Week 15

I am officially half-way done with finals, and I am somehow still alive. This week I turned in my final essay, had my final for the class I am taking with my program–History of Flamenco–and then this morning I took my Arte Prehispanico final.

It is weird thinking back to before my finals and remembering how I thought it would literally be impossible to study and take them, yet here I am with two down and two to go. My weariness and despair culminated on Monday when I just lied in bed and cried from a combination of the stress and receiving some bad news from my academic advisor (more on that later). I still don’t feel much better, but now I can actually see the end in sight.

Since I have the weekend ahead of me to study I decided to give myself the night off and I put some of that free time to good use and uploaded the pictures to the Munich and Prague posts! When I was updating the posts I also remembered one of the funniest stories from the whole trip that I had completely forgotten about!

Since no one in Spain really speaks English I have gotten accustomed to saying whatever is on my mind when I’m out with my friends from my program. I generally don’t go around saying absurd or obscene things, but here I feel comfortable telling my friends that the clothing in a store is overpriced, or talking openly about my personal problems while in public places, or commenting on how well dressed someone is even when they are right in front of me. I probably am overly concerned with not saying things that are of “bad taste” or too personal out loud, so it has actually been very liberating talking so freely.

Anyway, one day in Prague Sarah and I were looking at the watercolor paintings on Charles bridge and I lingered really long at one stand and was pretty much set on getting a painting there, but in the end I couldn’t commit and decided I didn’t want anything. Rather than being honest and just saying I didn’t want anything, I decided to take the “easy way out” and say I needed to think more and ask if he would be there the following day, to which he said probably not. Feigning disappointment, but inside happy and relieved that I successfully had adverted the situation, I walked away.

The next day we took the same bridge to the other side of the city, and low and behold the artist DID decide to come the following day. Unable to face him and my lie I panicked, shot towards the people closest to me, and began walking awkwardly close, trying to hide myself behind them.

Sarah, confused about why I was being so weird (I was extreeeemely close to them), asked me what I was doing. I told her “The painter is here! I’m walking with this couple so he doesn’t see me.” Next thing I know the two ladies (not a couple) I am walking with stop and give me the strangest look, and I realize they understand English!

Caught off guard, I turned bright red and explained the whole not-being-used-to-people-understanding-English thing and tried to laugh it off, but they were not having it. The situation at this point was fairly awkward because I am still walking right with them, so I just mumbled something and veered sharply away.

Lessons learned: I should probably get my free speech under control before going back to the US or I could put myself in more awkward situations. I also probably don’t need to go through the whole elaborate story making process just to get out of buying a painting, “no thanks” is sufficient. (In fact I have decided I need to be more honest and say what I feel in general)

I am going to save the dramatic advising story for the Spanish academics post because it is late here and I don’t want to get myself all worked up again right before bed; also, I don’t want to keep being such a downer in all my posts, so I think it’s better I put it all my complaints into one all-inclusive post and then be done with them!

Since it is 1am here, I am officially under a week left in Sevilla. Just a week before I felt like the end was never coming, and now it is fast approaching and I can’t believe it. A lot of my friends from various other programs are getting home now, and it is so weird to think how one day I will leave Sevilla and the next day I will be back in Austin, back to normal life, and I imagine all of this will feel like a dream. It all changes so abruptly.

I am starting to think that the reason I am so ready to go is because it doesn’t seem like the end ever actually will come, but until Tuesday gets here and until I am done with my finals, I am ready for the week to hurry up and I am ready to go home.

Prague: Part II

In our hostel we are staying in an 8-person room because it is the cheapest, so each night we can be with any random 6 people. When we got to the hostel on Thursday, we were the first moving into the room, so it kind of made it feel like this is OUR room, and all incoming guests were therefore intruding into OUR room. Luckily our possessiveness wasn’t a problem because all the people were generally nice and so we figured we would let them stay in our room.

(Near the river in Prague)

One night a pair of Australian guys came and they were nice so we let them stay in our room. When they first met us they were like “whoa, let me guess, you are from the U.S.” because apparently they say I have an accent (I never really thought I had an accent but everyone here says I do). Anyways, we started talking and they were really nice and funny and they asked us to go out to the bar with them that night, but Sarah and I had to study (I don’t know what for since I don’t have finals, right?) so they went on a pub-crawl our hostel advertised.

