Monday, August 9, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I won't spend much time describing events here which have gone unblogged, as there is too much to say and we would rather just tell you in person. As Katie finished up with her school program, John went for a five day trip through northern Bohemia with two delightful friends of Petra's, Robert and Hana. We took their car (courtesy of Robert's job with Lego), and headed into the Krkonoše Mountains (translates as Giant Mountains) to do some hiking into the highest parts of Czech Republic. This included a summit of Sněžka, the highest peak in the country. During this hike, we traced the border with Poland, crossing in and out between Czech and Polish lands multiple times during the ascent. We spent the week camping and hiking, eventually migrating southward to Český ráj, or the Bohemian Paradise. Here we walked among massive sandstone formations and slept in the ruins of some fortress from the 15th or 16th century. On Friday, we drove to Honza's cottage in the beautiful town of Slapy, which is about 35 km south of Prague. Here, we commenced a four-day party attended by many of our Czech friends and some new ones. It was a great weekend, but very tiring as there was much drinking, eating, and swimming. It was a wonderful way to close our visit in Czech Republic and say goodbye to everyone we have met here. Our last two days in Prague were eventful, and we concluded with a final dinner with Petra and Honza at Ambiente, a Brazilian-style steakhouse where delicious meat is served in unlimited quantities right to your plate. Mmmmmmmmmm. We ate until we could barely move, and it was beautiful. We spent our last day traveling to see a few key sights which we had neglected to visit during the month. This included the tour of Prague Castle, the ringing of the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, and Kafka's grave, which was a must-see for us. All in all, we can't think of anything that we missed here, and it has been a wonderful experience which should influence us for the rest of our lives. On to Amsterdam, then homeward bound.
Monday, July 26, 2010
I apologize in advance for the nature of this post. My brain is a piece of fried schnitzel after the amount of writing and reading I have executed during my course work. Each week, I do triple the grad school load for both my fiction workshop and the Czech lit course. The lit class is particularly tricky because I have been designated the unofficial "leader" of the class. Seriously, it's a conversation between myself, the professor, and one or two other people, should they actually show up. I know what you're thinking, "Katie, you love talking! What are you complaining about!" However, the responsibility weighs on me, particularly on the days when I rise at 6am to complete homework that I fell asleep during the night before. It's a marathon. I've been learning so much, though, both about the art of fiction from Stu Dybek and also in regard to Czech literature, which is inextricably bound to the nation's history. This is such a unique and enriching experience. I am one lucky gal.
This past Friday, I participated in a student reading. My work was well-received. I read a humorous non-fiction story about a slumber party that I went to in middle school. An unnamed individual got Taco Bell Mild Sauce poured in her butt crack. When I read the piece, a few people cried, they were laughing so hard. It was a really cool moment.
This past weekend, John and I went on a group tour of Cesky Krumlov, a nearby village through which the river Vltava runs. It was picturesque and serene, a lovely excursion. We also visited a local brewery. Additionally, we saw some great art from Egon Schiele, as well as a powerful installation piece in the local synagogue. If I weren't a few beers in, having been up since 6:30 this morning, then I would explain. We got some great pictures, and I'll tell you all about the history when we get back...
I'm fading. My apologies. To keep you in the know, though, John is traveling in Northern Bohemia with some wonderful Czech friends, Hana and Robert, who we met through Petra and Honza. They'll be climbing the highest peak in Czech Republic tomorrow! (approx. 6,000 ft.) I'm busy finishing up my school work and spending some quality pub time with our gracious roommates. This is my last week of school, and once I'm finished, we're headed out to Honza's summer cottage for some "vacation." It will be so nice to kick back after the intensity of my school program. In case you don't know, we have opted to skip Berlin in order to spend this time in the country with our Czech friends. We've built some great relationships with some of the locals here and feel it would be a richer experience to spend time with them in their true element, hence the excursion to the cottage. We'll be swimming, grilling meats, and drinking beer. I can't wait. Only one lit analysis paper stands in my way!
I'm sorry I haven't offered more play-by-play detail, but the experiences are blending as of now. All of you will hear more than you want to hear upon our return. Love to everyone! See you soon!
