Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Summary.

Lately, the frequency and regularity with, which I uploaded posts on the blog is comparable to the transparency of the Belarusian electoral system. Nonetheless, I decided it’s time: time to sum up some of the events of the first semester in Prague. I’ll pick a few subjectively most interesting things.

1.     Czech elections: Those took place in late October. At first sight, not even close to an event that would attract attention of an average Erasmus student, right? Wrong. Already the campaign was quite eventful. One of the parties, which gained close to 20% of votes is led by some German-Czech aristocrat whose facial appearance would suggest that his roots lie somewhere between rural Moldova and the Bosnian highlands. If this wasn’t enough, his electoral posters portrayed him on a James Bond themed dark background trying to pull off a Bond smile, yet achieving a level of charm similar to this of an elephant speeding through African wastelands. Soon after the elections I found out that Czech politicians are the second least-trusted political in the world, right after Tanzanian elite. I wonder why.

2.     A cultural expedition to Warsaw: Also during the final week of October I visited my hometown together with a group of German and French volunteers (the Germans promised they wouldn’t stay this time around). The first and only disappointment struck my companions a few days before departure when they revealed the level of their geographical knowledge of Central Europe. “What? It takes 10 hours to get to Warsaw? I thought it’s like 4 hours away”. Gathering all my patience, I calmly explained that the capital of Poland is in fact over 600km away, we are going by bus not by some bourgeois TGV or other fast vehicle and that Polish roads on this route still do not quite fulfil the European standards. Also, the bus stopped in a couple of other smaller Polish cities. In order to make time fly faster we purchased a couple of divine beverages, which we consumed during the first hours of the trip. Sleep was somewhat easier afterwards. The stay itself was surprisingly productive. Aside from the obvious nighttime activities whose details will not be disclosed at the request of the aforementioned companions (What happens in Warsaw... blah blah blah) we managed to see most of the city. Needless to say, I tried to point out to my German friends’ whose fault it is that the majority of the buildings look chaotic and were constructed after the end of World War II.  We returned safely and in one piece (which was not a given).

3.     A cultural expedition around the Czech Republic: This happened around the end of November when 5 of us fit into a Skoda (Skoda. What else?) and travelled 800km in three days. The landscapes were absolutely outstanding. Castles and old towns of places outside of Prague also surprised us positively. On top of that, our accommodation wasn’t of the worst standard either. This was what we did not expect especially after hearing the locations and names of our hostels: Horni 19 in Brno and Hostel Havana in Cesky Krumlov. I must say the names were not close as attractive as some other global hotel chains would be. Giving our car back, a friend who travelled with us expressed her satisfaction with the car we rented (the cheapest one on offer, of course). The employee of our car rental looked at us as if he was about to have a heart attack. The only disappointing episode of the trip was the state of the main motorway in the country. It looked and felt like a whole division of Soviet tanks travelled on it just yesterday, not over 40 years ago.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Our Adventures in Maygar land

   For a number of weeks several of my Erasmus friends were planning to go on a trip to Budapest. The idea seemed good and everyone was really enthusiastic about this trip, people talked about it and made even more people want to join our trip. However, the lack of organization or lack of money made most of them dropped out, and the trip was only really a vague idea. As the supposed date of departure was approaching and as no concrete plans were made, even more dropped out. At some point, our clear lack of organizational skills made it quite obvious that this trip will probably not happen. Under a week before we were meant to go we finally go ourselves together and met up and realized that our traveling options were quite limited and we realized that the actual chances to go were very slim. Somehow a last-minute urge to go motivated us to go and buy our bus tickets and book a hostel. Quite unbelievable the trip that no one believed that would happen was actually going to happen and 9 motivated souls were going to go to Budapest! 

We took on Thursday night a night bus from Prague to Budapest. It was definitely one of the worst bus trips of my life. Not only that the bus was not particularly comfortable, not only that the road was incredibly bumpy, but on top of that there was a snoring competition going on, resulting in the fact that I maximum got 2 hours sleep. 

