Study abroad has truly been a life-changing experience and I cannot even begin to express the gratitude I feel for having been given this opportunity. But most importantly, I am so happy that I had the chance to have this experience in Prague, a beautiful city that is truly like no other. I am grateful that I had the chance to live somewhere so different for 4 months, an experience that the average person cannot say they have had. I am thankful that I had the chance to explore Central/Eastern Europe, an area most people don’t consider visiting. I am thankful NYU has provided us with so many opportunities within NYU Prague itself, such as learning from some of the most intelligent and accomplished people here in Prague.
It’s amazing to read the first post I wrote 15 weeks ago, at the time of my arrival in Prague, and thinking about what I have experience and how much I have changed over the course of my time here. I was originally very apprehensive about being away from home for so long, but at the same time I was excited to experience new things and leave my comfort zone. For a while, all of Prague seemed to be out of my comfort zone and everything felt new. But at some point, it began to feel like home. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but at some point, I recognized Slezska 60 as my home, and the A line as my main transit and Male Namesti as my campus. At some point, Damejidlo was my Seamless and Parliament was my favorite local restaurant and Paladium was my 5th avenue shopping. I am so sad that I am leaving my new home, but Prague has been great to me, and for that I am eternally thankful.
Most people I know that have studied abroad have mentioned that it’s a unique experience and that it truly changed them. Originally, I was skeptical about the impact of study abroad, I really didn’t think I would change so much – but I was so wrong. Being abroad has been full of moments outside of my comfort zone and moments that question everything I thought I knew, and it’s from moments like these that I have grown as a person. I definitely agree that study abroad is life-changing and I am grateful to emerge from this experience as a better person. I think over the course of the semester, I realized the importance of being out of your comfort zone and independence, as well as the importance of being a global citizen. Americans are often very ethnocentric, but it’s amazing how much happens that we’re not aware of/concerned about. I also think it’s been amazing to be somewhere with so much culture. American culture is so different, it’s focused on innovation and originality, as well as national pride, among many other things. But Czech culture is something different, it’s based on resilience and solidarity. The distinct cultures you find in European countries is so different than America.
One of the most important things I have found during my time here in Prague, is that you have to reflect to learn. Reflecting upon your experiences is key to finding best practices and realizing what mistakes you shouldn’t make again. I think Art of Travel was definitely key in helping me realize that. Without these blog posts, I probably would not have taken the time to critically reflect on my travels and time here. So for that, I give thanks to Professor Hutkins.
Beyond that, I give thanks to the amazing staff here at NYU Prague, for being incredible professors and being friendly enough to hang out with us, I give thanks to NYU for providing us with the opportunity to study abroad, I give thanks to my incredible friends that have made this experience what it is for me, and I give thanks to Prague for being an incredible city with endless things to do and for giving me an amazing semester that I only wish I could relive.
- The First Picture of Prague I ever saw: http://7-themes.com/7040600-prague.html
Prague is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and the experience of living here for four months has truly been life-changing. I would 100% recommend coming to Prague for study abroad! Here’s why:
First and foremost, Prague has an extremely low cost of living aka cheap!! Yes, beer really is cheaper than water! Anywhere you study abroad, you’re gonna have to pay for water (I think free water is one of America’s redeeming qualities), so you may as well come somewhere it’s cheap. Besides that, food is very cheap here as well. My friends and I found a Simpsons themed restaurant where you get chicken schnitzel, fries, ketchup, and a beer all for about $7!! Traditional Czech meals will never cost you most than $8 or $9, and if you ever feel like balling out, you still won’t spend more than $13, $14. The amount of money you save will definitely come in handy for traveling or other activities.
Second, the travel opportunities are endless. The Czech Republic is conveniently located in the Central Europe and many countries are easily accessible by bus for short day trips or 1hr/2hr max flights (depends where you’re going) for further countries. The Czech Republic itself is very rich in both culture and history and the style of life is definitely a change from New York, but I think it’s quite a refreshing change to be in a quiet city. The surrounding countries also have a lot of history, so I would recommend checking them out, even though they may be places you might not consider. Being in Prague gives you the opportunity to travel to countries you might not have considered otherwise, such as Poland, Austria, Hungary, etc. But at the same time, hop on a plane and go to Spain, England, France, Netherlands, etc. and it won’t be too expensive.
