Saying Goodbye

After Halloween I had about a week and a half left in Prague. During my time in Prague I had been working at the ECES office in Charles University, which has been a great experience. It has been so rewarding to work on the Czech side of the program that made me who I am today. It was also very inspiring to work so closely with Jitka, the director of international programs at Charles University. She has done so many great things for the international education department at such an impressive university, she is an amazing woman to get to know and learn from.

My original plan was to stay in Prague until mid December to finish out the semester working with ECES, unfortunately I was unable to get a short term visa extension and was forced to leave earlier. I decided to go to Ireland and take a TEFL course in Ireland, but was very upset that this would shorten my time in Prague. In addition, my boyfriend was leaving, so needless to say my last week in Prague was a bit of a difficult one. I not only had to say goodbye to my boyfriend, but the wonderful women I worked with, the amazing friends I had been living with, and the city I call my “home away from home.” It is always bittersweet when leaving a place, but starting a new adventure. I also know in my heart that I will be back in Prague and it will be brilliant, just like 3 years ago and just like the past 2 months. It is a magical city and I know that won’t disappear.

I was in Ireland 3 years ago, right before I moved to Prague to study abroad. I LOVED it the last time I was here and it remained on of my top 3 favorite countries. The scenery, the people, the beer, it is all wonderful on this emerald island. And it’s an island! Back to the coast, back to the beach, the sea breeze always makes me happy. Being back in Ireland has been great. And I should add, I was very nervous to travel alone. I love people around me and having someone to share experiences with, but traveling alone since my boyfriend went back to NY has been an incredible experience, I actually love it. I have met more people and shared so many different experiences with people form all over Europe than, I think, ever before and it has been wonderful. It is such a great feeling knowing I am able to travel on my own, enjoy it, smile, learn new things, and make new friends. I honestly never thought I was the type of person that could travel alone. I always figured it would be the same conversations over and over, where do you come from? where have you been? where are you going? why did you choose to travel europe? These conversations can get repetitive and irritating, but you don’t have to have these conversations. The people I have met haven’t just been interested in me as a traveller, but me as a person and it has been incredibly refreshing to witness this.

 

Saying Goodbye, for now

Saying Goodbye, for now

Going to miss this office view in Praha

Going to miss this office view in Praha

Dinner with the wonderful women of the ECES office

Dinner with the wonderful women of the ECES office

Ireland

Ireland

Feeling Wonderful on the Galway Bay

Feeling Wonderful on the Galway Bay

Life in Czech Republic

As a study abroad student I will be the first to admit that there was point a got a little too carried away in “the country count” – how many countries can I get to during my semester abroad? This happened around the spring time when the weather started getting nice and I was more comfortable traveling far and wide on the weekends. I went to places like Norway and Croatia, which were a little off the beaten path and to date two of the most beautiful countries I have been to, for both their architecture, natural beauty, and people. Despite the amazing places I saw and the great people I met during these weekends abroad I look back and regret it a tiny bit, this cut into the time I could have spent exploring places outside of Prague, but still in this country I called home. Since I´ve been back I have taken the initiative to learn more about this country, their history, their people, and the places outside of Prague.

During this quest I have seen some truly remarkable places that I never knew existed in the Czech Republic and it has been nice to see more of the countryside and less of the cities. A few weekends ago my boyfriend and I took a trip to Cesky Krumlov. For those of you that know CR at all probably know this it the second most popular tourist destination in the country, not really “off the beaten path,” I know. Nonetheless this is a place I never saw last time I was here and it must be the second most visited place in the country for a reason, right? Well, it most definitely is an absolutely beautiful little village. It sits on a unique spot on the Vltava River, where the river forms the shape of an “S.” Due to this unique formation of the river the town has lots of small bridges and waterways that makes it such a fairytale. This town is truly the most romantic and fairytale esq place I have ever been to. Visiting in late October was magical. Autumn is always such a pleasant time of the year, but autumn in Cesky Krumlov is something everyone should encounter. The colors of the buildings set with the leaves of the hills and the blue of the river is something too beautiful for words. Our hostel sat a little outside of the main town center, but right on the Vltava. The sound of the running river at night was enough to put the most agitated baby to sleep. Cesky Krumlov is a part of CR truly to be admired.

