Praaaaaague

Prague was a dream. It was everything I needed and more.

At the beginning of my study abroad adventure, I thought I was going to be traveling alone for the most part. Luckily, I became very good friends with my roommate Maya. She accompanied me on most of my trips and then we planned others together. However, she was unable to go with me to Prague. So, I embarked on my second to last trip of the semester alone. It felt very strange. I kept thinking back to my solo trip to Brussels back in January. I was only a few weeks into the semester, and as I left for Prague there were only a few weeks left in the semester. It was like I had come full circle in a way, and I spent most of the plane ride thinking about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed in the last four months. But anyway…I’m sure you want to read about Prague 🙂

The Czech Republic’s currency is the Czech Koruna (Crown). It was very similar to Denmark’s currency because 1 Euro was equal to about 26 Crowns. Unlike Denmark, however, things were pretty darn cheap in the Czech Republic compared to most places in Europe. It was a nice change considering I just returned from crazy expensive Geneva.

Everything seemed to take a little bit longer since I was alone. I took a bus to a metro stop and then hopped on the metro. The metro seemed very new compared to any other metros I’ve used. It was clean and kind of cool looking. I wasn’t just surrounded by concrete walls, but by walls with cool modern patterns on them.

By the time I got to my metro stop, I was already kind of exhausted. This past week has been filled with very little sleep thanks to school keeping me busy. I slowly climbed the stairs to exit the underground thinking about how nice a nap would feel. When I got to the top of the stairs I looked up to try and find a street sign, but I was immediately distracted by…well, Prague. The idea of a nap evaporated as I looked ahead of me and saw the Prague Castle across the river. I was mesmerized. Deciding I’d find my hostel later, I walked straight to edge of the river and just stared at the castle and its surroundings. The buildings reminded me of Italy with their burnt orange roofs. The sun was beating down on me and it felt absolutely wonderful considering I’d just left windy Leiden.

I did eventually check into my hostel, but no nap for me! I couldn’t wait to get out and explore Prague, so that’s what I did. My hostel was extremely close to the Old Town Square, which was so much fun. The buildings were absolutely gorgeous. In the end I decided Prague looked like a cross between Florence and Barcelona, which is a really magnificent combination in my opinion. There was so much commotion in the square. It was surrounded by restaurants, cafes, food/beer stands, and of course there were street performers everywhere. Many people sat on the ground and chatted with their friends as the warm sunlight shone on them. It was 70 degrees the entire time I was there, which was sooo wonderful. I know my St. Louis friends and family are pretty much already enjoying those kinds temperatures, but Leiden only gets a day or two a week like that. It’s usually upper 50s here, and only half of the day is sunny. There’s always a portion of the day covered in clouds. It’s still a wonderful improvement compared to winter, though.

After spending some time in the square, I continued to explore. I was already amazed at how wonderful Prague was, but I was in for another surprise. I smelled it before I saw it. It smelled like sweet, hot caramel, and sort of like churros. When I found the source of the smell, I realized I wasn’t toooo far off. They’re called Trdelník, and they’re a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, almonds, and caramel. They were so delicious. I was totally fine with just eating those as my meals for the rest of my trip, and to be honest, that came pretty close to happening.

The next day, I enjoyed a walking tour of Prague. As usual, the guide was great. He was knowledgeable, funny, and very passionate about Prague. He took us through Old Town, New Town, and Jewish Town, where we learned about the impact Hitler and his regime had on Prague. World Wars become even more astounding to learn about when you actually get to learn about them in a number of different countries. In school, I learned about WWII in a very broad way. “This country surrendered, then this country was invaded, then that allied country became involved, and then the Americans…etc.” On these tours, I have learned about every country’s part in WWII and the suffering each country went through. It’s obviously not a very cheerful subject, but it’s incredibly interesting and eye opening.

We stopped for a break at a small place for lunch. Most people just got beer or coffee, but I was pretty hungry, and the prices on the menu were too cheap to pass up. I ordered the goulash that the guide recommended. It was pretty good considering I had no idea what to expect. Later on in the tour, the guide asked me if I liked the goulash and I told him that I liked it even though I had no idea what I was eating. “Oh, you didn’t know what it was before you ordered it?” he asked, and I told him no. He laughed and said I was “quite adventurous,” which was weird and exciting for me to hear. Four months ago I wouldn’t eat a cheeseburger with anything more than meat and cheese on it. Now I go to restaurants and just sort of go for it and order whatever. Even if I’m not a big fan of whatever it is, I finish it because I paid for it.

