Friday, December 25, 2009

A New Album

I've started a new Metzing Around photo album on facebook complete with all of the new pictures since the end of Fall semester. Click HERE to view the pictures.

What a Wonderful Christmas

While it is difficult to be so far from family and friends during what the song says is "...the most wonderful time of the year", we have managed to make the most of our first Christmas together as a young married couple in a foreign country. On Wednesday we managed to get all of our Christmas shopping and wrapping done in a record 4 hours and then we spent two long shopping trips before the holiday stocking up on essentials for the long weekend with no open stores and tons of time to eat. We ended up with an impressive spread...foie gras, plenty of cheese, plenty of wine, escargot, a duckling, duck fat, a lamb leg, pork belly, lots of veggies and beans...oh, and of course, butter. And in case any of you worried (haha) that we weren't eating well in France, our main concern is some form of early onset heart disease :-)

Since we have no current income, we agreed that this this Christmas would be a frugal one. Most of our presents for each other were apartment necessities, but we made sure that each had a surprise gift under the tree. Michael ended up with a teapot shaped tea bag holder (more of a gift for me, really), escargot/oyster forks, escargot baking plates, a USB wall plug for his iPod and a new kitchen scale. My loot included a metal mixing bowl (I can finally make Grandma Baker's rice pudding!), chopsticks, new headphones and 1000 Bornes, a favorite french card game that we played incessantly in High School French class. We made a delicious brunch of French toast with some Canadian maple syrup and fried potatoes then we played lots of 1000 Bornes and watched some TV.

Excluding the whole being-a-quarter-of-a-world-away from "home", we have managed to make a pretty good temporary home here in Metz. We are so thankful to have this incredible opportunity to live in France and travel Europe but we definitely look forward to being at home again with family this time next year. In the meantime though, we are greatly anticipating the arrival of Michael's mom and dad this weekend. We will be traveling to southern France, very close to the Spanish border. It will be a much needed break from Metz, this frigid weather, and a much needed visit with family :-)
Enjoy the remainder of your Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Finale

Since Michael is currently occupied trying to compete with the pretty ribbons I put on his presents last night, I thought I would steal his computer for a few minutes to update you on our latest Christmas Market adventure in our hometown of Metz.

We awoke to a blustry and snowy Saturday morning. I had been jealous of all the wonderful snow that has been hitting the northeast lately and was happy that we got to enjoy some of our own. Unfortunately, this cold and white weather did not make for a very amicable trip into town, but we'll get to that later. As we were walking around the lake to the bus stop we noticed all of the resident birds had flocked to this end of the pond...I had just said something about wondering what the birds ate when it was this cold when we noticed that people had thrown entire baguettes onto the lake for their feasting enjoyment. I'm not sure if you can make them out in the picture but it was an interesting thing to see.

Here is a glimpse of the Metz Christmas market.  As you have probably noticed, it bares a striking resemblence to the Christmas markets in Strasbourg and Reims. As such, most of the contents of the booths were similar and didn't interest us enough to warrant stopping in the very cold (1º with windchill). We didn't really find much to buy except for some delicious mixture of potatoes, cream and lardons that we scarfed down for lunch. We did manage to make it to all of the markets just for the sake of seeing them all. In between markets we would find a large department store to explore so our feet had time to recover from the chill.

On one of said breaks, we decided to take another walk-through of the Metz Cathedral and this time, take some pictures. 
After freezing and walking for most of the day, we were ready for a break and a nice warm drink. We met up with a Metzer friend, Vanessa (I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of all of us) at one of the markets for some hot mulled wine...YUM! The picture isn't meant to do much more than demonstrate just how cold it was. Around the center of the table you can see the wine ice forming from all of the wine hungry customers who couldn't keep the drink in their cup.
After picking Vanessa's brain for some of her favorite French restaurants in Metz, we said goodbye and made our way to the place at the top of her list where we enjoyed our first multi-course French meal in Metz. It was quite a treat, be jealous!

