Thursday, August 28, 2008

Prague 2008: Day 10 (1 July)

I profusely apologize for the delays in getting the day-by-day of my trip to Prague posted. Admittedly I've been lacking in my ability to get sufficient time on the computer to be able to write the play-by-play, but I believe I should be granted a bit of leeway. For two weeks I was without internet access at my place of residence, which therefore prevented my being able to log on and post new entries in my blog, let alone post pictures to go in the blog. Thank you for your time. Now, without further ado, we return to your regularly scheduled blog.

After breakfast I did my Czech homework because I was a bad girl and hadn't done my homework the day it was assigned. Class was difficult, as could be expected on the second day of learning a language.

Megan and Annelise showed us a traditional Czech restaurant they had found. Since I had spent almost all of my money in Brno and hadn't been able to figure out my Fleet card yet, I ate a frugal supper of onion soup and a soda. The soup was very good, though, especially since it had cheese on the bottom! We returned to the brewery for dessert. Some of the girls ordered a glass of port because we couldn't remember what it was that Michelle had for a drink the last time we were there. To put it simply, the port was wonderful. Stunning. We also arrived early enough in the evening to see just about all of the dances. There were more big tour groups there, including one from Spain. Most of Europe was still celebrating España's win in the finals, so the band played "Olé, Olé" and what I can only suppose was the Spanish national anthem. Alicia and a couple other girls left early, but they missed one of the best sights of the night: one little, old, drunk Spanish lady was dancing her heart out, using her Spanish flag as a bull flag and as flamenco skirts. She came over to our table andtried to get us to stand up and dance with her. Christine and I stood up and did dance a little bit. We then managed to have a very broken conversation with her, and with the aid of a paper napkin we showed her the states we lived in and she showed us that she lives due west of Madrid along the border between Spain and Portugal. She asked us if we had boyfriends, and when she found out we didn't, she exclaimed that it was okay, because we were powerful. Then, with another cry of "España!" her group departed.

My Old Prague Onion Soup.

Palačinka Praha (Prague Pancakes). Mine had strawberries and grapes inside/below the pancake.

The dancers at the brewery in their traditional costume.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Prague 2008: Day 9 (30 June)

Being Monday, this was our first day of classes. I was signed up for two, both of which would be meeting that day. First was history, and it was a long trek up the stairs from ground floor up through the first and second floors before we reached the third floor. The professor had an utterly unpronounceable name and very broken English. She did her expected professorial ramblings about herself before handing us a syllabus and announcing that she was taking us on a field trip, but not before she got more money so that she could make sure that we would all be able to get in at Vyšehrad. Only problem was, by the time we got there, it was time for four of us to turn around and go back to school so that we could go to Czech Language class. We hurried through the public transportation, being stopped once as we got off the metro at school to prove that we had our transportation passes. Back up to the third floor we hurried, somehow only getting to class 15 minutes late.

Czech class went a little easier, although the professor enjoyed confusing us and scaring us by speaking in far more Czech than we could ever hope to understand in our first class. The first class was mainly the sounds of the language and how they are perceived and categorized, along with some of the most basic vocabulary. I don't think I need to describe how much I enjoyed geeking out about all that and the sorts of deductions I made about the language and its sound system. I read a quote once about Slavic languages: "Whichever Slavic language you choose to learn, go ahead and follow your heart, because your head will hate you anyways." The quote is right. As opposed to the two genders I'm used to in Spanish, Czech throws in a third gender: neutral. Beyond that, there are cases. Don't ask me to explain them, because I still don't rally get it. But we're only learning nominative and accusative cases. I haven't really been able to process why they're used, I just memorize the rules.

I hung out in a room downstairs that night. Kendra taught us a drinking game called "zoo" that entails performing your own sign and someone else's while still keeping to the rhythm the rest of the group is setting. If you mess up, you have to take a drink. Obviously this gets harder the more you drink. I think I had two advantages: playing comparable (albeit non-drinking) games in American Sign Language, and the fact that I wasn't drinking. Some people wanted to play a card game, too, so I ran up (the three flights of stairs) to my room to get my awesome, random animal playing cards. I ended up being very glad I wasn't drinking, because the drink was $1.50 (20 kcz) wine which was apparently atrocious. A chair randomly broke while someone was still sitting on it, but Alex was able to wedge it back together. I went to bed about 1, the person to turn in the earliest.

Prague 2008: Day 8 (29 June)

Our fist stop on our sort-of way home was the castle Pernštejn. The first written record of it is from the 13th century. It's out in the middle of a beautiful green wood and looks everything like a proper castle should. There was a dirt road that led to a small market area before the castle proper. The whole of the castle had been built with a rock as its foundation. The castle had a bit of a split personality, though. The original construction was in the gothic style, but reconstruction and new construction after a fire added baroque qualities. One of the new baroque rooms was a formal dining room full of portraits of the family as well as family friends, like a Hapsburg emperor and his wife.