Third, nightlife in Prague is great. I like the variety you get in nightlife here because you can choose from clubs, pubs, bar-clubs, wine bars, etc. The clubs in Prague are really cool and you can find a good mix of locals and other students in the crowd. Most of the clubs have different feels to them, so there’s variety in where you choose to go as well. For example, Retro has a great EDM scene and Radost has a great hip-hop scene, depends on what you’re in the mood for. There’s always one active club for every night of the week, for the hardcore party animals out there. But if you don’t feel like clubbing, the pubs are super relaxed and you can go enjoy a (cheap) beer with some friends. There’s also cool events and concerts going on to switch up your nightlife routine.
So if I’ve already convinced you to come to Prague, here are some tips for making the most of your time here:
- Do the tourist-y things during your first weeks here, especially if you plan to travel a lot. You’ll find that after extensive travel, coming home to Prague becomes very familiar and you no longer want to do tourist-y things. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to realize you haven’t explored Prague fully.
- Find a balance between travel/staying in Prague. Traveling is so much fun and everyone comes with the idea that they will visit every major country/every major city. But traveling is also exhausting and can be expensive if you don’t plan in advance. It’s really refreshing to take breaks and spend some time in Prague.
- For traveling itself, plan the further trips in advance that way airfare isn’t too expensive. Don’t worry about planning the closer trips in advance, you can always buy a last-minute bus ticket to Germany for cheap.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. Although Europeans think it’s weird, I always have a water bottle at restaurants because I, like the average American, do not enjoy paying for water.
- Be adventurous with food. Czech food is so good! I’m usually a really picky eater, but I decided to be open-minded about what I eat here and it has definitely payed off. I love Czech food and I am so sad I have to leave it behind.
- Live in Slezska! Best dorm in the best neighborhood. It’s closest to the transportation to school, the rooms are huge, and it’s in a nice residential area. Slezska is a really great dorm and I think the idea of a communal kitchen helps build community within.
I am most thankful for the people I am abroad with this semester. For all the opportunity we’ve been given, I can’t imagine sharing these experiences with anyone else. I have often said that its the company that makes the experience, and I only feel like my time abroad has reinforced this idea. While study abroad has definitely had its ups and downs, I don’t think I would have made it through the hard times without my friends – the same friends I couldn’t even imagine being so close with. I am so grateful for the people I am here with because they are responsible for all the moments of bliss that I’ve had over the course of the semester.
While many people talk about their experience of bliss in one single moment, I think there are many times this semester that I have felt true bliss. I am not someone that asks for much – in fact, I am almost always content in any situation where I have my friends and not a care in the world. I have been able to find bliss in the small moments with my friends, in the moments where I feel truly grateful to have them in my life, in the moments when I know there is no one else I’d rather be here with.
For me, bliss is sitting around a candlelit table on the patio of our villa that has lost power. We sit around the table, smoking Cuban cigars, enjoying the nice weather, enjoying the stars overhead, just talking all night. Gradually, we make our way to talking about conspiracy theories, and I know there’s no one else I could have a conversation so strange with. In that moment, I know there’s no one else I’d rather be in a cold, dark, powerless villa with. And when we finally decide to go to sleep, some of us stay up for another 2 hours, laying in bed, talking about meaningless topics. And the conversation naturally keeps going and we lose track of time and end up staying up for a good part of the night.
For me, bliss is sitting in the transfer van we almost missed, driving from Amalfi to the airport, half of us hungover, all of us exhausted. Bliss is sitting in that van, joking about our weekend, taking jokes about losing my second phone, making jokes about the adventures we had during our time in Italy, being grateful we don’t have to walk 30 minutes uphill to our villa ever again, sad we have to leave such a beautiful place, poking fun at each other, taking pictures of people that have fallen asleep, sad that two of our friends won’t be returning to Prague.
For me, bliss is sitting in a Brazilian restaurant in Amsterdam, reminiscing on the greatest day we’ve all had, having shared such a personal experience with each other. Bliss is sitting in that restaurant, thinking about the fact that I never expected to be so close to these people I barely knew a month ago. Bliss is all of us laughing about our day, thinking back to sitting in Vondelpark, admiring the greenery and lake, having deep conversations about life and light conversation making jokes about the problems we’ve encountered with traveling, not feeling the need to take out my camera to take picture because I know nothing could capture the true feeling of bliss in that moment.