That night when they got in they were a huge mess and they were still rowdy from being out. One of the guys left to use the bathroom or get water or something and got locked out so he started knocking on the door. I eventually ended up answering and he was super apologetic and then he went and punched his friend and said “Why didn’t you answer the door!?” and his friend said “who was it?” to which the locked out guy yelled “me you dumb ass!”.

(River and Charles Bridge)

I feel like this story isn’t as funny typed out, especially since I had to explain so much, but all the people in OUR room started laughing.

Anyways, that morning we had breakfast and then headed to the castle quarter to do some more touring. On the way we walked across Charles Bridge, which was covered with street performers, artists, and bands. In the castle quarter we visited the St. Vitus Cathedral, which was my favorite, Golden Lane, a small street with tiny old shops, a couple other small churches, which weren’t very interesting, and then a medieval castle that had a hallway so big that they used to have jousts in it!

An interesting fact I learned along the tour was that Prague used to have a Defenestration law. According to this law, if a government official wasn’t behaving appropriately it was legal to push them out of a window, and what is funny is that people actually took advantage of the law. ­­­­ I were a government worker during this time I would avoid all windows at all times.

 

After seeing all the sights in the castle quarter we headed to the markets to buy a side of some potato dish that was covered with cheese for our breakfast sandwiches that we saved for lunch (we really are being penny-pinchers on this trip).

(Stained glass window in the Cathedral)

The night before the Spanish guy I had met on the plane had e-mailed me about meeting up, and we were planning on going to a café after lunch, but by the time we finished it was too late to meet them, so we ended up making plans to meet up that night. So after a short nap we woke up and met with them and then walked to a restaurant to get drinks and talk.

(Giant hall that had jousts)

We ended up talking about the school systems in the US and in Spain after they asked us to go out with them and we said we were going to study. I could go on and on talking about the differences in the system and which one is better/worse, but I would probably end up writing a 5 page pointless rant (particularly because I am so frustrated with my finals situation), so I will save talking about the differences and complaining about their system for a separate post. These posts are about my travels and I still refuse to face the reality of my classes and finals in Spain (but seriously…I really am going to give this topic its own post, partly so you can see I am not just being whiny about these finals, partly just so I can

complain).

(View of Prague)

We hung out with the Spaniards for a few hours then parted ways after making plans to meet up the next day to go out for some classic Czech cuisine.

(Me and Sarah with Prague in the background)

For our last day in Prague we didn’t really have any big touring plans (because we had been such efficient tourists the first few days!), so we just wandered around and tried to hit some of the smaller sites Rick recommends.

(Delicious sugary cinnamon thing I was talking about)

(Cooking said sugary cinnamon thing)

We crossed Charles Bridge again to get over to the other side of the river and then we wandered around some parks and markets in the Little Quarter; from there we walked to the John Lennon wall.

In 1980, John Lennon was murdered, this wall was spontaneously covered in graffiti saying things like, “all you need is love” and “John Lives” in Czech. Each day the Soviets would come and paint over the wall, only to have to repeat their efforts the next day after more graffiti popped up over night. Today the wall is still covered in graffiti and a lot of tourists (like me and Sarah) go by to take their pictures and sign the wall.

(John Lennon wall)

From the John Lennon wall we headed towards the Klementinum to check out the “largest library in Eastern Europe.” Being a nerd, I was extremely excited to see so many books in one place and to take pictures, but we went to the sight only to find out it was closed for reconstruction.

At this point it was extremely cold and windy, so Sarah and I decided to get hot chocolate in a café just so that we could sit inside and get out of the cold. We still were being penny-pinchers, so we just ordered hot chocolate (which was AMAZING! It was so rich and then it had the best homemade whip cream on top), and then we decided to eat our breakfast sandwiches at lunch.

(Park)

It probably is frowned upon (okay, it is definitely frowned upon) to bring outside food into a restaurant and eat, but Sarah and I were trying to be cheap and it was sooooo cold outside. When we whipped out our breakfast sandwiches and started eating, we got strange looks from the waiters, but rather than put away our sandwich and just eat later, we decided to yell things loudly at each other and pretend like we were in a fight so maybe they wouldn’t come up and bother us.

