Blog

Welcome, Spring!

“Blossom by blossom the spring begins.”

Algernon Charles Swinburne

I have been struggling to find the words to express the past week and a half.  It has been truly incredible watching the trees bud and the flowers bloom.  In addition, I spent five days on a marvelous trip.  So here we go: The latest in The Becca Chronicles.

Last Thursday one of Gloria’s friends came to visit Ostrava.  We wanted to take her up Halda Ema, so we set off to do so in the evening.  By the time we reached the top, the sun had just dropped below the horizon and the city was lighting up.  We sat on a bench and drank beer while enjoying the cool spring air and the view of the city.  I had not yet been up there past dark and loved the experience.  The mountain was also steaming more than I’ve seen yet.

On Friday I woke up early and set off for the first day of my long weekend.  Yaren and I headed to Vienna.  I needed to pass through there to get to my next destination, and she had not been yet.  So, we spent the entire day exploring the city.  I was able to take her to my favorite spots and we also saw new things together.  The parks were all beginning to blossom and the world is coming to life.  The city looked so different than it did 7 weeks ago.  I am awed by the cherry trees and their vibrant blossoms.  I could sit among them all day long (which I’ve been doing, but more on that later).  We also visited the art galley in Belvedere, which included Gustav Klimt’s very famous peace, The Kiss.  It was quite spectacular.

In the afternoon, Julia, Elina, and Iiro joined us.  We got lunch and spent the evening visiting more of the city.  We saw Yaren back to the train station so she could make it home to Ostrava, and we set out to burn a couple more hours.  We decided to ride the famous Vienna Ferris Wheel.  The view of Vienna at night was great and it was a relaxing ride. 

Once back on the ground, we had dinner at a fabulous Chinese restaurant, where I had dumplings.  Yes, it is possible I have become obsessed with dumplings.  Then we went to the train station and boarded our first overnight sleeper train.  The compartments were small and set up with six beds (two sides each with three bunks).  Between the people and our luggage, we pretty much couldn’t move once we crawled into our little caves.  Surprisingly, I slept fairly well and woke the next morning to a train attendant holding breakfast and coffee!

We arrived in Bregenz, Austria, and took another short train ride to our destination: Lochau.  Our friend, Thomas, lives there and invited us to come stay for a few days.  Upon arriving, he and his girlfriend helped us get settled in the house and make our beds.  We sat on the balcony on the third floor, where we could see the village around us.  Lochau is located on the edge of the Lake of Konstanz, at the base of the Austrian alps, and within sight of both Germany and Switzerland.  From the balcony, we had a view of all of these things. 

After a bit of rest, we walked to the next village over where Thomas’ said his mom would give us some “snacks”.  Well, apparently “snacks” means an entire multi-course homemade traditional Austrian meal.  She prepared wienerschnitzel, salad, vegetables, pasta, and potatoes.  We feasted, each of us so excited to have a mom-cooked meal.  It was the best meal I’ve had in two months.  After lunch we sat and had coffee and traditional Austrian cake, sachertorte.  It was to die for.  We had a lovely afternoon talking and eating.  Oh, and I chased some of the neighborhood cats.

We walked along the edge of the lake and went to a small German island town, called Lindau.  It was a beautiful town and we enjoyed an evening of strolling around.  After returning to Lochau, Julia, Elina, and I went to the lake shore to watch the sunset.  We stayed outside a long time, enjoying the weather and talking about all sorts of things.

The next morning we headed up into the mountains.  We caught a bus on the way up and hiked maybe 100 meters once we got off.  We stopped at a café overlooking the lake for breakfast.  We sat for a couple hours, ordering more food and coffee when needed.  Eventually we moved on and went through an animal park (like a zoo) on the side of the mountain.  The highlight of this was a slide that was built into the side of the mountain.  Yes, it was probably made for kids, and yes, we each rode it three time and laughed hysterically while doing so.  It was not your average slide.  It was steep, long, and curvy, and provided us with a lot of amusement.

We continued on to the top of the next mountain, where we lay in the grass and enjoyed the view of the alps.  After maybe an hour of napping in the sunshine we began the hike down.  It was a couple kilometers of steep downhill through the forest, which is turning green and was beautiful.  We reached the bottom and walked along the lake.  I think we ate more good food at some point in there.  And ice cream.  And maybe cake.  Essentially the whole weekend consisted of naps in the sun and good food.

