Monday, August 9, 2010

Final Day

OK. Now we’re at the end of our adventure. Plane leaves in 24 hours from the Amsterdam airport, so we will enjoy our final night here. This has been a wonderful city to visit as the conclusion to our long European travels. It is a very beautiful place, built along a system of canals with buildings packed side by side to make the most efficient use of the available land. In fact, this entire city seems very efficient itself, with a huge amount of locals and tourists alike zipping through the streets on bikes, creating a seemingly unending flow of traffic when combined with cars, motorbikes, and trams. It is also a very open culture here, as Saturday we witnessed the yearly Gay Pride parade which takes place on boats through the canals. This was a glorious spectacle of all-things-gay, and the city was packed with people lined along every canal to watch. Although it rained off and on throughout, no one really cared, and one giant party commenced. There was a genuine feeling of acceptance and tolerance in the air, and it was an excellent moment for cultural observation. This is something that we would not see very often in most American cities, but maybe we should. Amsterdam has a very visible gay population, and they are not afraid to walk around and be counted. We thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of the Gay Pride parade, and we are glad that so many people are able to come together for a celebration of humanity, and we were definitely glad to be a part of it. On another note, we visited the Van Gogh and Little Hermitage museums yesterday. The Little Hermitage is an extension of the same museum we saw back in Russia, and they had an excellent exhibit from the Hermitage collection detailing modern art from Matisse to Malevich, including the infamous Black Square painting, which appropriately concluded the exhibition. The Van Gogh museum was cool, but very packed with people. There is more to say, but we are going to wander around Amsterdam for another day. Love to everyone, and we will see you soon!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Leaving Prague

OK, here's an update for anyone who's still checking our blog! It's been a wonderful, long month here in Czech Republic, but we will be departing today for Amsterdam in about 7 hours... It is impossible to describe in words how rewarding this visit has been for us. We have met so many great Czech people who were completely willing to help us immerse ourselves in Czech culture, allowing us to explore this country in a way that many tourists will never experience. Needless to say, we are fascinated by this small country in the same ways that Czechs are fascinated with the enormity of our country. We have formed some really great friendships, establishing connections for both us and Czechs, who we hope will come visit so we can share with them a little bit of the American experience. It's also been wonderful to spend some time with Vojta and Zuzka, who really made this month possible for us. Although we are sad to depart from new and old friends, we are excited to be returning home soon. It is extremely tiring to spend over two months away from your country (and cats!), where the native languages are unfamiliar (but beautiful to the ears), eating local cuisines which are heavily focused on beer, meat, and fried stuff, traveling without a car, and the list goes on. So, while we will say goodbye to Petra and Honza, I'm sure we are all somewhat relieved to have the end of it. I am so grateful to both of them for sharing their home with strangers for over one month, completely willing to make said strangers friends and guide us through many nuances of their culture, understanding our inability to speak their language (which is so, so difficult) and offering us a perspective unique to this country.
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.