Prague: Defenestrations and Lots of Meat

This past weekend I jumped on a plane and travelled to Prague with a couple other students from my program. During the month of December, Prague has their celebrated Christmas markets and I was lucky enough to find a hostel just off of Old Town Square. We arrived at night time, checked into our hostel, and then headed out to find dinner.

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But not before stopping for a few pictures in Old Town Square. On the left is the Astronomical Clock and on the right is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.

 

We stumbled upon a cute little restaurant off of the square and once we had sat down and ordered drinks, the question of the evening became “Are these things edible?”

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They were pretzels… I think, but no one else at the other tables touched them. Also we weren’t entirely sure how long they’d been there.

 

They had a list of Czech specialties on the menu so I decided to try goulash with bread dumplings.

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It was really good, but I have to admit the “dumplings” were a little odd. Czech dumplings are like extremely dense and chewy pieces of bread. Ideal for soaking up goulash soup, but very heavy.

 

Unfortunately Czechs don’t label their menus very well and I was too stupid to ask if the apple strudel we had for dessert contained nuts so I spent the night throwing up.

The next morning was beautiful though and we planned to meet up with our other friends in front of the Astronomical Clock and then take the free tour that our hostel offered.

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Me in front of the Christmas Markets and Our Lady Before Tyn.

 

However, it turned out that the friends I had come with had no interest in history, or actually seeing anything in Prague besides the castle so I was like:

Yeah I'm going on the tour. Bye!
Yeah I’m going on the tour. Bye!

So I went on the free tour all by myself which started off at the Astronomical Clock:

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And then we walked through the Jewish Quarter and everything on that side of the river. I was unfortunately too distracted by my guide’s excellent storytelling (and his attractive face) to take many pictures. Defenestration is now my favorite word in the English dictionary. It means to throw someone out of a window and apparently the act is quite addictive for the Czechs and Bohemians.

Part of the reason I’m so interested in the history of Prague is due to A Discovery of Witches and the series by Deborah Harkness. It’s quite possibly my favorite series ever. In the second book the main character travels back in time to Elizabethan England and she ends up spending quite a bit of time in the court of Rudolf II in Prague. Basically, he was the slightly crazy Holy Roman Emperor with a penchant for collecting oddities, especially one related to the occult. His lifelong quest was apparently to find the Philosopher’s Stone and thus caused the science of alchemy to flourish in the city.

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Old Town Square and the Christmas Markets again

So I was understandably quite upset to learn that the Swedes sacked Prague in 1648, stealing all of Rudolf II’s collections where they remain to this day in Stockholm. I guess I’ll just have to plan a trip to Stockholm now because the Codex Gigas (Devil Bible) is just too creepy to miss!

The Jewish Quarter itself was spectacular even though the reasons behind its excellent preservation are rather sinister. Hitler had planned for Prague’s Jewish Quarter to be a tourist attraction and museum for the “extinct civilization”…

After the tour was over I went to lunch with two friends I had met on the tour and by this point I was definitely thinking that solo travel might not be so bad. Free tours and hostels really give you the opportunity to meet like minded people and since you’re travelling on your own, you can do whatever you want to!

For lunch I ended up having another Czech specialty: roast duck, with more bread dumplings and a side of cabbage… possibly. I wasn’t quite sure.

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The duck and cabbage were fantastic, but I think I was only able to eat one of the dumplings because they were so heavy!

 

Then I headed over to the other side of the river with my new friends…

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It was kind of nasty weather all day, but that just meant that the city looked even more mysterious!

 

And we stopped to see the John Lennon wall, which was quite recently painted over all in white by some students in order to allow “new messages” from this generation to be painted.

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It was still stunning.

 

Then we headed back across the river in the direction of our hostel and we stumbled across a building in Old Town Square with the name DALI written in big letters. Turns out it was a museum dedicated to Salvador Dali, Alphonse Mucha, and Andy Warhol!

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Melting clocks! (Dali)
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Just me and some Warhol’s

 

The next day I decided to go off with my new friends (instead of the friends I came with) and I went on another guided tour by the same group, but this one was dedicated to the castle and the other side of the river.

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View over Prague.

 

Lots of interesting stories followed as we meandered through the castle, a monastery, and the remnants of communist authority in Prague.