The next day Julia and I made ourselves a picnic breakfast to eat on the balcony in the sun.  We then travelled by car to Meersburg, Germany, where we visited a beautiful castle, and, you guessed it, had coffee and sweets.  We dined (briefly) like royalty on the balcony of the castle. 

We then took the ferry across the lake to Konstanz, Germany, where we toured the city.  One of the most interesting things in Konstanz is the giant rotating statue on the shore of the lake.  The statue depicts a prostitute, holding the Pope Martin V in one hand and Emperor Sigismund in the other.  It is a satirical take on how the woman held power over the men after “working” with both of them and learning their secrets. 

After another great meal, we drove back through Switzerland to Lochau.  The next morning we headed towards home and travelled by train for about 11 hours.  It was an amazing trip and we visited some of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week I spent the majority of my time laying in my hammock in the riverside park.  I found a lovely spot beneath the cherry trees where I got a little bit of sun and a view of the river.  I worked on a lot of things from there and had a picnic lunch both days. 

As some of you may know, my family sent me a package over a month ago.  For weeks I heard nothing about it, until finally I received a notice that it was stuck in Czech customs.  So today I took a quick trip to Prague, where I rescued my package, and finally got my birthday presents.  I had cards from both sets of grandparents, including chicken feathers and dog hair straight off the Camp Verde farm.  It’s a good thing customs didn’t think to check inside my letters, because livestock is largely forbidden. I also heard from several friends and got some wonderful gifts from my family.  I miss everyone dearly.

Many More Adventures

“As with any journey, who you travel with is more important than the destination.”

Hi everyone!  I’m sorry it’s been two weeks since I’ve written.  Last week I had a cold and hadn’t done much of interest to share.  However, I have a lot to say today!

On March 15th , Gesa and I joined Gloria and her friend Laura (who was visiting from Italy) on a trip to Wraclaw, Poland.  We had a great weekend exploring the city and eating way too much pierogi (we had it four times in 2 days…).  The city was very beautiful and we enjoyed touring it.  It was full of gorgeous old buildings, including cathedrals and churches, and had a wonderful park and garden.  The city is also known for gnomes, so there are about 350 small metal gnomes spread throughout the city and we searched for them as we walked around. 

As for pierogi, we tried a variety of places, fillings, and styles.  At each place we all ordered different things and shared accordingly, so I feel as though I am now a pierogi expert.  Throughout the weekend we created different criteria and discussed each place thoroughly while eating and acted as though we were professional critics.  The criteria included things such as the dumpling dough, fillings, cost, atmosphere, and flavor variety.  We went to one place that had oven-baked pierogi as well as traditional pierogi, and after trying them both we all agreed we prefer traditional style.  My favorite type of filling is the traditional Russian dumpling, with potato and cheese.  However, we also tried ones with onion, spinach, meats, and more.  The spinach ones were also a big hit among our group.  Oh, and the dessert pierogi are also wonderful.  We tried some with chocolate and some with fruit.  What did we learn through this experience?  Pierogi is delicious and you will enjoy it at pretty much any restaurant that serves it.  Thank you, Poland, for having such exquisite food.

I began to feel sick during our stay in Wroclaw and continued to fight a cold for a few days.  Monday I stayed in bed and slept probably 20 hours, which made we feel much better.  Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I had class.  I know what you’re thinking:  three days of class in one week? Outrageous, I know.  It was a tough one.

For those who don’t know, Thursday was my birthday.  At first I was very sad because I wanted to spend my birthday with my family, friends from home, and Saul.  As the day proceeded, however, my friends here made me very happy.  For dinner many of my friends said they wanted to celebrate with me, so we decided to order pizza to the dorm building.  We gathered in the dining area in the lobby with our pizza and beer, and many of my friends came bearing gifts and cards, which I had not expected at all. 

