Monday, December 7, 2015

A Weekend in Prague

One of the great things about the Olmsted experience is that there are tons of people all around the world to visit.  They actually encourage you to do so!  Mike and I hadn't visited anyone in the program yet, since we had done a lot of travelling in Turkey and the few international trips were to places that didn't have scholars. Prague was on our list, especially since it was sometime seat of the Holy Roman Empire, which was a rival to the Ottomans.  It worked out well to do a three day weekend trip there this past weekend and there is a scholar and his family from Mike's class there who offered to host us and show us around.   We were thrilled to take them up on the offer and get to experience this part of the Olmsted program.

We never know what our airport experience is going to be.  More often than not, our flights leaving Turkey are delayed (the Turks aren't the most punctual people...), but everything about this flight was smooth and enjoyable.  We even arrived early!  

Patrick, the Olmsted scholar, arrived a little bit after we landed.  His family (his wife, 3 year old son and almost 2 year old daughter) went to get their Christmas tree from the Christmas tree farm.  They drove there with their SUV, planning to put it on the roof of their car and drive it home.   I guess that's not how people in Prague do it because the man running the farm didn't have any string and didn't know how to tie it to the top of the car.  Patrick had to run out and buy string so that he could tie it to the car!  What an Olmsted moment!

Anyways, after Patrick picked us up, he drove us through the city and gave us a tour.  We dropped our bags off and said hello to Stephanie (his wife) and the kids before heading out for an actual tour of the city.  Patrick is an amazing tour guide and knew all sorts of facts about the different spots in Prague.  I felt like I was on an official tour! Prague is a beautiful city and even though it was dark and a little rainy, I was already hooked.  

We returned to their house where we were greeted by Claire, another Olmsted scholar in Dresden, Germany.   Stephanie had prepared dinner for us all and it was fun to just hang out at their house, eat dinner and catch up with everyone.  After dinner, all of us headed out to one of the smaller Christmas markets in Prague for true Czech dessert, Trdelnik.  It's fried dough covered with sugar and other sweetners.  Delicious. 

The Sullivans called it a night while Claire, Mike and I headed to a Czech bar called the Beer Museum.  Definitely worth it if you're in Prague, but I would make a reservation if you can.  When we got there, all of the tables were full or reserved.  Claire spotted a guy sitting by himself and asked if we could sit with him.  He agreed, which was fun.  He's from Bosnia and lives in Prague.  He was telling us all sorts of things about Eastern Europe and how things have changed since he was a kid.  Very interesting.  After a few drinks, though, we had to call it a night.  Traveling is exhausting and I am always tired by 10:30 or 11:00. 

The next day, the Santa was coming to the Embassy, so Patrick and family went there, while Claire, Mike and I set out to explore the city some more.   It had stopped raining and the sun was out, so the city looked beautiful.  

Wenceslas Square

Our first stop was Wenceslas Square, which is pretty famous.  Plus, there was a Christmas market, so Mike was happy to grab a late breakfast of sausage.

They had a live nativity, which really just seemed to be a bunch of animals in a pen, but I guess it was cool.

For a country that is 85% agnostic/atheist, they really know how to decorate for Christmas.

After we finished at the Christmas market, we walked around the city.  Izmir isn't the most aesthetic city in terms of architecture and Prague definitely put it to shame.  

We wandered into the main square, Stare Mesto, which has an astronomical clock that is always on the list of top things to do and see.  When the clock strikes on the hour, the little figures on the side dance around.  Tons of people gather around to watch this, but Patrick told us it was on the list of most disappointing tourist attractions, or something like that. I have to agree.  We happened to be there at the top of the hour to see it, but I'm glad we didn't plan anything around it.  

The clock tower is still beautiful and definitely worth seeing, though. 

There was a huge Christmas tree up in Stare Mesto as well

By this point, all of us were hungry for lunch, so I got a sausage, while Mike went with a pound of ham.  I wish I had a picture of this ham because it was massive.  I tried it and it was delicious, but we definitely weren't expecting something that big. 

Claire had been to Prague (it's less than two hours from Dresden) once before and knew kind of how to guide us around the city.   Our ultimate goal was to make our way to the big castle on the other side of the water, while also seeing some sights along the way.  

