30 July 2011

Prague, Czech Republic

First sighting of Prague Castle!
Sincere apologies all around for not blogging since the 4th of July, but I promise that the wait was well worth it. Last week I took a well-deserved break from my dissertation and embarked on my last EuroTrip of the year.  For this post, I will focus on my time in Prague. This was my first venture into Eastern Europe, so I felt like it was a fairly momentous occasion. Buffum has been studying in Prague for a summer exchange program, so I jumped at the chance to visit her. Prague has been on my list of places to visit for a long time now, so I was particularly happy to finally experience this absolutely beautiful city.
Very first Mom Picture of the trip.
Crazy money amounts....
I caught an earlier flight out on Monday, so I still had plenty of the day remaining when I finally arrived. My first strange moment came at the airport when I went to withdraw money from the ATM. The smallest amount I could withdraw was 500 krowns, which was just weird! It was a bit of a shock seeing this amount on screen, despite the exchange rate that was strongly in my favor. Since I am currently operating on the pound, I had the privilege of an exchange rate of 28 krowns to 1 pound, so I was perfectly happy.

At the Lennon Wall.
Buffum picked me up from the train station, and, after dropping off my things at her place, we embarked on a long walking tour of the city. We started by heading to Bohemia Bagel, where we grabbed some much needed lunch. The coffee was free refills, so we decided to walk off our caffeine jitters with a visit to the Lennon Wall. This stretch of wall started a lovely tradition on the night that John Lennon died. As the story goes, a fan went out and drew a portrait of Lennon on the wall. During the 80's, it became a place where people would post messages of peace and grievances against the Communist regime. Now, it stands as a symbol for love and peace and anyone can add to it as they please.

Adding my own name to the wall.
Stretch of the Lennon Wall.
Admiring the wall...this wasn't staged AT ALL.
View off Charles Bridge.
Prague Castle from
Charles Bridge.
From there we continued our walking tour with a venture across the Charles Bridge. The Charles Bridge is a pedestrian bridge, which makes for some great people watching. There are little vendors selling art and jewellery along the sides, so be sure to take your time crossing.  Halfway across the bridge are a couple of cute traditions, so keep your eye out for those. First are the praying hands, which you rub for good luck. After, keep your eyes peeled for the locks of love where lovers write their names on a locket which they then attach to the bridge. Plus, the view off the bridge is pretty great from both sides. It’s right in the heart of the city, so there’s plenty to admire.
Touching the praying hands.
Locks of Love - an adorable tradition
Stopping to enjoy some musicians.

After meandering for a bit and stopping for my first Pilsner, we headed to Old Town Square. The main attraction in Old Town Square is the famous Astronomical Clock, which goes off on the hour, every hour. There is a big crowd that gathers, so be ready to get a bit jostled.  The clock was installed in 1410, so it has a Medieval flair that is really beautiful. There is a video that I took below, where you can watch death strike a tiny bell. My favorite part? The adorable trumpets that go off at the end.
Mom Picture with the Astronomical Clock.
Astronomical Clock - at the very least, it's beautiful.
At this point, our day was pretty much done. As we had been walking around for a long time, we were ready for some dinner and more Czech beer. After filling up on delicious pizza, we were both fairly tired and ready to unwind. We had a big day ahead of us, so we were perfectly happy to lounge about and ready for bed.
Enjoying my first Czech beer of the trip.
First of many beautiful
views during our climb.
Fake Eiffel Tower.
The next day, after Buffum got back from class, we embarked on a long journey up Petrin Hill. From the top is a lovely view of the city, so it's well worth the climb. It was pretty much an all-day activity, especially since we stopped at a cafe and grabbed a beer halfway there. If you're not feeling like a hike, then there is a tram that will take you almost to the top. Once you do make it, be sure to find the imitation Eiffel Tower. According to Buffum, they wanted to build their own version of the Eiffel Tower that was taller than the original. When it came down to planning it, however, they took a bit of a shortcut - they chose to build a small model, but on top of a hill, thus making it taller! (kinda) On top of the hill is also a beautiful rose garden, observatory, and mirror maze. We made sure to visit all of these spots, but only after we had our picnic.
Mom Picture with the view.
Again...totally natural. Not at all posed.
Enjoying the unfortunate mirrors in the maze.
I dub this picture in the rose garden, "Grandma Picture."
Buffum and me, posing with
the sunset.
After leaving, both of us had sore thighs from the climb. We decided to relax a bit at Buffum's before embarking on our night adventure. This turned out to be a great choice, since we had our minds set on a beer garden - on top of another hill. This climb was not nearly as long, and we had the benefit of the beautiful sunset to keep us company. Once we sat down with our beers, however, I quickly realized that the view made the sore legs well worth it. We were fortunate enough to have a picnic table near the edge, so our conversation had a fantastic backdrop. 