We ate and laughed together, and after eating our fill of pizza, Gloria and Yaren snuck away and returned with a beautiful homemade tiramisu cake.  The candles they chose were “magic candles” and were the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.  After blowing them out several times and having them reignite on their own, I licked my fingers and pinched the wicks, expecting that to be the end of it. Alas, the flames returned.  Eventually we had to remove them and fully submerge them in water to make them stop.  Oh, and they were similar to sparklers and were sending off sparks the entire time.  After dinner, we went to trivia night at the pub in the dorm, which we won, and all the Erasmus students in the pub wished me a happy birthday.  Although I was away from home, my new Erasmus family here made my birthday one to remember.

On Friday I joined the ESN club on a trip to Landek Park, which is an old coal mining area near Ostrava where one of the mines has been converted into a museum.  We were able to enter the mine and tour inside.  It was very interesting and scary to imagine the work that occurred inside the mines.  We were in the shallowest mine, only about 20 meters below the surface, but below our feet there were five more, the deepest of which was 600 meters down.  It was interesting to learn about the machines inside the mines and see how little space the miners had to move around and work.  I am very grateful that I am not a miner.

On Saturday we went with ESN to Olomouc, which is a neighboring city and is considered the historical heart of the region.  A member from the ESN club in Olomouc met us at the train station and gave us a guided tour through the city.  It was a beautiful old city with much deeper history than Ostrava.  The weather was great and it was sunny and warm the entire day.  In the afternoon we took the bus up to Holy Hill, which gave us a great view over the surrounding farm lands.  I laid down in the grass and soaked up the sun and the view for a long time.

On Sunday a group of friends (Gesa, Gloria, Elina, Iiro, Michelle) and I set off on a hike up Radhost mountain, which is south of Ostrava near the Slovakian border.  It was about an hour and a half away by train and then we did a 10 mile hike.  We immediately entered a forest with a lovely stream flowing through it.  We hiked up a pretty steep trail for a while until we reached the first stopping place: a small skiing village called Pustevny.  There we sat and had some food, and I had the most incredible blueberry cake-dumpling things. 

We then pushed on along the top of the ridge to the next place, where we found the statue of Radegast.  Radegast is an ancient pagan god of hospitality, wisdom, war, and more, depending on who you ask.  He is credited for the creation of beer, and the most common Czech beer is called Radegast.  This mountain range was a place for sacred rituals and celebrations.  We continued on to the summit of the mountain where there is a beautiful chapel on top of the hill.  On the way down, we took a different and much less used trail, and weaved our way through the forest, over downed trees, and through overgrown areas.  I was delighted to spend the day in nature.

Oh, and at the end of the day as we were walking back to the bus station, I decided I wanted to go down to the creek and feel the water.  There happened to be a down tree laying across the creek as a bridge, and someone jokingly said, “You should walk on the tree!”  Well, I took this as a challenge and a dare, and stupidly set off to cross the tree bridge.  After a couple steps, I realized walking on it was too dangerous.  So, I sat on my butt and started scooting.  This also didn’t work.  My next attempt was to lay down and inchworm my way backwards.  This worked well, until I got about halfway across, got scared, and realized there was a big knob coming up that would be difficult to wiggle over.  I decided to return back the same way, but quickly realized that pulling myself forward uphill was far more challenging than scooting backward downhill.  I lay in the middle for a bit, deciding what to do.  My friends tried to give me branches to pull me up, but that failed epically.  Finally I continued my inchworm-ing down the tree, carefully maneuvered over the knob, and swung off the tree to the ground.  I wish I could say it was graceful, but of course it wasn’t and I ended with some gnarly bruises. 

This upcoming week is our spring break, and I am hoping to take a big trip for six days or so across Austria and southern Germany.  Gesa, Elina, Yaren, Julia, and Iiro all want to join, so we are figuring out the exact plans to make it happen.

Time is flying by and my time abroad is already half over.  My time is Ostrava is only about five weeks from ending before I leave for my trans-Europe trip.  I still have days where all I want is to be at home, but I am loving my time here and am making wonderful memories.

Much love,

Becca

Auschwitz

Visiting Auschwitz has always been a dream of mine, and I believe it is an experience that every person should have.  It was one of the most powerful and heartbreaking days of my life.  We decided to take a guided tour and I am very glad we did.  Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and was able help us to comprehend the horrors of the camp.

There are two camps at Auschwitz: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  We began in the Auschwitz I camp, which is significantly smaller than Birkenau and was established first.  It consists of a small village of old Polish army barracks.  It was mainly used as a working camp and held prisoners, and some people were also killed there.  It contained around 15,000 prisoners on average. 

