo, which translates as pork with sauerkraut and dumplings. It was tasty aside from the fact that I popped out a filling in my tooth trying to floss the pork out. Ha, only me!

Day 2&3  25.6-26.6: These two days were mainly dedicated to getting mentally acclimated to the Czech culture and language. Within these two days, I went through an eight hour survival Czech course, which was very exciting for me since the IMG_1993language barrier was what I was most afraid about when preparing for this experience. On the evening of day 2, we actually went on a river cruise on the Vltava River—the river that goes right down the middle of Prague. The cruise served a delicious dinner and let us get up close with the Charles Bridge; it was a great introduction to the city!

Day 4 would consist of a day trip to Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, which deserves its own blog post entirely. Until then!

With Freedom Comes Relief

On Tuesday, June 16th, I began my journey toward my second study abroad adventure. It started with a Metro North train ride to NYC. Whilst on the train, I read the letter I received from my step-brother, Christian, who is currently incarcerated. We have been writing for years now, then he got out of jail just to be thrown back in 7 months later.

We talk often about the prison industrial complex and the institutionalized racism that exists in US society: very complex things. But he said something in this letter that triggered an epiphany. He told me that when he was out, he stayed at my house more than I did and that I am always traveling. I took this as a question of why?

My housing demographic is a very interesting one and I, having lived on the New Paltz campus for the past four years, refuse to be in denial of the problematic realities that exist within that environment. Being aware of those realities, seeing how deeply rooted they are, and also, experiencing healthy environments (New Paltz & Cardiff, Wales), I remove myself because I would want things to change which might do more harm than good, really.

But don’t get me wrong, I have my quirks with New Paltz as well, and then, after my experience abroad, I realized it’s so much more than that: it’s the US society. As a black, pansexual woman, there are many ways I am inferior within the United States. Granted there are many ways I am privileged: being a college student, studying outside of the country, being cisgender, etc. Yet, as a human being, I naturally am more conscious of the negative because that’s what affects me most and makes me the least comfortable.

Anyhow, it hit me that I leave home and I have this burning passion to travel because with that freedom, which I crave so deeply, comes relief. So far, from what I have experienced in Europe, I can breathe freely. I mean really breathe. I am firstly a human being in Europe, labels are on the back burner. As a person who identifies as a non-conformist and hates to be confined to boxes and labels, being in an environment where my appearance won’t put me at a disadvantage or where it won’t evoke negative assumptions about me is addicting. It is addicting to be able to walk around freely me, not cautious, not afraid, not less than: equal.

I am not saying that Europe doesn’t have its problems with racism, sexism, or homophobia, but being here one isn’t confronted with it constantly, suffocating because the air is so thick with tension. “I can breathe when I’m traveling, when I’m free and that is such a relief,” I told Christian. I can breathe and I am so excited to take in Prague and all the beauty it has to offer me.

Litts > Venice

Spending time with my parents in Venice

Spending time with my parents in Venice

Ciao readers!  It’s been a while since my last post, but I am back to write about my return to Venice!  I did go to Venice for Carnival in February, but with the recent visit of my parents in Italy I agreed to face it once again.  My dad had already been to Italy years ago, but my mother had not.  So although I had visited Venice already, I was willing to back again.  I am so glad I went back, this experience was completely different.  My visit in February was all about Carnival, whereas this visit was focused on Venice itself.  Although this time the weather didn’t hold up.  I taught my parents how to make the best of it & we powered through.

For my last visit, Kara & I stayed in a hotel far from the action, whereas this time around the Litts stayed in an airbnb in the hustle & bustle of Venice.  I was also stoked to find that our airbnb had a dog!  I love animals =)

Our furry friend at our airbnb

Our furry friend at our airbnb

I did a lot more sightseeing this time around, which was wonderful.  I was able to actually see Venice.  The water was so beautiful.  However, I can’t lie you WILL get lost in Venice.  The water creates dead ends like its nobodies business.  Thank goodness for technology!  When we really did find ourselves in a pickle, I would guide us in the right direction with the help of my handy dandy google maps app on my iPhone.  I really would recommend having a phone plan that allows for data usage because I seem to use it time and time again.

