We had our first week of classes last week and though they were interesting and all that, I won’t bore you with all the details because I’m sure you can all imagine what an Art History/Regular History class is like. With one notable exception to that: our field trip on Friday! Our History of Berlin class is slated to go on many a field trip this semester and what better way to kick off these next few weeks of history learnin’ than checking out the brand new exhibit on Homosexualities at the German Historical Museum. That wasn’t specifically the aim of our trip but it was the special exhibit currently available at the museum so it was very interesting to explore not only Germany’s past dealing with gay rights/social reform/legal reform/culture and many other related areas, but also looking at it from a global perspective. I spent nearly all my museum time at the two-story exhibit until my stomach threatened to consume itself and I had to go grab lunch. I’ll probably go back and check it out again on Reunification Day (i.e. Free State Museum Day). The rest of the museum was equally interesting, particularly the area on WWII and the German perspective on everything. I’m glad I got to see a different angle on the same historical stories we’ve been taught our whole lives.
But enough of history: on to Prague!
What an awesome city. I loved Prague from the second I got on the bus in Berlin! Well…not really I had no conception of Prague other than that it sounded like a partially incomplete word and that it was in the Czech Republic which is no longer Czechoslovakia for those ignorant people who did not know (I did not know). Our
journey began in the bitterly early hours of Saturday at around 5am when I pulled my corpse out of bed to get ready for the trip. Of course I hadn’t really done laundry I needed to do or packed or even found my passport so it was a bit of a rough start. But everything came together and eventually I was on the tram to the bus station. I gave myself an hour and a half for the supposed 40 minute trip to the bus station because I don’t trust myself not to get lost. Thankfully I have a very good grasp on my punctuality flaws and it did take me about an hour to find thestation but I was still early so it all worked out. If you’ve never taken a bus across Europe you’ll be in for a surprising treat. The bus I took (Student Agency) was not only cheap, itwas ridiculously comfortable and had lots of fun things. We had free yummy coffee, personal TV screens with movies and shows and music, free WiFi (outside of Germany), and charging ports at every seat; thank you European tech Gods. My roundtrip ticket was around 30 euro but I ordered it less than a week before so I’m sure it’d be a lot cheaper if you ordered in advance and planned like an actual adult (unlike me). The only downside was after the 4.5hours I had transformed into a ravenous beast in search of any sustenance available.
We disembarked from the Magic School Bus (it actually was bright yellow and looked vaguely sentient) and wandered around the station area attempting to locate the public transport line that would get us to our hostel in the center of the city. It took us a few tries and some annoyed ticket window employees but we eventually made our way to the hostel and attempted to check in. Unfortunately we were too early so we just dumped the non-essentials inthe storage room and began a wandering search for food. We settled on an adorable little cafe place just across the river and had some pretty delicious Czech food. I had some sort of bacon dumpling with meat and cabbage and Bella and Riley had goulash while Betty got some kind of interesting potato thing I think. We all, of course, got the local beer and it was even better than Berlin’s! Our bill was so cheap I think I paid around 7 euros for mine including the beer and that was a normal price on the menu.
After lunch we decided to remember what elevation felt like after being inpancake-flat Berlin for the last few weeks. We had caught a glimpse of a long set of stairs leafing up to some kind of door in the hill and wandered around the base of the hill until we found some stair-like path heading up. It was quite the trek up that hill/baby mountain and when I reached the top I was glad to be wearing just a t-shirt. We stumbled upon a ruin of a castle and then on into the gardens that were not so much in ruins. I kept seeing all these people walking around that I hadn’t seen on the trail and I began to suspect the arduous expedition up the park stairs wasn’t the only entrance to the castle gardens. My suspicions were confirmed when a tour bus pulled up and unloaded a collection of camera-adorned explorists (explorer tourists). We paid a small fee to climb up into the observation tower and ascended another foot-breaking spiral of stairs up and upand up until we had the best view in the Czech Republic. It was incredible to see the entire city with it’s dappling of castles and ancient churches
gorgeous river running right through the middle. Worth the climb. When we descended back down into the park we enjoyed some well-deserved ice cream for 1 euro and wandered around a while longer until we decided to hike back down to the city and visit the massive castle we glimpsed from the look-out tower. Going down was predictably easier than going up and we were back at the start in no time. We caught up with Riley who had run off to explore the park on his own for a while and made our way towards the castle. Onour way, we stumbled onto a neighborhood festival and shared some amazing microbrews (my first taste of actual hops since arriving in Europe) and hung out with the locals. Everyone was s friendly to us it was really a nice change from Germany. When we asked the brewer guy what the festival was for he replied he had no idea but they did it every year. Bless you Prague.