Birkenau is less than two miles away and was meant for 125,000 prisoners.  It was also the sight of the death camp and main gas chambers.  Birkenau had at least 1.1 million people enter the camp during the three years it was used, and an estimated 90% of these prisoners perished there.  Many of them were sentenced to death in the gas chambers immediately upon arrival.

The large gas chambers in Birkenau are where most people were killed.  Many people also died of starvation, disease, and some were shot or hung.  Upon arriving at Birkenau in very crowded, hot train cars, prisoners undergo a selection process, during which the children, elderly, and anyone unfit to work were immediately sent to the chambers.  The rest were held in the camp as workers, but most were only kept alive for a couple of months before being killed. 

The gas chambers could hold 1500 people at one time, all of whom could be killed in 20 minutes using a hydrogen cyanide-based gas.  The prisoners were forced to remove their clothing and enter the chamber, where they were murdered, and then their bodies were moved to the crematorium where they were burned.  In the days leading up to the liberation of the camp, the Nazi’s destroyed much of the Birkenau camp, including the gas chambers.  The remnants remain to this day, but it is not possible to enter the chambers.

In Auschwitz I, there is one small gas chamber that was used in the beginning as a trial chamber before the Birkenau chambers were built.  We were able to enter the chamber and looking at the pipes where gas flowed and trying to imagine the suffering and death that occurred there was heartbreaking.  I have never stood on such devastating soil.

Many of the old barracks in Auschwitz I have been converted into a museum where visitors can see living conditions for the prisoners, as well as see the average food portions given to them per day.  There are pictures hanging from the camp that were taken illegally and show the brutality in the camp.  There are pictures of survivors the day they were rescued, starving and weak from their time there.  There are piles of the prisoners’ belongings that were found in a camp.  Perhaps the saddest thing I have seen was the room filled with thousands of children’s shoes that were collected from the undressing room in the gas chamber.

The entire experience was eye-opening and horrifying.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit Poland, I suggest you visit the camp.  It is impossible to imagine or understand the pain and suffering that occurred during the Holocaust.  It is impossible to imagine the evil and cruelty of the Nazis.  It is important, however, to attempt to learn about and see the place where so many people were murdered.  We must be educated so we can remember and mourn all of the innocent men, women, and children of the Holocaust.

Prague!

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

Gustave Flaubert 

This weekend Yaren, Keisha, and I embarked on a whirlwind 2-day trip to Prague.  I have to admit, I am surprised by how quickly and intensely I fell in love with the city.  While I generally enjoy and appreciate large, historic cities, normally I feel content after spending a couple days there.  However, Prague took my breath away and I am already planning to come back once spring is here.  Below are some of the highlights:

Prague castle and St. Vitus Cathedral

Prague Castle is among the most famous and most spectacular places to visit while in Prague.  It is believed that the castle was first founded during medieval times, around 880.  Starting the 10th century, the castle was used to house kings, princes, the head of state, and the Prague Bishop.  The Basilica of St. Vitus (St. Vitus’ Cathedral) was built within the castle walls in the 11th century.  Both the castle and cathedral have seen renovations over the years, continuing to this day.  However, most of the structures are the original construction and they exhibit immense history and beauty.

I loved visiting the Prague Castle because it reminded me of a fairy tale.  Inside the castle walls there is an entire community, with many buildings, and I could imagine the royal family and friends living within the walls.  It was more than just a single building, but instead a royal and beautiful village within the city of Prague.

Old Town Square, including Prague Orloj, Tyn Church, and St. Nicholas’ Church

In the heart of Prague you can find the Old Town Square, known for its historical architecture and beautiful buildings.  Within the square you can find Prague Orloj, which is a famous astronomical clock installed in 1410 on the Old Town Hall building.  It is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest still in operation.  It continues to have a small “performance” every hour, during which two doors high on the tower open, several statues move within them, and the bells ring.

The largest building in the area is a gothic church, known as Church of our Lady before Týn.  The church was constructed in the 14th century and has towers over 80 meters tall.  Another spectacular building in Old Town Square is the Church of Saint Nicholas.  It was built in the 1730s and is Baroque style.  We were able to enter the church, and the inside was extremely beautiful and contained a Baroque organ played by Mozart when he visited Prague.