And for me, bliss is being in Slezska, never in my room, always in my friends’ room downstairs, laying down in one of their beds, talking about the randomest things, watching funny/sad/messed up/cute videos, ordering Yam Yam, drinking Jarritos, playing Tetris, or doing whatever else it is that takes up the time of the day.
These are just some of the moments, among many others, that I have found bliss in over the course of the semester. I’m so sad that my time here is coming to an end, but I know that I am leaving with some of the closest friends and having shared such great times with them, and I find comfort in knowing that.
- Friends in Budapest: Katherine Carranza
One of the first things I was warned of in Europe was pickpocketers. I distinctly remember many times in our orientation week where pickpocketing was mentioned: in our orientation video, in our orientation lecture, in our intensive Czech class, by our RAs, the list goes on and on. For the first couple of weeks here, I was very wary of pickpocketers; I kept my bag and backpack close to my or constantly under my arm, I kept my hands in my pockets on my phone, etc. Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t as prevalent as I had been warned and began to become more relaxed. I remember my friends and I would joke about it, always zipping up each others backpacks or reaching into each other’s bags, saying we were pickpocketing each other. I even remember saying “we keep joking about this, but one day it’s actually gonna happen”. And yes, I was right.
I was in Amsterdam early March, just a regular weekend trip for me and my friends. It was our last night in Amsterdam. My friends and I had spent the day paddle boating in the canals and visiting the Heineken museum. We were on our way back to our airbnb, walking through the city center to get to the tram stop. My friend and I had to use the bathroom, so we decided to stop at a coffee shop. I don’t know what exactly happened, but a little while later on the tram home I couldn’t find my phone. I remember looking in my purse and pockets and not being able to find it. Panic didn’t set in until I emptied my entire purse on the tram to no avail. Once I said that I couldn’t find it, my friend checked her purse and also realized her phone was gone. We went back to the coffee shop, searching in vain, but couldn’t find anything. I remember feeling sad, but my friend was devastated, crying the whole way back to our airbnb. My friends were very sympathetic, but I just didn’t want a small mishap to ruin my entire weekend. I just vowed to never let it happen to me again. Too bad I didn’t maintain that.
Fast forward two weekends, I am in Amalfi, Italy. I had purchased a new phone because life just isn’t the same without the convenience of an alarm, music, and Instagram. I couldn’t buy a new iPhone because they are so expensive here in Prague, so I settled for an HTC phone. I had just been getting used to the new phone. But on our last day in Italy, I couldn’t find my phone for the life of me. I tore apart our villa, desperate to find it, not wanting to say I had lost yet another phone. We were being rushed to our transfer to the airport, but I was insistent that the phone was somewhere in our villa. But again, I found nothing, just the charger. 2 phones down. My friends couldn’t help but laugh at me.
I returned from spring break in Spain last week. My friends and I were in Madrid for a few days and were really excited to go shopping. We were at Plaza del Sol in Madrid, just shopping and carrying on. I decided to stop in a store and buy some makeup, but at the cash register I realized my wallet was not in my bag. I started panicking and immediately I thought about the fact that my IDs, cards, and cash were all gone. My wallet was actually on the ground in the store, but all of my money was gone. 300 euros, gone. My friends were shocked that I wasn’t devastated, but I couldn’t help but be grateful for the fact that I still had my credit cards and IDs.
I have found through these ordeals that I like to focus on bigger picture issues. I knew that if I spent time dwelling on what happened in Madrid, I would have ruined my entire spring break. Of course, I get sad that I have lost 3 phones (I lost my most recent one in Valencia, right after Madrid) and money, but I’m alive and well and still able to enjoy my time abroad.
Pickpocketers: 4 – Kat: 0.
- Valencia: Katherine Carranza
Strangers are an integral part of the traveling/study abroad experience. I think that the word stranger comes with a negative connotation. People often think “stranger danger”, “don’t talk to strangers”, and other things along these lines – at least I know I do. A stranger is one of those words defined by the absence of something; we define a stranger as someone we are not friends with or someone we do not know. But we don’t realize that strangers are people, just like us, we just don’t know them yet. Since coming to Prague, I have come to realize that when you’re out of your comfort zone, in the unknown, you’re often at the mercy of these strangers. Strangers are often more helpful than they are harmful.
