One of the best things I did all semester was spend a weekend with my Czech roommate Zuzana in her village, Velký Dřevíč, in Eastern Bohemia near the Polish border.
We left Friday afternoon on a Friday afternoon; on Saturday morning we had a “cooking lesson” (fried cheese and garlic soup!) with Zuzana’s mom before heading out to Poland, and then a funky Tibetan tea shop in the evening! The next day, we took a nice long walk around the village and came back in time to do a short interview about the transition from Communism to democracy with Zuzana’s dad before heading back to Prague.
The train ride was about 2.5 hours, and at the end we transferred to a local commuter rail. Along the way we passed a lot of really old, abandoned rail cars.
When we woke up on Saturday we were greeted by this incredible breakfast spread. Fruit, tea, juice, cereal, cheeses, whipped honey (the most delicious food ever), yogurts, jam, koláč fruit cake/pastry deliciousness (and apparently really popular in Texas).
Zuzana’s mom took out what must have been 5 pounds of different kinds of cheese to teach us how to make smažený sýr, the fried cheese that’s so popular here. It’s kind of like glorified mozzarella stick, but with fancy cheese. They were so rich though, I could only eat a bite of each. We also learned how to make garlic soup, which I’m going to make all the time at home both because it’s so simple and because it’s so delicious!
Welcome to Poland! This is Vanessa and I, one of my other roommates, on the Polish border which is only about 15 minutes from Zuzana’s house!
Lots of the houses still use wooden stoves! On Sunday morning we woke up a bit earlier, so we’d have enough time to see the whole village before taking a mid-afternoon train back to Prague. The weather was chilly, the sky was foggy, and it was a bit misty, but in a romantic way I think the village was actual more picturesque like that than it would have been if there was a shining sun in a blue sky.
Smokestack of the factory in the town. In terms of industry and economic pursuits, there’s not much else in the village. A school, one-and-a-half pubs/restaurants, a swimming pool, a post office… But even for things like grocery shopping, you have to leave the village.
Moral of the story: Try to go home with your Czech Buddy for a weekend, especially if s/he lives in a village! It’s great to get to see what non-Prague Czech Republic is like.
Each Friday night of our first three weeks in Prague, CET brought the students on the Jewish Studies track to a different Shabbat service. Since first touching down in Prague, I’ve attended services at synagogues in Prague, Krakow, Vienna, and Budapest, and visited more synagogues in those cities and in Warsaw, too.
Every Saturday I’ve been going to Shabbat morning services at the Jeruzalémská Synagoga, a beautifully-painted synagogue in New Town, nowhere near the old Jewish Quarter of Prague. That’s because it’s much newer than the synagogues in the Jewish Quarter. Jeruzalémská synagoga—it was built in the early 1900s. It’s enormous, but the main sanctuary is actually turned into a museum, because the community can’t fill it. It’s actually really cool that I’ve gotten to go there so much—the museum is closed during the winter because it’s really expensive to heat, so most tourists who come during the winter never get to go inside. For services, the community uses a side chapel that’s not nearly as extravagant as the main sanctuary, but the detailing is still beautiful
I went to the Vysoká Synagoga for the first time on Purim, where I got to read a chapter from the Megillah story of Queen Esther. The Vysoká Synagoga—High Synagogue, in English—is on the second floor of the Jewish Town Hall building, which is the official home to Prague’s Jewish Community and includes a Kosher restaurant as well as a community center and the offices of the Jewish Federation of Prague.
In Krakow we visited three synagogues: the Remuh Synagogue, which is the oldest; the Tempel Synagogue, which is Reform; and the Kupa Synagogue, where we went for Shabbat evening services. Below are pictures from the Remuh and Tempel Synagogues.
Though we weren’t in Warsaw for Shabbat, we still visited the Nozyk Synagogue there, which is the only synagogue to have survived World War II and the Nazi occupation.
A friend and I went to Vienna a couple weeks ago, and the first thing we did was make plans to go to services at the Stadttempel on Friday night. We had to send in our passport information ahead of time, but it was definitely worth it to see the beautiful painting inside and hear the choir with the incredible acoustics of the arched ceiling.
Last weekend in Budapest we visited the last synagogues that we’re going to visit as a group. On our tour, we saw a few of the 18 synagogues still standing in the city, including the Kazinczy Street Synagogue and the Dohány Utca Synagogue, the synagogue with the second-largest seating capacity in the world, and where we attended services on Friday night. And took a group shot
Like eating trdelnik, going to a classical music concert is a Must Do if you go to Prague. Though I’ve heard street musicians play all semester (Peter Meso, who I think is actually a concert pianist who sometimes plays on the street, is my favorite), I knew that I wanted to get to a concert at Dvořák Hall in the Rudolfinum, where the Czech Philharmonic plays, before going home.