Vyšehrad and Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul

This historic castle was probably my favorite place to visit in Prague.  It is believed it was built as a fort in the 10th century.  Within the fort you can find the Vyšehrad cemetery which contains the remains of many prominent and famous Czech figures.  You can also visit the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, which is a beautiful neo-Gothic church built in 1070.  My favorite part of this church was the stunning stained glass windows all around the church.

The fort sits high on top of a hill, looking over the Vltava River.  It is possible to walk on top of the ancient walls of the fort, giving a beautiful view of Prague.  The fort is full of gardens and trees and is a very peaceful place to visit.  There were far fewer people in this area and was a nice walk through nature in the middle of a big city.

Dancing House

The Prague dancing house is the most modern of the famous attractions in the city.  Built in 1994, it is very different from the rest of the city, and at first was the subject of controversy among locals.  However, it is now a symbol of the transition from Czechoslovakia (under communist rule) to the Czech Republic.  It is designed to resemble famous dancers Fred and Ginger.

Lennon Wall

Another popular place in Prague that stands out against the historical architecture is the John Lennon Wall.  After the murder of John Lennon in 1980, people in Prague decorated the wall with graffiti in remembrance of Lennon.  At the time, the communist regime was angered by the wall and tried to cover the graffiti, but more people came and decorated it.  Today, people can visit the wall and add their own inspirational pictures and quotes.

Petřín hill and Lookout Tower

Petřín lookout tower is another more modern attraction in Prague.  The tower sits on top of a large hill in the middle of the city.  The hill is a gorgeous walk and climb through trees and grass and ends at Petřín village, which consists of several small churches, buildings, and the tower.  Tourists can pay to go to the top of the tower for one of the best views of the city.  We chose to enjoy the view from the bottom of the tower without going to the top.  Near the tower is also part of a medieval wall built to protect the city and castle from attacks.

There is also an interesting memorial at the bottom of Petřín hill, the Victims of Communism Memorial.  The memorial is in honor of those who were arrested, killed, and exiled during the communist rule in Czechoslovakia.  The memorial depicts a series of bronze figures, each of which is more decayed than the last, with eventually the last figure being essentially nonexistent.

Charles’ Bridge

Charles’ Bridge is the most famous spot in Prague, and one of the most visited spots in all of Europe.  The bridge crosses the Vltava river and was constructed starting in 1357.  There are two towers, one standing on each end of the bridge.  Lining the sides of the bridge there are Baroque statues from the 17th century.

We visited Charles’ bridge at the end of our second day and watched the sunset over the river.  Although it was fairly overcast, it was a beautiful place to visit and I’m glad we got to see it at such a wonderful time. 

Prague is my favorite European city I’ve visited so far.  It was surprisingly peaceful and quiet in most places and was full of history.  Everywhere you look there is another gorgeous building.  I had a great time with Yaren and Keisha, both of whom come from different backgrounds from me, but share many similar opinions and views.  We were able to talk about religion, politics, culture and more, each learning many new things about the others’ countries.  As I have said before, this is my favorite part of my study abroad experience.  I am meeting so many interesting and incredible people, and I am having my eyes opened about the rest of the world.

Friends, Mountains, and Zoos

“Sometimes all you need is a great friend and thirst for adventure.”

Most of the week continued as normal, however there were two major highlights: the zoo and a weekend trip to the mountains.

The Zoo:

On Thursday Keisha (South Korea) and I spent the afternoon at the zoo.  It was a beautiful day, with the high reaching 60 degrees.  For the first time since coming here, I was able to wear only a t-shirt!  The Ostrava zoo is only two bus stops away from our dorm and took less than ten minutes to reach.  After paying the expensive price of $2.00, we entered into a huge and beautiful zoo.  The very first animal we encountered was a red panda, who was sitting in his house peaking just his head out.  He looked at us and yawned, and my heart melted.

We moved along to the next area, where there was a petting zoo with goats (including lots of baby goats!).  Yes, we went in, and yes, we were the only adults without kids there.  We watched as the derpy goats hopped, ran, and kicked, and I was able to catch one of the babies.