One of the things I hate most is having to ask for help. But when you’re traveling to new countries where the signs are in foreign languages and you don’t recognize a single thing, you have to get over your preferences and do what must be done. Many times I have been lost while traveling and I have had to ask strangers for directions or advice on what to do. For example, the first weekend trip I took was to Germany. One night in Munich, my friend and I took a cab home from dinner. We didn’t realize that the cab had left us in the middle of nowhere until we exited the cab. We wandered for some time, trying to figure out where we were, not wanting to have to engage with strangers. But 10 minutes of wandering turned to 20, and 20 turned to 30, and it only got colder. So eventually, my friend and I decided to start asking people for directions. Many people pointed us in a general direction, but two bikers were particularly sympathetic. Like everyone else, they originally told us a general direction and biked off. But 5 minutes later, they came back, offering to lead us to our airbnb because they had taken the time to bike and find our address. I didn’t even consider that these were complete strangers. In New York, there’s no way I would have followed two random bikers in an unfamiliar area. But in Germany, I didn’t really have a choice. I trusted these strangers because in that moment, I was the stranger, I was the other. In that moment, those people were more familiar with the area, they were the natives that knew things, and I was the foreigner, I was the strange tourist wandering around.
One of the main opportunities that study abroad provides you with is that to make new friends; to meet strangers and, over the course of our 4 months here, become close in a way that you couldn’t anywhere else. I think we are all united by the fact that we’re living in the unknown; everything is unfamiliar and we can identify with each other because of that. I came to Prague with a close group of friends and I didn’t really expect to make a lot of friends. I am so thankful that isn’t the case. I have made many friends here in Prague that are a part of my daily life here and I can’t imagine my experience here without them. I can’t even imagine going back to New York and not seeing them everyday. I think I was able to make friends with them so easily because they were so unfamiliar, yet we had a common link. The common link allowed me to overlook the stereotypes that you often think about when you don’t know someone. I have also come to know a lot about myself from these friends because they tell me what they think of me and have learned about me in such a short amount of time. It’s cool for me to see how I come off to others who don’t know me as well as my other friends do. At the end of the day, I am thankful for the strangers I have interacted with.
- PragueSunset: CzechTourism
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera, explores the life philosophies of lightness and heaviness. The book opens up discussing Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal return, or heaviness, versus Parmenide’s idea that life is light. Set in my very own city of Prague, Kundera wonders if we can even assign a meaning to our lives if we haven’t had the opportunity to explore other options in life; if we can only try one path and make one decision, we cannot compare this decision down the line because we cannot try the other option. He explores these ideas in a story told through the characters Tomas, Tereza, Sabina, and Franz.
I really enjoyed reading this book because I liked the philosophical premise that it is based on. I found that I identified with many characters, despite the fact that I originally thought my ideas on the topic were quite solid. Tereza is the main character that I immediately connected with. She represents the “heaviness” seen in life. Although Tereza may be seen as pure and innocent, she is also intelligent and compassionate and thus, she cannot be dismissed by other characters and is able to charm them. I see a lot of myself in Tereza. One of the main reasons is because I also have found that I am able to charm and become friends with many different people, despite the fact that our ideals may differ significantly. Tereza is able to become friends with Sabina, despite the fact that they live two very different life and that Tereza is extremely jealous and saddened by Sabina. I don’t know how much Tereza values friendship, but I think that their friendship demonstrates that Tereza holds it in high regard. I think many people would view Tereza as naive, but I don’t think that’s the case. Tereza is so compassionate that it overshadows her own ideals and lifestyle and makes it easy for her to connect with others. I don’t think this should be confused with naivety, instead I think it is something that few people are able to do and Tereza should be praised for it.
At the same time, I think I identify with Tomas as well, although the two characters are presented as two opposite ends of the spectrum. Tomas seeks to live life as light as possible and many of his decisions and ideas demonstrate this. For example, Tomas views sex and love as two separate entities and he continues to have affairs when he is married to Tereza. I also share Tomas’ desire to have a weightless life, which is something I have definitely realized since coming to Prague. My decision to come to Prague was not very well thought out and was really dependent on chance. It just so happened that I came here with a group of friends and that we have been able to live together and travel together so successfully, despite our different ideas and lifestyles. I have found less importance in “heavy” objects since I have been here and I can clearly see the need to be “weightless”.
