Let me tell you, getting from Bedburg, Germany to Prague in the Czech Republic is physically and mentally exhausting. First of all, do not book the wrong return date for your train ticket. I realized that I had purchased a ticket several months earlier for the day before I was actually supposed to return. This led me to have to purchase a new return ticket only days before my trip was to start. In other words, exactly when the ticket prices are highest. My journey started in Bedburg at 6:48 AM, where I took a regional train to Düsseldorf. From Düsseldorf I took an ICE to Berlin, which took 4 1/2 hours. In Berlin, I had the pleasure of waiting for another 4 1/2 hour train to Prague to arrive surrounded by a very excited rugby team wearing various creative costumes. Once on the train, I discovered that everyone else had reserved seats except me. Luckily, a few of these people didn't show up, so I didn't spend 4 1/2 hours standing, I just spent that time listening to the rugby team singing obscure English rock songs. Upon arrival in Prague, I was a little bit confused on where we were supposed to meet up with all the other participants, but after I finally spotted them, we set off to take our bags to the hostel. Our group consisted of 40 students who were primarily from the U.S. There were also students from Brazil, Australia, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, China, and a few host siblings. At the hostel we threw our luggage into a room and then walked to dinner.
Dinner was goulash. This is supposedly a Prague specialty, although its origins are traced back to Hungary. I saw it prepared a variety of ways while in Prague, but this particular night it consisted of onions, meat, a sort of meat sauce, and bread. I was seated with three other girls: Juliana from Columbia, Fexuan from China, and Anna who was Fexuan's host sister. We would later all room together with four other girls and hang out together during our free time over the next two days. At dinner we talked about some of the differences between our countries and Germany, what we liked and didn't like, when we arrived and were going home, and where in Germany we lived. You know, typical exchange student questions. There are so many typical questions that exchange students ask other exchange students, and I think we went through them all over the weekend. Here I found out how intense Fexuan's boarding school in China is. They have 14 hour long school days!
Breakfast the next morning seemed like it was exported straight from Germany.
After our breakfast, all 40+ of us got on the tram and headed to Pražský hrad (Prague Castle) for a tour. We didn't have a reservation, so we stood in line for awhile.
After passing through the security checkpoint, we stopped for a quick picture.
Once inside, the first thing we noticed was a church that looked just like the Dom in Köln. They look so similar because they were both built in the Gothic style.
We were split into two tour groups at the castle. Luckily I was in put in the same group as Juliana, so we got to take lots of pictures together. Our first stop was St. Vitus Cathedral, aka the Dom lookalike.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped inside were the beautiful stained glass windows. These were my favorite part. No two were the same.
Like most old buildings, sometimes things need to be renovated. St Vitus was no exception.
After the cathedral we walked into the actual palace. This is the room where there used to be jousting competitions.
Next stop on the tour was St. George's Basilica.
Here our tour guide told us the story of Brigita. The tale goes that an Italian sculptor who was working on the the castle in the 16th century fell in love with a local girl named Brigita. As they made plans to marry, the sculptor was called to work in another country, so he asked her to wait for him until he came back and they could get married. When he returned, he asked around and was told by Brigita's jealous neighbor that she had not been faithful to him. Consumed with rage, he invited her out and then murdered and buried her. Awhile later, her body was discovered and there was no doubt who had done it. Before being punished (some tales say killed) for his crime, he asked if he could make a sculpture of her and this was allegedly the result.
At the very end of the castle tour, we came to a lookout point where we could see all of Prague.
After the tour, we split into groups of three or more and headed into Prague. My group took one more opportunity for photos before walking all the way down to the trams.
However, on the way there we got caught up in a few tourist traps. I bought my first painting (I eventually bought three more) and these expensive fruit juices. At this point in the trip, we weren't quite sure how the exchange rate worked. It turns out that 50 Czech crowns are equal to about two Euros/USD.
Not really knowing where we wanted to go, we got off at a random stop and started walking.
We sat down in the grass for a bit and looked up things we could do on our phones and on the map.
After we figured out tentatively what we wanted to do, we set off.
Our first stop was the Dancing House. It was basically just an interesting building with unique architecture, you can't actually go inside.
Then we headed underground to go more towards the downtown area.
We realized that we hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was past lunch time, so we picked up a Prague specialty, Trdelnik. Trdelnik is a type of rolled or cone-shaped dough that is baked while rotating over an open fire and then dipped in a sugar mix. Many times they are also sold with ice cream or nutella inside. We also saw stands selling savory Trdelik, but I went for the one with ice cream. Because it was so hot the ice cream was put in a cup so it wouldn't melt all over.
We stopped at a cafe to buy some macaroons and then ended up ordering lemonades as well. Every lemonade I had in Prague had fruits floating at the top. I ordered raspberry.
We also took the time to do a little bit of souvenir/gift shopping while downtown. I might have went a little overboard because this was my first time in the Czech Republic and my last big trip while on exchange.