Arriving in Budapest at 5:30 am felt quite miserable, we were exhausted, it was cold, it was still dark, it was raining and only one of us had some Forints. 3 of the people with us were staying at a friend's place so they had the luxury that they could sleep for a bit after that terrible bus ride. The rest of us went to drop off our suitcases at the hostel, but we had to stay up until 2 pm as it was only then that we would get our room. It felt even more miserable to have to stay up for another 7 hours. However, it turned out to be a fantastic morning. We went to a hotel and had a all-you can eat breakfast for 2 hours, we literally ate all we could until the waiters started to give us some dirty looks. And then we went for a walk around the city, it was incredible because the weather was beautiful and we somehow found some superpowers to go and discover the Hungarian capital. 

These are the pictures I took on that walk with a disposable camera.    


We walked all the way up the hill to discover this views of Budapest. It was quite cold, the wind was pretty strong, but it was definitely worth the effort as we saw the morning sun rising on the city, and a combination of shadows and lights over the city.  

We stayed on the hill a couple of minutes to absorb the beauty of these views, before we decided to start walking down. On the way we stopped to play in a children's park. Very mature, indeed. 

We continued our way to see the rest of the city. 

By the time we came back to the Hostel we were really exhausted, but glad that we made the most of the day light and manage to see quite a bit of the Budapest. Later on we went to different bars and discovered the interesting Hungarian night life and those incredible bars with incredible decorations. Very hipster indeed. 

The next morning we went again around the city. Tried a goulash in an Irish pub, obviously. 

And towards the mid afternoon as the sun was going down, we went to the thermal baths.... an incredible relaxing experience. We were in a out door pool with was very warm and the we saw the sky getting dark and it started to snow while we were relaxing.  

And we also discovered the magic of the Christmas markets 

I was really glad that I did go on this trip, I discover a new city, it was a great way to spend some time with a couple of my Erasmus friends, I petty all those people that didn't come with us, but I hope for them that if they haven't been to Budapest yet that they will some day. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

On the Road Around the Czech Republic

Two weeks ago, Jan, Karolina, Jedrek, Florence and I, a total of three poles and a half and a Belgian, did a road trip around the East and south of the Czech Republic. It was a fantastic way to discover the beauties of the Czech Republic, get a feel of what the country side is like, explore several Czech castles, cathedrals and towns, get away of Prague for the week-end and get a better understanding of the country. It was culturally quite an enriching experience as we visited a lot: The cathedral of Kutna Hora, the city of Brno where we discovered the Czech's passion for ice hockey, the city of Ceske Budejovice where the famous Budweiser brewery is located, the beautiful town of Cesky Krumlov with its magnificent castle, the Castle of Hluboka nad Vltavou and its art exhibition, the Renaissance castle of Kratochvile, the castle of Vimperk, the castle of Blatna and the town of Tabor, all of this in the space of only 3 days. This made me realize the richness of the Czech Republic and the sceneries it has to offer. And it was a fun trip, I got to know 3 new friends better, we stayed in 2 cheap hostels called "Horni 19" and "Hostel Havana" (I think that the names sums it all), discovered the local specialties, we will all quite a lasting memory of dancing and singing to the song played on the radio, we just had a really good time. 

I did the pretty hipster thing of taking pictures with a disposable camera, a technology that I have not used for the last 10 years and it was challenging compared to the easiness of use of numerical cameras. Very unfortunately, at this time of the year and in this part of the world, it gets dark at about 4 pm, and as we did a number of our visits after sunset, a number of pictures did not come out as I had hoped for. Here are a few pictures to give you a glimpse of our trip. 

The Kutna Hora Cathedral
The town of Kutna Hora
Kutna Hora in November

Brno Cathedral
Ice Hockey Match in Brno

Ceske Budejovice

Looking for food in Ceske Budejovice

Hluboka nad Vltavou Castle

Kratochvile, a Renaissance palace

Vimperk Castle

Yes, the Czech Republic does have some pretty remarkable castles. The one I preferred was Cesky Krumlov which I think is prettier than Prague Castle. I hope that these few pictures give a rather positive image of the Czech Republic. 

Until later! 