I will try to post again over the next few days but we all know how bad I am at posting regularly, so if I don't get to posting before, have a very merry Christmas everyone! We will miss our families and friends this holiday season but are incredibly grateful to be spending Christmas in this wonderful country.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ikea Adventures

Since Michael took his last final last week, we have been focusing on finally furnishing what used to be called my "office" but was essentially the room without the beds filling it up. With some help from Ikea experienced friends, we managed to make our first trip out there. It is on the opposite side of Metz from us, so our trip involved one bus trip into the main stop in Metz, then we caught another bus out to Ikea. Our first trip out was essentially an 8 hour day, including an hour out there, an hour back, and the 6 hours in between that we actually spent picking out stuff. For those of you who know Michael, you know that 6 hours is not an exaggeration. But after finally picking everything out, we had a new problem -- getting it all back to our place.

At first, we were planning to rent one of Ikea's trucks to bring everything home. It was a very appealing idea to me since it has now been 4 months (4 MONTHS!!!) since I last drove and I am starting to miss it terribly. In the end though, another GTL couple were able to help us out in their "large by French standards" car. After getting everything back to the apardorm (my new word for where we live)...

 ...and clearing out what had mainly been used as temporary Christmas tree storage...

...we got to work assembling the tables (in the background) and the couch/futon.

 After everything was put together, we ripped open some more bags...

...and finally put the whole room together.

And the next night, we thoroughly enjoyed our new room along with a finger-food feast while decorating our Christmas tree (photos of that to come later, when we get a tree topper and it is finally finished).

And no, we didn't intend to wear matching outfits in that picture :-)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strasbourg Marché de Nöel

Michael is finally taking his final final of the semester (phew!) and boy are we excited for the coming month of relaxation and a visit from his parents. While he is off racking his brain for 3 months worth of Wave Propagation knowledge that he stores somewhere in his brain, I thought I would take a few minutes to highlight a few of our favorite times in Strasbourg the weekend before last.

By the time we arrived and settled into our hostel on Friday afternoon it was already starting to get dark and since the market didn't actually open until Saturday morning, we just spent our time wandering the city by night. The Strasbourg Cathedral was completed in the 1400's and was the tallest building in the world at that time.

Once the sun came up Saturday morning and we were able to see the amazing Germanic architecture, we both immediately fell in love. For the longest time I thought this kind of architecture only existed nowadays in the Christmas village of Disney World, to see the original buildings, dating back to the 15th century, was incredible. We would build a house just like the orange one in the picture above if it wouldn't look to ridiculous back in the states.

This little cone of roasted chestnuts certainly put me in the Christmas mood although they were roasted in a drum roaster rather than over an open fire. Oh well...*sigh*. They were still delicious and much easier to peel than the ones we had to boil for our Thanksgiving sausage and chestnut sausage.

I'm mostly showcasing more of the beautiful German architecture in this picture but I also wanted to point out the buildings built right up against the water. This is a very common thing in Europe but I am still quite uneasy about it, I have a hard time restraining day-mares of them collapsing into the water.

As you can gather from the picture, Michael's hot, spiced wine was too hot to handle, so he walked around for quite awhile with only one glove on. For lunch, we both enjoyed some warm spiced wine (he had red, I had white) and a tarte flambée. Tarte flambée is a traditional alsacian food (we were in the Alsace region) consisting of a round, flattened piece of bread dough (similar to pizza) with crème fraîche (similar to sour cream), lardons (cubes of bacon), and cheese. For portability reasons, ours was made on a baguette rather than the bread dough.

Above is a daytime view of the interior of the Strasbourg Cathedral.

With Michael's finals completed, we will be getting to work decorating our Christmas tree, working on some homemade goodies, and finally furnishing our "apartment"; stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

In Lieu of Dickens

For those of you reading who are not familiar with our hometown of Wellsboro, Dickens of a Christmas is the once-a-year festival where the main street of our little old Victorian town is filled with vendors, performers, and tourists. I enjoyed the festivities much more as a child but I'll admit that in the past 5 years or so, my aversion to crowds of people has taken the fun out of it. But since we are in France this year, we concluded that we will have to take part in the French traditions which includes a Christmas Market or Marché de Nöel in practically every town.

