Monday, September 30, 2013

Moravia Weekend

St. Anthony (patron saint of lost things) has not exactly been on my side this weekend...

On Friday night, hours before I was leaving for Moravia, my iPhone fell out of my pocket at a tram station. The only reason I brought it with me in the first place was because I had the tram directions saved on my phone to get us all home safely. No good deed goes unpunished...

Although I am sad and frustrated about losing the phone, I know that it is replaceable.  However, what the phone symbolizes -- a connection to home, a means of contacting the ones I love, pictures of them, songs that remind me of home -- makes me feel as though I lost a lifeline, and I am more homesick than ever.  I wonder if I was "addicted" to the physical phone itself, or to all the love and connection that the phone provided.  It's hard to see my friends here "Viber-ing" with their families or checking Instagram to see pictures from home.  A few months without a phone will do me some good though!  Trying to look on the bright side.

While in Moravia, I lost on of my favorite pearl earrings.  Actually, they are Steph's pearl earrings that I "borrowed" from her in the 10th grade and never gave back.  Pearls became a signature look for me, and everyone knew me as the girl with the pearls.  Steph constantly bothered me about giving them back to her, but everyone in my family knew they never ever left my earlobes.  I was at a wine tasting in Moravia when I felt my ear and only my backing was there.  I searched forever, with the help of my amazing friends for whom I am so grateful, to no avail.  Needless to say, it put quite a damper on the trip.

But to outline my Moravia Trip in one sentence...

   As much as I loving visiting new churches, and making a wish in every single one (just like you taught me, Ty), they are all beginning to blend together!  Granted, I am becoming a professional architecture because I'm learning the difference between Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance, etc.  The first church we visited was connected to a convent.  This church was famous for its gorgeous entrance called "The Gate to Heaven".  There were 5 nuns and 1 novice (nun-in-training).  We learned that this order takes a vow of silence, and I could not imagine how difficult that would be!  We got to visit the town of Brno in eastern Czech Republic and walk around the town for a bit.
    After another short drive we arrived at an adorable Wine Cellar.  It was a mix of a Bed & Breakfast and wine cellar.  Our rooms were adorable, and we were all overjoyed to take a decent shower.  For dinner, the wife prepared the most amazing dinner we've had in awhile.  Chicken, scalloped potatoes, broccoli & cauliflower, and salad.  Our bodies almost forgot what vegetables tasted like!  The dessert was an amazing blueberry pastry!  And they just kept the wine coming all night!  After dinner, dessert, wine, and cheese, the wine tasting began!  It was really interesting to see the cellars and learn about the wines.

    In the morning we left to go see 2 more churches.  The second church had a hand-carved masterpiece as an altar (I'll put pictures up later).  Dad, you would've LOVED it! Lastly we headed to these awesome underground caves.  I have never seen such cool things before.  One portion of the tour was done in a boat through these small waterways through the caves.  It was mind-blowing!

My first day of classes started today! (finally)  My first class this morning was Soft Skills Psychology.  We walked in and our jaws dropped.  Our professor is beyond gorgeous with a British-like accent, even though he is from Prague.  He is the most talented, intelligent, well-rounded human being I have ever met.  He and his wife (ugh) are building their own house!  He works in non-profits, he's a life coach, he's a bee-keeper, a teacher, a gardener, a jogger, he doesn't own a TV.. and did I mention he's perfect?  So it's going to be a great semester!  I'm off to my next class, Politics!  I'll keep you posted!  Pictures to come later!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Getting Lost

When it comes to traveling, I'd say I'm a pretty good navigator.  I am always very aware of my surroundings, and I have a great memory for directions.  However, there is something so nerve-wracking and vulnerable about getting lost in a foreign country.  We get lost a lot here.  Mostly because after midnight the metro stops and only the trams run.  The tram system is not simple to navigate.

I have noticed that the fear of getting lost has deterred me from exploring aimlessly.  After much reflection, I realize how silly that is!  The only way we can find our way is to first be lost.  Getting lost allows us to find hidden treasures which we may have never found had we remained on the beaten path; a new cafe, a small, beautiful church, a spectacular art sculpture.  So from this day forward, I'm going to explore as much as I can, get lost as much (and as safely) as possible, but always bring a map to find my way home.  

The concept of getting lost connects to the faith aspect of my journey as well.  Although I have felt someone lost here, being lost has brought me closer in faith to my best friend/roommate Michelle.  We as Christians are the minority here and it has created an even deeper bond between us, which I am forever grateful for.