After spending an unreasonable amount of time with the goats, we moved along to see other animals.  Many of you know that I inherited a special trait from my father.  This is the trait that forces me to attempt to pet any animal I see, no matter the danger or obstacles between it and I.  Naturally, I pet many of the animals we saw.  I did not, however, stick my fingers in the enclosure of the ostrich, but let me tell you how mean that little booger was.

I was walking along the path right by his fence.  He walked along next to me, keeping pace and watching me.  I would talk to him soothingly and he would tilt his head.  I thought we were bonding.  At one point I got closer to the fence and pulled my phone out for a picture.  I did NOT stick any fingers through the fence, but he came up close, looked right at the camera, and lightning fast his head and neck came through the fence, his beak completely surrounding my index finger, and bit down.  It wasn’t a light nibble; it was a full-on chomp intended to remove a phalange. I screamed, stumbled back, and left the mean bird to spend time alone.  What a jerk.

The rest of the zoo was less eventful.  The vastness and beautiful landscape within provided enough paths and animals to spend the entire afternoon.  They also had magnificent indoor areas with specific climates, humidity, and temperatures for different animal types.  I saw my first hippopotamus (those things are huge!), as well as a crocodile, elephants, giraffes, and more. 

Throughout the afternoon I got to know Keisha better, who spent last semester in Ostrava and is staying through May.  She is a bright and cheerful person and I loved getting to know her and learning more about Korea.

Get to Know Each Other Weekend:

The ESN (Erasmus Student Network) at OSU hosts a three-day retreat in the mountains every semester for the international students.  Also, every semester they have a different theme for the weekend, and ours happened to be Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament, which is, essentially, a dream come true for me.

So, on Friday afternoon we boarded the Hogwarts Express (a large travel bus) and set off the Hogwarts (a cottage in the mountains along the Czechia/Slovakia border).  On the trip, we all received our acceptance letters and our randomly selected Hogwart’s house.  Much to my disappointment, I was placed in Gryffindor (I consider myself a Hufflepuff, and sometimes, a Ravenclaw). 

Nonetheless, I embraced my house and prepared to take down the other houses at all costs.  Yeah, I guess I’m competitive.  After a very long, narrow, winding road, we arrived.  As we stepped off the bus, spells and jinxes started firing around us (firecrackers, roman candles, etc).  We entered the great hall to Hogwarts music and the Goblet of Fire, filled with dry ice to create an awesome effect.  After some introductions, we chose our champions.  My good friend Gloria was chosen as the Slytherin champion.

After dinner, the first task for the champions began.  There were three golden snitches hidden throughout the cottage, and the first three champions to find one would advance to the next task. We were given riddles, and we worked together to find one.  Of course, we advanced.

On Saturday morning we played a lot of team building games among our houses, and each house was scored for each game and task.  The indoor games were first, and we were mediocre at best.  But then the afternoon games came and we moved outside.  Once outside, we did a variety of races through several feet of snow.  Some included getting dizzy and sprinting, some included piggy back rides, and some included rolling on the ground and plowing over everyone in your way.  We won every task.

During our break, Gloria (Italy), Yaren (Turkey), Hae Lim (South Korea), Gesa (Germany), Victoria (Ukraine), and I stole some industrial strength garbage bags from the cottage and headed up the mountain for sledding.  Several of them had never been before.  The combination of the tree-free, steep slope and the icy, slick snow provided optimal (and dangerous) sledding conditions.  For over an hour we climbed up the hill and sledded, laughing the entire time.

At one point in the afternoon, I was playing ping pong with some friends and the leaders of ESN approached me and asked me to step into the hall with them.  Once there, they told me to go upstairs and grab my warm clothes. So, of course I did, and then followed them outside, where they led me and two others away from the cottage behind another small building.  Then they pulled out ropes and blindfolds and began tying us up.  I was a hostage.

Before too long the Gryffindor champion appeared and untied me, before realizing that I was not his hostage to save.  After he left with his hostage, the ESN people retied me up and I waited until Gloria appeared and freed me.  We sprinted back to the cottage, but unfortunately were the last to return, so Gloria lost.