Our first trip was to Reims in the heart of the Champagne regon. Reims is a similar size to Metz and while we spent some time walking around the vendors' booths, the majority of the trip was spent exploring the rest of this historical city. And since historical trips to cities in Europe is becoming a redundant topic in this blog, and since you can view the full photo album from this trip HERE, I won't bore you with too many details.

Here is some incredible history for you: Mars Gate, which the only remaining monumental gate of the Roman city of Durocortorum. It was built in the 3rd century.

The Foujita Chapel, built in 1966 on land donated by the Mumm Champagne house. If you want more history on this beautiful chapel, click HERE.

I don't have much of a caption for this picture; essentially, I have a thing for creepy old cemeteries (a passion that Michael does not share) and boy did we find a doozey in Reims. The cemetery was inaugurated in 1787 and has certainly seen better days. While there are new sections of the cemetery, the old sections are nearly falling apart. I'm not sure if the dilapidation is caused by time, vandalism and general wear alone or if WWII had anything to do with the destruction but everywhere you look, the granite slabs covering underground tombs have been shifted partway off and tombstones are smashed.

We spent a good part of our first afternoon attempting to duplicate an etching that we have back home of the Reims Cathedral. This is the closest we managed to get to the original picture although unfortunately, when the etching was made, the trees and streetlamps didn't exist. There also wasn't any scaffolding on the original picture which means we will (boo hoo) have to go back before our time in France is up so that we can get a better picture.

Here are some of the actual booths at the Christmas market. You can find gingerbread, hot spiced wine, cheap knockoffs of expensive knives, Christmas ornaments, delicious meat pies (which were made up the majority of our diet those two days), and much, much more.

 After more wandering around Reims the next morning we found our way to Saint Remi Basilica on which construction was started in the 11th century. The building was badly damaged during WWI but has since been restored.

As a final salute to Reims and our favorite meal while there, we enjoyed this delicious lunch in the park. 

Michael just got back from a final review for this Nuclear class and will need his computer to study, so unfortunately I will have to finish off this post at a later time. Enjoy Dickens Wellsborians!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Giving Thanks

Despite being away from our families this holiday season (until the Reindls come at Christmas) were were still able to have a lovely Thanksgiving day celebration with our Georgia Tech Lorraine family. Somewhere around 80 people showed up; there were professors, PhD students, masters and undergrad students. We had some French students that came and quite a few brought along their families.

Everyone brought along a dish and we managed to have most of the Thanksgiving essentials covered along with some amazing Indian food and French cuisine thrown in. There were almost as many dessert dishes as there were main course dishes. Michael is pictured on the left with our dessert plate. After an explanation of the Thanksgiving tradition and eating all of that wonderful food, the student government hosted a talent show. Our upstairs friend Kyle played his banjo and sang with another guitar-playing student Peter; their duo ended up winning the talent show prize. There was also a couple of French guys who sang, a guy with a yo-yo type acrobatic...thing and a Chinese man who sang and played the guitar. After the talent competition they set up a karaoke machine but soon after the first person got up to sing hysteria ensued when bare chested women showed up on the projector screen. As it turns out, the karaoke machine that the student government rented had a whole catalog of playboy songs which were definitely not meant for family fun. Obviously it wasn't a preferred outcome of the Thanksgiving dinner but in all honesty, we are in France where bare chested women are a normal occurrence on prime time TV and roadside billboards.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Photo Update

~Metzing Around photos have been updated HERE
~Click HERE to view pics from our trip to the Reims Christmas Market
~Click HERE to view pics from our trip to the Strasbourg Christmas Market

Along with cleaning, shopping and making dinner tomorrow (Leah and Kyle are coming down for dinner) I am hoping to update you on the past few weeks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What took you?!