Then I went to lunch and had another Czech specialty: Chicken Schnitzel!

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It was fantastic. The Czechs really love meat.

 

Then I saw potato dumplings on the menu and decided that I had to try them in place of the bread dumplings. I shouldn’t have done it.

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I think I was only able to eat one. They tasted just like the bread dumplings: heavy, chewy, and dense, but they were made out of potatoes this time.

 

Then I spent the rest of my time in Prague just wandering around the Christmas Markets and the area around Old Town Square.

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Here’s a close up of the Christmas tree!

 

And then grabbed a latte, because I’m a coffee addict, before heading back to the airport.

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This is the definition of beauty.

 

All in all Prague was amazing and I wish that I’d had more time to go inside each and every synagogue and church. I’m so thankful that I had the courage to break off from the group and go on that tour by myself, because I was able to make two new friends and generally have a much better experience than if I had stayed with the group whose interests differed so much from my own!

Now I just have a week left in Paris before I visit a friend in Spain and then head home for Christmas break!

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What was Emily doing all November?

Truth? I was in my lovely Parisian apartment… writing.

Writing like a madman... or a novelist.
Writing like a madman… or a novelist.

This past month I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) If you haven’t heard of it, check out the website. It’s basically a personal contest/challenge to write 50,000 words in a month. The organization has been running this “contest” for over a decade and I’ve been wanting to participate for the last several years but never found the time, until now.

My progress through the month
My progress through the month. I hit 50,000 on the 26th!

Of course you might say “Why the heck would she decide to write a novel when she’s living in Paris? That would be such a waste of time!”

Did it take a lot of time? Of course. I usually spent at least 2 hours a night writing, but to call it a waste of time would be wrong.

I wrote a novel in Paris.

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Writing a novel has always been something I’ve wanted to do and something I have even attempted several times. I have word documents full of story ideas and even a 35,000 word attempt from back in middle school. (For all you non-Americans when I was like 12) So when I say I’ve wanted to write a novel my entire life, I mean it.

And writing a novel in Paris was a bucket list item too tempting to be missed. Paris, the same city where Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, George Orwell  were all inspired and wrote their timeless masterpieces.

So November 3rd, I sat down, already three days late and started writing. 23 days later I’d broken the goal of 50,000 words and I took a little break.

Then I continued writing slowly and I had reached the last scene of my novel when I had to leave to catch a plane to Prague. I don’t think I’ve ever been more upset to travel.

So. Close.
So. Close. Just one more hour!

 

Prague was absolutely amazing (blog post to come) but as soon as I returned (and had a nice long nap) I sat down to finish the last few scene of my still unnamed work full of vampires, werewolves, witches, and one very strange tattoo.

Is it a masterpiece?

Not in the slightest. It’s a first draft full of mistakes and I spent the entire month ignoring my inner editor and writing down things I will need to go back and change, but only after I finished my first draft.

I spent most of the month in my room as I said earlier, but don’t worry because I still worked in a day trip to Versailles, a comedic play, and the Christmas markets of Paris. So I wasn’t a total shut in.

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Now I’m going to go write some papers, study for finals and enjoy my last few weeks TEN DAYS in Paris before I head home for Christmas. (And then come back a few weeks later of course)

Now here’s one last obnoxious victory gif:

I WROTE A NOVEL GUYS. AN ACTUAL NOVEL.
I WROTE A NOVEL GUYS. AN ACTUAL NOVEL.

Don’t miss a single blog post of my entire adventure! Please subscribe (click Follow blog via email in the column on the right!) to receive this blog’s updates via email! Also, I love getting feedback so please comment!

How to: Paris Opera Edition

Dear future boys seeking to win my affection,

Opera tickets. Buy me opera tickets.

As I’m typing these very words I’m listening to opera music on YouTube. I have the terrible feeling that one day someone is going to ask me what I’m listening to and I’m going to have to tell them that I have fallen in love with the opera and it now owns my soul.

Because the opera was all like:

and I was like "Fine with me!"

And I was like:

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Sweet Briar, the program I’m studying abroad with, takes us out on excursions every so often to plays, and guided tours within Paris. A few weeks ago they took us on a guided tour of Opéra Bastille, the modern opera house in Paris completed in 1989.