As ANYONE in my family can tell you, I am MOST lost when I am in the kitchen.  I do not like to cook because I am not good at it.  However, my suite mates and I make dinner once a week together!  I have been making my dinner as often as possible.  Last night was steamed green beans, cucumber slices, and bow tie pasta with tomato basil sauce... from a jar (sorry Mom and Grandma).  Below are a few pictures of my suit mates and I making our first dinner together: grilled, spiced chicken with steamed green beans!  It was delicious!

Below is me and Claire preparing the chicken in our tiny kitchen!

Side note: Claire (above) and I got the highest scores in the class on our Czech final.  We both got 97% and our whole class ended the course with an overall A! This is the first time in Darina's history of teaching that this has ever happened! Yay us!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Verni Zustali

The title of today's post is called "vêrni zúlstali," which means remain faithful in Czech.  Keep this in mind; it will come in handy later in this post.

Today's post is mostly about faith.  Coming to Europe I assumed that everyone here would be religious, but I guess that is a stigma that the US put on Europe.  I found out today that Czech is over 50% Atheist... and my jaw dropped.  Here I am, a young adult trying to learn more about my faith every day plopped into a country where faith is not relevant.  But then I asked myself if my surroundings actually have an impact on me, or if that is just an excuse I might use.  The city I am in has NO impact on what God chooses to teach to me while I am here.  I can still find him in the beauty of my surroundings, the amazing people I meet, and the stunning churches that may have lost their significance, but were once used as fervent places of faith.  The unhappy people I meet here are all the more reason why I understand that having faith & God in my life makes my life so joyful.  The natives may use the excuse that they grew up in a Communist Regime, and therefore believing in God just "isn't a thing."  However, that is all the more reason to be thankful for the beautiful nation that has developed from such evil.

We learned an amazing story yesterday.  After Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SS in Czech and mass murderer, was killed by the Resistance, Hitler ordered 10,000 Czechs to be killed and a town to be razed to the ground as a consequence.  The local authority lowered his orders to 5,000 people- which ended up being 6,000 people.  The town of Lidice was completely destroyed. 200 men killed by a shooting squad in front of their neighbors.  83 children under 15 years old were gased in trucks.  8 kids were spared because they were "Germanize-able" and they were sent to be adopted by German families.  We were lucky enough to speak to one of those 8 survivors yesterday.  She herself recognizes how lucky she is to have her life.  She has mixed feelings because although the Germans destroyed her town and killed her family, they also allowed her to keep her life.  But in a large way, I think God was involved in that decision because he knew she could tell her story and inspire the future generations.

The soldiers who killed Heydrich risked their lives to make their countries better.  In a shootout with the SS they were given a chance to surrender and be pardoned.  They responded, "verni zustali"... we will remain faithful, before they took their own lives.  To the end, they were faithful.  Their families were also killed to be an example for other Resistance participants.  In a country whose revolution was built on faith in the revolution, it amazes me that they have lost such faith.

However, with the distant help of Leah and other friends from home, I hope to find myself and my faith here in Prague.  It'll be hard, but it'll be gratifying.  Giving you all the glory, God.  Blessed to be here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Weekend to Remember!

Wow, this weekend has been such a busy whirlwind!

Friday we went to the Spartan Fútbol (soccer) game.  It was so much fun! They played a rival Slovak team and won 4-1.  During that game I decided that my future husband would be a Czech soccer player-wish me luck!  Right before the game though, our group experienced something interesting.  As we walked by a police officer, he slapped a young man so loudly that it echoed through the stadium. He then proceeded to slam the guy to the ground.  To our understanding, the guy hadn't done anything majorly wrong to deserve this type of treatment.  We were all in complete shock, while the Czech people around us didn't even blink. I guess it's an everyday occurrence for them.

On Saturday, in the pouring rain, we ventured out to Bohemian Paradise for a long hike.  To waste time while we waited for the rain to stop, our leader took us to an old church tour.  A woman (about the age of 65 or so) maintained these 3 LARGE bells (15tons, 7 tons, and 3 tons).  There are only 9 people in the Czech Republic certified to ring them properly (a process that takes 6 months of 7days a week training).  Luckily, the woman was one of them and after much Czech begging and "prosím?!" (please) she agreed to ring the smallest bell for us.  It was magical--- and LOUD!

The hiking continued with a tour of Castle Ruins- breathtaking views!  The pictures do NOT do it justice.  Next we hiked to an area where a man with no family lived out his days in the forest carving the rock face into various Czech historical depictions.  It was INCREDIBLE!

Lastly we hiked to another Castle with a spectacular view of the Czech countryside.  It was really nice to get out of the city for the day!  Made some new great friends from the other ECES programs!