After the castle we had a long bus ride to the Moravian Karst (caves). We had about a 30 minute walk to get from the parking lot to the entrance to the karst, but it was a beautiful wooded walk along a stream. The caverns stay at roughly 48° F all year 'round. It's difficult to describe how beautiful the caves were, but probably one of the best words for them is "ethereal." There were fantastic stalagmite and stalactite formations, and we saw a crater that formed when an underground cavern/cistern collapsed on itself. After that we got to go on a boat ride through the caverns.

Our last tourist stop was in a little town called Křtiny where we saw a baroque church that is called "the pearl of Moravia." It was truly awe-inspiring, but we didn't get to see it for very long because we had our time table reformatted so that Barbora and Zdenek could visit the guy in the hospital. The rest of us had one quick final bus tour of Brno and ate at McDonald's while we waited. We then hurried back to Prague because many wanted to be able to watch the football finals in Old Town Square. Alicia was among those that went to the game, but after the adventure from trying to get to the semi-finals, I decided not to go. Everyone came back late from the game, and the cheers of "España!" went on for days.

The view walking up to Pernštejn

Inside the caverns

More inside the caverns

The newly-formed crater from the collapsed underground lake

She was waiting outside the giftshop at the caverns

The Pearl of Moravia (this picture does it no justice - it's huge!)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Prague 2008: Day 7 (28 June)

Breakfast at the hotel was wonderful. They had cocoa puffs, fruit, and a very extensive selection of pastries available. Before loading on the bus to go back into Brno, we found out that one of the guys on our trip had gone to the hospital the night before for high blood pressure (tingling in his arm). We also found out more about a guy who had fallen off the fire escape outside his room the first night in London. That guy apparently had his arm mangled when he landed atop a power generator, aside from having his pelvis shattered, a bone broken in his back, and five bones broken in his face. He wasn't going to be let out of the hospital for two weeks at minimum, and his mom was flying to London to be with him.

In any case, we were supposed to have started with a guided tour in Brno, but since Barbora and Jana were going to visit the guy with the blood pressure problems, we went to Mendel's abbey first (Gregor Mendel - father of the study of modern genetics). The abbey was really very beautiful, but there were no benches so that anyone could sit down and enjoy the garden. I got my picture taken with Mendel, but our guy on the trip that was a little bit special took the picture, so he cut off Mendel's head. I got a postcard for Miss Wagner there, so I hope she likes it.

After that we really did go to Brno town square to visit and appreciate the churches there. I think we saw four, but I'm not positive. One of them had a little naked man mooning the town hall. Apparently the architect wasn't given his promised price/fees for the church. Isn't that a nice way to be remembered? We noticed all day that more and more police were showing up in the area around the town square. We broke for about an hour and a half so we could get something resembling lunch (that's not quite long enough for a proper meal here), at which time some of us got gelato. We ate that on a bench in the town square and found out why the police were gathering: the country's first Gay Pride demonstration, to be held there on that day. The neo-Nazis, as well as one priest carrying a large cross, showed up at the demonstration to protest. The skin-heads brought eggs and firecrackers. After one firecracker went off, we hid behind a pillar at McDonald's. Unfortunately, it was also time to meet with Z. In the town square. We all made it safely back to the bus, the only casualty being a girl who had been egged while she was in the crowd (I found out later that one guy had also been pushed over by a neo-Nazi, and he had a big scab on his leg for several days). The Gay Pride demonstration was legit, so that meant that the Czech SWAT-type guys needed to be there. Everyone was talking about the riot on the bus, of course. I made an effort to keep quiet.

Our next stop was Slakov (Austerlitz), aka "The Battle of the Three Emperors." We saw a memorial there, which was actually the territory of France, so we got to stand in the Czech Republic and France at the same time. We went next to a memorial built to commemorate all of the soldiers who fought in that battle. From the Memorial of Peace to the wine cellar, someone (the other Jessica) asked me what I thought of the riot. I became rather unpopular when people found out I had conservative political and social views.

Dinner at the wine cellar was nice. I had a half glass of white wine, a half glass of red wine, and tasted two other white wines after dinner. I liked the white better than the red, and the second taster better than the first. There was a bread with a rich, flavorful lard-based spread, pork goulash, and apple strudel. My camera was starting to complain of low battery power, so I didn't get many pictures taken. The AIFS personnel didn't load us back onto the bus right away after dinner, but we were made to take a walk first, so that we could sober up a little.

Back at the hotel we hung out at the restaurant for a while, but the stress, wine, extra energy from no karate, and the frustration of being the only one with my conservative viewpoint on the trip added up for a horrendous bout of homesickness, so I headed back up to the room to have a little cry and to work out some. Alicia came back up to the room for a bit before going back down to the bar. I felt a bit better after a bath, then went to bed. Alicia was out to 3 in the morning.

Where Mendel's greenhouse used to sit.

Gregor Mendel

One of the churches in Brno

A very small part of another church

The battlefield at Austerlitz

Outside the winery