The Opera Bastille
The Opera Bastille

Contrary to popular belief, most operas in Paris are actually held at this new building and not the historical, Opera Garnier, which the Phantom of the Opera is tied to. Opera Bastille is newer and therefore has better acoustics and now holds the most operas while Opera Garnier shows more ballets.

The Opera Garnier: fancy huh?
The Opera Garnier: fancy huh?

Our tour was like a dream come true. Our tour guide took our small group of 5 people to not only the empty amphitheater, but to the “super-secret” side passageway that led straight onto the stage. I went backstage at the Paris Opera. 

Backstage. At the OPERA.
Backstage. At the OPERA.

The crew on stage was currently working on moving all of the Nutcracker’s props onto one large square area, so that the elevator underneath could raise the entire square up so that the decorations could quickly be moved into one of the massive storage rooms that were also behind the stage and could move in the props for that night’s show.

We walked around the sets for La Boheme and Don Giovanni and then he took us down to the 6th sublevel of the opera house where they store the oldest props and make the new ones for the coming seasons. Basically, the opera house is an iceberg.

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You only see that cute little top part and you have no idea of the monster that lies beneath.

One of the questions I made sure to ask our guide was how to get cheap opera tickets.

How to get cheap opera tickets:

1. Buy 6 months in advance: They start selling tickets for a piece about 6 months in advance, meaning if you want one of those 15 or 35 euro tickets, you need to act fast. After I visited the Opera Bastille I waited for the ticket office to open and bought one of the remaining 15 euro tickets to see Swan Lake… in April. (The tickets went on sale mid-november and I bought mine November 22, just a few days after they started selling them) They’re not good seats, but hey, I’m guaranteed to see Swan Lake and for only 15 euros.

2. Super lucky young adult deal way: Last Friday morning I woke up as usual and was eating breakfast when I got a text from the opera. The opera texted me.

Basically the text told me that there was a special deal for young adults (under 26) to see the opera La Boheme this Sunday at 2:30pm. They were selling tickets in the second best area of the entire theater that normally cost 180 euros for only 30 euros. 

Me reading that text
Me reading that text

Basically, I had a panic attack, woke up my friends with frantic phone calls and hurriedly purchased my ticket. Two hours later my friend decided to go as well and she scooped up the last ticket.

Why did the opera text me? Because in order to purchase tickets online, or to even look at the prices for that matter, I had to sign up for an account on their website which asked me for my french cell phone number.

So basically, I made that account about a week ago and I’ve already gotten one of these “Young Adult” deals. Who knows how often these deals pop up? My advice: get an account at operadeparis.fr as soon as you can in order to benefit from the 26 and under deals!

Oh and my seat at La Boheme: AMAZING. I was in row 7 of the orchestra, my friend: row 3. I could see the expressions on the actors faces!

3. Super-super risky/lucky way: Apparently if you show up an hour and a half before the show starts the opera will start to sell the remaining seats for 30 euros. (My tour guide told me this so it’s definitely a thing, but I haven’t tested it yet) In short: you might get lucky, you might not. Definitely have a backup plan in mind just in case your opera plans fail!

The actual opera: La Bohème

Bohemian Paris of the 1800s, a story of love and of course loss. Stupid tuberculosis.
Bohemian Paris of the 1800s, a story of love, and of course loss. Stupid tuberculosis. Also I walked through this exact set only the week before. All that snow? Tiny pieces of paper!

I was actually shocked at how much I liked it. The vibrato in their voices really adds to the emotion you feel during the piece and I felt myself tearing up in the final act, when the main character laments the loss of his love.tumblr_m32kilRJ1y1r9fj13

Thankfully, there were subtitles in both English and French, so I understood everything and I read the plot of the opera beforehand just to make sure.

But do you realize how hard it is to restrain myself from buying the expensive opera tickets now? Don Giovanni will be playing on my birthday in February, yet tickets are already 100 euros! I sincerely hope that these “young adult” offers come often and that I will be able to get to see all the ones I want to! (Aka ALL THE OPERAS)

If you guys have any questions about the opera or how to get tickets leave me a comment!

Don’t miss a single blog post of my entire adventure! Please subscribe (click Follow blog via email in the column on the right!) to receive this blog’s updates via email! Also, I love getting feedback so please comment!