Friday, October 30, 2009


So I've got excellent news: definitely booked a spontaneous bus trip last night to visit Jenny in Leuven, Belgium for the weekend! Thus, I'm obligated to sit down and reminisce about my times in Prague before I get too far behind in my blogging. So finally, on to The City of a Thousand Spires.

I didn't get home from that Halloween party I mentioned last blog until pretty late (though it ended up being a free taxi ride!) and our flight left at 9:30 a.m. which meant we had to be at the airport shuttle bus by 6:15...yuck. Fortunately my alarm went off, and there was only one minor glitch when I realized I hadn't copied down my confirmation number. Amusingly enough, both Alex and Rach were still up despite it being rather late Florida and Chicago time respectively, so I had no trouble finding volunteers to get online for me. We ended up running into a few of Mary Margaret's friends from Sewanee, her home university, at the bus station who are studying in Aix en Provence this semester. "Oh hey guys, where you headed?" "Prague, you?" "hahaa no way, us too..nice." So all five of us jetted on over to the Czech Republic for the weekend.

We had to split off upon arrival in order to find our hostels, so the rest of that day M.M. and I spent wandering around downtown Prague exploring. I've been fortunate thus far that both of the hostels I stayed in were within walking distance of the busier parts of the cities I visited. During our wanderings we came across the National Museum that offered a great street view, some cute Russian Matryoshka dolls for sale, a wayyy over priced McDonald's that lured us hither, a random Communist museum, the Beatles, and magnificent architecture including the Powder Tower. As follows:



What're you guys doing here??

Powder Tower and Powder Sarah.

That night we kept it pretty low key. While getting ready back at the hostel we bonded with a young German woman, beautiful and adventurous who spoke English pretty perfectly and had some hilarious stories of her travels all over the world, above all Africa. She was one of the first people we encountered abroad who really empathized with us when it came to the topic of learning a new language and having the confidence to practice it despite how silly you may sound. She herself was an Italian teacher in Germany, had studied French for a time, and said that her English speaking was largely practiced in Africa. Wow. AND she still admitted to being slightly insecure when it came to accents, conjugations, slang, etc. Finally, someone who's humble enough to admit a little difficulty!! I know we Americans have no trouble at all saying we can no longer speak English very well and haven't gotten much better at French, ha. The French on the other hand, well let's just say they sometimes tend to live up to their somewhat arrogant reputations. Don't get me wrong, they're all beautiful English speakers, but I don't personally feel the need to correct their every grammatical error the way some have with me. (I do that more when it comes to English speakers though, so I suppose I should bite my tongue.) Anyhoo, she gave us a great impression of Germany, such a sweetheart, and it was uplifting to encourage each other in our bilingual (or in her case quasilingual) endeavors.

We finished off the night with some strong Czech ale at the cute restaurant next to our hostel and followed some locals to another pub called "Le Chapeau Rouge" (I know right, I come all the way to Prague to go to a French pub..) that just happened to be en route past the most magnificently (or should I say Maleficently) creepy Sleeping Beauty-esque castle I've ever seen. We'd accidently ended up in the middle of Old Town Square absolutely freaking out over the view, locals and tourists staring.

A comparison. [see background]

Prague Astronomical Clock.

Earlier at the homey Czech restaurant.

The next day we wandered around the Prague zoo which was slightly ghetto but still had a wide variety of animals. Not too much excitiment, but it was fun to see what a zoo is like in Europe, AND I got to see cats!! I miss Figment (my lil black panther) sooo much, I've been thinking about him a lot lately. Plus, there was yet another great view, and the best part was a candy-colored Czechoslovakian mansion across the street. I made Mary Margaret walk along the road with me for a while to get some pics of the countryside, but eventually we caught a bus back to find lunch. Too much Czech beer and an empty stomach makes for unhappy Americans. So what'd we do? Ate at a sports bar with quesadillas and chicken wings. That plus McD's=0 for 2 on the ethnic eating scoreboard. Ahh well, can't be cultured all the live-long day.

I <3 flamingos.

and tigers.

and elephants.

but this kitty definitely won.

View and M.M.

Mansion and its gardens.

Wee me.


We spent the rest of the afternoon at St. Vitus Cathedral/Prague Castle (the same thing I guess?) which required walking up a bazillion steps and fighting crowds. But I think this place beat the other castle for Sleeping Beauty-ness and was definitely just as captivating. Absolutely crazy that someone figured out how to design and build monuments like that.