Even bread is happy to be in Venice =)

Even bread is happy to be in Venice =)

We visited St. Marco’s square & the Rialto bridge.  Both were jampacked, tourists everywhere.  In my opinion though I still think Rome takes the cake for having the utmost tourists.  We went to a produce market, as well as a fish market near the Rialto.  I must say how much I love all of the food markets in Italy.  Food is so fresh here, so it is so cool to see row after row of fresh food.  As much as I am hungering for some of my American staples, we sure do love to make room for unnecessary additives in our food.  So I am enjoying EATALY.  This market was wonderful.  I even ran into 3 fellow Unicatt students during this adventure!

There are also dogs EVERYWHERE!  Italy has leash laws that differ greatly from America.

Another great experience was the Vaporetto ride around the grand canal.  It was very lengthy, we happened to somehow take the wrong boats.  But it was very relaxing (and cold) along the water.  I would highly recommend Vaporetti rides for those who plan to visit Venice.

10373781_10153288787703921_2097223406779063185_nAs a Jewish family I was very glad that we got to visit the Jewish Ghetto in Venice.  It was very powerful walking around the Jewish quarter.  Italy being a very Catholic country, I felt very comforted being surrounded by all things Jewish.  We visited a Chabad, and met the rabbi.  Being so involved in Chabad & Jewish life at New Paltz, this was a taste of Jew Paltz for me.  There were even Kosher places to eat around the Jewish Quarter.  I do hope to see more WW2 sights around Europe with my future travels.  Visiting the Jewish Quarter with my parents made that a special experience for us to share together.  Judaism has always been a big part of our family, especially having my older sister living abroad in Israel.

My parents & I returned to Milan on Sunday.  Now my parents are off in Rome while I continue on with classes.  I hope they have a safe trip back to America!  Till the next adventure!

Tamara

Litt selfie!

Litt family selfie!

Finally Home

My plane landed in Rochester, NY two days ago, where I was welcomed with snow and bitter cold air. Everyone kept telling me, “welcome home!” and I would try to muster up an excited response back. Not that I’m not excited to be home, it’s just that I know it will be different. Trust me, I can’t wait to see my friends again, sleep in my bed, eat home cooked meals, and catch up on my favorite TV show. This is the longest I will be home for since summer 2013 so it will be fun to be able to relax for a few weeks before going back to New Paltz.

I’m not gonna lie, the jet lag was hard. I only slept for 20 minutes on the plane so by the time I got home at 6pm (midnight back in Prague), I was beat. I pushed through and started to unpack knowing that if I didn’t start laundry immediately, I never would. I also walked around my house looking at all the new additions my parents had done in the past few months. In every room I went in I kept reaching to hit the lights on about 3 inches higher than the light switch actually was. After a while I realized it was because I kept hitting the spot where all the lights would have been in my dorm at Prague. Also, I keep putting the key in the door upside-down, another thing from Prague. It’s little things like that that will take some readjusting to.

Being back in a country where I understand literally everything is quite overwhelming. I’ve become so used to just tuning out conversations around me because I can’t understand whatever language they’re speaking, but now that I’m back my ears pick up every word anyone says. Walking through the airport my eyes would scan every single sign and advertisement and it was like a sensory overload for my brain. But that has gotten better in the past two days, so I’m not too worried.

I miss Prague already and I often find myself thinking about all of the amazing things I was able to do there, but I also missed being home, so even though I never sound like it, I am very excited to be back.

Na Shledanou, Praha

I can’t believe today is the day I’m leaving Prague after four months. It went by so quickly it feels like a blur. Saying goodbye to all my friends was hard, but saying goodbye to the city was harder. I know I’ll be able to visit everyone at their various colleges next semester, and some I’ll see at New Paltz in the spring, but who knows when I’ll make it back to visit Prague. I woke up early this morning to walk through the castle, over the Charles Bridge and over to Old Town Square before catching Tram 22 home for the last time. It’s such a bittersweet feeling. I know I’m so lucky to have been able to experience everything I did these past few months, and to have met all these amazing people, but I never planned on it being this hard to say “na shledanou.”