So I know that all 6 of my followers are just dying to know why the heck it took me so long to detail our lovely fall break on the blog and here's the answer: Extreme fear of being unprepared for winter.

I lightly touched on just how freezing we were during most of the trip which made me realize that winter could be around the corner at any turn and I decided I wanted to be prepared. The first action this instigated (although not much of an excuse for not updating) was to go shopping, which, to say the least, is not my favorite thing in the world to do. Thankfully our endeavor was successful. I managed to find 2 sweaters, socks, and leather boots while Michael found a really nice black wool coat that looks pretty awesome on him. Maybe I'll manage to get a nice picture of him in it soon however, to spite our purchases, the weather has suddenly turned beautiful. We also took our usual in-town side trip to the covered market fore some delicious fruits and vegetables for dinner.

So with those successes under our metaphorical belts, I set out to replace Michael's winter had which had been eaten last year by moths. I had brought some nice blended wool and mohair yarn from home to make it with but after many many hours and roughly 2/3 of the way thorough the project, we decided that it was too loose. Alas, finding circular knitting needles in France is as easy as finding a needle in an extra large haystack but eventually after fumbling my way through the french language in multiple Phildar stores (wool stores), I finally found someone that carried them. After much discussion, they convinced me that the 80cm (almost 1 yard long) circular needles were
the right ones to faire le bonnet (make a hat)...which sounded odd to me, but I wasn't about to argue with them in my very limited french (sorry to those of you who don't have the slightest clue about circular knitting needle lengths). After getting home, realizing the needles were far too long, trying to convince Michael to find a way to cut and splice them, and moping around for awhile, I got on the computer and realized that the "magic loop" technique just might work; knitters, if you haven't seen it, check it out. After much fenangling, I was finally able to make it work. So the past couple of weeks have been spent knitting away every extra minute (and since I can't just knit, watching 2 seasons of Scrubs). I finally finished the hat yesterday and thankfully Michael seems to be very happy with it, which is great because I ran out of yarn to do anything else to it with.

Tomorrow morning we will be heading to Reims to check out their Christmas market. Bon week-end to everyone back home. We miss you all, especially with the Holiday season upon us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wake Up!

By: Sliimy
Although I got of out of the MTV scene years ago it became clear soon after moving that our only real hope of hearing English on French TV was to watch music videos. Sliimy immediately caught my eye with this original and colorful music video and not long after living here we were lucky enough to see him for free at a concert for the fête de la Mirabelle (we're pretty sure he wasn't wearing any pants during the performance). Anyway, this music video has become my go-to youtube video when I am feeling in the slightest bit down. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Finale: Copenhagen

To see photos corresponding to my last post, Fall Break Part III: Berlin, click HERE.
To see the photo album corresponding to this post, click HERE.

Before I get into the subject of this post I just wanted to point out something that was forgotten in the previous post.

The photo above was taken on the train ride from Prague to Berlin and somehow was missed when I was uploading photos into the appropriate post. While the image is partially out of focus and taken through a grimy train window, the blues and oranges and smoke somehow combined and it ended up being one of my favorite pictures from the trip. I just wanted to make sure that those of you who don't get a chance to check out the photo albums got to see it.

And now for the last push:
We really wanted to visit Copenhagen and some point while in Europe and since Michael's sister's boyfriend (confusing, I know) Jon is spending this semester of college there, and we already happened to be in that general area, what better time than this trip? So we hopped on yet another train bound for Denmark on Wednesday afternoon. The train ride was pretty long and boring except when our train was driven onto the bottom level of a ferry and crossed the water border between Germany and Denmark, that was pretty exciting. We did manage to make a friend in Albert on the last leg of the journey. He was probably close to my dad's age, a native German but had been living in Copenhagen for 3 decades. As per usual, we had no map of Copenhagen, no clue where our hostel was, and were getting in at 11:00pm, long after any tourist offices were closed. After looking at the address and phone number of the hostel he told us exactly what bus to take and where to get off.