After this picturesque weekend in CK the following week was filled with reunions with old friends. My friend, Lukas, who I met during my time abroad here has also been back in CR, but living in the countryside. He decided he needed a little  city time and came to visit me and my boyfriend in Praha. It was really great to be back with a good friend in the place that we met. This was his first time back since we left in 2012 and it was interesting to walk around our favorite places together and see his emotions mirror what I felt 2 months ago when I first returned to Praha. Just as I felt, it was strange to be back, of course it was different and certainly we missed our friends we met here that are now in different places. But, it is also a lovely thing to see this place from a different point in our lives, to remember who we were when we studied here, to realize how much this place changed us, and to witness how much we have grown as friends and individuals since the last time we walked these streets.

After Lukas left on Thursday, a mutual friend of me and my boyfriend, Jon, came to visit. We know him from New Paltz and he has been traveling the world since he graduated, about 2 years ago. He decided to come spend my boyfriendś last weekend in Prague with us and of course celebrate HALLOWEEN. Halloween is such a celebrating in the states, but especially in New Paltz, we LOVE this day and I certainly was feeling a little nostalgic for it, so it was very nice to spend with another “New Paltzer.” Halloween is not a thing here, little kids don´t get dressed up, and only the very popular and crowded bars and clubs throw Halloween parties. Fortunately, the hostel my boyfriend and I live in celebrate Halloween to the fullest. It was such a great night and I realized with the right people and the right spirit you don´t have to miss things like this from home, you just need to have the energy to bring it to you.

 

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Selfies in Cesky Krumlov 😉

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The porch of our hostel on the Vltava

 

 

 

 

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Birds Eye View of CK

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Reunions!

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Forrest & Jenaaaay for Halloween

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Magical sunsets on the Charles Bridge

Culture in Prague

One of the best things about this city are the student discounts. Anywhere you go you just have to show your student ID and you will almost always get a discount. Most museums and galleries cost around 50-80 czk (about $3-4), which is great when you’re like me and have a huge list of all the ones you want to go to. Also, it’s awesome to be able to go to hockey or soccer games where tickets are only about $7-10! And that’s for good seats too!! Some friends and I went to see an HC Sparta Praha hockey game and we sat in the 2nd row which was really fun even though we lost the game miserably. I’ve also gone to see a Romeo & Juliet Ballet, and an opera called Rusalka (similar storyline to the Little Mermaid). Both were in the Statni Opera which is a beautiful building with a big chandelier and ornate ceiling in downtown Prague. It’s so nice to be able to experience all these cultural activities without breaking my wallet every time.

Perhaps the coolest thing for me so far was to attend a photo exhibition last Thursday night. As an art major, it was so incredible to experience an opening night in a big gallery. We went with Zuzana to the Dox Center for Contemporary Art around 7:00pm. The exhibit is called “This Place” and it is a collaboration of 12 photographers who lived and worked in Israel and the West Bank for a few years. When we got there we had about twenty minutes to look around at the photographs before the opening ceremony. Outside in the courtyard there was a big stage and a fire pit (which was good news for me seeing as I wore a dress and it was freezing out). The artists each stood up and talked about the project and what their work meant to them, then everyone got wine and continued to look at the art and mingle. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to speak to any of the photographers about their work, but it was still an incredible night. The exhibit was so inspiring for me, as cheesy as that sounds, and it was something I would never have gotten to experience if it weren’t for Zuzana. I’m hoping I will continue to be able to attend cultural events and performances throughout the semester but I’m starting to travel more often, and midterms are coming up soon so it’ll be difficult. Anyway, I’m off to Budapest this weekend! Hopefully it’s as much fun as it sounds!! I’ll keep you posted 🙂

One of the exhibits at the opening for This Place

One of the exhibits at the opening for This Place

My first time at the Ballet!

My first time at the Ballet!