The castle was pretty cool but very crowded and I wanted to get through itquickly and on to the next thing. We had been walking around for about four hours and I was ready to check into the hostel and hang out for a bit. We walked back to the hostel and got ourselves situated. The receptionist was super helpful andcircled so many things on our map of the city that we instructed to see in the next 30 hours we were there. We decided to check out the touristy Ice Bar and Music Club downtown and get some more delicious authentic Czech food for dinner. We ended up at a little restaurant down one of the narrower streets and chowed down on potatoes and meat while an accordion player serenaded us. It was super European. The Ice Bar didn’t open till 11 so after dinner wewalked along the cobblestone streets for a while and were swept up in the horde of people that had been in hiding for most of the day and now swarmed the streets on the hunt for booze and beats (like musical beats…I dunno). We paid our fee to get into the ice club and have a drink and though we were only allowed 20 minutes in the actual ice room it was more than enough and my teeth were chattering on my ice cube-turned-mug. Very touristy but worth it. We then explored the music club that was attached to the Ice Bar and danced our way through 5 floors ofdifferent genres. The dance floor was ok but kind of weird and crowded and the hip-hop/R&B floor was definitely too crowded and not really my scene. I liked the classic oldies floor the best and you got to walk through a mist curtain to get
inside. We also spent a fair bit of time up in the “chill-out” zone which was not so chill and mainly just a place for people to sit and drink while listening to more dance remixes. All in all it was a pretty stellar first day and when we finally got back to the hostel myphone’s step counter told us the daily total was 29,463 steps. Not sure how accurate that was but even if it was close that’s not too bad for being on a bus for 5 hours that morning.
Sunday was a much more relaxed day and we explored some of the nearbymarkets, the old Town Square, and a medieval torture museum. I promised myself I wouldn’t pull out any more money for the trip so it took some verycrafty budgeting and weighing of necessities (if I don’t eat lunch I can have two beers!) but I stuck to my goal and didn’t hit up the ATM again. We walked across the super crowded bridge that everyone seems to walk across in Prague and ate lunch in a little adobe cafe on the other side of the river. Then it was off to the paddleboats for an hour of splashing around in the river and evading mean geese/swansthat confused us with the boat full of pizza-indulgers that was apparently also out on the river. That was probably the highlight of the trip for me and I hope it isn’t too cold to do that again in December (I know…wishful thinking). We ended the day at a vegan festival on the river and listened to a little rock band that had set up under one of the bridges. It was a perfect way to end our amazing little trip to the Czech Republic.
After our long, delayed bus trip home (bus driver do you have to stop and take a 30 minute nap 20 miles outside of Berlin? We’re already an hour late!) we were just in time to meet up with our classmates at the Stasi prison at the Hohenshönhausen memorial site. Our tour guide was a former prisoner that was captured when he tried to cross into West Germany from the East in the 80’s. He was a very interesting guy and the prison was the exact prison in the film The Lives of Others which, if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. There were a lot of ghosts in those walls and you could feel it as you walked through.The Submarine was the creepiest part of the prison and when we entered one of the cells I could see the kind of mental torture someone would go through just living in that small windowless room. It was a somber field-trip but I’m glad we got to see the prison first-hand and hear about some incredible personal stories. It was an awesome opportunity.
About to start week two of classes and I’m ready for some more field trips and history lessons. Plus, we also start our bonus German classes this week! Maybe I’ll finally figure out what that weird advertisement with the corkscrew mustache man on the side of all the U-Bahn walls means. On to another week of German adventure!