Friday, July 16, 2010
Since her program started, Katie has been very busy with schoolwork, doing lots of reading and writing in order to fit an entire semester’s credit into one short month! Her classes meet Monday, Wednesday, Friday, from about 9:30 to 5:00 in the afternoon. On top of this, there are various readings and lectures which she must attend at least 3 or 4 times per week. So, she is in the scholastic mode and spending much of her time reading and writing. This leaves John with a great deal of free time, which is spent sleeping, walking around, reading (working through the giant novel Infinite Jest right now…), and drinking beer. I am taking full advantage of the everyday experience here in Prague, blending in more as a solitary local than an obvious American tourist. Our living situation is in a beautiful residential area of Prague called Bubenec, about 25 minutes walk from the city center and situated between two huge parks. As many tourists spend most of their time in historic center of the city, this area is much less crowded and has a very laid-back feel to it.
We are loving our roommates Petra and Honza. They are very open-minded, easy-going people, and it has been huge fun for us to get to know them and learn what we can from them concerning Czech culture and life here in Prague. They have introduced us to several of their friends, and it is truly a great experience to sit in a pub with Czech people who are completely willing to share with us and practice their English. The Czech language is extremely difficult for us to speak, especially as my lips and tongue are simply unable to form many of the letters and vowels; however, it is still a pleasure to listen to the locals as they speak, even comprehending next to nothing. Whereas English is extremely guttural and spoken from the throat, Czech and other Slavic languages are formed with the lips and tongue. Therein lies the main problem for me, as I have always had difficulty with such linguistic techniques.
Some stuff we have been doing… One of the first things we visited was the museum dedicated to the life and work of Franz Kafka. The museum was very cool, paying homage to the surreal and somber nature of Kafka’s work. Kafka has become one of Prague’s main tourist attractions, with many foreign literature aficionados visiting the city where the author spent his life. I won’t go into a long digression on his life and works, but I highly recommend that anyone reading this should familiarize themselves with Kafka at once. He is one of the most important writers of the early modern period, and one of the greats in terms of existentialist philosophy, which really makes sense. The Czechs have a different take on Kafka though, who was Jewish (not Czech) and wrote in German (the official language of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that ruled Bohemia until 1918). His work was also banned by Nazi and Communist authorities until the 1980s. As a result of this, there is nothing distinctly Czech in his work, which distances him from the national canon of Czech literature. This is not to say that Czechs never read it, but are more intrigued by the way that so many foreigners flock to Prague to see all the Kafka stuff. OK, enough on Kafka, the museum was great.
My parents, Margie and David, arrived in Prague on July 6 after a short visit in Munich, and stayed until July 12. It was great to see some family over here in Europe after over a month, and we had a very lovely visit. While Katie still had responsibilities for class, we still took advantage of this time to see a lot of the sights in Prague. Although we were battling the oppressive heat the entire time, which necessitated frequent stops and beer breaks, we had a chance to visit some cool stuff. We walked around a lot (as per usual), checking out Prague Castle, Vyšehrad (we took a walking tour with Katie’s literature professor and thoroughly enjoyed gaining an excellent cultural perspective on this area of Prague’s mythical origin), the Jewish Museum (this encompassed 6-7 synagogues in the Old Jewish town of downtown Prague and was very enlightening toward the history of Jewry in Prague), the Alfons Mucha Museum, Municipal House, and the Petrin Tower (a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower built in 1891 which actually stands 3 meters higher in altitude than the real thing). Mom and David were staying downtown east of the Old Town, so they had an excellent spot to explore the historic center. It was nice to wander with them and show them around the city. I think they had a good time, but are glad to be back in Indiana to bear the heat wave with some AC.
Another funny story: On our first or second evening in Prague, we went out for a walk with Petra through the Stromovka park to have some beers and talk. As we walked into the park, we could hear faint music in the distance, which on first impressions sounded like Green Day. I dismissed this at first, but as we walked deeper into the park, the music became clearer and clearer, and we double-checked ourselves thinking how random it would be to stumble upon a Green Day concert here in Prague. After downing a beer and getting even closer to the noise, we realized that it was in fact Green Day, so we sat outside and listened to the final hour or so of the concert. It was over 10 years since I saw these guys in concert, back when I was in sixth grade and they were still good, so it was a pretty funny experience for us to be sitting there listening to the Billie-Joe, the lead singer, croon out a medley of pop tunes from the 70s and 80s such as “Shout.” That band has come a long way from their punk origins, and might be the poster picture for selling out in terms of contemporary popular music. It was fun to hear, but I wouldn’t pay to go in… However, the rendition of their hit “American Idiot” was perhaps proper for the setting.
