Monday, July 12, 2010

Okay so...

I guess I'm about as good at keeping up with this blog as people would have predicted, but IT'S NOT MY FAULT! Not only does the program keep us busy, but so do my teachers and my new friends. therefore, it's time for another photo essay for the highlights:

First, some pictures around the apartment:

The double bed that had to be created when we discovered we would be living in a matchbox.

The tiniest kitchen I ever did see.

And finally our cute little living room and our even cuter roommates;
Clockwise from left: Tara, Lizzie, Susie, Ashley D., Ashley C., Kristen.

Next, a school-sponsored trip to the Communist Museum. Something to finally put a picture to the very scary stories we had been learning about.

A day spent paddle-boating in the Vltava River:

A trip to Terezin, the only Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic

"Work Makes You Free"

A 'Bloch' artist of the Terezin Ghetto

Outside the crematorium

And that was week one, in short. Lots and lots of powerful stuff, some more than others, but even though it can get a bit morbid at times, I am really thankful they are exposing us to this, right where it actually happened.

Happier notes next time with a Vienna post :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Castles, Fotbal, & Birthdays:

Hopefully you all haven’t completely given up on me, because I’m still here, and still have stories to tell. Too many stories, actually, that’s kind of the problem. Anyway, I’m taking it back to last Saturday, June 26th… (Forgive me if these overdue posts aren’t as detailed as the others, but I’m sleepy and I’m having trouble remembering everything).

It started out with an 8 am wakeup call to go on the group fieldtrip to see the Prague Castle. We took a tram and a bus to get there, and walked through the old city to “The largest ancient castle in the world” (Lonely Planet via Guinness Book of World Records). On the castle grounds, we explored the St. Vitus Cathedral, the Convent of St. George, and the Old Royal Palace.

After sightseeing, immediate roommate, Ashley and I broke for lunch and went on a search for a Czech hair straightener. It took us four attempts but we finally made it to a mall kiosk that seemed more like a cool oasis. Glowing with satisfaction, we headed back to our apartment for naps and showers, and then it was on to the next event—Ghana vs. US World Cup-watching in the middle of Old Town Square. In the square, there were giant projectors set up amidst delicious street food and beer stands. Everyone sat in the square as we sought out other US fans and cheered as hard as we could. It was an unfortunate outcome but the cultural experience was a win in itself. There couldn’t have been a more eclectic bunch of people to exchange stories, cheers, and tears with, and it is something I will certainly remember for a long time to come.

After the loss, there wasn’t very much time to mourn, for it was less than an hour until midnight and my twentieth birthday. A local showed us to a bar area where we began the night. We started with around twenty birthday groupies and after three drinking venues, it was down to a mere four at the biggest nightclub in central Europe, Karlovy Lázně, complete with five stories of dancing madness.

We crawled home in the wee hours of the morning and it was a perfect start to my big day. At around noon the next day, I woke up to a shopping trip with Ashley, and later a homemade dinner from the rest of my roommates. We sat down for a movie in the living room as more friends shuffled in, and the final surprise came in the form of birthday singing and a delicious chocolate cake.

Had all of you been there, it really would have been perfect, but since you couldn’t be, I really couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was yet another great birthday for Landis.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Alas, Praha!

I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats waiting to hear about the main event, and now I am finally here to tell you.

My first steps in the Czech Republic occurred around 4 pm, local time. I was greeted by a driver with an 'FSU' sign and a fellow, male student named Brian/Bryan (later to be nicknamed by his roommates: “Movie Guy,” for bringing over 100 movies with him on the trip). We got in a very interesting car that reminded me of a van-version of the Honda Element. As our driver navigated us through the winding roads of the city, we finally arrived in the giant plaza known as Wenceslas Square, one of the most famous sites of Prague, as well as our new home.

We were two of the last few stragglers to arrive so we went our separate ways and I was greeted at my apartment door by the roommate I had met through Facebook, Ashley. Soon after, I met Lizzie who was sitting on the couch of the common room, and Ashley gave me the grand tour. The layout is as follows: As you enter through the front door you will find two rooms on the left, one with a shower/bathtub, washing machine, and sink/vanity, another with a toilet and sink (no mirror). On the right of the entrance is a set of closets as well as bigger room with a double vanity and shower/bathtub. Past these three rooms is our living room with sectional, desktop computer, and plasma screen TV with 30 Czech Channels. To the right is our kitchenette and dining area. Past this area is a hallway with two bedrooms on the left, each containing 2 beds. The first room houses Lizzy and Ashley (this Ashley also known as Svetlana for her spot-on Russian accent), two MSW (Master of Social Work for those not up to speed) from Fordham University. The second, significantly smaller room houses the first Ashley we met and myself. Ashley is an FSU grad who is completing her own MSW degree at FSU online from her home in Tampa. I mentioned that this room was significantly smaller, and just to describe how small I will paint this picture: on our very first night of meeting each other, in effort to make the best use of space, we moved both our twin beds next to each other against one wall and were left with one queen-sized bed for two strangers to share… we have become very close.