Prague is truly one of the most beautiful cities I have been in. I have come to enjoy “lightness” much more since I have been here. I like to go out for walks by myself and just take in the beautiful city. I am not sure when it happened, but Prague feels like home instead of a foreign city. My friends and I like to make spontaneous decisions and have experiences here, as well as when we travel. I am trying to enjoy my time here as much as possible and I realized that these experiences are truly unique. I can’t even compare what my semester would have been like had I went to London instead, but I am so happy that I ended up in Prague.
- Prague: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/czech-republic/prague
I have come to find that many places I visit begin to look like one another. While I have fallen in love with the older style of architecture, castles and palaces begin to look the same and fake-authentic cuisine makes me question my travels. I am not traveling to check off cities on a bucket list, as some people I know; I am traveling to visit cities I have always wanted to, to get a glimpse into the various cultures and nations that comprise Europe. At this point, I have visited more than 10 cities, but there are only a few that stick out in my mind as unique and enticing, while the rest seem to blur together. The Amalfi Coast is truly like no other place that I’ve been; its charming, quaint lifestyle makes you want to stay and its calming, relaxing spirit makes you question why you’d ever crave the busy streets of New York.
The trip to Amalfi was very time consuming: a flight to Milan, then a flight to Naples, then a train to Sorrento, then a bus to Amalfi. About 6 hours in transit, but I can’t think of a more worthwhile 6 hours. The commute itself is full of breathtaking scenery and you can’t help but think about spending the rest of your life with such a beautiful view outside your window. On one side, you can see Mt. Vesuvius, the grand volcano that took out the historic city of Pompeii, towering in the background. But the gray mountain is overshadowed by the bright blue sky, minimal clouds, and greenery all around. On the other side, you see the coast, the Tyrrhenian sea, calmly lapping the natural beaches. As the mountain goes up, you see small villages tucked into the sides of the mountain; bright pink and blue houses, all with beautiful gardens and pools, overlooking the coast. There is only one road on the Amalfi Coast, it takes you to all the major cities and villages, and the beautiful scenery makes you forget about how a giant coach bus is even making it up so many hills and around so many twists and turns.
The beautiful scenery sets your mood for the rest of the trip: relaxed and calm. As soon as we arrived, many people asked us where we were going and if they could help us with directions. Everyone was so friendly and helpful, even with the language barrier, we couldn’t believe it. Although we were lost from our villa for a little bit, we hung out at a local bar and were greeted very warmly to drinks and free snacks. Despite being the loud American tourists that everyone comes to see us as, no one gave us dirty looks or anything of that sort. It’s like they respected the fact that we had come to enjoy what they get to live everyday.
One of my favorite parts of our trip was our daily travels to the small grocery store near our villa. Although it was a trek down some hills, it was worth it to get to say hi to our favorite store owners. The men that ran the shop were so friendly to all of us and even gave us a bag full of fresh, local produce so that we could try some Amalfi specialties. The butcher in the back made us fresh proscuitto and mozzarella sandwiches. Everyone was just so kind and it just made you wonder why anyone even needs to be rude, ever. Once, we couldn’t find where to buy bus tickets, but the bus driver let us on for free. Everything about the Amalfi Coast is just unreal, from its beauty to its people; its spirit is so relaxing and inviting. I just didn’t want to leave and I can only feel envy that I don’t get to wake up in Amalfi every morning.
- Amalfi: Katherine Carranza
One of the first reasons I fell in love with Prague was because of its architecture and history. Beyond Old Town Square and other touristy areas, all of Prague is full of beautiful, colorful buildings – it’s as if the city came straight out of a fairy tale. But its more than just beautiful buildings, it’s the detail that goes into these buildings.
One of the most awesome buildings I have seen is St. Vitus Cathedral in the Prague Castle. The building is stunning, standing over 300 feet tall as a Gothic masterpiece. Some of the most striking details of St. Vitus Cathedral are the stained glass windows. I was immediately drawn to these windows, the colors and detail are so beautiful. I couldn’t help but focus my attention on one particular window, a window designed by Alphonse Mucha. Mucha was a Czech Art Nouveau artist, widely recognized for his distinct style.
