Countdown through Traveling Seminar

Written by Briana Francois, (Vanderbilt University) Student Correspondent CET Prague, Spring 2017

A monument on the outskirts of Mikoluv to those who lost their lives trying to cross the border

If you want to know the best way to travel around Central Europe, it’s probably through a 10-day bus excursion with your fellow students. When I was preparing for this study abroad adventure, one of the things I was most excited about was traveling seminar. After trip meetings, and learning about the different countries in my history class, my anticipation grew. During this traveling seminar, we traveled to five different cities. Though each city was lovely in its own way, I definitely had my favorites.

5. Brno, Czech Republic

Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, was a city without comparison. Whenever I heard of Brno in the past, I thought it was basically a smaller Prague. I was wrong. In Brno, I wasn’t reminded of any other city I’d visited. It seemed bit more industrial and modern than Prague, but it also had an older European charm. In Brno, we visited the Museum of Roma Culture. Before coming to the Czech Republic, I didn’t really learn about the Roma people, so it was awesome to be able to learn through this museum. We didn’t stay very long in Brno, but I enjoyed the time we had there.

4. Oswiecim, Poland

The famous entrance to Birkenau

In Oswiecim, we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous concentration and death camps from World War II. Auschwitz is the German translation of Oswiecim, but from talking to the residents of the city, we learned that they prefer to refer to the city as Oswiecim and only the concentration camp as Auschwitz. Walking through the camps was a somber experience, but it stands as a reminder of the horrific things humans can do. I’ve known about Auschwitz since I learned about it in elementary school, but I never really considered how the people of the city interacted with their history.                                                                         Visiting both the camps and the city gave me a chance to think more                                                                                 critically about how we interact with history everyday.

3. Mikulov, Czech Republic

Some of the different wines we sampled in Mikoluv

Mikoluv is a beautiful little town that falls on the border between Austria and the Czech Republic. Here, we learned more about the history of the Iron Curtain in Central Europe. We also learned about wine! Mikoluv is in Czech Wine Country, so many of us did a wine tasting at the hotel where we were staying. On the morning before we left, I did a sunrise hike up Mikoluv’s Holy Hill with some fellow students. From the top we could see the whole town and Austria right across the border. We woke up so early that I still had a chance to go back to sleep before the bus left at 10!

2. Krakow, Poland

Krakow was the first city we visited on our traveling seminar, and it was such a fun place to explore. We did a walking tour of the city which helped us become oriented, and through it, we discovered a lot of Polish history. I LOVED the food in Krakow. I expected it to be a lot like Prague, but after eating pierogies, croquettes and a pink soup that I never quite got the name of, I stood corrected. Krakow was a great place to kick off the week, and, like all the other cities we visited, it’s a city I never would have considered going to on my own.

1. Vienna, Austria

An example of the beautiful buildings in Vienna, Vienna City Hall!

The extent of my knowledge of Austria came from: 1. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and 2. The Sound of Music. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to come across a beautiful city with cafes at every corner, a strange amalgam of architecture, and a famous shopping street about a mile long. We also did a walking tour in Vienna and we saw some of the city’s most famous buildings. I attended a lecture that focused on Art and Society in Vienna and we learned about the different waves of architecture in Vienna. I thought Vienna was a beautiful bow on top of a tiring, wonderful week, and I’m excited to return in the future.

By the end of the trip, we were all exhausted, and I was definitely ready to go back to Prague. Over the week we were gone, Prague seemed to transform. We left a cold winter and we returned to a Prague Spring (that’s a great pun if you know your Czech history!) It’s hard to believe that I’m closer to the end of this program than I am to the beginning. With only a month and a half left in this city, I have to start working on my Prague Bucket List!