Just a twenty-something living the dream, trying to check off the bucket list, one entry at a time
So, right now, I’m sitting at a table in Dunkin Donuts, avoiding homework and studying. By all accounts, my life is back to normal. Spring break is over and I’m gearing up for the final stretch of my sophomore year.
Except it’s not. Because on Sunday at 11 p.m., I returned to State College from the most amazing 10 days of my life. Instead of going home for break like I usually do, I spent my vacation time on an embedded study abroad program in the Czech Republic.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Travel changes a person. It forces you to examine your perceptions, prejudices, ideals and beliefs. It forces to you throw away everything you’ve ever known. And hopefully, if you do it right, it changes your life forever.
The Thursday before Spring Break officially started I, along with 12 of my classmates, flew from Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. to Charles de Gaulle in Paris. We then flew from Paris to Prague. Finally, at 12 p.m. Prague time we arrived.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, the course of international travel never did run smooth (ok, I’m taking some artistic liberties here) and Air France conveniently forgot to load our entire flight’s luggage onto the plane. So, we were in Prague, but all our clothing was still in Paris.
But, despite this hiccup, I couldn’t help but still be wildly excited because I WAS IN PRAGUE. For a severely wanderlust-infected girl who’s never been to Europe, this was pretty much the coolest thing to ever happen to me.
After a particularly frustrating time of attempting to get our cellphones and SIM cards set up, we headed off to our hotel, which was conveniently located across the street from the US Embassy. After a quick meeting with the press attaché from the US Embassy, we finally set off for dinner. By this time, we were hungry, exhausted and cranky. We hadn’t showered in a while, we didn’t have our luggage and we had just spent about 9 hours (not accounting for the time difference) traveling across the ocean.
But, as soon as we were wandering the gorgeous Prague streets and sitting down to dinner, it was all ok. The restaurant our professor chose was a traditional Czech kitchen, and let me tell you, the Czech know how to do dinner right. Some of their main staples are bread dumplings, potato pancakes, beef, pork and various sauces. It’s all delicious, especially the beef goulash I sampled that night.
But, besides their food, the Czech are famous for their beer, namely their Pilsner-Urquell. Beer is a major part of the Czech culture. When meeting a friend for a drink in the Czech Republic, the point is not to get drunk, but rather to enjoy good beer and good conversation. The drinking age is 18 in the Czech Republic, so of course we all sampled the local fare.
When we returned to our hotel after dinner, we were told our luggage was en route (talk about the absolute best feeling in the entire world).
The next day, we simply wandered around Prague, taking in the sights, sampling the local street food and generally having a blast. Already, I could tell that this trip was going to be amazing. Not only were the sights beautiful and the culture rich, but I was with a great group of people. I spent almost every hour of 10 days straight with these people, and I can honestly say that they’re some of my best friends. Each and every one of those 12 other people brought different and wonderful ideas and perspectives. I wouldn’t have wanted to explore this beautiful country with anyone else.
On Saturday, we saw the Prague Castle (the official residence of the President), the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the Jewish Quarter and other parts of the city.
Fun story about Saturday. So, Old Town Square is filled with street artists and performers who showcase their talents and attempt to make a living. As we were walking through the square on our way to find some food, we stopped to take a few pictures. As we were standing there, a street artist came up to me and offered to let me hold his pigeon. I (being slightly terrified of birds) emphatically said no. Well, that didn’t stop him, so he stuck his pigeon on my arm. He then proceeded to stick another pigeon on my arm and use my phone to take pictures. I, of course, was still saying no and firmly asking him to remove his pigeons. After standing there terrified for a few moments, he finally removed his wretched birds. And then attempted to make me pay 2 euros for traumatizing me. To which my response was a resounding and emphatic “hell no.” So kids, if you ever go to Prague, beware of pigeon-wielding street artists.
Sunday was spent in Hlboka and Cesky Krumlov, where we felt like we stepped into a fairytale as we explored castles and towns that looked like they were straight from a Disney movie. Except, it was much better because every single view was real. Cesky Krumlov Castle is famous for its bear moat. Yes, you read that correctly. Bear moat. As in, the people of the castle kept bears in a moat where they would simply send the prisoners and let the bears do the dirty work. And yes, the bears are still there today. Sadly, the bears decided to be difficult and were hiding in their habitat when we were at the castle. But, no matter, I can still say that I visited a bear moat. So take that.
Sunday night, we did Europe right by spending the night in a sports bar watching Sparta Praha and Pilsen, the two premier teams in the Czech Republic. We were going to get tickets to see the game, but they were unfortunately all sold out. But no matter, we had just as much fun watching on TV. Of course, the bar we chose was the one bar in the entire city where the hot game to watch wasn’t Sparta Praha, but the Roma vs. Napoli game. We shared the bar with a bunch of Italians, but we had some cool conversations with them, so we realized that no matter where we are, we were having a great time.
On Monday and Tuesday, we suited up in our business clothes and visited the Czech Senat, Czech Google, CT24 (the European version of CNN) and Ogilvy.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent traveling the rest of the country wit overnight trips to Brno and Ostrava where we talked with Czech University students in Brno and then watched an our professor’s friends’s band play in a bar in Ostrava. Let me tell you, doing a “We Are” in a bar in Ostrava and singing along to Jackson 5 was one of the best memories of the trip.
Saturday was our free day where we wandered the city, did some souvenir shopping, visited the Museum of Communism and found an off the beaten path restaurant for dinner. Our last night in Prague was one of the best of the trip. I feel so connected to my new friends. We spent all of dinner sharing stories, swapping memories and talking about our dreams and goals. After dinner, we grabbed some champagne and toasted our last night by standing on the Charles Bridge overlooking the city and the river all lit up at night. It was one of those mementos that was purely magic and unforgettable. I can’t even put into words how happy and grateful and blessed and lucky and fulfilled I felt that night. It was, simply put, magic. There’s no other way to describe it, and any attempt would feel inauthentic because it couldn’t capture the pure human beauty of that moment.
My 10 days in the Czech Republic were some of the most fulfilling and wonderful days of my life. For a first trip to Europe, it was pretty damn perfect. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to my “normal” life. The Czech Republic is a gorgeous country that has so much to offer despite it only being the size of New York. This is a country that didn’t even exist 25 years ago. This is a country that is still shaking off the last cobwebs of the Soviet era. This is a country that has sparked a fire in my soul and a longing in my heart. I’ll be counting the days until I’m in the Czech Republic again and I’m already looking for ways to go back.
“People can live a hundred years without really living for a minute.” – Logan Huntzberger.
Guess what? I lived during that trip. I lived.
In Omnia Paratus.
P.S. If you’d like to read more about my trip and my classmates’ experiences, check out our daily blogs: https://sites.psu.edu/czech/category/blogroll/mary-chuff/