Sunday, May 30, 2010

A missed opportunity.

A statue in the main square of Mikulov

With reference to today's title: A missed opportunity to attempt to illegally immigrate to Slovakia and/or Austria, that is. It probably wouldn't have been the greatest decision, given the fact that we are (legally) going there in a few weeks, but still- it would've been cool to say we did! And it probably wouldn't have been that difficult, given the fact that we were less than 10 km from both borders during the field trip to Moravia. Even without sneaking into foreign lands though, it was an incredible trip, and I am so glad that I decided to go! Originally, I wasn't going to, but it turned out to be an awesome choice. First on our stop after leaving Prague: Moravsky Krumlov, and the Alfons Mucha museum there. He is more or less the father of the Art Nouveau movement, and while there is a museum dedicated to him in Prague, Moravsky Krumlov is home to his Slav Epic: a series of twenty enormous paintings that chronicle the history of the Slavic people (click here to see the entire series and read more). His works were positively incredible- the detail was astounding, as were the facial expressions: you could feel the emotions emanating from the paintings. It almost seemed as if you could step into them. Below is the group of us who went on the trip together: one professor, Geiger (who is sort of like a TA, except he doesn't teach any specific courses- but he knows the history, speaks Czech, and has plenty of connections- definitely somebody good to have around!), and six students. We managed to get a picture with a painting because Geiger is good friends with one of the girls who runs the museum!After we finished our tour there, we headed to Mikulov, a small town near the Austrian border, for lunch and a short break. Very helpfully, the restaurant we went to offered the menu in two languages: Czech and German. German is on my list of languages to conquer in the near future (but the again, I need to get this Czech business down, refresh my Spanish, and pick up some Russian and French too.. so we'll see about that). After lunch (I had garlic soup and fried cauliflower), I climbed the town's hill with the girls. It was no Tor, but it was still fairly imposing and afforded a beautiful view of Mikulov and the surrounding valley. Best part? Making it down the hill and rewarding ourselves with ice cream. For just 10 koruna- fifty cents- you can get a cone that is just the right size. I opted for the apricot flavor-meruňka- and it was glorious. I feel like every day, my vocabularly grows a little more- I can also say chocolate, vanilla, tea, and salsa curry (but that's another story...).
Before long, we were back in the van and on our way to Strážnice and Bzenec. Originally, we planned on touring an outdoor museum of sorts in Strážnice, but it was closed by the time we got there. We decided to return in the morning, and just headed on to Bzenec. After dropping our belongings off at our hotel (which turned out to be beautiful- an incredible surprise given the fact that we thought we would be staying either in a hostel or a wine cellar), we picked up the wineman and toured his vineyards. The sun was sinking low over the Carpathians as we walked through the narrow paths, learning about the grapes and how they were processed. It was fascinating to hear about, but even better was being able to see the owner's pride in his work. You could just tell that he was passionate about his wine, and- despite his stoicism- was pleased to share. After seeing the fields, he walked us to his wine "cellar," which was actually an airy second story room in his house. The group tasted twelve different wines- and by tasted, I mean that by the end of the night, all bottles were empty- and to eat, we had sausage, followed by salami (which, for the record, there seems to be no standard for here- you never know what exactly you are going to get), cheese, grapes, and bread. We didn't get back to our hotel until nearly two am- and we started eating at eight or so! It was a lot of fun, although I felt a little bad because I can't drink, and that makes things awkward sometimes. First, because in this culture, it can be rude not to drink, and I never want to offend my host, but secondly, since alcohol flows so freely here, being the one who doesn't drink is very visible. People are always noticing and asking, and it can be a weird situation to explain. People are curious, but summing up the details of my life succinctly is no small feat. Sometimes, I feel like it would be easier to just wear a sign that says "Brain Damaged: Doesn't Drink" in a herd of languages. Oh well. I am who I am.
We dragged ourselves out of bed in the morning and grabbed breakfast from a local grocery. We spent an hour or so taking a tour of the museum in Strážnice- which was a collection of homes, some original and some reconstructed, from the 17th century on. It was really cool! Afterwards, we took an hour long canal ride, which was a very relaxing way to spend some time. Then, we began our return trip to Prague. It took about four hours, and let me tell you- the roads to Prague are not the least bit smooth. Just when you start to doze off, you find yourself jolted awake. Thank goodness for my iPod! I was able to spend those hours rockin' out to some excellent music (you would expect nothing less than excellent, I know). We had a quick stop for lunch at McDonald's... So not a fan, even if it is a little better here. They are crazy here though! No real organizational system at all... Mostly, it's just a bunch of people pushing to the front. Kind of overwhelming. I haven't had McDonald's in years, and for good reason. When you have to eat though, you have to eat. I did have a chocolate shake though... For me, that is the one item that serves as both celebratory and conciliatory, depending on the situation. It's not often that I want one (probably a good thing...) but when I have one, it just feels like everything's good. And it is! I'm in the Czech Republic, and I've survived my first week! Of course, I inadvertently picked the wrong sauce for my chicken nuggets, but hey, these things happen. And, incidentally, kari/salsa curry doesn't actually taste as strange as it sounds. I kind of liked it. Go figure.
We made good time back to Prague, and I've spent the afternoon relaxing, and then split a pizza with Jeri, one of the girls upstairs, for dinner. Not sure what exactly is on the agenda for tomorrow. Museums are free the first Monday of each month, so we might head to the National Museum. We'll see. Photography class is tomorrow afternoon.
Oh, and more good news! I've booked a bus trip and a hostel with some friends for this weekend- I'm going to Berlin! It's a night bus, which should be great, and it's far cheaper than train or plane! It's a bit slower, but that's not really a big deal at all, since we're traveling overnight anyway. I'm incredibly excited! I don't speak any German! Well- I can count, and say hello, and I know a nursery rhyme. Maybe a few other phrases. So let me amend that: I don't speak any practical German. But I hardly speak any practical Czech, so no big deal. I'm sure it'll work out just fine. Doesn't it always?
Overlooking Mikulov
The girls on top of the hill, in front of the church. Gotta love the self-timer! The hike wasn't too bad- but it would be a little far to climb to church regularly!
The wineman in all his glory (slash stealth photography at its finest)
Overlooking even more of the vineyard- it was enormous!
The little village... did you know that the thatched roofs lasted an average of twenty years?
I just found this picture too amusing not to share... The irony of it just made me smile- a kayak, a swing set, and a very old boat sitting on the grass. The "yacht club" was, for the record, on the other side of the path.
A shot from our canal boat ride


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