Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What's Kraken?: An Obvious Pun

Stories from our class trip to Krakow, Poland await!

It started with a train again.  

This time, I felt even more like Hermione because I was with my fellow Potter-lovers. Naturally, we pretended to be the characters on the train. (Who wouldn’t?)

[I'm guessing Grace is HP because she has brown hair, and Naomi is Hermione, because she's so damn excited for school.]

 [Obviously I'm Malfoy, check the scowl. Joe is HP, ala my glasses.]

Poor Sarah (our Academic Director) had the worst of luck on this day. When we got on the first train, off to start our week-and-two-days long trip, she realized she had left her giant bag of belongings on the platform. She may have laughed it off, but she had to buy a week’s worth of new clothes and other items. Suck.

Then we got on the next train, realizing within 15 minutes that we were on the WRONG ONE. We had to get off on the next stop and wait to turn around. 

[Lee, on bag]

 [Everyone is crabby as I make sure we're in the right place.]

After taking these pictures I realized I really had to pee. Sarah wouldn’t let me go because she was too worried about making the train back to the right train. When we got on the train back to the right train she informed me there still wasn’t time. I stubbornly ran to the bathroom (and back because someone was there and I felt it stopping, and back because it wasn’t our stop) and fucking MADE IT. Peeing quickly master, right here.

By the time we got on the right train, it had been a long day. Dani whipped out her blow-up neck pillow for a nap. She’s one of those very responsible people who always has a neck-pillow on hand when the time is right.\

Next we went to an authentic Slovakian restaurant. I was not in the mood, so I got a salad.

We had an authentic Slovakian time playing with waterbottle caps on our eyes. 

(Oh, and we did have meat-filled dumplings, but they weren’t good, so there is no need for you to worry about a lack of photo.)

At the hotel, our bathroom was like a beach/resort/ocean/getaway. 

So calming.

The next day we woke up early to a lecture on the history of Poland in relation to communism. Surprisingly not as boring as it sounds. We had a good speaker and good tea. AAAAAAno.

We saw a bit of the city; pretty in a gray sort of way. 

At a local coffee shop Grace and I discovered Remember Cats, the game that is sweeping the Polish nation. What amazing things happen in Remember Cats (other than the physical act of remembering cats), you ask?? Well, it’s Memory… with CATS. Delicious.

[SO MANY cats to remember!!]

 [We may have cheated.]

After that we went on a tour in Communist buses. What are those you ask? Naturally, they look like this,

but I think they are just buses that were produced during the Communist era. It was never really explained to us. On the bus, ever-cheerful Grace exclaimed, “Who knew Communism could be such fun!” Remember that one, people.

 [Grace: not pictured.]

We mostly toured Nowa Huta, the only city that was built from the ground up as a Communist city. It’s shaped like a star and had parks and monuments to Stalin and factories. 

 [When the graveyard is the only cool hangout for teens, you know Communist planning is not the ideal.]

We also went to a park that was opened sometime after its completion. For some reason that park was heavily advertised even outside of Nova Huta and claimed to have a lake. On the day of the grand opening hundreds of families showed up with children, beach towels, and swimsuits to find an empty field. Yep, another barren promise from Communist leaders. 

The park was not devoid of fun, however. We must give it some credit.

 [Indeed, this is real fun.]

You may not expect this because of Communism’s anti-religious sentiments, but there is a massive church in Nova Huta. Why? Not because the leaders wanted it at all but because the people struggled for it. They painstakingly worked for permission to build a tiny wooden chapel and slowly worked their way up to this giant church, taking years to finish it. At one point the Communists changed their minds and tried to destroy it but the people fought back. Some even died. 

Catholicism is super strong in Poland, very different from the Czech Republic, which is statistically the most atheistic country in Europe. Actually, people going to church and following the pope was the way the resistance to Communism first started in this country. It was the first to fall of all the Soviet Union’s satellites. The first night we walked past some sort of processional where people were carrying a statue of Mary. There were candles, and tall, dancing shadows, nuns (one running because she was late), priests, and tons of people. I didn’t get a picture but it was like a scene from a movie or something.

That night we tried to get Kebabs (abundant and high-quality in Krakow) but ended up with Indian, somehow. The next day we went to Auschwitz, a whole other story.

On Sunday, we had a free day. It started out with a trip to a gallery that was showing the top journalist photos from the world in 2011. I learned about many current events that I should have known before.

That night, I had a fantastic meal at a place called Family Fun. We walked for way too long to find it while I was hangry (hungry + angry) and settled on this place which had an ugly flashing purple sign. And was called FAMILY FUN. I was positive it was going to be lame.

Yet this pork, apple, onion, mashed potato, horseradish, sprouts thing I had was fantastic!

Here’s a picture of the main square, unfortunately it was taken at night.

 [And no one was freaking looking! I need to start doing countdowns before I take a picture or something.]

And here is the tower of beer we got at a local bar. 

Don’t worry, we shared it. 

Next stop, Slovakia!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Goldilocks and the Halloween Windows

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit behind, so this is about the first two weeks of October.

This week our neighbors had invited me to a ballet. (They know me because they once hosted a student through SIT and had been interested blah blah.) This family is always suggesting things for me to go to and inviting me to things, that usually don’t work out. Obviously, I’d completely forgotten about the ballet.