At night, after a long nap, we all went on our first Pub Crawl called The Drunken Monkey.  The first bar played all American music and had beer pong and flip cup and foosball so we all felt right at home! Did I mention it was open bar?  I met a guy from East Hampton, Long Island who now lives here in Prague!  The 2nd bar played some great Salsa music and we met a group of German guys visiting for the vikend (weekend).  They LOVED the fact that my last name was Christel- a common last name in their area of Germany.  The last bar played electric music which is not my favorite, but we all still had an amazing time together as a huge group.  Unfortunately, it took us over 2 hours to get home because we still haven't quite figured out the tram system.  We live and we learn!  Having the time of my life and missing everyone back at home SOO much!  Thanks for following my adventures!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mushroomz in the Bathroomz

Prague update:

I literally just hand-washed all my clothes in my kitchen sink.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I feel as if I have stepped back in time.  And boy am I glad to live in the 21st century!  It is BEYOND hard to reserve a washer here.  After 3 tries and getting yelled at by the receptionist in Czech, I gave up and took matters into my own hands.  There are no dryers here anyway, so we hang dry everything.  I feel like I'm in colonial times.  Not fun at all.

On a more gross note, we have 2 mushrooms growing in our bathroom!  Our bathrooms were made crooked so every time someone showers, the bathroom floods.  And there are no rags to dry it and no dryers to dry our floor mat.  So basically our bathroom constant has at least 1 inch of water covering the floor at all times..... and that, my friends, started our mushroom problem.  Our friend who works here, Arnie (bless his heart) is doing his best to help us, and he even offered doing some construction on our bathroom himself to help us out.  Great guy.  Until then, we shower as little as possible, but as much as necessary.  Aunt Leanne, Mom, Lillian, and Daniel- you sure you guys still want to stay here with us? It's a glamorous lifestyle to say the least.

On a positive note, I am feeling MUCH better!  I got a 100% on my Czech midterm (miraculously), and our AMAZING teacher Darina invited the whole class (only 8 of us) to her house to cook an authentic Czech  meal!  This is a huge rarity in the Czech culture, but she told us she loves us and that's a big deal!   Tonight we are heading to our first football (soccer) game!  Tomorrow a bunch of us are going hiking through Bohemian Paradise, which is a few hours away from here.  Fingers crossed for good weather and an end to all this rain!  Until next time, Nashledanou (goodbye)!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sick in Prague

The only thing worse than being sick.... is being sick 439875085439874 miles away from home.  Sore throat, sinus infection, runny nose, headache, and just plain TIRED.  What caused this you  may ask?  Well let's see... it was probably a combination of things:

-We ALL share drinks/food
-We have walked miles through the rain in the past week
-The 'smoking room' is perfectly situated RIGHT next to our room so we get all the second-hand smoke.

So basically, I'll be coming home with emphysema.
Taking DayQuil religiously and sucking down cough drops/tea.  Fingers crossed I get better ASAP.
Shout out to my amazing friends here, Michelle, Eli, and Chris for bringing me yummy food last night when I was stuck in my bed being miserable.  You guys are the best!  The worst part about it was being sick for the trip I was looking forward to the most- The Bone Church.  It is a church made entirely out of human bones!  I still enjoyed the experience, but walking in the pouring rain definitely mad matters worse.

Czech midterm is on Thursday.  This is a RIDICULOUSLY hard language.  Thankfully, our teacher Darina is absolutely AMAZING!

Michelle and I both did not consider how frustrating the language barrier would be.  Through our research we figured that a vast majority of the people here speak at least a little English.  Turns out, we were very very long.  There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to communicate with a fellow human being- especially when you need your laundry done ASAP!

On a more positive note, I found out today I only have classes on Monday and Tuesday so that leaves plenty of time for travel and study!

Fingers crossed I get better soon!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Big Lil Reunion

    Today we went on a wonderful "nature walk" which turned into a full-on hike... up-hill both ways, of course.  The legend behind the area is really cool though.  In short- there was a woman ruler, but the guys didn't really respect her, so her and all the other females built their own castle and started their own kingdom.  They fought tons of wars agains the men, and always won!  In the end, the females staged an attack where the guys (who were very women-deprived) would save the "damsel in distress" then the damsel would blow her horn to signal to the other women.  Long story short, all the men were killed.  Women rule.  The end.

   Started officially planning our trip to Budapest today for the beginning of October!  Super exciting!  Lillian (my Big) and Daniel booked their trip to visit here from Scotland at the end of October! YAYY!!!  I got to skype with Lillian today and it was amazing and TOTALLY needed!  She is so wise and always has the best advice!

Tomorrow we are going to the Bones Church!  I have been looking forward to this for SOOOOOO long!  It is basically a church made entirely out of human bones.  Beyond cool.  I'll keep ya posted!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ed's Bday/River Cruise

Here are some pictures to keep you updated!