Moving back into the hallway and continuing forward, the end of the hallway houses three more MSW students from Fordham: Susie, Tara, and Kristin. And across from us is yet another toilet/sink room. And there you have it, apartment no. 30 in the Vaclavske Namesti apartment building and it’s seven female tenants, ranging from ages twenty to twenty-eight.

After the meet and greet, it was a quick turn-around to our first orientation and welcome dinner in the restaurant next/under our apartment for some authentic Czech food. I’m sure you’re all curious as to what that exactly is, and what it is, is delicious. Similar to German food—lots of gravies, schnitzels, pork, sausage, and salads that consist of diced cucumbers and tomatoes only. Heavy, heavy, heavy, yum.

Once we finished dinner, we headed out for some roommate bonding at an Irish pub around the corner. We watched soccer games and got to know each other as much as our jet lag would allow, for it only took us about half a beer each to realize it was time for bed.

Praha Day 2 started with an early morning walking tour around our very famous neighborhood, old town square, and the Jewish quarter. Our neighborhood, and apartment building in particular is so famous because it is the very spot were the Velvet Revolution took place. When you walk out our door to the right is the magnificent structure known as the National Muzeum, where the first day of the riots (November 17, 1989) took place. Later that week, in front of thousands of people, future president, Vaclav Havel, made his speech supporting the actions of the students who were changing history on the balcony of our apartment.

…So yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.

Then there is Old Town square, which is home to two cathedrals that are nearly identical to that one we have in the United States… you know the one, in Magic Kingdom? It is also home to the astrological clock that makes a big show every hour. Many people have seen the event on the travel channel, so if you don’t have a trip planned her soon, I’d tune in for that ‘cause it’s quite a sight. It involves little men and skeletons and trumpet players high up in the tower.

We also went to the Jewish part of town, which was very special to this half-a-chosen-person. We saw two synagogues, one of which had its walls lined with the names of Czech and Slovenian Jews who had died in the Holocaust. To my knowledge, I don’t have any ancestors that fit this description; but nonetheless, it was quite chilling to see “Blochova” and “Diamante” among the masses. In that same synagogue were drawings made by children in the ghettos. Probably some of the more disturbing things I’ve seen in my time; lots of violence drawn by such innocent witnesses. The second of the two synagogues we visited was built by the Spanish and was quite a spectacle--very elaborate and ornately decorated, and nothing like I had ever seen before. We also walked through the very disturbing Jewish cemetery, home to an estimated 100,000 bodies in not more than half a soccer field worth of space. We weren’t allowed to photograph the place, but it was something to see. The grounds had risen over four feet from the path we could walk and headstones were no more than inches apart from each other, popping out of the ground at all angles. Forgive me for being redundant but, chilling, I say… Chilling.

After all this we took a break for lunch at “Bohemian Bagel” (how appropriate, right?) and met back at school, Cevro Institute, for a two-hour lecture on Czech History. I’m not quite sure what our schedulers were thinking, taking us jet-lagged Yankees on a three-hour walking tour and then expecting us to sit through that… but we managed, and came home for some quality naps and overpriced drinks in the square.

I know I’m still six days behind but I’m trying, people. Bear with me, this is all I can crank out tonight.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

So you may have already heard…

That I didn’t EXACTLY make my flight from Paris to Prague as scheduled.

Now, before you jump to any crazy assumptions, you should know that this really wasn’t my fault.

I was sitting at my gate an hour and a half before takeoff, proud of myself for the following things:

  1. I had woken up at 4:30 am after having gone to bed at 3:30 to get in a cab by 5.
  2. I had found the correct desk in the French airport, with all my belongings, checked everything and made my way through security.
  3. Ordered a bit of breakfast, and was comfortably facebooking by 5:30 as I waited for my 7:15 flight.
  4. And I did all this whilst my eyelids were being held up by toothpicks, and I was enduring a very severe tummy ache.