Beautiful sunset.
Equally beautiful city all lit up at night.
Front of
St.Vitus Cathedral.
Looking down the nave of St. Vitus.
While Buffum was in the class the next morning, I made a visit to the castle with her friend, Kendal. Prague Castle is still in use today, and it has been since the 14th century. Apparently, it is also the biggest castle in the world - which is all the more impressive given its age. The main attraction in Prague Castle is the massive cathedral, which is was dominates its view from afar. You can go in to see the impressive stained glass in St. Vitus Cathedral, crown  jewels in the old royal residence, and bones of St.Ludmilla in St. George's Basilica. All in all, we spent a good few hours visiting the castle and we were lucky to finish up right as the rain was starting up.
Mom Picture, but of course.
Old Town Square
Old Town Square
On our way back, Kendal and I did a bit of souvenir shopping. I was happy to find my new Prague mug to add to my collection and a pretty garnet ring to bring home. At 6:00 I met Buffum at the Astronomical Clock after exploring Old Town Square, where we headed out to dinner. After stopping back at home and engaging in some Pretty Little Liars time, we headed out for some drinks at Buffum's favorite bar - where I may or may not have snatched some beer steins as souvenirs. One thing that really stuck with me about the bar is that you could smoke inside. I feel so spoiled to live in a place where this is banned, so it was a really big shock to be around it again...especially since we were underground in a windowless room.

Dancing House
The next morning was filled with packing and a quick visit to the Dancing House, which was designed by Frank Gehry, the same gent that designed the Guggenheim. By 2:30 we were heading to the airport, where we were to catch a flight to Amsterdam....so stay posted! I'll be sure to blog about that soon! 

All in all, Prague was a beautiful city. It has a really chill feel to it, so it makes for a very relaxing trip. You could spend your entire time just exploring the beers Prague has to offer and admiring the beautiful views. Plus, there are little things about the city that makes it adorable. Like how 90's music always seems to be in the background and the fashion is just a tad bit behind.

Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square.
Old Town Square.
Looking down towards the National Gallery.
Prague Castle from Charles Bridge.
Mom Picture on Charles Bridge
Buffum and me with Prague Castle and Charles Bridge in the background.

05 July 2011

4th of July!

The planners!
Little America?
The 4th of July is perhaps one of my favorite holidays, which is why I absolutely had to celebrate it from afar. I have so many memories of hanging on Megan's boat while we watch fireworks. I love having the grill going with lots of friends hanging around outside. Sami, Deirdre, and I decided to throw a party for our friends since we have a big courtyard and open air kitchen at our disposal. We really tried to go all out. I was especially a fan of the flag plates, streamers, banners, lanterns, beach ball, and table cloth. We quickly turned our little courtyard into little America, complete with a bucket of Bud. (Which, coincidentally, came in a pack of 15...which was just weird....)
Bucket o' Budweiser! It was an absolute must.
It ended up being a blast! We each invited our friends from our respective programs, so it was a pretty big and eclectic crowd. Everyone arrived around 5:30, so it was a really nice, long evening filled with fun and drinking. I really enjoyed the extreme patriotism - especially the temporary tattoos and the moment when we sang happy birthday to America over a funfetti cake.....it had to be done.
My best imitation of Miss America.
The night was filled with plenty of memories. We enjoyed the plethora of Springsteen and Mellencamp that was pumping, standing in awe while Whitney Houston belted out the National Anthem. We jammed to plenty of Motown, Knocking Three Times with Tony Orlando and celebrated The Gambler with Kenny Rogers (and yes, there was line dancing). 
Doing our best to recreate a 4th BBQ.
Those poppers you throw at the ground were an absolute must, as were many, many sparklers... it just wouldn't be the 4th without some form of fireworks.All in all, I'd say we did America proud. Considering we were celebrating in Scotland, we did a pretty stand up job sharing our (only slightly obnoxious) patriotism with our European friends.
Playing with fire....a must for any 4th BBQ.
Sami, Deirdre, and me! Fully enjoying the sparklers.

01 July 2011

Scout: 1995-2011

This is a bit after the fact, but I didn't want this news to become a footnote in my other blog posts. The honorary sixth member of the Giertych family, Scout, passed on June 4th. At 16 years old, it was her time to go. She lived an amazingly long life.
I can barely remember a time before we had her. I have a distinct memory of sitting on the floor of my kitchen in my AYSO uniform.My dad lifted her out of her box. She was the runt of her litter and sick when we brought her home. She surveyed her surroundings and gently padded toward my outstretched hand. She gingerly curled up in my lap and, in that small instance, she was officially a member of the family.

There are plenty of memories running through my mind. On the second full day we had her the morning erupted into tears as her razor sharp puppy teeth were too much for Mark's toes to handle. There was also the time she ate all of the colored Easter eggs and pooped in technicolor for a week. There were countless mornings that she snatched our breakfast right out from under our noses and plenty of summer nights spent chasing after her during one of her many daring escapes. I'll never forget the time she got out of the farm house in Maine and she was bounding like a gazelle through the tall grass, pure glee etched on her face.

This past summer Scout and I became lounge buddies. With my knee recuperating from surgery, she kept me company while I watched episodes of The West Wing. I was always grateful that she was around...even if she would always slowly wander off when I let her outside. It's like she knew I had a bum knee and was therefore  the only family member that she could (briefly) escape from.
Trying to find a way out of the kitchen.
What a pretty old lady!
Begging for a treat, as per usual.