So when I saw that Pinchas Zukerman, one of the world’s top violinists, was going to be playing, I immediately got tickets. My friend and I got there a bit early so we’d have time to get in some good people watching and to look around the beautifully ornate concert hall before the music started.
As soon as we entered the hall, we realized that we had no idea what the program for the evening was—apparently, programs were 25Kc, and neither of us wanted to pay $1.25 for something we could have looked up online. (We later found out that the orchestra played Max Bruch’s Violin Concert No.1 in G minor). The beginning was a bit cacophonous, and for a few seconds we thought that maybe they were still tuning their instruments….but then it continued. We weren’t used to Czech concert etiquette, either, which seemed to be different from what we’d seen at concerts in the States—the applause went on for minutes, but no one stood, and at the end of each section the conductor left the room, came back, left again, and returned to continue conducting.
Zukerman only played during the first half of the concert, and when we looked down at the front of the section we were sitting in, we spotted him settling in to enjoy Part II! He snuck out when the applause started though, so we didn’t get a chance to meet him.
With less than a month left in Prague, I’ve started making a list of Things I Have to Do Before I Go (I’m not sure how I’m going to fit everything in! Somehow there’s still so much to see)—and it felt great to start whittling down that list!
The sunlight shining into CET today during my day of multiple classes was enough to make me want to jump out the window just to get some of that good ‘ole Vitamin D. In the morning on my walk to class it was warm, but still a bit overcast but by this afternoon, the sun was shining here more than it has since we all arrived and it was incredible. In every class I had the professors opened the windows and I made sure I sat with the sunlight directly hitting my face.
By the end of our last class, my friend Sommer and I just needed to be outside. It was 5pm and it was still so warm and beautiful out. We decided to take the metro a few stops to Jiriho z podedbrad because Sommer had the glorious idea of getting food for dinner and sitting outside in the park to eat. While walking to the park we came across a Pho Vietnamese restaurant and how can you say no to Pho? I will tell you. You can’t.
I’ve actually never had Pho before in my life, and looking back on it now that I have devoured every last bit of it, it is kind of odd that I tried Pho for the first time in the Czech Republic. Before I came here, I was under the very wrong impression that you could only get heavy meats and thick soups in the Czech Republic. While you can find meat and hearty soup at almost every restaurant you go to here, there is also such an ethnically diverse restaurant scene here. Last night my roommate and I got delicious Mexican food with fresh guacamole and homemade salsa, and a few days before that we went to an Italian restaurant and had thin crust pizza with spinach and fresh mozzarella cheese. Don’t get me wrong though, beef goulash has definitely found its way into my heart and I don’t see it leaving anytime soon. But back to my Pho adventure…
Sommer and I walked into the Pho restaurant and were so amazed by all of the options in front of us. She ended up ordering tofu and vegetables and I got a mix of vegetables with chicken, rice, and a delicious spring role with fresh basil and vermicelli noodles and then we took a short walk to the park nearby. The sun was still out and we found ourselves a perfect patch of grass on a huge hill overlooking most of the city. Our food was still hot and there were puppies running and playing all around us and it was just so picturesque and perfect.
There is one thing I will say about Prague, besides its diverse food opportunities. If you do not like dogs, I would tell you to re-access your choice on studying in Prague. Some days it seems as if everyone in the city has a dog and no one believes in leashes. For me personally though, I love dogs and couldn’t help but smile at every dog that ran by me with a huge tennis ball in its mouth. I think the best part of the evening is when a huge dog was chasing a toy its’ owner threw and ended up running into a man’s plastic cup of beer he got at the beer garden close by. The dog must have smelt the spilled beer and immediately went for the empty cup, sticking his tongue in it to get any last drops. The man whose beer it was, or used to be, literally had to pry the cup away from this dog. It was so funny! Now that is a real Czech dog.
After the lovely dinner date Sommer and I had on the hill with our Vietnamese feast, we walked back to her apartment and I took a tram across town to my apartment. Now that the weather is nice I enjoy taking trams so much more than the metro, because I can see so many different areas and feel the warm, fresh air as we travel through the city. Now I am home, stuffed, and ready to spend a relaxing Thursday night at home in Prague with my roommates!