Thursday, 28 November 2013

If Erasmus were a student, he’d probably be the best Student in the world

The Erasmus experience, in terms of meeting other students from all over Europe and the World, is an extraordinary one. In only 2 months I have not only met a lot of people and made new friends, but I have also met a number of people whom are from places from which I had never met someone from there before, such as Azerbaijan, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Montenegro or Moldavia. Prague seems to be a hotspot of international student exchange, not only because there are many, many, many Erasmus students here, but also because there is a great number of foreign students that come to Prague to do their bachelor’s or master’s. All this youth forms a vast international student network and meet at various events. In some ways, this exchange reminds me of my European School experience: people speaking in several different languages before the class starts, people comparing their countries and having some friendly nationalistic rivalries, people trying to learn a pick-up line in a foreign language, people hang out with a very diverse group of people… And I feel very comfortable in this multi-cultural environment.

I really enjoy the fact that groups of friends here are not as clear-cut as in my home university.  I am pleasantly surprised that students, instead of just sticking to their small closed group of friends, are meeting new people and will try to make an effort to hang out with not only people that are from their home country. At most parties I have been to there were always a few people that I didn’t know, so there is always an opportunity to meet new people, and at the day of the day, it seems that Erasmus students form one huge group of friends. Erasmus students are on average quite out-going, even those that are more reserved open themselves up, and in general they are up for trying new things, going to new places and travelling. There is this kind of enthusiasm and open-mindedness among Erasmus students that I really appreciate and makes this experience priceless.    

I have not quite figured out yet whether Erasmus students are good at balancing work and partying or whether they just do not do that much studying, because they do party a lot. I am learning a lot of interesting things at university here, learning about topics that would never have the opportunity to learn about at my home university and I consider myself very lucky for that. However, I have notice that some of the most interesting things that I have learnt here is from other students. For example, while debating in politic class students from different countries will bring a new light on the matter, or will be explaining something about their home country that even the lecturer didn’t know about. What I find particularly interesting is when students from outside Europe express their views, making me aware of opinions that I knew before. This exchange of ideas among this international youth is stimulating and is broadening my way of thinking and awareness. This exchange is truly a unique life experience. Erasmus students might not be the most studious students but they are fun, open-minded, out-going and international and that’s why they are probably the best students in the world.       

Will try to keep you posted a bit more regularly, 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

About Prague

Prague is by far the most beautiful city I have ever lived in (The others being: Brussels, Dublin and Warsaw).  When I had my first walk around the city I just could not believe how pretty it is. Before moving to the Czech capital I was told by several people that it is a very nice city, at the time I expected a wonderful main square and city centre restricted to a relatively small part of the city, and then the rest to be run-down and not so lovely. It went far beyond all my expectations. I was so surprised to realize that all the inner city, an area that I would estimate to be about 50 km² is absolutely gorgeous. It is has been over a month since I started living in Prague and I still find myself stopping to have a look around being truly amazed. Living in Prague feels like living in a museum, because every thing you look at seems to have a history to it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how well preserved all the buildings are, how clean the street are and how magical the atmosphere of the city is. Whenever I walk across Charles Bridge I am always enchanted by the beauty of the view. These photos speak for themselves.

A view of Prague Castle from Charles Bridge

Eastern bank of the Vltava river

View on Prague from the Castle

One thing that I like to do whenever I go around the city is to spot details on buildings that I did not notice before. Many buildings in Prague have decorations on them or status or something particular like this one on Wenceslas square.  

Facade of a Building on Wenceslas Square

Another thing that I was really surprised about upon my arrival is the quality of the transport system. Prague has 3 metro lines that work well, many trams and buses and a good number of night trams, so at any time of the day or night it is easy to get around the city. And the cherry on the cake is that the prices are good as it cost less than the equivalent of 1 euro for a single trip and a 10 month student pass costs about 100 Euros for metro, tram and buses! The transport is never as crowded as it gets on the Luas in Dublin at rush time. I have noticed that its only foreigners that talk loudly on the transport system, the Czechs are really civilized as they are very quiet on the metro, they give their seats as soon as they see an elderly person coming in and everyone stands on the right side of the escalators making space on the left for people in a hurry to walk up the escalator. In terms of courtesy in the transports, the Czechs have really impressed me. 