Inside the Statni Opera

Inside the Statni Opera

Adventures around the Czech Republic

The Czech countryside is one of my favorite parts about this country. As soon as you get 15 minutes outside of the city it’s rolling hills, farms, woods, and small villages and it’s so cute. The first weekend in October I went on the ECES led  hiking trip in Bohemian Paradise, Český ráj. There was a group of about 12 of us who took the train there together and then went for an 11km hike through 2 towns and Sandstone City. On the way we talked about different Czech traditions and learned all about mushrooming (which is very popular here). We stopped for lunch then hiked around Sandstone City then got back on the trail to hike to our departing location. We played games that Czech children play at summer camp, and had a small competition to see who could build the best tree house for a forest dwarf. It was a really fun day and it was nice to get out of the city and back into nature for a while.

Yesterday, I went with a group of people to Český Krumlov, a small town in Southern Bohemia. We were supposed to take the train, but then they made us get off the train and take a bus to our connecting train. The bus was running late so when we got to the station we sprinted up the stairs to the platform only to see our train pulling away. We ended up running across the street and catching another bus that would take us to the city so even though it was a chaotic start to our day, we eventually made it. We walked around and got lunch, then went up and explored the castle and up a tower to get a great view of the city. We saw one of the bears that guards the castle too which explained why there are teddy bears in the majority of the stores we passed. Then we went shopping and each ate a nutella filled Trdelnik before walking to the train station to come home (which thankfully went much smoother than the morning trip). Overall, it was a great day trip and it was nice to see another part of the country.

Hiking into Sandstone City

Hiking into Sandstone City

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Our tree house

Our tree house

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Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov

Fairy Houses, Sandstones, and Ice Cream

During my time abroad I am not only preparing for my time as a Fulbright ETA by taking a TEFL class, I am also working in Prague as an In-Country Program Assistant for Charles University – in short I am a New Paltz representative in the ECES office and I assist the staff on various excursions throughout the Czech Republic. Getting the opportunity to work in the ECES office has been really great. From being a student at Charles, to then working on the New Paltz end of the program in the study abroad office, to now working in the Charles University study abroad office has only once again proven to me how much study abroad has shaped my life for the better. It has been very interesting and exciting for me to work in a foreign office setting. Somethings are exactly the same, but I have also learned so much more about what it means to work internationally. This experience has opened up so many new ideas about where I can take my career as an educator and I am so, so grateful for that.

 

This experience has also brought me on some pretty great excursions throughout the Czech Republic. This past weekend we went on a hiking trip through the Bohemian Paradise in Cesky Raj. A Czech university student who comes from this part of the country lead the day and it was fantastic. We hiked through the Sandstone City, I had no idea how diverse the Czech countryside was before this weekend. It was a really nice break from life in the city. Spending the past four years in New Paltz and being a big hiker my entire life city life is definitely an adjustment and this past weekend I remembered how much I missed spending days hiking around and just walking with no buildings or streets by my side.

 

We saw people mushrooming, the number one sport in the country, we built fairy houses, and stopped by a local ice cream shop. I had remembered hearing about mushrooming from the last time I was in CR, but I had never seen it in action. People actually walk around with baskets and pick mushrooms, ALL DAY! The Czech girl leading us around got very excited about this and ecstatic when she would find a mushroom herself. She actually ended up finding quite a lot and on our hike we stopped by her house, her mom fried them up, and we all had some lovely, fresh, fried, Czech mushrooms – the perfect hiking snack. She then had us pair up and have a fairy house competition. Apparently this is something people knew about from their childhood, but I had never done this – I loved it. I am doing this whenever I go hiking from now on. All in all it was a wonderful weekend roaming about the Czech countryside. Breathing some fresh crisp autumn air, fresh mushrooms, and climbing through the sandstone formations was a real retreat from Praha.

apple picking

apple picking

mushrooms

mushrooms

fairy houses

fairy houses

cesky raj

cesky raj

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sandstone city

Karlstejn Castle & Oktoberfest Adventures

Two weeks ago a group of girls from the program booked a bike tour to go to the Karlstejn Castle just outside of the castle. It was a 35 kilometer ride (about 21-22 miles) to the castle and the route went along two different rivers, countryside, gardens, and small towns. It was a beautiful ride and the weather was perfect. Once we got to the town we discovered there was a wine festival going on. Everyone was dressed in Medival clothing and there were different food and art vendors lining the path to the castle. After stopping for lunch, our guide took us up to the castle, where we walked around outside (it was too crowded to go in because of the festival), and then we walked to the train station to come back to Prague. It was such a fun way to see more of the Czech countryside.