Not the most historically informative trip I've ever taken, but we managed to keep ourselves entertained. It was either the hair-raising gargoyles or the hot cocoa, not sure which, but we got into a giddy mood, and this was the result:

Handstands: her idea, but I went first.

Hair-raising gargoyle.

M.M. as Quasimodo; she ascertained that the size of the dungeon door meant he'd changed locations.

This one didn't break like the Oslo guard...

Another boundless view.

and boundless stairway.

That night we met up with not only the three Sewanee peeps but also three other girls she knew studying in Florence! It was a great surprise having such a big group to go out with. We finally ate an authentic Czech meal of sausages, veggies, and sauerkraut and went on a Prague pub crawl that consisted of one British guide leading at least 40 tourists around downtown Prague. Ha, funny scene. At one point I asked him how the babysitting was going and he replied with, "Oh this is nothing, in the summa theh's at least 300 people in one outing." I like living abroad and all but not so sure I'd want his job.

Mary Margaret and I managed to go along for half price since we thought we'd be leaving early. But the night just stayed too young, and we had to be able to say we'd been to the biggest club in Europe which was the last stop. Wasn't that impressive, but we danced a lot, bonded with the Sewanee crew, and made friends with an adorable Brazilian girl who kept saying we were "joost soo beeyuuteefoool!!". Such great memories.

Definitely worth miraculously waking up the next morning to a dead cell phone/no alarm and almost missing our flight.....almost.

[Thank the Lord for daylight savings ;]

The Abroad Crew.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I lead a charmed life.

So for a slight rupture in the description of my travel adventures lately, here's a quick anecdote on my week here in Paris. On Monday Rach told me to go see a French band called the Plasticines that night, and when I mentioned this to my hostmom she said, "Oh, you mean The Virgins concert down the street?" Ha. "Ummm, noo but what about The Virgins?" "Simon (her photographer son who works for Jalouse, the French equivalent of Nylon) is touring with them as their photographer, so he's at their concert tonight close to here! Let me call him and see if he can get you in!!"

10 minutes later I had my name on a list to see one of my more recent favorite bands for free. And it was only a 3 minute walk to get there.


Excellent show.

"Rich Girls"

"One Week of Danger"

Cool harmonizing.

The Oslonian Traveler.

So it's finally the weekend, and I just woke up from a much needed nap that's helped cure some of my congestion. I swear I really do have the pig flu this time, but then again I've always been a slight hypochondriac. Regardless, it gives me a good excuse to take sick leave from the pre-Halloween festivities here in Paris, save up energy for the actual 'All Souls Day' fêtes on Saturday, and get lost in blog world for a little while.

Oh, and can't forget my perfect cold-curing, French fixes for later on...Chocolat: the movie and the ice cream. ;]

But talks of my travels must come before Johnny. I can't believe it's already been two weeks since I went to Oslo! My dad warned me that time here would turn into some weird continuum thing, and I wouldn't even realize I'd been gone at all...unfortunately he was right. But I just keep telling myself that I've got a little less than two months left, and so much has already happened in that period of time that I can't wait to see what's left in store.

So ugh, enough stalling. OSLO! I'm not sure if I'll ever have the privilege again in my life to travel to a foreign place all alone (work unrelated), and I highly suggest to anyone who has the opportunity to take advantage...what a liberating experience. I had gotten flight tickets for pretty cheap with the intentions of meeting up with my friend Jenny, a fellow study abroad student from Chicago living in Brussels. Unfortunately, she had too much studying to do for midterms and decided she couldn't make the trip fly. Bittersweet because on the one hand that meant I could take her spot in the hostel (as of 3 days before I left, I hadn't been able to find a place to, and on the other hand that meant no Jenny!! :[ Everyone from my program thought I was crazy for going alone except for one guy Brian who said, "Oh you're outgoing, you'll make friends." He called it.

Getting there involved a 5 a.m. train to a bus to the airport to another bus to the hostel where I small talked with my roomies, four kids living in Paris for the semester (ironic) and two Scottish girls who ended up being great companions. Brian was right, friends were made! However, I decided to go out exploring alone since everyone else was pretty tired, so nine hours of solitary travel later I was wandering around downtown Oslo with nothing but my headphones and a map (I'm terrible with maps and am SO proud of myself for finally figuring it out). I was successful in finding both the Natural History and Botanical Museums as well as their beautiful surrounding botanical gardens. They offered a nearly aerial view of the city, I was in Heaven.

Bus ride into Oslo.

The gardens.

Natural History Museum.

Botanical Museum.

