Hello everyone!  So I’ll be honest…I’ve procrastinated on making this obligatory blog entry detailing my 10 days of travel on the IES trip to Prague, Krakow, and Budapest.  It’s quite daunting to even scratch the surface of everything I did on this incredible excursion into Eastern Europe, but here are some of the highlights!  I’ll start with an entry about Prague, the prominent city of the Czech Republic.

First of all, let’s get rid of any stereotypes that people may have about Eastern Europe.  In all honesty, my own stereotypes and expectations about these Eastern European countries, before this trip, consisted of views of desolate, cold, and unfriendly cities.  I couldn’t have been MORE wrong.

Our first stop on the IES 3-city tour was Prague.  One fun fact about this trip was that each city we went to used a different currency.  Although all three nations are in the EU, all 3 are new members and thus haven’t conformed to the Euro yet.  In Prague, the currency we used was Crowns!  The conversion rate was 24 crowns per Euro.  Not bad, especially as the currency in Budapest gets crazy.  But more on that later.

With out first night in Prague, we wasted no time and embarked on a Disco Boat cruise on the Vitava River, which cuts right through the city.  Looking at the city for the first time, Prague showed its unbelievable beauty, something that really astounded me.  The architecture of Prague was one of the highlights- even normal apartment buildings were of vibrant colors and elaborately constructed.  Simply gorgeous.

The next day we took a guided tour of Prague Castle, and the Charles Bridge, two of Prague’s monumental landmarks.  The highlight from this excursion: St. Vitus- a Cathedral that took 600 years to construct, and one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.  (And I’ve seen a lot of churches here in Europe)

Also entertaining was the Prague Castle’s band-in-residence.  They were a DAMN good band, on par with the best military bands in America I’d say.  I was suuuper impressed!!  And they were playing Bilik’s Lord of the Rings Symphony for Wind Ensemble, for anyone out there who is familiar with that piece!

St. Charles Bridge was next, where we crossed the bridge to get to the Old Town Square.  The Old Town Square only re-emphasized the beauty of Prague’s architecture.  My stereotypes about Eastern Europe: squelched.

The next morning we took a tour of the Old Jewish Quarter, a very significant area for Prague.  Prior to the 20th century, over 300,000 Jews lived in Prague.  Now, less than 2,000 live there.  One thing that virtually all Eastern European countries have in common is this shared bit of Jewish tragic history.  Krakow also possessed a very prominent Jewish Quarter, but the city shares a similar story to Prague’s. Less than 10% of Eastern Europe’s Jewish population survived the atrocities of the 20th century- something that will forever have a profound effect on these cities’ histories.

We also had a good amount of free time in Prague, in which I had the opportunity to do some exploring with friends!  We had an unsuccessful venture into a Prague cafe, where we ordered milkshakes that were virtually just plain milk.  We also ventured around the shopping areas of Prague, which aren’t hard to find at all- Prague was easily the most touristy of the three cities we visited.  We also witnessed the nighttime projection show on Prague’s Astronomic Clock tower.  For an idea of what this was, feel free to follow this youtube link!

On our final night in Prague, we paid our dues to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and went to a memorial concert, featuring an underground band called the Plastic People of the Universe.  The band was less important than the atmosphere itself, where it was interesting to see an exhibit of photos and newspaper articles from 9/11.  Particularly interesting was reading international news articles from ten years ago that detailed coverage of the events that took place on 9/11.  One Chinese news article, written on September 12th, predicted that America’s response to 9/11 would be similar to that of Pearl Harbor- that America would need to retaliate by taking its anger out against Pakistan and the rest of the Middle East.  Not too far off, huh?

Before I finish with my account of Prague, one quick side note on Prague’s food.  What I learned from my dining experiences in this city is that a traditional Czech meal consists of lots of meat, and lots of starches.  Pork is the meat of choice here, and either bread or potato dumplings as prominent side dishes.  Also very delicious was the Czech goulash.  One meal that stands out in particular was one very rustic restaurant that served us Pork knees, along with pork ribs.  It felt almost like Medieval Times, and amongst our entire group, we must have eaten the knees off of about 10 pigs…om nom.

Stay tuned for coverage on Krakow and Budapest in the coming days!