Last week was my first week of real classes. I’m taking a history class, two art history classes, and a photography course. So far the professors seem to be nice, the workload is manageable, and there is a nice mix of American and foreign students. My film class has students from France, Spain, Croatia, Ireland, Iceland, and Finland just to name a few.

This past weekend I went to Oktoberfest in Munich with five other girls from the program and it was so much fun! We were camping at a site about half an hour away from downtown Munich which was actually a very cool experience, aside from how cold it got each night. We met people from Australia, Ireland, Germany, Britain, and so many other places at the campsite alone. The festival itself was a lot bigger than I was expecting and it was filled with people (the majority of whom were wearing Lederhosen). We ate pretzels and bratwursts, rode roller coasters, drank beer, and just walked around taking it all in. We also walked around downtown Munich a bit on Friday night and Saturday afternoon and it was so beautiful! It was definitely something I recommend everyone get experience at least once in their life!

Inside Hofbräu

Inside Hofbräu

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View of the City Hall from St. Peter’s Tower

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Bird’s eye view of Oktoberfest from the ferris wheel

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Karlstejn Castle

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Ready for our ride!

Overnight Trains, Fire Breathing Dragons, and Perogies

This past weekend my boyfriend and I took an overnight train from Prague to Krakow, Poland. Personally, I love overnight trains. The first overnight train I ever booked was when I had plans to meet my friend in Internlaken, Switzerland. I went to the Prague train station and booked my ticket a few days before I was supposed to leave. This would be my first overnight train and I was taking it on alone. But I wasn’t worried, I had been traveling all semester and how difficult could it be to fall asleep on a train alone. Well, turns out falling asleep wasn’t the hard part, booking the ticket was. It was the final departure day from the ECES program in Prague, so needless to say it was a day filled with tearful goodbyes. I was a mess crying the entire way to the train station, I actually almost missed the train completely. When I boarded the train I was walking up and down the cars trying to find my bed, I learned the hard way this is something you need to state when purchasing an overnight train ticket. I ended up booking the storage car, it was me, luggage, and bikes for a 14 hour overnight train to Interlaken, after the last night of the semester and a day of sorrowful goodbyes you can only imagine what this must have looked like. I can proudly say I have never again made this mistake and you may wonder why I love overnight trains after this nightmare. First of all this fiasco taught me a very, very valuable lesson and I am always grateful for these travel lessons, it truly is the only way you become an expert traveler. Second, once you are able to successfully book your sleeper car overnight trains remind me of home, they remind me of nights sleeping on my boat in the Great South Bay on Long Island. The movement and rocking of the train puts me right to sleep. And finally, you wake up to a new adventure, a new city, and most of the time a new country – how awesome is that?!

 

Back to the weekend in Krakow – when I studied abroad in Prague I attended the ECES school trip to Auschwitz and Krakow. My boyfriend felt a certain obligation to experience Auschwitz, which I felt and satisfied two years ago, so I decided to spend Saturday exploring Krakow rather than accompanying him.

 

Last time I was in this Eastern European city it was February and absolutely freezing, so it was nice to spend a beautiful autumn weekend in Krakow. I had a lot more time to really wander the streets which was really nice. Last time I was here we didn´t have too much time to explore on our own because we had different tours to attend and time constraints to abide by. When I travel I enjoy just wandering and sitting in parks or city squares. Tours are nice, and I did the free walking tour, but I find that I learn the most about a culture when I simply just walk around or curl up in a cafe, so this is exactly what I did on Saturday while my boyfriend was on his tour of Auschwitz.
While I was wandering around I ran into one of the boys we woke up with in our sleeper car on the train. I went over to say hello and it turned out we were staying at the same hostel, and he was already exploring Krakow with two Germans he met that were also at our hostel, so I got to spend the day with them. We went on the free walking tour of the city and met a Peruvian boy who had already been in the city for a few days. After the tour the Peruvian told us we had to follow him to this restaurant he found out about two days ago. We followed him past the main square and through the windy, cobblestone streets, into this strange building with no sign that lead to a courtyard. Then through the courtyard, down these steps, into the restaurant. It was such a cool place and had excellent fried perogies, one of the reasons I went back to Poland. Krakow is a great city with great people and I’ve learned this mostly by observing and wandering. When you travel try to sit back some days and just watch, just take it all in. Take in the people, the tourists, the architecture, think about the people that have walked, or marched, over those cobblestones and think about the stories the people you see must have.