The window he designed was focused on St. Wenceslas, depicted as a boy with his grandmother. Just as well, images from the lives of the saints Cyril and Methodius are included. I thought this stained glass window was very powerful, as it represents how important these saints are to Czech history. There was once a time when the Czech Republic was very religious, Czech history is rich with stories about old monasteries and saints and some of the most beautiful buildings are churches/cathedrals.
While I was enraptured in the beauty of the stained glass artwork, captivated by the colors, detail and skill it encompassed, I couldn’t help but think about the Czech Republic today, and how it has come to be so secular. The Czech Republic is one of the least religious nations today, but I just don’t know how they have come to get over their rich, religious history. One of the classes I’m taking, Religion, Culture, and Politics in Central Europe, has given me so much information about the religious history of Prague and the Czech Republic.
I like to look back at pictures I have taken and I often find myself looking at the pictures of the stained glass windows. Mucha was truly fascinating as an artist. The art nouveau movement happened on a global scale, but it was very prominent in the Czech Republic. Art has played an interesting role in Czech history, although it is very underrated. In fact, one of my professors said that tourists don’t even take art into account when thinking about Prague, compared to The Louvre in Paris or the Van Gough museum in Amsterdam. I have not been in any museums in Prague, but I did visit a museum of modern art in Kutna Hora, a smaller city in the Czech Republic. I think the art nouveau movement was a much stronger force back in the day, compared to the modern art I saw in Kutna Hora. The museum was very interesting, with each room having its own theme of some kind of emotion. For example, there were rooms dedicated to fear, compassion, insight, and friendship, among other themes. Each room had art and quotes meant to evoke these feelings/make you reflect on these concepts. I really enjoyed this museum, but it was quite empty and the art did not appear to have the same authenticity as art from the past. I think since the art nouveau movement, art just has not played a large role in Czech society. Artists like Alphonse Mucha just don’t come around very often.
Since my visit to St. Vitus Cathedral and the museum in Kutna Hora, I have wanted to visit other museums in Prague. There’s a Dali/Mucha exhibit that I have always wanted to go to and I hope I can find the time.
- Stained Glass Window at St. Vitus Cathedral: http://www.muchafoundation.org/gallery/browse-works/object/199
I think the word “tourist” comes with a negative connotation. Many people criticize tourist institutions in their own cities and avoid them. For example, New Yorkers desperately avoid Times Square, put off by the mobs of tourists at every corner and criticizing them for not truly experiencing New York City. But Times Square is only one stop tourists make in New York; they often venture into other neighborhoods and boroughs, seeking authentic experiences. Dean MacCannell writes about authenticity and its connection to tourism, making the claim that travelers seek authenticity in their experiences in new cities. The only way that I can comment on MacCannell’s theory is by thinking about my own experiences as a tourist.
I came to Prague because of my desire to see Central Europe, a place I was sure I probably would not visit on my own accord. I also knew it was easier to travel around Europe from Prague, considering both the cheaper cost of living and its central location. I have done a considerable amount of traveling since I have been here, and thus I am the dreaded “tourist” in all of the cities I have been to. All of my trips have been different from one another, each a new experience as a “tourist”.
My first trip was to Germany. We visited 3 cities in 4 days and each day was meticulously scheduled; we went sightseeing at all the tourist locations and ate at all of the highest rated restaurants according to TripAdvisor. We were truly tourists, in every sense of the word. However, I keep thinking back to my time in Frankfurt. Frankfurt is not a very big tourist location, as it is simply the economic center of Germany, and it is mostly known because of its large airport. The only tourist attractions were the observation deck and a small district of bars that served an apple wine native to Frankfurt. For the rest of our time in Frankfurt, we simply wandered around, looking at the city. I can’t help but think that this was an authentic experience.
I do believe that tourists are always looking for authentic experiences in the cities they visit. Many tourists like to do more than just sightsee, they want to eat with the locals and go to local nightlife hotspots. This can easily be seen in the existence of the phrase “tourist trap”. Often when visiting cities, we avoid so called “tourist traps” because they are seen as unauthentic. But upon reading MacCannell’s article, I have come to realize that these traps are not unauthentic, but simply staged authentic.