So I waited and waited and finally we began boarding. I hopped in line and when I reached the front, my ticket did not scan properly. The AirFrance employee told me in her broken English that I was taking off from gate 53B, not 53A—just one desk over. I smiled and made my way over to what I found to be an empty desk, an empty gate, and an empty seating area that was being shared with gate 53A. Confused, I asked the woman, “I should be taking off in 7 minutes, where is everyone?”

“You have meesed zee flight.”

“But I have been sitting here the whole time, and no other planes have left, how is that possible?”

“Zhey must av shanged your gate number.” She types vigorously on the computer. “Go to gate seexty-four for customur serveece.”

It turns out that yes; my flight’s gate had, in fact, changed. And, yes, it was my fault that I did not understand the French announcement that was made. So fifty euro came out of the reluctant pocket and I was told that my next flight would leave at 12:55 pm. Now, in case you haven’t been keeping score, I will remind you that we are now at 7:20 am, and I am to occupy my half-awake self in the airport for over five hours.

But never mind that, I had parents and school administration to inform. I had no working phone, and no other way to contact anyone so I whipped out the computer, and did the only thing I could think of: got on Facebook. I had a very limited selection of friends online to choose from to help me out, as it was nearly 2 in the morning, so a dear Jocelyn Hernandez was chosen to do the dirty work. I had her call my parents in the dead of night and have my mom go online so we could chat about the situation. We looked through all study abroad documents to contact who needed contacting, and we managed to pull through. With 10% of battery left on the trusty laptop, and all my adapters in checked luggage, I had to put it away. I had to my only source of entertainment away, and it was very, very sad. As I zombie-walked through the airport for any relief of boredom, I managed to pass the 5-odd hours and finally make it to a [comparatively] comfortable place to sleep—the plane; which I did for the entire duration of the flight. The next stop was Prague; a place I can finally hang my hat for a while… and it has felt very nice.

Days 5 & 6: Paris, Completed.

I voyaged to Paris, France simply because my father booked my plane ticket through his miles and the flight he got resulted in a 2 day layover in the lovely city. Originally, I had planned to get a hostel and venture around myself. However, when my brother-in-law suggested I contact Amanda McKinley, I jumped at the idea. I believe the story goes, that Amanda was a high school and college friend of Dave (the aforementioned brother-in-law) and later, a post-college friend Kefryn as well. In my younger years, I had spent only a handful of occasions with that group so I was afraid asking to stay with Amanda would be a little bit of a stretch, but I should have known she would welcome me with open arms when I explained to her my situation.

So, I made the journey from The Big Apple, East, and ended up on the other side of the world around noon on Thursday the 22nd.

(Insert ‘Day 5: Paris' entry here.)

After I left my napping park, I made my way around the town and down to the river. I enjoyed perfect Parisian whether and lovely photo opps, and USED A MAP to get me back to Amanda’s workplace to meet her and Boyfriend Jonathan for drinks—my first legal ones ever. After three Blanches (sp) and a meat plate it was on to the next bar at around 11:30 pm while, might I add, it was still light out.

I cannot quite remember what time it was when they dragged me in but it was definitely bedtime. I fell asleep soundly on my coffin bed in the living room next to my new friend Evan, Amanda’s other houseguest.

The next morning, Evan and I had planned on exploring while Amanda was at work, but unless sleeping counts as an exploration, those plans kind of fell through. So, instead we ate the baked goods she left for us and headed for The Louvre to meet our host.

We walked the gardens and up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomph and all the way to the top. We managed to be the last ones in before closing and got to ride the elevator up instead of the stair master. Instead of blabbing about the view, I will let you see for yourself.

After lunch and watching the end of USA’s victory over Algeria, we went home so Amanda could ready herself for dinner with the bosses and I could take a siesta. When I woke up, the boys and I walked across the river for beers, then to the Peanut Bar for beers, then to The Quiet Man to meet Amanda and have, you guessed it, more beers. The Quiet Man is Jonathan and Amanda’s regular spot and it is no bigger than my kitchen, bar included, and there was a bit of an Irish theme to it, (Amanda’s boyfriend spent a couple years in Ireland, and I’m fairly certain the French bar owner did as well, for they are good friends—on a side note, it is wonderful to listen to Jonathan speak the English he learned in Ireland on top of his French accent.) as you can see from my green, white and orange shot concoction that was made for me.

So it was back home by 3 am, in bed by 3:30, and out the door in the morning at 4:30 for my cab to the airport.

And THAT, my friends, is how you do Paris in a day and a half.