There’s much more to say, but that should be a good update for now. I hope everyone is safe, and we will try to update a little more frequently for this last month of our trip. This weekend we are taking a trip out to the city of Hradec Králové for a little R ‘n R at the home of our friends Vojta and Zuzka. We plan on some beers, relaxation, and an excellent Indian meal prepared for us by Vojta, an accomplished cooker in Indian cuisine (just one of his many talents).
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Prague is glorious and I am extremely busy. Completing a semester's worth of credits in one month is pretty demanding. Lots of reading and writing, events, lunches, sightseeing tours, beer drinking, etc... This is probably the best the place we've ever been. Great people, great food, beautiful sights, oh, and did I mention the beer?
Anyway, I'm just making a quick stop in the computer lab before going out for lunch with Shana and Daniel, so I'll have to be brief. We just had a Q & A with Holocaust survivor and author Arnost Lustig. Inspiring. Heartbreaking. Even hilarious, at times. It was truly an important and unique experience. A few days ago we heard a talk by another famous Czech literary figure, Ivan Klima. He was a leading force in the samizdat movement during the Communist regime. This means that, during Communism, he and his friends found loopholes to subvert censorship through self-publishing. He is an amazing, important man.
We've seen a lot of sights, walked the town with Margie and David (so much fun!), and spent some great evenings out with our Czech hosts. My workshop with Stu Dybek is fantastic, by the way. He's an amazing teacher, and tells wonderful stories about his life and connections to the writers' community. I feel very fortunate to be one of the few students participating in his summer class. I'm learning a lot!
About the shit, it came from a bird, and it landed on my head, right in the middle of my ponytail. This was yesterday. I think it was punishment for eating in a very touristy bagel shop at lunch. I couldn't resist the triple decker turkey club. You know how I get about sandwiches. Anyway, this was a pigeon deuce of epic proportions, not your run-of-the-mill, liquid white splatter. This thing had some weight to it. And texture. And aroma. It was so funny that I never got time to be upset. John was quite amused. We took a snapshot of the stinky load for a keepsake. Worse things have happened, and it's hard to be upset in this city. We're having the time of our lives.
Miss all of you! Much love! I have to run. I see beer and fried food in my near future...
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
We have finally arrived in Prague and are already in love with this old, beautiful, easy-going city. After a long travel day from Russia, (one 6-hr train ride from St. Petersburg, a 3-hr layover in Helsinki, complete with another attractive sunburn, a 2-hr flight to Frankfurt, and 1-hr flight to Prague...whew!) we made it to our home sweet home for the next month. Our hosts are wonderful, gracious people, named Petra and Honza, who have provided an excellent room for us to stay in. We have a huge window, table and chairs, and comfortable sleeping quarters. The apartment is well-located, in a quiet neighborhood outside of the center, smack dab between two enormous, green parks. I bet you can guess the best part about parks in Prague. You've been reading the blog... That's right! They have beer! There are several pubs in each of the parks near us, and on our first day in the city, Honza us to one of them. You order beer ("pivo") from a little stand, then drink it at picnic tables that overlook the entire city. It was an amazing welcome to this wonderful European gem. I wouldn't be surprised if this ended up being the best place we've ever traveled. The beer is cold and delicious, the people are nice, what more could you want?
Petra and Honza have also been very hospitable when showing us around the area. Our second night here, Petra took us to one of the oldest bars in Prague to meet some of her friends. They were so friendly, generous, and eager to practice their English. Petra was explaining to us that Czech people really enjoy speaking English with Americans because, apparently, we're very patient with their sometimes broken sentences and thick accents. I, for one, appreciate any foreign situation in which I can use my native tongue and be accepted, even welcomed for it. I would extend the gratitude the other way. Regardless, it's great talking with young Czechs who enjoy speaking English. It's been a lovely time so far.
The general ambience in Prague is open and laid-back. The country itself bears the semblance of a young nation, despite the age of Bohemia and the city itself. This atmosphere is the result of the overthrow of Communism which occurred in 1989 with the Velvet Revolution. Czechs are a people who relish and appreciate their freedom because the presence of very real oppression is fresh in the collective memory. Even Petra, in her early thirties, remembers quite vividly how different things were under Communist rule. Her father was even demoted at his job for listening to a particularly outspoken Czech folk singer years ago. We really have no idea what this type of legacy entails in the U.S. We're lucky for the freedoms we have always had, and should appreciate them on a daily basis. The result of such awareness in Czech Republic is a very laissez-faire social attitude. It's hard to describe this difference; it's more of a feeling that appears in high relief after visiting a place such as Russia, which seems like the third world. There is a vibrancy and joie de vivre in this city that is refreshing and invigorating for us, weary travelers at this point.