I don’t want to leave, but there are definitely some things I am looking forward to about being home again. I’m excited to see my friends and family, and sleep in my own bed, for free water at restaurants and public bathrooms that don’t cost money to use, to eat Panera mac and cheese, and make Christmas cookies, even though it will already by January, and then to finally go back to New Paltz in less than a month. There’s a lot that I am happy to be able to do again, but there’s even more that I’ll miss. I’ll miss walking down the cobblestoned streets on my way to class, always being surrounded by other languages and cultures, living in a city filled with history, and having something new to do each day. Living in Prague was an unforgettable experience for me, and it’s one that I can’t really describe. In four months, I made countless new friends, learned a new language and travelled to seven new countries. So even though I’m sad to leave, I’m incredibly happy thinking of all the memories.

Even though I left Prague today, I have two more weeks before I have to say goodbye to Europe. My sisters have been in Prague for the past three days, and today we’re meeting our parents in Munich, spending Christmas in Salzburg, and finally New Years in Paris before flying home. It should be an awesome vacation and it will be fun to have a few more weeks in Europe without the stress of school to worry about. After that, it’ll be back to good ‘ole America!

Taking a walk through Petrin Hill on our last night

Taking a walk through Petrin Hill on our last night

Christmas Markets in Old Town Square

Christmas Markets in Old Town Square

Showing my sisters the Castle Complex

Showing my sisters the Castle Complex

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At the Staropramen Brewery tour

At the Staropramen Brewery tour

One last family dinner before we left

One last family dinner before we left

‘Tis the Season

I’ll admit, not being home for the holidays is a bit weird. It was hard to see everyone’s pictures on Facebook about going home for Thanksgiving Break and seeing their friends and family, knowing you’ll have a 3 hour class the morning of Thanksgiving. But the ECES office went out of their way to organize a great Thanksgiving Dinner for all of us here at a fancy restaurant on the river. It was sort of like a Czech take on American Thanksgiving food, but nonetheless it was yummy. I Skyped my family in the afternoon, and everyone at the dorm got dressed up, then went to the restaurant where we met up with the kids from the other dorm for a combined dinner. Zuzanna, Eva, Ivana, Jitka, and the Dean of Charles University were all there too and we ate turkey, stuffing, bread, corn on the cob, potatoes, and some other foods. There was strudel instead of pie for dessert which everyone agreed was the thing we missed most from home.

Last week it snowed for the first time all semester, which I was very excited about. The only problem was that the night before there was freezing rain which froze the lines above the trams. They were sparking all over the place, which was actually pretty scary to watch. As a result, on Tuesday, every single tram in the city was out of service. Every.single.one. It wasn’t a problem because we just took the bus and the metro all day, and they put 100 more buses in service to make up for having no trams. Apparently, that was the first time in the history of the city that this has ever happened!

December 5th is when Czechs celebrate Saint Nicholas Day here. Some friends and I were in Old Town Square at the Christmas Markets that night and there were people dressed up in angel and devil outfits everywhere, even a few dressed up as St. Nick! Tradition here is that kids sing a song or recite a short poem and are asked if they’ve been good that year. Good kids get candy from the angel, bad kids are stuffed in a sack by the devil and taken to hell-or so the story goes. It’s a bit more extreme than just getting coal in your stocking! My family has celebrated Saint Nicholas Day my whole life so it was interesting to hear about Czech traditions.

Also, the city is completely decked out for Christmas and I absolutely love it! There’s markets all over the place and giant trees throughout the city. Also, there’s lights strung across almost every cobblestone street and on the light posts. It’s like a fairytale, it all looks so magical. I’m hoping to get a chance to check out some of the other markets this week. I can’t believe in 2 weeks I will be leaving Prague. This semester went by faster than I could have ever imagined. It has been such an amazing experience and I already know that I am going to miss this city incredibly once I am gone.