Oh – Title explanation – Krakow’s most famous symbol of the city is a fire breathing dragon statue that sits on the river bank. This dragon breathes ACTUAL fire, it is one of my favorite statues for just this reason. There is a corny medieval legend that goes along with it that doesn’t interest me too much, but did I mention, ACTUAL fire.

Strange Head sculpture in the main square

Strange Head sculpture in the main square

Fire Breathing Dragon

Fire Breathing Dragon

Great Perogies, Great Restaurant

Great Perogies, Great Restaurant

People Watching at Cafes

People Watching at Cafes

Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle

 

Best Friends & Oktoberfest

The past ten days have been great! My best friend from home came to visit Prague and we spent four days in Munich and Bavaria to celebrate the opening day at Oktoberfest. The amount of people at Oktoberfest was like nothing I have ever seen and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of Germans that  were there. I had heard before that Oktoberfest is filled with tourists from America and Australia, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good American party once in awhile, but it was nice to see that this German tradition still remains very German. There were more people in lederhosen than not, we definitely stood out. We had traditional Bavarian sausages, pretzels, and of course the beer – it was exactly how I had imagined it, a really great day!

Then next few days we rented a car and spent it exploring Bavaria. Last time I was there my friends and I went to Neuschwanstein Castle which was absolutely stunning. This castle was Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderlla’s castle in Disney World and it is surrounded by the beautiful, snow capped mountains, so I figured I HAD to bring my boyfriend and best friend here. Turns out driving through Germany without a GPS and a map that doesn’t have the castle on makes it a bit difficult, so we actually never made it to the castle. We ended up in a Bavarian village, Garmisch and it just so happened to be the day of their annual sheep festival. It was a beautiful village in the middle of the Alps full of lederhosen, beer, and sheep! It turned out to be a very “German” experience and we had a great time. As we continued on following signs to Kempten, where we would spend the night, we ended up driving through Austria, and to our surprise the Alps were even more stunning here. It was a gorgeous ride!

What I’ve learned through my travels is that you can’t have expectations, you can’t be upset if a day doesn’t go as planned, and don’t stress about finding a landmark or museum just because Lonely Planet told you to. If you’re lost, don’t waste your day frustrated and searching, make the best of it. Find something else out of the ordinary and embrace it, it will probably end up amazing you just as much, if not more. Just keep going, look for something different, in our case, take the road less traveled. We were thrilled we did, have no regrets for not seeing the castle, and made some pretty great memories along the way. Get lost and enjoy the ride!

 

A Sea of People at Oktoberfest

A Sea of People at Oktoberfest

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Me, My Best Friend, & Bernard, our Oktoberfest waiter

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Garmisch

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Sheep Festival in Garmisch

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Sheep Festival

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Austrian Alps

 

First Impressions

Ahoj! I’ve been in Prague for two weeks already and it has been absolutely amazing. Every time I leave my room I find new streets and different buildings each unique and beautiful. The first few days we had orientation where we were shown the city and given some useful tips for the semester and then it was up to us to start exploring. In the past two weeks I’ve been to numerous Czech restaurants and pubs, museums, parks, Cathedrals, and the Strahov Monastery. We have Czech language class every day for about 5 hours which is very fast paced and difficult but definitely useful. The Czech people know that they are a small country and the only country in the world that speaks the language so they appreciate it when we at least try to speak to them in Czech. Most people do speak at least a little English but not enough to rely on to get around.