About the delay in the blog... We haven't been able to get wireless to work on my laptop here, so I'm borrowing Honza's. I will try to update in the future as much as necessary, but I'm going to be getting pretty busy once school starts on the 4th. Maybe I'll get John to take up a bit more responsibility with the writing. However, if anything exciting happens, I'll be sure to post it up. Just know that we're safe, happy, and really enjoying ourselves. Love to everyone!
Friday, June 25, 2010
1) You aren't allowed to flush your TP. You have to put it in a little trash can next to the shitter. Eeeew.
2) In public places, you always have to pay to use the potty. I learned quickly to lower my water intake. At night, after a few beers, a dark alley will suffice.
3) The hand dryers never work. Don't even bother trying.
4) Cleanliness standards are slightly lower than those in the
Today, we awoke to thunderstorms, so we stayed in bed until the sun came out. Great idea. Once out, we walked a few kilometers to the Dostoevsky museum, located in the flat where the author wrote The Brothers Karamazov, and eventually passed away from a chronic lung disease. We took an audio guide to lecture us through the few rooms of the apartment, a great investment. We learned so much about Dostoevsky's life; that he was well loved and respected by Russians during his lifetime, was a dedicated father and proponent of family life, and a tireless advocate for the well-being of his fellow man. The tour was incredibly informative, and quite moving, at times. John was thrilled to find such a reward after plowing through both Brothers and Crime and Punishment before our trip. After this excellent excursion, we walked to the cemetery where Dostoevsky is buried, along with his wife and stenographer. John was the only one who went in. The rest of us didn't want to pay. I'm sure it was great.
OK, it's been awhile since I've said much on this blog. Katie pretty much sums up my opinions, and I'm quite content to let her speak for me. However, I feel like some of our readers might be interested in hearing a little something from me at this point. Our trip in
OK, I have turned into a bit of a Dostoevsky nerd in the past year. I've plowed through two of his major novels, and I must say, this was one of the best literary choices that I have ever made.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Back to the sights. We started off yesterday with a visit to the Kazan Cathedral, an impressive church whose architecture represents the fusion of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, a combination that Tsar Paul, commissioner of the church, saw as a sort of “super-Christianity.” The interior is dark, cavernous, and decorated in the Baroque style – lots of colorful, veined marble, gold, and elaborate carvings. The mood inside this place of worship was very somber. Through the center of the church, people formed a long line, waiting to kneel before and pray to an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child. Most of the women wore head coverings, and each of the faithful appeared deep in thought, choosing his or her prayer carefully. You would know a Russian icon if you saw one – paintings, usually of Mary and Baby Jesus, composed in a Pre-Renaissance style, without a sense of spatial perspective, often inlaid with gold and rich pigments. In Russian Christian traditions, touching, kissing, and praying to these icons is an important ritual. We purchased a small replica of an icon, a little shiny Jesus, at the church gift shop. This visit was very interesting because of the architecture and mood of the cathedral, and also because we were able to see the church-goers in action.
Pardon my language, but there is only one word for this whole situation – clusterfuck. It was the most inefficient thing I’ve ever seen. We were also pretty upset because by the time we got in, the museum was only going to be open for another hour and a half. We tore that place up! We collided with small children, elbowed through tour groups, and took the stairs two at a time. This was the most crowded museum I have ever been to. Around every corner lurked a guided tour, blocking the view of important, famous works that we needed to check off our list. We got extremely frustrated and started standing in front of the groups, pretending not to notice them. John got scolded by a saucy Italian lady leading a group of Asians. “Excuse me, sir! Can’t you see there’s an excursion here!” she said. “Yes,” John said, then continued looking at the tiny da Vinci painting that was about as interesting as a dog turd, in retrospect. “Do you understand?!” she said. “It’s an excursion!!” John finally caved, and stepped out of the way. It was infuriating, trying to look at paintings when groups of twenty-five to thirty people were crowded around every single one. The most upsetting part about this museum is that you can pay extra if you want to take pictures, otherwise you are forbidden. Included in the price for photography is permission to use a flash. Fragile paintings, like those by da Vinci, can become ruined over time when exposed to flash photography. I guess whoever is in charge of the Hermitage doesn’t really care. I’ve never been to another museum housing such treasures that permits flash photography. It was shocking.