The view.

I wandered over to the Ver Frelsers Gravlund memorial cemetery where Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch are buried. I'm so morbid for loving grave sites as much as I do, but for me this was definitely the highlight of Oslo sightseeing. It was a typically freezing Nordic afternoon, yet I still managed to meander its immaculate graves for about an hour. Ahh the picturesque change of seasons, all the gorgeous graves, and being the nerdy literature/theatre lover I am, made sure to follow the entrance map to find Ibsen's grave...
The Three Sisters was the first play I read/saw in college.

Oh, and the whole experience was hauntingly amplified by listening to
The Painted Veil score on repeat. My favorite track:

"River Waltz"

The prettiest.

It was already starting to get dark by then, so after a little shopping (and a sweet graffiti sighting) I found my way back to the hostel to ask for cheap restaurant suggestions from reception.

Sweet graffiti sighting.

Apparently I asked the right girl because she eagerly responded with a cheap, nearby pub called "cafe saawwrraa." I couldn't really tell what she was saying through the thick Norwegian accent but followed her directions and found myself here:

No 'h' but still perfectly appropriate. I proceeded to have the best meal I'd had abroad yet, and it just so happened to be called the 'Sara Special.' hahaa.

That's right, I took pictures of my meal...crazy American.

Sara Special.

I got back to the hostel around 9 and lamely went to bed a half hour later because Bex, Yvonne (the Scots) and I made plans to get up bright and early to find the Viking Museum. Aside from the Sara Special these two girls
made the trip. Absolutely hilarious, and great fun listening to their Scottish brogues all day long--a mixture of 'ayes', slang, and witty banter that had me feeling like I was still listening to a different language. Awesome. We didn't get out as early as we'd hoped, and ended up getting kind of lost trying to find an allegedly free ferry to the next island over where the Viking Museum was. Unfortunately the ferry didn't exist so we had to take a slightly more expensive bus, but our detour at least offered a cool view of the pier.

The Scots ;]

The Viking Museum was seriously anticlimactic, but I think we were all pleased to say we'd given it a shot. The ships were pretty cool, and I have Scandinavian heritage so who knows if one of my great, great, great, great, great, great grandmothers was kidnapped and wed by some rusticly handsome Norseman on one of those ships..

I've got a romance novel imagination.


After the museum we took a bus over to the Vigeland Sculpture Park which was a slightly strange miasma of naked bodies in different poses. Cool to look at it and even more fun trying to imitate.

My favorite.


We did a few more touristy things like walk down Karl Johan's Gate, the Michigan Avenue of Oslo, as well as take pictures with the royal guard in front of the Royal Palace.
A pretty exhausting day, but I was proud of us for having seen as much of the city as we did in such a short amount of time.

Karl Johan's Gate.

Royal Palace.

Smirky guard...he broke!

Neither of the girls felt like going out that night, understandably, so I decided to have myself a rather fancy time drinking martinis at the Radisson SAS Plaza down the street from my hostel. My brother in law Philip had been in Oslo the week before, and this was one of his primary suggestions: "There's a bar up on the 34th floor that you can go to for free and see out over the fjords. I recommend going at sunset or later in the evening... you can see forever." He certainly was right, talk about an aerial view. Once again I sat there alone, looking at the endless, electric city, sipping Akevitt (another one of Philip's suggestions: cinnamon/liquorice liqueur made from potatoes), and talking with Ash across the world about her eventful evening. She made me think of it, so I decided to whip out the notebook she'd given me for my birthday and jot down how I was feeling:

"34th floor Radisson upon Philip's suggestion, texting Ash about all the Rockford current events (wink, wink)...this view makes me realize that I'll probably never do this again...I feel very Katie Couric, very Carrie Bradshaw, or maybe I just feel like an ordinary Rockford girl with an absolutely intoxicating view of downtown Oslo on a Saturday night, and I should stop writing by candlelight...."

It was a good beginning to the night because I ended up having a blind date with a friend of Jenny's named Emily who'd come to Oslo by herself too. She was staying in my same hostel so we went out for a few drinks and enjoyed Norwegian nightlife.

P.S. Everyone in Norway looks like Heidi Klum, such a beautiful race of people.

Me and Emily.

On the bus back to Paris I sat next to one of the Parisians who'd been in my hostel. I successfully held an hour and a half conversation with him in French, and he made sure to tell me how impressed he was that I'd managed to enjoy a vacation in Europe with new friends all by myself.

I was kinda proud too.

European travels to be stop, PRAGUE.