Prague's first snowfall of the season!

Prague’s first snowfall of the season!

Christmas Tree in Old Town Square

Christmas Tree in Old Town Square

a very Kolej Thanksgiving selfie

Thanksgiving Dinner with everyone!

Thanksgiving Dinner with everyone!

Home

Pros:

free bed

comfortable bed

closet

homemade meals

family time

friend reunions

the holidays in NY!

american coffee

 

Cons:

american coffee

Long Island accents

driving everywhere

phone works EVERYWHERE

lack of internationals

no cobblestone streets to wander

same thing, different day

So I’m home, I’ve been home for about a week. As I sit in my bed and watch reruns of the “Fresh Prince” I cannot believe that only a week ago I was sitting in a comedy club in Dublin with people from all over drinking an Irish guinness. It amazes me everytime I come home how things and people don’t change, they will always be here. Certainly people get older, move, change, but so have I and I guess after three and half months of change everyday and learning a new place, these small details seem insignificant to the larger picture. This isn’t to say home isn’t interesting or I don’t love the people in my life here, it just reminds me why I travel. It also reminds me that the same is true for other places, like Prague. Prague will always be there, some of my friends might have moved by the time I go back, or there might be a new pub next door, but places are always there for you to return to, so why not move around? Move around and experience new places.
In a little less than a month I will be headed to Malaysia for ten months. I was initially very nervous and a little hesitant about committing so much time to living in Asia, to be honest, all I wanted was to go back to Prague to live there forever and ever. Now, I could not be more convinced that I made the best decision. Prague will always be there for me, it will always be magical, but I feel that it is time to move on and explore a new continent for awhile. I travel to learn more about myself, the world around me, but mostly people. I want to understand how people live and thrive in different environments and cultural situations. My goal is to be an English teacher in Northeast America one day. Part of teaching English is to teach where literature comes from, what influences, what perspective it comes from. There is no way I could accurately and successfully teach students about literature from somewhere other than New York if I don’t experience those places and people myself, which is part of the reason travel is such an important part of my life. To be the best teacher I can be one day I need to live and breathe other cultures and I need to remember that those places that are my favorite will always be there, but to further my learning I need to move on, try something new, challenge myself and I could not be more excited to be moving to Malaysia in less than month!

More Weekend Adventures: Amsterdam, Interlaken, and Vienna

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of weekends in Amsterdam, Interlaken, and Vienna, and life in Prague. It was tiring and a little chaotic at times, but it was also more fun than I can imagine. Plus, the whole point of studying abroad is to travel as much as possible, right?

I’ll start with Amsterdam, where I went with friends over our long weekend (thanks to a Czech National for the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy). We flew out Thursday night and because we got in late, we just got dinner and went to the hostel. We stayed at the Flying Pig Uptown, which is apparently one of the most famous hostels in all of Europe. Friday and Saturday I was incredibly sick with a stomach bug, but I still managed to make it to the Anne Frank House and the Vincent Van Gogh Museum (mainly because we pre-booked our tickets, not because I felt physically up to it). The Anne Frank House was incredible. It’s right on a canal, and the line to get in stretches all the way down the street and around the corner. It’s set up so that you go through each room of the house and quotes from her diary are on the walls to describe the room and what happened there during their time in hiding. It was really interesting to see and experience first hand the set up of the house. Saturday morning we saw the Van Gogh Museum, which I loved. It was arranged so that his work is in chronological order so that you can see how his work evolves. There is also work from some of Van Gogh’s close friends and inspirations which was cool because you could see how it impacted his paintings. As an art major, I loved walking through the three floors that made up the museum. Sunday was the first day I felt well and of course it rained all day. Even so, we went to a parade for Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) which I absolutely loved (mainly because my family is part Dutch and I’ve celebrated Saint Nicholas Day my whole life). There were floats, music and Zwarte Pieten (similar to Santa’s elves) gave out chocolates and small gingerbread cookies to everyone. Sinterklaas arrived on his white horse and all the kids screamed and cheered for him as he waved to the crowd. Overall, it was one of the coolest cultural things I have seen this semester. Sunday afternoon we went to the Tulip museum and I learned the most fascinating things about the history of tulips in the Netherlands (Disclosure: I worked in a garden store and greenhouse for 4 years, hence why I thought this was all so interesting). For example, in the 17th century, the average cost of a house on a canal was the same as the price for three tulip bulbs!! Three! It’s crazy!! And luckily for us, the sun decided to come out on Monday so we were able to rent bikes and explore some of the parks throughout the city before heading to the airport to come home.

