Weekends, alone time, puberty

Today I’m thankful for: weekends, alone time, puberty

This marks the first weekend in over a month that I haven’t been traveling. This morning, I slept in for the first time in weeks instead of stumbling out of my room at zero dark thirty to catch a flight, or a train, or a bus! It is so nuts—I have been doing more traveling in the last two months than I have in my entire life combined (including family road trips, middle school overnights, reunions, vacations, and walking to Taq).

Traveling constantly is so different from taking one or a few large trips each year. There is some security that comes with this constant state of impermanency, the nomadic lifestyle of the study abroad traveler—security in the sense that this too shall pass. If something is amazing, then you get to experience it; if it’s not, then it will be over soon. Going with the flow has never been so necessary or so easy!

Although it has been incredible to be in such a central location in Europe with the means to explore so many different countries, there is beauty in being able to lazily wake up at 10am and make small talk with my host mom over a giant cup of coffee. Weekends have flown by when I’ve been on the move, and seem to teeter on at a pleasantly slow pace when I’m at home…which is Prague. Home! Czech Republic! Same diff! Incredible.

I’ve had the chance to take some time to myself this weekend and, in a delightfully meta thought experiment, reflect on what that actually means. Alone time when you’re studying abroad is rare, because the #FOMO (fear of missing out) is even more prevalent here than at school. How many people get the opportunity to explore Europe with virtually no responsibilities other than keeping yourself alive and going to school? You have to grab the bull by the horns/goulash by the dumplings/beer by the pint and go with the flow and seize the day and practice all the other empty cultural idioms to really get the “most” out of this experience. Right?

When I came home for dinner earlier this week, my fifteen-year-old host brother Adriano was ranting about the terrible day he had (a little girl had stomped on his prized white sneakers, ) and he talked and talked until he was out of breath—about how “dumb” this girl was, about how he had to clean his shoes, about how much they had cost, etc. Finally, he slumped over the table and declared, “I hate puberty.” I burst out laughing—honestly, how could you not—and knew that I would have missed this oh so special moment had I been traveling.

….and now for some PICS!

Since my last post, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet up with fellow off campus Whittie Maya in Budapest, and then travel to Amsterdam with off campus Prague-based Whittie Molly and some friends last weekend for the start of tulip season!

On a bridge in Budapest

Maya!

Keukenhof Garden with Molly & Co.

Enjoying some frites in Amsterdam

More adventures to come!

Na shledanou,

Mary

 

Halfway done?! (see: Moms, “girl talk,” this magical life)

Today I’m thankful for: moms, “girl talk,” this magical life

Today marks halfway through my study abroad experience! How is this happening?! I’ve been here five minutes and I never want to go home!!

My biggest question (besides how many tredelniks can I eat in a day? and why does that woman on the metro have a mustache tattooed on her face?) is: how did I go 21 years without knowing the people I’ve met here?!

Although the modern inventions of FaceTime and WhatsApp are amazing, my abroad friends and my host family have become the two biggest support systems and sources of love in my life. This feeling continues to be solidified by my many visitors whilst residing in Prague. My wonderful mom Jane visited me last week, and then my best friend (and fellow Whittie) Amelia and her mom Trina visited me soon after that! Amelia even stayed in my homestay for a night, too, which means she got to meet Biggie, a main player in my study abroad experience (more on him in a sec).

It was 7 back-to-back days of female empowerment, and the fact that so many moms were colliding in my world—my host mom Lenka, my mom, Amelia’s mom—made my heart sing. Below is a picture of my mom, my host mom, her boyfriend Tomáš, and my homestay-sister-from-New-York Sam when my mom took us out to dinner during her visit.

Moving on to girl talk: what’s the deal with this phrase having such a vapid connotation? Females talking can change the dang world!!

Some of the most significant and meaningful instances of cultural exchange I’ve experienced here have come in the form of long, meandering conversations with my host mom Lenka and my fellow homestay-er Sam at the kitchen table—Sam and me in our pajamas, our host mom with her cup of tea. We talk about boys—our host brother Adriano, boys from home, boys on our program—and we also talk about Trump, and the immigration ban, and why Sam and I can’t get the “Ř” sound right when we try to speak Czech. At that table, we’ve learned that Lenka has never seen The Sound of Music (?!!?), that Sam and I finally share some common thread re: the drag scene (see: Adore Delano, or Danny Noriega from American Idol Season 7), and that I’m really, really good at procrastinating on my Czech homework. Last night, Lenka laughed so hard she cried because Sam told her about the strange noises our dog Biggie was making when she was trying to study (“It’s springtime, so those noises are his hormones” was the explanation we got).

The commute in and out of Prague’s city center might be a little long or a little lonely, especially on rainy days, but being able to waltz through the door and be welcomed by a warm kitchen and two amazing women (and sometimes Adriano, especially on movie nights) is the best gift I could hope to receive while living here.