Making our way across Charles Bridge, we came to the John Lennon wall. The wall is constantly changing, with people painting whatever they want on it. The idea was for the paintings to be John Lennon/Beatles inspired, but many aren't anymore.
On our way back to the hostel we stopped to admire the view from Charles Bridge.
The next morning at breakfast I was very surprised to see that breakfast consisted of two Berliners and a croissant.
After our breakfast we started our guided tour of Prague. Our tour guide took us around Prague and explained us the history of everything.
The tour ended at Prague's astronomical clock where we watched the clock strike noon.
Our tour finished before the other one, so we had some time to kill. We walked across the bridge and bought more Trdelnik. This one was definitely more photogenic, even though it melted just as fast.
As we were trying to meet back up with Fexuan and Anna, it started raining. Juliana and I ducked underneath a restaurant passageway and waited there for the others to come to us. In the meantime, she taught me a little bit of Spanish! After Fexuan and Anna joined us, we walked back through the Old Town Square.
We sat down in the little park area to figure out where to go from there.
We decided to go do some shopping at the outdoor market, Havelské tržiště. This is where I bought three more paintings.
Dinner that night was either goulash, salad, or a burger. I chose the burger. Because making food for forty people takes awhile, we passed the time by asking Fexuan to teach us how to write our names in her language.
After dinner we all walked as a group to see Charles Bridge by night. The lights reflecting off of the water made it such a pretty sight.
Everyone took some time to take some photos on our last night in Prague.
Our our last morning, we had yet another interesting breakfast. Three cold hot dogs with ketchup, two bread rolls, and some sliced cucumber.
After those leaving soon retrieved their luggage, we left as a big group and headed towards the train station through the underground. Our trains and buses back to Germany all left at various times so we just kind of sat in the entrance area as one after the other left to go board their train. After hugging the others goodbye one last time, I set off with three other people (two exchange students and one host sister) towards the Jewish part of Prague. We tried to find a restaurant with real kosher food but everyplace we found was too expensive so we kept looking until we came to this restaurant, which had better prices. Before our food came out we got our drinks, once again lemonade. Mine was raspberry and I don't remember the other flavors, but they all tasted really good.
We had just eaten more Trdelnik so we just got appetizers to split between the four of us. I got escargot, Jessica got a cheese platter, and Jared got bacon-wrapped shrimp. Thankfully the others hadn't forgotten how to eat escargot like I had and they taught me again!
Jared had to go back to the train station so we saw him off and then the remaining three of us went exploring before Laura had to go catch her bus. There were lots of churches in the area, which we both really like looking at (and they're usually free!), so we spent the remaining time walking around Prague and taking pictures.
We had seen some postcards that had all the famous sites in Prague, and we couldn't figure out what this one little baby statue was and where it was. After visiting three different churches, we found him in the fourth church, Kostel Panny Marie Vítězné (The Church of Our Lady Victorious). It turns out that he is the Infant Jesus of Prague.
We went upstairs and there was a whole display of all the outfits that various countries had sent for him to wear. During different times of the year, the nuns of the church put him in different costumes.
My family has me conditioned to always be at airports at least two hours before my flight, so when we finally made our way back to the hostel to collect our bags and we only had an hour until our train left at 6:28, I was a little bit nervous. As we got on the subway not exactly knowing if we were going in the right direction, I got more and more nervous. Another wonderful thing about the Prague train station is that they don't tell you what platform your train leaves from until ten minutes before. So as the clock kept running and we had less than ten minutes and there was still no platform on the board, we started frantically looking for a worker to help us. Luckily we asked someone who we heard speaking English and she told us which platform it was at. We took off sprinting down the hallway and up the stairs and jumped on about a minute before the train took off. Jessica and I had reserved seats in different areas, but she came to talk to me and once the other family in my compartment got off in Dresden, she came and sat in mine. We ate my macaroons and talked about our lives in the U.S. and what countries we'd been to and about our colleges. We made it to Leipzig and got on our train to Berlin and were separated again, which was fine this time because we were both super tired because it was already 10:30 and we had been walking pretty much the whole day. Unfortunately, the train was delayed a little bit so when I got off the train in Berlin Hauptbahnhof at almost midnight and texted Jessica asking where she was, she told me she had gotten off at Berlin-Spandau. She had fallen asleep and looked at the clock and then gotten off one stop early at the time we were supposed to arrive at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Because the time between our trains was so short, she wasn't able to make our next train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Düsseldorf. To be honest, it's probably better that we found her another train that left an hour or so later because the seats on my train were the most uncomfortable ones I'd ever tried to sleep in. It didn't exactly help that around 3 AM a man started arguing with the train attendant and woke me up. After arriving in Düsseldorf at 6:30, twelve hours after leaving Prague, I changed trains one last time and as soon as my neighbor dropped me off at home from the train station I went directly to bed to get some real sleep.