 This is a picture of us in London- we were very lost.  We seem to get lost a lot.  But I have successfully taken over the role of navigator and haven't gotten us lost since!  We are becoming pro's at navigating the city streets!
 These pictures are from move-in day!  Sorry it's a mess- we were still unpacking!

Check out my Adventures page for the Supermarket Fiasco Story!

Last night was SOO fun!  For Ed's Birthday we all went bar hopping near the Charles River!  We started out at an interesting Reggae Bar, then headed to a few more hip urban bars.  The metro closes at midnight, so until we're more comfortable with the transportation, we all decided it would be easier to just be back before midnight and head to some bars near our dorm on the other side of town.  What a fun night getting to know the amazing people that surround me here!

Today we went on a river cruise! It was a bit chilly, but we were able to see the city from a whole new perspective!  Check out the pictures on my Facebook page!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Prague Day 1

We made it to Prague!

After an unpleasant 4am wake-up call, we headed out on the next step of our journey to Prague!  The flight went smoothly- I basically slept the entire way.  We met with our program instructors, Mika, Z, and Marketa, then drove to our dorm!  In terms of mine & Michelle's dorm room.....

Dorothy, we are not in High Point anymore....

We have been spoiled our first two years of college!  Our room is like a normal college dorm- nothing extraordinary.  I'll post pictures soon!

A group of us took the day to explore the area.  We shopped for minor things like toiletries and water (which is scarce in Europe so we're all dehydrated).  The stores are SOOOOO cheap.  I bought shampoo, shaving cream, 2 HUGE water bottles, 2 peaches, and more, and it was less than $20 American.  Absolutely amazing!  The area where we're dorming is under construction, but very urban.  It is the "residential area" of Prague.  I am excited to see where our University is, in Old Town.  Red roofs & cobble stone streets await us!  I think I will like that part of the city better.  That is where we all plan to spend the majority of our time.

We have no wifi so our fiber doesn't work unless we go to a nearby cafe.  We have ethernet cords to get internet only in our rooms, so e-mail me or inbox me on Facebook!

We have the welcome dinner tonight at a local restaurant, so I'll keep you posted with that!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

London Day 2

Our professionally guided tour through Europe was AMAZING!  I probably won't even be able to remember all the places we've seen today!

-Buckingham Palace
-Big Ben
-Westminster Abbey
-St. Paul Cathedral
-London Bridge
-Frafalgar Square
-National Museum of Portraits
-Covent Gardens

...just to name a FEW!

Our tour guide Stewart knew so much about London- it was incredible!  He was also hilarious so that helps too.
The hardest thing so far is getting used to the different customs-- ordering food at the bar, and not from your table, not tipping (we didn't know that so our waitress had a GREAT day), etc.
So far, SOOO good.  I love the group I'm with so far, and I'm excited for the next few months with them.  We all say we feel like we're on the RealWorld-- a bunch of strangers living together for 4 months.  We've even started a confessional cam.  Wake-up call for tomorrow: 4am for our flight to Prague.  Can't wait!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

London Day 1

    After LOTS of traffic, long check-in & security lines, and high anxiety, I finally made it to the gate!  But all of my worries seemed to melt away when I was seated next to two very gorgeous British men.  Instead of 'thank you' they said 'cheers'- which is absolutely adorable.  If I had a dollar for every time someone said cheers to me, today alone, I'd be a pretty rich lady.  Welcome to London!
    I was able to get a few hours of sleep on the plane.  After watching Safe Haven (which resulted in LOTS of tears), I was exhausted and ready to sleep.  However the lady to my left had other plans.  She decided to be THE ONLY person in the cabin with a light on.  She took out bits of paper and began writing what looked like her autobiography. However, I was mistaken... She was writing song lyrics.  So she then preceded to sing it. Aloud. It was neither the time, nor the place- I wanted sleep.  Out of the 7 hour flight I got about 3 1/2 hours of sleep.

  After meeting with our group of about 25 kids (all ultimately going to Prague or Austria) we hopped on a bus and headed to the hotel.  Our driver, John, was a witty old man who knew so much random, useless information about London landmarks- plus, he was hilarious!  I am rooming with Laurisa- she is from Rochester, NY but lived in Ukraine until she was 9 (speaks fluent Russian and Slovak).  Michelle, Erika (also from Long Island), and I went to a small cafe for lunch.  None of us knew how the check/tipping thing goes in London so we basically just winged it.  The waitress either got an amazingly high tip, or a crappy tip.  Then we toured the Hyde Park, which our hotel overlooks.  Next, we took to Oxford Street to check out the shopping scene.  Tomorrow is a tour-filled day of all London's most famous landmarks.  Stay tuned!

 First thing we crossed off our bucket list!

 Our hotel for the weekend
 Hyde Park

 Very VERY friendly pigeons

 Horse statue