Castles, beer, school?!

Today I’m thankful for: castles, beer, school?

School: After 2 weeks of orientation, school has started, at last!! Although it was fun to be able to run around Prague with complete freedom for a while, it’s nice to be moving on to the education part of the semester (plus I think homework in Czech cafés might be more enjoyable than homework in the ice kingdom that is Walla Walla). A few classes I’m most excited for this semester include my Beginning Czech Language class (for ease of communication with my host family), my FAMU class “Filming the Unfilmable” (involves the process of adapting novels into screenplays), and my Czech Cinema and Czech Fairytales classes. Though the add/drop/class registration period was a bit stressful, everyone seems to have perfected their schedules—meaning that hardly anyone has class on Fridays so we can explore the continent on the weekends!

The academic atmosphere abroad is certainly different from Whitman in terms of big school vs. small school feelings. I’m always enjoyed the small seminar-style classroom experience at Whitman, so the transition to CIEE and FAMU’s smaller class sizes was simple for me; some of my classmates’ smallest classes at their home universities, on the other hand, consist of 1000 people seated in a single lecture hall. I’ve found the small class sizes to be really helpful and far less intimidating, especially when it comes to my (very difficult, very confusing) beginning Czech language class.

Castles: Who knew we’d be visiting so many castles?? One of our program’s required cultural experiences involves a trip to Prague Castle and then either Křivoklát Castle or Český Krumlov (both medieval castles & towns). I chose to visit Křivoklát on Thursday with thirty other students for a guided tour and a free lunch! Our bus ride to the castle was about an hour and half and also included a history lecture from one of our guides. About twenty minutes into the lecture, though, our guide whispered into the PA system, “It seems a deep silence has fallen over the bus. Goodnight,” and thirty students continued to nap. The rolling snowy countryside made for an excellent and hypnotic backdrop for sleep.

On Saturday, the eight other students in homestays and I made the trip by train to Karlštejn, one of King Charles IV’s residences. The trip was organized by some of our Czech buddies and really took the pressure off having to plan a day trip in an unfamiliar country…we’re all still getting used to public transit inside the city, let alone train trips outside of it. Karlštejn was my favorite castle we visited this week just because of its sheer size and the fact that our tour allowed us access to rooms like sleeping quarters and “toilets” so we could experience the castle more holistically.

I’m starting to figure out that castle tours in the winter, though beautiful, require many more layers than one would think; the stone halls and walls pretty much act like a giant freezer. Beer and goulash post-tour to warm back up are usually a must.

Beer: my gratitude for the beer here (especially Pilsner) is fairly self-explanatory—it is yummy and cheap and, as my housemate Sam and I found out, delicious in frosting for Pinterest-esque beer brownie cakes (below)!!

What’s next:

Although I’ve already made a few day trips outside of the city (the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora and the castle visits), this coming weekend is my first trip outside of the Czech Republic to Copenhagen! Several Whitties are enjoying their study abroad experiences there and I can’t wait to take EasyJet for the first time and discover the ease that is country-hopping in Europe. I often find that returning somewhere (like my homestay) after a trip elsewhere really reinforces that place as home, and I’m stoked to experience that feeling.

Other trips in the making for this semester for me so far include a weekend in Amsterdam, a trip to Budapest, and a *spa* weekend in the hot springs Czech town Karlovy Vary with a few girls who are also in homestays. Some of our CIEE classes require field trips over a few weekends as well, or at the very least day trips to various historical landmarks and festivals in Prague.

Til next week!!

Na shledanou,

Mary