That night we went for a night hike, during which we were forbidden to use flashlights and just followed a trail of glow sticks in the snow.  It was steep, slick, and snowy, but we made our way to the top.  At the top, we did a lantern lighting ceremony, where we released several heat-powered lanterns into the sky.  Then the third and final task occurred: the two champions were told the Goblet of Fire was somewhere in the woods in “that” direction, and the first to retrieve it would win.  Remember, it was dark, cold, and we were in the middle of the woods.  And yet the two boys took off running towards the trees, eventually returning without the Goblet.  They were given another hint and soon recovered it together.

On Sunday morning some of us set off on a hike up the mountains.  It was about two miles each way and we hiked through thick fog.  Although the view was not very clear, the hike was fun and I relished at being among the trees and mountains again.  We spent several hours out enjoying nature before returning to the cottage.

During the closing ceremony, Gryffindor was announced as the winners (woohoo!).  We packed up our stuff and headed home, all exhausted from our weekend of fun.

Life here is pretty great and time is starting to fly by.  I still miss home, but the pain is less frequent and less severe.  I have more plans to travel this week and am keeping myself busy.

Much love,

Becca

Another Week, Another Trip (2/18-2/25)

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”

Alduos Huxley

Most of the week followed a similar schedule as the past couple.  I attended three classes on Tuesday.  The first, Czech Language and Culture, was very interesting and fun.  Although the language is difficult, I’m really enjoying learning and applying it in my life here.  Many people in Ostrava do not speak English, so it is nice that I am learning basic communication skills so I can talk to people.  After that, I went to my mathematical research seminar, where a visiting professor shared about his research.  The talk was way above my head, but I followed along as best as I could and tried to absorb little things.  My final class is my biological seminar, and it went about the same as the math seminar.  Although they are difficult, I like seeing the different areas of research and watching passionate people present about their topics.

On Thursday I joined the international club on a hike up Halda Ema (which, of course, I’ve already done).  It was just as beautiful and fun as last time, and I enjoyed hiking with my friends.  Friday I departed with five friends for Krakow, Poland, where we spent the weekend sight seeing.  Krakow was a beautiful city and I loved my time there.  Friday evening we arrived and went for traditional Polish dumplings (perogies).  They were DELICIOUS.  I tried several kinds, each filled with different cheeses, meats, and vegetables.  For dessert, I had some filled with fruit. 

On Saturday we took a walking tour around the historical old town.  Despite the sub-freezing temperatures, we spent three hours touring and listening to our guide.  He talked non-stop the entire time, and I think I only absorbed about a quarter of what he said.  However, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the historical buildings while we walked around.  We saw the old gate to the city from medieval times with part of the wall and several towers still standing.  We walked through the streets where every single building was historic and gorgeous.  There were cathedrals and churches that were built centuries ago.  There were old school buildings where Nicolas Copernicus studied.  For those who don’t know, Copernicus was a mathematician widely known for formulating a model of the universe where the sun is the center instead of the earth.  Like many European cities, there are beautiful parks everywhere and delicious places to eat.

On Sunday I walked to the old Jewish district of town.  This was an incredibly powerful place to visit as it was the sight of one of the largest ghettos during the second world war.  There was a fragment of the wall around the ghetto still standing, as well as buildings that have never been restored.  We visited the square in the center of where the ghetto stood and found the empty chair memorial, which is 33 empty metal chairs filling in the square to remember the tragedies that occurred there during WW2.  Also, on the edge of the square is the pharmacy that once housed Tadeusz Pankiewicz, the only non-Jewish member of the ghetto.  He used his pharmacy to help protect, cure, and save thousands of people in the ghetto during the war.  The entire area was interesting to visit and filled me with sadness while thinking about the horrors that had occurred there.

Overall, I loved my time in Krakow.  Although it is not as large and magnificent as Vienna, it was beautiful and full of history.  The food and prices were unbeatable, and I highly recommend it as a place to visit.

I am continuing to adjust to my life here and am enjoying exploring new places.  However, I still miss home and look forward to seeing my family, friends, and pets. 

Much love,

Becca

Weekend in Vienna

“We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.”

This past weekend my friend, Gloria, and I hopped on the train and headed to Vienna.  The grandeur of the architecture and history was astounding, and we had a wonderful weekend away.  We walked nearly 20 miles during our 48 hours in the city, during which we saw countless old and beautiful buildings.  Below I talk about several of the places we visited.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)

This magnificent cathedral was originally constructed in 1160 and was continually expanded until 1511.  It was built on the ruins of two churches that had previously been destroyed.  It is the most important religious building in Vienna and was dedicated to St. Stephen.

