This whirlwind of a semester has flown by even faster than I could imagine. During finals week, it was one of the first times all semester the sun stopped hiding behind the clouds. IES Barcelona students celebrated the weather by hitting the beach. But I decided to board a bus to the airport instead.
Although it wasn’t warm enough to wear shorts and a tank top during my weekend travels, I was greeted by sunny skies in Prague, Czech Republic. I was slightly disappointed to be missing out on tanning in Barceloneta with other friends, but I think temperate springtime in an eastern European gem was a fair trade.
After navigating streets that ran in all directions and signs in a language lacking vowels and letters garnished in accents, my friend and I found our way to the centrally located Hostel One Home. This was the best accommodation I have had so far, and I can highly recommend it to future visitors.
On our first morning, we participated in a Sandemans Free Walking Tour. Entertained by our knowledgable tour guide, Tijo, we explored the city for three hours around Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and the Old Jewish Quarter. I learned so much about the Czech Republic’s extensive history of medieval Bohemia, oppression by communism and Nazis, cultural traditions and some interesting facts. For instance, it is ironic that a Hugo Boss store sits at the front of a shopping district in the Jewish Quarter because he was the one to design the Nazi uniforms. Also, the Czech Republic drinks more beer per capita than any other nation in the world.
The rest of the day was spent eating, sightseeing and enjoying some of the aforementioned famed beer. Our first stop was taking a stroll along the St. Charles Bridge, which provided spectacular views of the red-roofed houses, turquoise domes, gothic spires and the world’s oldest medieval castle dominating the skyline. We saw clusters of lovelocks and young couples sealing their fates as well with new additions. A short walk further and we found the John Lennon Wall. Inspirational words and encouraging messages could be found between the collage of Greek sorority letters, university chants, hearts and peace signs. We even ran into other IES students while there.
We continued our route by popping into a marionette shop and learned how to properly tug at the strings of the toy to bring it to life. For lunch, we ate a traditional-style goulash with bread and potato dumplings, raw onions, paprika and a side of lemon-infused Pilsner beer. And as if a hearty meat-and-potato meal wasn’t enough, my friend and I treated ourselves to more street food in the Old Town Square. There were about eight or so stalls, and we managed to eat at virtually every one during our two-and-a-half day stay. If there is one thing that is consistent when I travel, it is eating well.
We topped the night off with a bar crawl, and we saved leisurely activities for the morning. We spent our last few hours in the city indulging in some “pleasures” near Powder Gate. First, we learned about agonizing pain instruments and methods used to inflict them on victims at the Museum of Torture. Then, we received a different form of torture from the next door over. Posters advertising Thai massages were plastered around the city, so we decided to get one.
We were sore for days after our brutal one-hour “massage.”
But like the rest of our trip, we laughed off the experience and mended our bruised spirits with even more food in the Old Town Square.
I realized something this weekend. Before starting my study abroad adventure in Europe, I never thought I’d find myself venturing off to the Czech Republic. I was sure my first time jumping the pond would be filled with trips to Paris, Amsterdam and Santorini. I also figured I’d casually take a ferry to Morocco and travel to Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. I didn’t make any of those trips (yet!), but I’m happy that I ended up exploring less-discovered cities like Prague.
There is more of the world to see than just the West Mediterranean. I may be about to reveal to you one of the region’s best-kept secrets, but I think you ought to know: Eastern Europe is severely underrated. If you ever get the chance to go, don’t pass it up.
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<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Marisa is a sophomore at the University of Florida, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. She is an active writer and photographer for her school newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, and a varsity rower on the UF crew team. In her free time, she enjoys playing guitar, volleyball, cooking, shopping and hanging out with friends. Traveling is Marisa’s biggest passion, and she has wanted to study abroad in Barcelona for some time now. She is most excited to master fluency in the language, immerse herself in the culture, sample exotic cuisines, and explore cities throughout Europe with new and old friends.</span></div>