Overall the strategy worked, although it was slightly uncomfortable/embarrassing, but since we started our Big Trip and spent hours walking around in the cold, I have really lost concern for what is “socially appropriate” in favor of being warm and cheap.

(National Theater)

After enjoying the warm restaurant and our amazing hot chocolate, we headed to our Christmas concert! With the cold weather and Christmas markets and decorations, I have really been getting in the Christmas mood, so I was excited to hear some carols and maybe sing quietly along. The theater with the concert was beautiful and the songs the orchestra and choir played were really pretty, but unfortunately they were all Czech Christmas songs!

(Theater for the advent concert)

I guess this is one of those examples of being American-centric and I shouldn’t have thought that another country would have the same Christmas song as us, but I thought that maybe they would play a Nutcrackers song or something that is Christmassy in all cultures. At the end of the performance the conductor turned around and played some song that I assume is a well-known Christmas carol in Czech. Obviously I had no idea what the words were and I didn’t recognize the tune at all, but I wanted to feel the Christmas spirit and fit in so badly I pretended to know the song and mumbled along with made up words. Although it was kind of disappointing not getting to hear a carol I recognized, I really enjoyed the music and it going to a concert in Prague was a pretty cool, unique experience!

(Me and Sarah after the concert)

The Spaniards met us outside of the Theater after the concert and we walked over to a small pub, recommended by my buddy Rick, to have goulash. Sarah and I split some goulash and a cucumber salad, and we mainly kept to ourselves over dinner because we didn’t have the energy to talk in Spanish and they were discussing how they are more proud to be Catalan than Spanish and other Spanish-people-problems, so we didn’t really have much to contribute anyways.

(Goulash)

After dinner we said our goodbyes and then headed to the markets to have one more amazing cinnamon dough thing dessert before going back to the hostel and watching the Nutcracker on youtube and going to bed.

Prague

After waking up at 5am Thursday so that we could walk to the bus to take us to the airport to catch our 8am flight, we finally began our Big Trip (that is what we called it before it was even an official plan). Everyone in my group is taking advantage of a couple days off this first week to make a giant trip and travel. When we were on the bus headed to the airport, two of our girl friends from our program ended up getting on the the same bus because they were catching a flight to Dublin, so we made our way to the airport and through security together.

First we flew from Sevilla to Barcelona where we had a two-hour layover before our flight to Prague. On the flight to Prague I ended up sitting in a row of Spaniards from Barcelona who were headed to Prague to visit a friend studying there. We ended up talking most of the way there (between my naps) and I gave him my e-mail so that we could meet up once in Prague. I was surprised that after heading so far from Spain I still ended up speaking Spanish!

(chocolate store we found)

Once in Prague we had a complicated journey on the bus, through the metro, and into the center of town to find our hostel (it always seems to turn out this way!). After a couple hours we finally managed to find where we were staying and check in. During the flight I read Rick Steves’ book on Prague (obviously), and when we got to the hotel I started looking up things to do in Prague. I found that the National Theater in Prague was putting on the nutcracker and advent concerts, so Sarah and I headed to the Theater to try and buy tickets.

(Castle Quarter across the river)

It gets dark extremely early in Prague, so although we checked into our hostel around 330, it was already nighttime when we walked out in search of the tickets. Sarah and I picked our destinations for the big trip because we read about amazing Christmas markets that these cities have in December, and when we walked out of our hostel it was like walking into Christmas land! Everything was strung with lights, there was a Christmas tree in every plaza, and we kept passing markets selling ornaments, sweets, hot cider, and everything Christmas!

(Statues on Charles bridge)

Prague is a beautiful old city, with a lot of pretty old buildings (they came out of World War II with almost zero damage) that added to the dreamland atmosphere. On the way to the Theater we passed a cute chocolate store so we made a pit stop. The store was filled with antique chocolate boxes and tons of amazing looking chocolates, so I bought a couple of things for gifts and then picked out a bag of chocolates for myself. Once we made it to the theater we tried buying Nutcracker tickets, but there was only standing room left, so we ended up getting tickets to the Christmas concert on Sunday, which I was equally excited for.