I was even sleeping over at my friend Aidan’s house when I got the text that morning, telling me the time and place we would meet. I rushed there without enough time to take a shower or realize that I should put on something semi-formal.

The text I’d received was just signed with the family’s surname, so I expected that most of them would be there. Surprise. It was only the youngest daughter, Marie, waiting for me. She is about eleven.

When we got to the theater I dropped my complain-y attitude because the building was beautiful. I couldn’t take pictures of the show itself but I got a few of where we were sitting. 

And the sit-ees, that is, us. (Or probably "sitters"... we were not being sat on.)

The ballet was Goldilocks, but there were no three bears. I couldn’t grasp what was going on until Marie bought a program and let me read the English part. Czech Goldilocks is a beautiful princess with such golden blonde hair, that an evil king from very far away wants to marry her. He sends a messenger who helps animals perform certain tasks on the way. He saves ants from a fire, lets a fish go, etc. Each of them tell the guy that if he ever needs a favor he should just ask. When he arrives he has to jump through all these hoops to get Goldilocks, including perform three tasks that he could only do with the help of animals (like find a ring in the bottom of a lake or pick up pearls scattered in the forest).

Then he has to guess which daughter is goldilocks with their hair covered. Luckily, the fly he had saved from a spider’s web whispers the answer to him. Goldilocks has permission to be married, and the evil king ends up dying due to a complicated side story. Now the messenger can marry G-girl!!

At the end, the clapping never stopped, something I have learned is normal here in Czech lands. You see, the actors bowed, we clapped. They bowed again, we clapped. They left the stage, I grabbed my coat, but they came back and bowed again. They kept bowing in different combinations and leaving and coming back over and over. This happens at every performance I’ve seen. You just keep clapping for about five minutes straight. This is probably why the arts thrive in Prague.

Another thing I did during this week, was interview an artist. My art prof. Jan suggested him for an assignment, most likely not realizing how little English the guy knew. Waiting for him I was really nervous he would think I was late and leave because a massive statue was obstructing my view of most of the room. I took a picture just so you could feel my pain.

He did come eventually, and I think I learned a lot from the interview, but it was hard to tell really. He knew lots of English words but no grammar, so some sentences were really confusing to listen to. I just nodded and smiled.

That week I recorded the adorable rule postings for the busses and metros. They go across all languages.

Plus, my mom sent me a Halloween themed package! So for the past month, the view out of my window looked like this:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Most Photogenic City I've Ever Met

Český Krumlov (CHESS-key KROOM-love), a city of castles and red roofs. Get ready for photo-overload because all my pictures of this locale were inexplicably good.

First of all, it is time to hand out the Most Adorable Hotel Room Award. Note that I don't usually waste my time with hotel pictures.

Like I always say, "You know it's a good hotel if there's a violin (viola??) on the wall."

They also had mini sculptures on their staircase.

[so I exaggerated on the "ALL my pictures were good" thing...]

On the first full day, Aidan and I decided to explore the ol' fairy-land. The place was beautiful, albeit a tad touristy. To my surprise, not a single person in our group complained about that. I believe it was because our regional stays were draining. Enjoyable, but definitely draining. We needed a cheery, touristy break.

Is that not what I just said? Gorgeous, yet the peasant clothes are clearly worn by people in the tourism business. I delicately framed it so that the car on the left would add a hint of irony. I have a very complex relationship with technology.

(Just kidding)

Here is Aidan, looking out upon the town. 

[Probably pondering the meaning of life or something.]

And a widdle biddle wiver! Ano, prosim! ("Yes, please!")

Even the stupid wall we were near was pretty.

 Plus I got to tour the tourists. 

Next we found a photogenic church. Sexy, even. (Am I allowed to say that?)

[I call zees one "Yin and zee Yang"]

WAIT a second!

Panoramic Interlude!

Then we saw another pretty building and another pretty building and a pretty wall...

['Tis a town of many pretty walls.]

Soon enough, our group--


--got together and went on a tour of the town's massive castle. It is the second biggest in the country only because it was illegal for this aristocrat to build it bigger than the king's palace.

["You may recognize me from other pics. I'm kind of a big deal."]

The outside walls have been painted on; it was totally vogue at the time.


I saw this in other nooks and crannies in the Krumlov...

Oh and speaking of bears!

There were bears living in the moat! No lions or tigers, but still

An apparently this stemmed from a tradition that was hundreds of years old. When we were inside the castle, nearly every room was furnished with a bear-skin rug.

Sadly, we weren't allowed to take pictures of the inside. Let me appease you with these pictures of a fountain from the "front yard" instead.

So that was pretty. WAIT a second. This just in! I illegally took a single picture of a room from inside the castle. 'Twas the Baroque theater that is still in use today.

[The fancy columns are hand-painted on wood, there are other flat painted props and sound-effect makers too.]

This Baroque theater is rare because the directors during that time loved to incorporate fireworks into the show. This practice typically led to fires. 
Outside the castle was yet another photo-magic-calendar-worthy view.

[peep hole!]

The last bit of the castle tour was a walk through one of those castle gardens. You know, the ones that are almost too perfect and geometrically stable? Still pretty, but I like my gardens a bit more wild. 

That night, we went to a restaurant that served traditional Roma (or Gypsy) food. They played music too. 

[Joe and Claire featured in: the least blurry picture I have due to my stubborn avoidance of the flash setting.]

That is all for today, my fine-feathered readers.