Our campus here in Prague is located right next to Old Town Square, the heart of Prague’s tourism. The beautiful square is alive with tourists daily, day and night. All of the restaurants claim to be “authentic Czech food”, feeding off of tourists desire to truly engage in Czech culture. I have never been to these restaurants, but not because of the staged authenticity, because of the high prices. While I’m sure that these restaurants serve great Czech food, the prices are much higher than the average, not tourist trap restaurant. Again, I am noticing that these restaurants are staging their authenticity, not that they are unauthentic.
I have found that I enjoy engaging in authentic experiences while traveling. But I have also come to realize that you cannot find authentic experiences, instead they find you. While in Germany, I also visited Stuttgart, a city that you don’t really consider when thinking about visiting Germany. While there, my friends and I stumbled upon a beer garden and decided to go on in. Not a word of English was spoken inside the restaurant and the only word that we could say in German was “bier”. The waitress brought us another round whenever our bottles were empty and some usual bar snacks, the same as she did for everyone in the bar. No one cared that we were tourists and it felt like the most authentic experience I had. I really enjoyed it because I felt like I was truly immersing myself. I can only hope to have similar experiences in the future.
- Stuttgart: http://stuttgart.arcona.de/tagen-feiern
A Romantic Education is Patricia Hampl’s memoir, documenting her experience in the Czech Republic and her adventure exploring her Czech heritage. Hampl takes a three week sojourn in (then) Czechoslovakia to discover her roots and understand where her family truly hails from. During this trip, she also wants to understand how memory and history converge, as well as how the personal influences the political. She leaves St. Paul, Minnesota to answer these questions and learn more about her ancestry. While Hampl travels throughout Czechoslovakia, she focuses on her travels in Prague.
Hampl takes us back in history to the time when Communism reigned in Eastern Europe and Czechoslovakia still existed as a whole. The third section of her memoir is the main part that is focused on her endeavors, delving into history. Hampl goes around Prague seeking culture and wanting to understand her heritage. She seems to be disappointed upon arrival, as she says Prague is “gray” because of its harsh Communist regime. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were thinking of two completely different cities; how could anyone describe a city as beautiful as Prague as gray?
I was very enraptured in Hampl’s memoir, completely curious as to how life was in “gray” Prague. She mainly discusses her day to day encounters with the locals and slowly puts together her image of what Czechoslovakia really is. One of the more memorable moments in her memoir is the portrait of “Jaromil”, a Czech poet that guides her to the city. However, it turns out that “Jaromil” is not a poet at all. His true identity (which I will not spoil), leads Hampl to realize the political complications for even ordinary Czech citizens. Hampl likes to go for long walks and meet with acquaintances; each day she learns something new and her view of Prague and Czechoslovakia changes. Over time, she comes to admire the rootedness of the Czechoslovakian people, among other things, but has a hard time balancing her admiration with her horrors of the Communist regime.
I saw a little of myself in Hampl. She just wants to learn and understand, and she comes in with an open mind to do so. I always travel with an open mind because I think it’s the best way to fully immerse yourself in the culture. While I don’t have the same cultural ties to Prague as Hampl does, I also came to Prague wanting to understand the city and its traditions.
Hampl describes the city in great detail and I couldn’t help but picture Prague in my head. Although she views the city as “gray”, I know Prague as such a beautiful city that I can’t picture it as anything but a beautiful, colorful city. She finally realizes the beauty of Golden Prague towards the end of her trip, but she can’t help but associate orthodoxy and totalitarianism with the color gray. She also concludes that any society marked by totalitarianism is condemned to decay (I don’t know if I completely agree with this statement, but I have yet to find a counterargument).
Hampl reissued her memoir with an afterword. In this detailed afterword, she describes her next trip to Prague, which takes place after the Velvet Revolution. She talks about how beautiful Prague is, but how much it has changed with the influx of tourism. I couldn’t separate my knowledge and visions of Prague (of Old Town Square and the bridge) from hers; I will always think of Old Town Square crowded with tourists. The only way I can think of Prague without tourists is under strict totalitarian rule, but I have come to love this city so much that I do not want to change my vision of it. Despite having lived here for a semester and coming to understand and love the city, “I’m forever a tourist on the bridge, dazzled by the scene”.
- Prague Castle – Golden Lane: Katherine Carranza