There are a lot of churches throughout the city of Prague.  Patrick said that a lot of them don't have mass or an actual congregation.  Instead, they have concerts and are more of an historic sight than an actual church.  This church that we went into was beautiful inside and out. 

I spy a castle....

After we crossed the bridge to the other side of the water, we had to climb a huge hill to get to the castle and the top of the city.   It was definitely worth the hike, though, because the view was breathtaking.  Prague is a gorgeous city and the weather was definitely in our favor.

I made sure to take advantage of having a third person with us so we could get lots of pictures together. Mike was less than thrilled.  Thanks Claire!

We circled around the castle and stopped for coffee/a bathroom break before stumbling upon this gate.  Isn't it cool?

There is a huge gothic church that is just as breathtaking as the other views of the city.  The line was long to go in, but it was definitely worth it!

It was crazy how different the church looked from the front and the back.  The back had tons of flying buttresses, which always make a gothic church look even more massive.

After taking in the beauty of the church, we stopped at the Christmas market nearby to get some mulled wine.    As we were walking out of the Christmas market, we were greeted by this view.  Not so bad, eh?

As we headed back, the sun began to set and the views of the city became even more stunning. 

We made our way back to Stare Mesto where we were supposed to meet Patrick, Stephanie and the kids.  It was Saint Nicholas Day, which is a big thing in Prague.  Saint Nicholas, an angel and a devil all come to the square to celebrate the day.  It was SUPER crowded and we quickly realized that there was no way to find the Sullivans.  Little did we know that there was no way for them to find parking, so it didn't even matter.  We were all pretty overwhelmed by the crowds and didn't feel the need to stay since we had been there earlier that day.   Instead, we stepped inside a beer brewery restaurant (guess who found that!) for a few drinks and an appetizer before going back to Patrick and Stephanie's. 

Stephanie and Patrick had made reservations at the local steak house and had a babysitter for the night, so later that night, we all headed out for a delicious steak dinner.  We had the most incredible wine thanks to the recommendation of Stephanie, who is pregnant and told us this would be one of the first drinks she had after giving birth.  Let. Me. Tell. You.  This was the most delicious Pinot Noir, if not the most delicious red wine, I've ever had. I'll be keeping an eye out for it wherever we go.   It was  a great dinner and a ton of fun just hanging out with everyone.  I've really missed having friends around  in Turkey. My friends back home are incredible and have been a huge support from afar, but I miss having friends physically close by.  This weekend was exactly what I needed.  We ended up staying up until 2am just hanging out after we got back from dinner and I think we all appreciated the company. 

Sunday morning, I quickly realized that I don't recover from staying up until 2 am quite as easily as I did in college, but we were up and dressed and ready because we had brunch with Stephanie and Patrick's upstairs neighbors who are TURKISH! Not only that, but they wife is from Izmir.  Stephanie prepared a delicious brunch and, after saying goodbye to Claire, we enjoyed a couple hours of brunch discussing Turkey while drinking Turkish tea.  It was a lot of fun and I think we impressed them with our knowledge of Turkish culture, politics and sights. Go Hogans!

We had an afternoon flight to Istanbul, which ended up being delayed (like I said before, punctuality ain't no thing in Turkey). Like the good Americans we are, we grabbed burritos from the burrito restaurant across from our terminal while we waited.  It wasn't as good as Chipotle, but it tasted great after five months without anything close to a real burrito.  Once we boarded the plane, we knew it would be close once we got to Istanbul. We arrived in Istanbul an hour late, which meant we had less than an hour to make our next flight.  Add in the super long line to get through customs and we thought we had to sprint to make it.  Luckily, the Turks are reliably unreliable and our second flight was delayed and we were able to get on just in time.  

Once we got home, I FaceTimed with my family to find out that Ben got into William and Mary early decision! Go Ben! I'm so proud of Ben and he's definitely worked hard enough to deserve this.  William and Mary is my mom's alma mater for undergrad and both my parents went there for law school, so they're big Tribe fans.  Although I am a loyal JMU alum, I am excited for him to go to his first choice school.  Go Benj! 

Overall, it was a great weekend with friends in a beautiful city.  It was a different experience staying with friends and we had a blast.  I definitely want to go back to Prague, maybe in the summer to see the difference between seasons. Until next time!

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