I was back in Prague for 2.5 days before hopping on an overnight bus to Switzerland with Bus2Alps. Let me start describing my weekend by saying this: if you ever have the opportunity to go to Switzerland, do it. It was the best weekend of the semester (I know I say that a lot but this was actually my favorite place I visited). We stayed at the oldest hostel in Switzerland, Balmer’s Herberge, in the small town of Interaken. My time there was spent walking to the lakes on either side of the town, hiking Harder Klum, hang gliding, taking selfless with cows, and eating as much Swiss Chocolate as my stomach would let me. It was so nice to be back in the mountains after three months of city living. Everywhere I looked my breath was taken away by the views. I can’t even describe how beautiful it was, you’ll just have to look at the pictures below.

Finally, I went on the school trip to Vienna this past weekend. It was with Eva (the same woman we went to Krakow with) and in the trip description it said that it was perfect for students interested in politics, art, and architecture, so it was perfect for me. We left Friday morning since it’s only 4.5 hours away by bus and when we got there we went on a walking tour to introduce ourselves to the city. Saturday morning we went to the Hundertwasser Haus which reminded me of Gaudí’s Casa Milà in Barcelona, then we went to the Belvedere, which as an amazing Gustav Klimt exhibition. I think I stood in front of “The Kiss” for at least ten minutes before finally moving on to another room. That night my friends and I went to the main Christmas market where we got dinner and walked around the different vendors looking for ornaments to buy. Sunday we visited the Schönbrunn Palace, where the Habsburgs used to live. I know this sounds nerdy, but it was really interesting to see because we learned so much about the Habsburgs and Maria Theresia in our Czech History class so it was cool to see the Palace in person. Afterwards we went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is similar to the MET in New York, but a little smaller and not as wide of a range of artwork. Even so, I loved it because I am the type of person who could wander through an art museum for hours without feeling bored. Vienna was a great trip to end the semester with and an even better way to get me into the Christmas spirit now that it’s December.

This semester is going by way to fast and I never want it to end. I know I’ll be excited to see my friends and family again, and it sleep in my own bed, but these past three months have been more amazing than I can describe and I know I’ll miss Prague very much when it comes time to leave.

Walking through the gardens at the Belvedere

Walking through the gardens at the Belvedere

St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna

St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

Lake Brienzersee in Interlaken

Lake Brienzersee in Interlaken

Balmer's Herberge

Balmer’s Herberge

Finally made it to the top of Harder Klum

Made it to the top of Harder Klum after a three hour hike up

Hang gliding!!

Hang gliding!!

Hangin' out on the I Amsterdam sign

Hangin’ out on the I Amsterdam sign

Down the canal from the Anne Frank House

Down the canal from the Anne Frank House

 

 