The food isn’t bad either—here’s a picture of Sam making Irish soda bread in honor of St. Patrick’s day (obsessed):

Now, if I think about leaving Prague—just when the weather’s beginning to get nice, and it’s starting to smell like summer at night, and I’ve built enough of a rapport with my host family that pajamas are really an okay uniform around the house—I become physically uncomfortable.

I love the little Ikea loft where Sam and I live. I continue to be fascinated by how a creature like Biggie, our tiny black Whippet dog, can exist in the world without disappearing into nothing. Riding the metro, going to class, walking down cobblestone streets that are hundreds of years old and gulping down my afternoon cappuccinos have coalesced into a singular rhythm, the beat of a completely wack and different and magical life I’m fortunate enough to live for another precious few months.

Don’t make me leave! @WhitmanCollege award me the Internship Grant for the position of Daughter in this host family so I can stay here until graduation!!

Lots of love to my adoring fans (& na shledanou to the haters),

Mary

Mary Goes to a Spa! (see: getting the giggles, music bars, Jessie J)

Today I’m thankful for: getting the giggles, music bars, Jessie J

Greetings readers! I’m a little backlogged on my writing, but I felt that this was a necessary post for all those yearning for a glimpse of spa life in the Czech Republic. Because being abroad has been so ~stressful~, four other students also living in homestays on my program organized a girls’ weekend to the Czech spa town Karlovy Vary, known for its hot mineral springs and pastel-colored buildings. King Charles IV founded the town in 1370, and since then it is the place to be if you find yourself needing a place to chillax whilst in Central Europe.

My friends and I decided to take full advantage of our 2 days in Karlovy Vary, so we booked an AirBnB that looked like a princess’s loft and made appointments for aromatherapy massages and some quality time in the salt caves for a fraction of the U.S. cost.

The main spa in Karlovy Vary was enormous and felt a bit like walking into an abandoned, but beautiful, elementary school: wide, carpeted hallways, with numbered doors leading to either private massage therapy rooms, or a classroom filled with kindergartners with ADHD. I enjoyed a strange but wonderful massage by a woman whom I made laugh so hard by my own ticklish laughing that she had to move into another room for a moment to recover. Normally, getting the giggles with your massage therapist while you’re laying nude on a table in the basement of a Czech spa wouldn’t sound very relaxing, but I’m here to testify that it was just fantastic.

The salt caves and baths were somewhat underwhelming, likely because it was hard to beat the laughter I’d just shared with my new massage therapist friend. The baths were synonymous to a swimming pool in the same spa complex, and the salt cave was a room filled with pink salt and chaise lounges and blankets so you could nap and soak up the minerals in the air (I had the great fortune of having my hour-long time slot line up with a young Czech couple, who were not shy about their PDA across the cave).

After our time at the spa, we wandered around the city and sampled the sulfuric hot spring water that you could drink for free from spigots on every corner. It smelled and tasted like rotten eggs, but people were filling up several Nalgenes with it due to its alleged healing properties!

Later that night, the five of us walked across the street to a music bar that our AirBnB host recommended and were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the atmosphere. Since we were by far the youngest people in the lounge, we seemed to be the only ones who knew all the lyrics to the jazz singer’s rendition of Jessie J‘s “Domino,” but it was the over-60 folks who kept the dance floor bumpin’.  The best part of the evening was when we found out we could simply walk across the street to our AirBnB afterwards—an amazing discovery, seeing as all of us homestay-ers have at least a 30 minute commute in and out of Prague every day!

The most stressful part of the weekend was the bus ride from Prague to Karlovy Vary. Bussing is a very popular way to get around Central Europe—I recently took a bus to Berlin, which was much cheaper than flying—and some bus lines like Regiojet are so deluxe that they serve you a free cappuccino once on board!

Our particular bus ride, though, was stopped midway through by Czech police needing to make their monthly quota. Two men in uniform boarded our bus, and went up and down the aisles checking for identification (in the Czech Republic, international students can be fined if they don’t have their necessary identification cards on them, i.e. their passport, student ID, travel insurance card, etc). Two of my friends were fined because they had copies of their passports rather than their originals, and a few other people on board—all students—were also ticketed.

After about 45 minutes, the police gathered the information they needed and allowed us to keep moving. “All we’re trying to do is get to the spa,” my friend Libby groaned, and we laughed and agreed. Not an ideal way to start our trip, but a great reminder to always have your passport with you (and that even means at The Club!!!).

So, if anyone is planning on making it to Central Europe any time soon, Karlovy Vary is a must-see. A weekend there is the perfect amount of time to wander its ornate bridges and ostentatious buildings post-massage and pre-dinner. And then maybe pre-your next massage. 😉

Na shledanou for now!!

Mary