Our tour ended in a spot that had a lovely view of the Prague Castle. We all rushed to take pictures, and once I was done with mine I just kind of gazed at the gorgeous view. Then, a guy turned to me and said, “Hi, there! Would you mind taking a picture of us?” I recognized them from the tour and I said of course. After I was done taking pictures, I asked where they were from. They said they were studying abroad. One was from Oklahoma, and the other two were from Missouri. So of course I was all excited and said, “Ha! I’m from Missouri, too! I go to Webster University.” Then, the guy and one of the girls looked at each other slowly and said, “We…go to Webster University, too.” It turns out they were all studying at Webster’s London campus and they were on a weekend trip just like I was. It was such a crazy coincidence. We may live in a small world, after all!

I still had a large chunk of the day left, so I crossed the Charles Bridge to explore the other side of the city. The bridge was full of tourists, of course. There were lots of souvenir stands that I knew to steer clear from, and there were also tons of street artists selling their work or offering to sketch a souvenir for people. The bridge offered even more lovely views of Prague, so I took lots of pictures.

After climbing a hill to get to the castle, I wasn’t liking the 70 degree weather or the sun very much anymore. However, there was a nice breeze at the top of the hill which helped a lot. As I neared the castle, I saw an incredible view of Prague sprawling out below the castle. It was so beautiful, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand why Europe gets to be so gorgeous. When I saw the castle I kind of laughed. It was kind of an “Are you serious?” moment. It was so huge and so gorgeous and it’s so strange to think that people who live in Prague must think it’s just nothing. I keep seeing all of this beautiful stuff that people get to see every day and I don’t understand how I’m going to go home to the arch. And…actually that’s about it.

Every hour, people rush to gather around Prague’s Astronomical Clock, which really is an incredible thing. It’s the oldest, still-functional astronomical clock in existence, and it’s gorgeous. Every hour when it chimes, there’s a little show. It’s kind of like a cuckoo clock, only there are 12 apostles and 4 sins instead of a rooster. They move around like little robots, and that’s about it. The tour guide told us we should see it just to say that we saw it, but that it really was disappointing. It was kind of funny to watch people record the show with their cameras and then look down and say, “Well that was kind of silly.”

My last few hours of daylight in Prague were spent sitting in the Old Town Square and just watching everything happen around me. I watched many entertaining street performers, tried some Czech beer, and ate more Trdelník. It was actually hard to find a person who wasn’t holding a cup of beer. That wasn’t just the case in the square, either. I’d be walking down a busy street and several people would be walking past me with a plastic cup of beer in their hands. The tour guide told us that on average, Czechs get through half a liter of beer per day, per person. That’s if you include children. Without the children in the statistic, Czechs drink 1.5 liters of beer per day, per person. They really, really like their beer.

As I walked back to my hostel, the sun was setting by the Prague Castle. I have way too many pictures of that castle, but I really don’t care. It was so pretty!

Like I said before, Prague was everything I needed. I’ve been in a funk lately, and that’s mostly due to all of my conflicting emotions about going home. Prague, however, was not having that. Prague showed me that I still have two precious weeks left in Europe, and there are still many gorgeous things for me to see and incredible things for me to learn. I got on my plane back to Holland feeling much better.

The next two weeks are going to be a blur, but I am going to enjoy every moment. Today, Maya and I went to the Saturday market for the last time. Next Saturday we’ll be in Greece, and the Saturday after that we’ll be on a plane home (yikes). There’s still the Wednesday market, but the Saturday one is bigger and busier. Tomorrow we’re going on one more Amsterdam shopping trip, and on Monday we’re going back to Amsterdam for King’s Day! I am soooo excited for King’s Day. There’s already a new kind of energy around Leiden this weekend. There’s a carnival, bright orange is everywhere, and everyone is out shopping and buying extra orange to wear on Monday. It’s going to be a day full of crazy fun.

Wednesday Maya and I are going to see Pentatonix (an incredible a capella group) at the Heineken Music Arena! I really wanted to be able to see a concert in Europe, and I love Pentatonix, so it’s a win-win! Then, on Thursday we leave for Greece. We won’t be back until next Tuesday evening, which is crazy to think about. As always, time is flying. But instead of being in my funk about it, I’m just taking each day as it comes. Going home is going to overload me with emotion, but I’ll deal with that when it gets here.

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