Airport Reflections

It’s my last day in Europe, for now. I say for now because I know I’ll be back, but all the same, the last day of an extended trip always feels kind of strange. Its strange because you know what you’re going home to. After three and a half months of waking up and never being too positive what the day might bring its a bittersweet feeling to be going home. I am excited to be with my family, celebrate the holidays, reunite with friends, but I will miss the thrill I get from being in another country, meeting someone new everyday, and having a sense of independence that only comes while traveling. This isn’t to say things won’t be different at home, of course things will be different. I also don’t believe I can’t find adventure and meet new people at home, but anyone who travels will understand. They will understand that hostel life can suck, but it can also be incredibly entertaining and enlightening, they will understand the fright and excitement of not being sure where you’ll be tomorrow or how you’ll get there, and they will understand the feeling one gets while traveling that makes one feel more alive than ever before.
As I sit here in the Dublin airport and think about the past three months a whole range of emotions fills me. Traveling is always a challenge that isn’t always glamorous. There are points you want to throw down your backpack, the map, call a cab to bring you to the airport and crawl home, but you don’t. You keep that pack on, you struggle to find your way, and you make it to that next hostel. Then you meet people and you start to put your “issues” in perspective again and remember how lucky you are that you have been given the opportunity to travel and see the world and you are so thankful that you are able to get lost in a foreign city, struggle to find your hostel, and have to carry a 45 liter pack around with you, because you know not everyone is that fortunate. Travel is such a wonderful thing and at the end of every trip I take I think about how much travel has made me who I am today. It has made me a more conscious, independent, and outgoing individual. Without travel I am not sure where I would be or what I would be doing, but I also know that I never want to find out. I love the person I have become through my travels and I cannot wait for my next adventure.

 

The past 3 and a half months has been filled with adventure, challenge, and new life long friends that will never be forgotten…

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Weekend Adventures: Budapest and Krakow

Since the last time I wrote, I have been traveling every weekend. It’s a bit exhausting, but it’s so fun to experience new places, people, food, and sights and I wouldn’t change anything.

Budapest was a beautiful city, and not too crowded. My friends and I decided to go caving on Saturday morning which was amazing but don’t do it if you’re the slightest bit claustrophobic. We were army crawling about 85% of the 3 hours we were in the cave. We got to wear these ridiculous jumpsuits with helmets and headlamps, we got nice and dirty (all the rocks were covered in clay), and we had the time of our lives. Afterwards we headed over to the Széchenyi thermal bath to relax. The warm water felt absolutely amazing on our tired muscles. The best way I can sum up our time at the baths is to say this: imagine fifty adults swimming in a giant whirlpool, laughing hysterically as the current whips them around in circles time and time again. That is what we did for about 2 hours and it was the best way I can think of to end our day. Also, Budapest is filled with bars made in old World War II ruins. We went to one called Szimpla Kert and it was such a cool place. Each room was unique and it had decorations similar to a hipster coffee house in most rooms. My favorite part was the projector playing videos of baby elephants running in the ocean while Russian rap music played in the background. It was one of the coolest places I’ve ever hung out in and if you ever find yourself in Budapest, it’s definitely worth paying a visit to.

The next weekend I went on a school trip to Krakow. The first thing we did was take a tour of Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which was hard to see emotionally and psychologically, but at the same time was extremely powerful. I can’t really put into words what I felt as we walked around that morning, but it was definitely had a huge impact on me as we walked around. Then we got back on the bus and went to Krakow, where we had free time for the rest of the day. There was a guided walking tour of the city the next morning where we went to the Schindler Factory, the Jewish Quarters, the Wawel Castle and Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint Francis, and Saint Mary’s Basilica. Krakow was a small city but it was filled with all young people and students. The food was cheap and the pierogies were absolutely mouthwatering. My favorites were the ones filled with onions, potatoes, and cheese. I could’ve eaten them for every meal of the weekend. Experiencing a school sponsored trip was great too because our guide, Eva, was so great, I got to stay in a hotel with a really comfortable bed and delicious breakfast buffet, and  I got to do activities I wouldn’t have been able to do or thought to do on my own (i.e. Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mine). Krakow was never a place I imagined I would visit, but I am so happy that I did; it was one of my favorite weekends of the semester.

Sitting on the Chain Bridge that connects the Buda and Pest sides of the city

Sitting on the Chain Bridge that connects the Buda and Pest sides of the city

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Caving adventures!

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Inside the Wawel Castle

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cheesin’ with the Krakow Dragon