This past Friday we took a day trip to Kutna Hora which is a small town about an hour and a half outside of Prague. While there we visited the Bone Church, which is decorated with the bones of 40,000 people who died in the Black Plague. We also visited a monastery and Saint Barbora’s Cathedral, both of which were beautiful. It was nice to get out of the city and see the country side for a few hours. Our weekends have been filled with some sight seeing, farmers markets, and other fun but laid back activities. I’ve found that it’s a little e

asier to do touristy things on week days because weekends are definitely busier.

I’ll end with a short list of what random things I’ve noticed since my arrival:

1. The peanut butter tastes really good here. Actually, all the food does which is a relief. They love to put garlic in things & that happens to be one of my favorite foods

2. The dogs are extremely well behaved. Most walk around without leashes, ride the trams and metros, don’t bark and are all really cute

3. Beer averages between 20 and 35 czk (about $1-1.50 for a .5L). Water is about 20 to 50 czk ($1-$2.50)

4. Smažený sýr is a mozzarella stick the size of a brick and it’s delicious.

5. Smiling at someone is basically saying you’re interested in them/trying to flirt (which no one told me until I was 4 days into my trip, whoops)

6. Plan trips early, it will take a load of stress of your back. It’s hard on your wallet, but easier on your blood pressure. Plus, it gives you something to look forward to. But don’t plan on going away every weekend. There’s a lot to explore in Prague and around the Czech Republic too!

View of Prague from the plane

View of Prague from the plane

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My room in Kolej Komenskeho

My room in Kolej Komenskeho

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Outside of Charles University

Outside of Charles University

The view from my Czech Language classroom

The view from my Czech Language classroom

 

Weekend Adventures

Let me start this post by explaining what I will be doing after Prague. In January I will be going to Malaysia on an ETA Fulbright grant to teach in a secondary school for ten months. As pre departure prep the Fulbright committee in Malaysia has set up a Facebook group for the grantees to virtually meet and ask the staff any questions. Through this group I met another girl who is currently teaching English in PRAGUE, small world! In addition, one of the staff members from Malaysia is currently vacationing in PRAGUE, so Saturday morning we all met up for some strudel and espresso at a local cafe. It was a really great opportunity for all us to meet, share what we all know about Prague, what to do here, things to see, but to also learn about our next adventure from the Fulbright staff member. I’m starting to learn that people who travel have their own community. Although this community expands all over the world, it really does exist. The fact that the three of us were able to meet in a country that none of us originate from and discuss our plans to be in a different country, that again none of us originate from, really amazed me. I realized through this meeting that I can have lunch in Prague with these people, I’ll meet them again in Malaysia, and who knows where else our paths might cross one day. One of my favorite things about traveling, probably my number one most favorite thing, is meeting other people who travel. It open ups so many opportunities and teaches you so much, not just about the country your visiting, but about the countries of the people you meet.

Later in the afternoon on Saturday my boyfriend and I took the train to Kutna Hora, a small village about an hour away from Prague. Here we saw the bone church – a small church made up of the bones from over 40,000 people who died from the black plague. There is a chandelier in the middle of the church that contains every bone from the human body, it really is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, I love it there. The town of Kutna Hora is also a lovely place to spend an afternoon wandering around – a great relief from the city for a few hours.

Sunday we wandered around our area of Prague, Zizkov for awhile familiarizing ourselves with the local parks and monuments. The area is named after a general who never lost a battle, had one eye shot out and continued to fight throughout his life, and requested that when he die the skin of his back be made into a drum so he could continue to lead his men into battle – basically the man. If I had to compare Zizkov to a borough of NYC I’d say its the “Brooklyn” of Praha – a really fun area, a bit quirky, creative vibe, and tons of pubs. But for dinner we wandered into Old Town and got to meet up with Bruce Sillner, the dean of international programs at New Paltz, who happened to be in town for a conference. It was very nice seeing a familiar face, talking about New Paltz, and filling him in on our time in Prague and where our adventures are leading us!

 

the chandelier in the bone church

the chandelier in the bone church

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wandering around Kutna Hora

Kutna Hora

Kutna Hora

mural of Jan Zizka

mural of Jan Zizka

dinner with Dean Sillner

dinner with Dean Sillner