Malostranska Metro Stop

And regarding the climate: It barely rains here, most of the time the weather is sunny, but the down side is that it can get really cold and that it gets dark at about 4-5pm. I can deal with this continental climate. 

How I love my new city!
Bye for now! 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Charles "University" in Prague

In theory Erasmus is supposed to be an exchange directed at widening students’ academic perspectives via exploring a new country. Having this in mind I thought it would be a good idea to pretend that this is indeed the case and write a post about the peculiarities of the University I occasionally attend in Prague.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a few aspects of the Czech nation that point towards a conclusion that the Czechs are a silly nation. Well, Charles University is another solid argument for this thesis.

Firstly, the University is an institution established in the fourteenth century in the centre of Prague. This, logically would lead to the conclusion that there must be a campus located somewhere in the centre of the city, right? Wrong. The only buildings that I am aware of in the centre owned by my Stronghold of Education serve as a tourist shop and administrative offices with maybe two or three lecture halls. Otherwise the bulk of classes are taught all around the city except for the aforementioned centre and the area around the student dorms offered for Erasmus students. For example, all of my Politics modules are taught 15 minutes metro journey away from old town in buildings that look as academic as the southern suburbs of Warsaw (not very academic).

Secondly, lectures. Last week a Czech PhD candidate attempted to lecture us about Polish current affairs. Her English was as clear and pure as the Bulgarian bureaucracy and her knowledge about Poland as deep as the storyline of the “Hangover” trilogy. Furthermore, yesterday I was standing in front of one of the University buildings giving my lungs a favour when another teacher of mine came around. He greeted me with: “’Sup, you got fire, mate?”. I must admit I was left in shock for a second or two, which I managed to get out of immediately and present him with a lighter. Oh Prague…
Finally it is worth noticing that my timetable is not the most overwhelming asking me to attend 9 hours per week spread across two days (three on every other week).

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The Czechs are not very fond of their new President. This is quite understandable, as he apparently likes to have a shot of vodka here and there during diplomatic missions. The nation decided to express its discontent through the means of art. To be precise a huge, violet hand was installed in the middle of the Vltava River pointing its middle finger in the direction of the President’s residence. It looks like this:

Many things can be said about this country but one is certain: You will never be bored here!


Monday, 21 October 2013

A Walk in Prague on a Saturday Night

On a Saturday night, some time ago, when my fellow Erasmus friends were at a football match and I was along at home. The idea of staying home alone on a Saturday night was just too depressing so I decided to go out for a walk. What was meant to be a 30 min walk turned out to be much longer and quite an interesting experience. I was walking through my neighborhood and started to take a few pictures of Prague at night like these ones:  

Near Malostranske Namesti at night fall 

Lockers in the "Venice" of Prague

A view on Narodni Divadlo (The National Theater) from the West bank of the river. 

Prague is an enchanting city at night time and it is quite pleasant to just walk around the city. At this stage I was considering turning back to go back home. However, I heard some music at the distance which caught my attention, so I started to make my way towards the source of the music and I ended up near Kampa Island where I saw stands where they were selling beer, sausages, smoked ham and hot wine. A bit further  a little stage and some music - there was a small concert on. It is was full of Czech people of all ages just having fun dancing and listening to famous pop songs sang in Czech, so if you ever wondered what's the Czech version of "Tragedy" by the Bee Gees or "I Had the Time of my Life" check these 2 videos: 

It was a fun little party where Czechs as well as foreigners, small children as well as older people were enjoying dancing to the classic hits sang live. Knowing the original lyrics of the songs and understanding another Slavonic languages it was interesting trying to understand what was sang in Czech. After a while I decided to move on, crossed the Legii Bridge trying to make my way up towards Charles Bridge to get back home. I noticed how the people around me, locals as well as tourists were in some kind of party atmosphere and  good mood. Prague at night has this very unique feel to it. Walking along the bank of the river, I came across this scene (as shown in the video below or click on link). 

I thought it was quite amusing to see these people randomly partying on the street. I must say that I have witnessed a few strange/amusing things in Prague since I have arrived. After that I just met on my way a few polish guy and then met up with the Erasmus people and I learnt then that a short walk in Prague will never be as short as you think it will be. 

Bye for now!