We saw the cathedral at two different times.  The first was at dusk and the moon was rising behind the highest tower (which stands at 136 meters tall).  It was beautiful against the nearly dark sky.  We returned midday the next day to enter the cathedral and appreciate its magnificence on the inside.  The architecture on both the inside and out was gorgeous and we sat for a long time appreciating the intricate art and construction of the building. 

Karlskirch

We also visited this baroque church twice, again, once at dusk and once midday.  It is much smaller than Stephansdom, and yet we both agreed we found it more beautiful.  Construction on Karlskirch started in 1716 and lasted until 1737 and is dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, who was widely known as a healer during the plague.  It is constructed mainly of light marble, making it a bright and welcoming building.

During our visit, we entered the church and appreciated the brightness and colors.  We were also able to take a temporary lift up to the top of the building, where we appreciated the artwork in the top of the dome.  From here, we were also able to look out a high window at a view over the city.

Belvedere Palace

Belvedere consists of three parts: upper belvedere, lower belvedere, and the gardens.  Lower Belvedere was constructed first, likely completed in 1715.  The palace looked down over large, beautiful grounds that were turned into a marvelous garden.  Only a couple years later, construction began on Upper Belvedere, which was completed in 1723.  It housed Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was known for his work as a general in the military and an art connoisseur.

Belvedere Palace was the first of the major attractions we saw.  Just minutes from the train station, we walked straight to it after arriving in Vienna.  The architecture and size of the palace alone awed us.  We took a walk through the gardens and were able to appreciate the palace from all angles.

Schonbrunn Palace

This palace was constructed in the 1740s and was built on a large piece of land that consists of gardens, structures, and even a zoo.  The longest-reigning emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, was born at Schonbrunn and spent much of his life there.  The garden is known as the Great Parterre.  It contains a maze, sculptures, paths, fountains, and more. 

This was our final and favorite destination in Vienna.  We arrived close to sunset and had the opportunity to sit atop the hill overlooking the palace and gardens during sunset.  The palace was stunningly beautiful and the sunset created a beautiful light in the sky that made everything perfect.  We sat for a long time, looking over the palace and over all of Vienna. 

Albertina Museum

Vienna is full of incredible museums, and we decided to choose just one to visit.  The Albertina is known as one of the best art museums in the world.  During our visit there, we were able to tour part of the building representing what the building looked like in the early 1800’s, when it was occupied and used for parties.  We also got to see work from famous artists, including Picasso and Monet.  They had one of Monet’s Water Lily paintings on display, and it was amazing to see it in person!  The Albertina was a great museum and very affordable.

Food

I really enjoyed the food in Vienna.  On the first night we ate dinner at a bar near the center.  Gloria got wiener schnitzel with Erdapfelsalat (potato salad) and I got Austrian spaetzle (like mac and cheese, but with dumplings instead of noodles).  Both were delicious, filling, and popular foods in Vienna.  The next day we had breakfast at a small café near our AirBnb, where I had an omelets and cappuccino.  It was amazing!  It was one of my favorite meals I’ve had so far since being in Europe.  The café was also very cute and we enjoyed the time we spent there.  That afternoon we tried wiener wurstel, which is perhaps the most “famous” food in Vienna.  It was good, but nothing to die for.  Perhaps if you are someone who really loves sausage, it would be a mouth-watering meal, but neither Gloria nor I really like sausage in the first place.  That night we had really good authentic Japanese food.  The following morning we found an adorable café for our final meal, where I got ham and eggs, and we both tried Sachertorte, which is a proud symbol of Vienna.  It is a dense chocolate cake containing thin layers of apricot jam and chocolate frosting.  It was amazing, but Gloria said it was really no different from the Sachertorte from her home in Italy.

Overall, Vienna was a wonderful city to visit.  Even for someone who doesn’t particularly like big cities, Vienna had a lot to offer and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  I may return for a day trip in a few months to see the city when it’s greener, but I also might not make it back.  If you are in Europe and enjoy beautiful architecture and history, take the time to visit Vienna!

(Some history and information was taken from Wikipedia.com)