(Street near the markets)

We walked around the city taking pictures and ended up coming across the infamous Charles Bridge, so we walked along that and then headed back towards the Christmas markets. It is hard to put these markets into words, except to say they are basically like my heaven. The whole market is filled with the amazing smell of these cinnamon doughy desserts, everything is lined with garland and lights, and all the little stalls are selling cute ornaments and fun little Christmas gifts.

(Christmas tree in the market)

We bought an apple cider and wandered around a while admiring all the ornaments and gifts before deciding to spend our crowns on a giant sausage/hot dog and some weird potato thing that we decided had sauerkraut and gnocchi in it. We headed home pretty soon after dinner because we were tired from traveling.

(Horses and the Christmas market)

The next morning we got a pretty early start and headed down for our free breakfast in the hostel (unlimited cereal and a sandwich, it was amazing). After approximately 5 bowls of cereal (I had to get my moneys worth! And I haven’t had cereal in months), we headed for our first touring activity: the Jewish Quarter. On the way to the Jewish Quarter we ended up passing the Astronomical Clock, which is another infamous symbol of Prague. The clock is giant and dauntingly complicated keeping Roman time, Bohemian time, it also has a dial to show the location of the sun/moon in relation to Prague, another showing Zodiac signs, and finally a list of the Saints names to show whose day it is.

(Astronomical clock)

In the Jewish quarter we saw a number of Synagogues, the most interesting of which was the Pynkis Synagogue. This synagogue’s walls are lined with names of all the Jews from Prague who disappeared during World War II. Each name is listed with the Family name, date of birth, and last date known to be alive. Apparently while the country was under Soviet control, the Soviets came in and attempted to wipe off all the names, which can be seen in one section of the synagogue which has only the original paint, but the other names were all redone.

(Each saints name on the clock)

This synagogue also contained artwork that young students did while in the nearby concentration camp, Terezin. A teacher in the camp had students draw pictures to express what they were feeling to help them cope, the result of which was really moving drawings that show the young children’s perspective.

Included in the Jewish Quarter is also the Jewish cemetery, which is filled with topsy-turvy gravestones, piled almost one on top of the other. The Jewish people were only allotted a small, limited area of space for their cemetery and the Jews believe that once buried, bodies shouldn’t be moved; so with such little space the Jewish people were forced to essentially layer their dead in the cemetery. Over time the cramped burying caused the graves and headstones to create a hilly landscape that looks like it is from a macabre cartoon.

(Jewish Cemetery)

After the Jewish Quarter Sarah and I just wandered around and took more pictures of all the beautiful buildings. We ended up returning to the chocolate shop we found the first day and picking out another bag of chocolates, and then we stopped at McDonalds to have our breakfast sandwich for lunch with some French fries. For dessert we walked out onto the street and had one of the little cinnamon things that make everything smell like heaven (don’t judge! I saved the chocolates for dessert after dinner!), and they were amazing!

They are made by wrapping dough around a giant rod that is rotated over a fire, which toasts the outside of the dough while leaving the inside nice and gooey. When you order one they take the dough things off the fire and then immediately coat them in a cinnamon sugar mixture inside and out, and then they are ready to eat!

Although it was dark outside after our lunch, it was only 430, so we ended up walking around trying to find things to do. We decided to go to the Communist museum, which shows old Communist propaganda, and it had a displaying showing how a grocery store looked with the uniformed packaging and plain products. After our day of touring we wandered around the big Christmas market again, bought a few ornaments and ate another giant sausage/hot dog for dinner.

(By the river)

Traveling in a country that doesn’t speak English, but doesn’t speak Spanish either has been really weird. I am so used to speaking Spanish that if someone doesn’t speak English I immediately start talking in Spanish, which obviously wasn’t helpful in Prague. Since I speak Spanish, I am not used to not being able to communicate what I need or want even when I am in a foreign country; luckily, sign language has sufficed for my needs in Prague.

(Cookie Booth)

The hardest has been trying to find people willing to take a picture of Sarah and me. Since we are traveling without anyone else, it is hard to get pictures of us in front of monuments things together. While in the Christmas market we stopped on lady and asked if she could take our picture (while also using hand signs) and I don’t know if we did some hand sign wrong or what, but she responded by looking at us funny and then kind of backing away….now we generally try to find English speakers to take our pictures.

(Big tree in one of the markets)