The hostel was an experience that I hope to soon forget. In general, the Scandinavian countries are more expensive than the rest of Europe, which was a shock to us after being in Berlin and Prague, so the hostel was immediately more expensive than any of the others on the trip. But since we choose one of the "cheap" hostels in Copenhagen, it also wasn't very nice. There were 32 beds in each room (the most we had seen so far was 10) and although the room was split up with partial walls to mini 4-bed rooms, when half of the room is taken up by boisterous Australian girls those dividers weren't much  help. Secondly, it is apparently customary to charge extra in this part of the world for pillows and blankets. Each person is given one sheet (Michael had a fitted sheet while I got a flat) and that's it. And since we were being frugal and the hostel was already pricey, we refused to "rent" pillows or blankets (not to mention, they didn't think they would have enough blankets and pillows to go around even if we did want them), so the first night we spent freezing in our own separate beds. Michael even ended up sleeping under his fitted sheet with a sweater and pants on. The second night we disobeyed hostel ruled and slept together which was much, much warmer. The only positive side of the ordeal was the fact that the Aussies were up so late partying that I never had to fight anyone for the the one shower in the morning.

Thursday morning we were happy to be out of the hostel and managed to have one of the best pastries we've had since moving to Europe, a danish! Unfortunately it had been raining for the past 3 days of the trip and my non-waterproof warm shoes were currently soaked and the remaining pair were not very insulated. So despite the fact that it was beautiful and sunny out, it was still very cold, which left me kind of miserable for the day, fighting Michael to let me go inside any nearby public building so I could regain feeling in my feet. Without any word from Jon, or any inkling as to what we should see while in Copenhagen, we picked up a few maps and followed it along a self-guided walking tour through downtown.

 We were lucky that we just so happened to be walking through the palace area at noon and were able to see the legendary changing of the guards. Unfortuantely, the Queen was out-of-town, so we didn't get any music to accompany the routine.

The only famous person that I know from Copenhagen is Hans Christian Anderson so we had to visit the statue of the Little Mermaid, which happens to be one of my favorite all-time Disney movies.

After we finished our walking tour of the downtown area and unable to get a hold of Jon by phone we decided to do the walking tour of the Christiania area which was once a neighborhood primarily of naval barracks which emptied out after WWII. It has since been inhabited by squatters and is now self-proclaimed as an autonomous neighborhood. The wikipedia entry on Christiania is very interesting if you have a few minutes to spare; it's full of drug wars and clashes between the people and police.It was a very interesting walk though outlandish architecture and a park where vendors sold marijuana on card tables (unfortunately, no photos were allowed). I'm sure there were much more shady things going on in alleyways or other areas of the park but Michael and I aren't really the daring types so we stayed to the more heavily populated areas. The only picture we managed to get from that side of the city was this one looking over the water to the downtown area at sundown.

We finally managed to get a hold of Jon that evening only to find out that the e-mail I had sent 3 days prior  had never made it to him, most likely due to poor Wi-Fi reception at one of the hostels. Thankfully his host mom was incredibly gracious and said we were still welcome to come to dinner despite any prior notice. We made our way, with the help of Jon's directions, into the outskirts of Copenhagen on the tram system. He and his host mom met us at the last stop we drove another 10 minutes to their house. After the obligatory house tour we got to sit down and talk with Jon in anticipation of a home cooked meal after eating so many sausages. We were not disappointed, Jon's host mom made some incredible pork loin, roasted root veggies (which I had 3 servings of in an attempt to balance out our horrible vacation diets) and rice accompanied by white and red wine (another plus after a week of beer) with ice cream filled crêpes for dessert. Not only was the dinner wonderful but it was very nice to get the opportunity to talk not only to Jon but also to his host mom who is an incredibly sweet woman. Just as we were getting ready to leave we were able to meet his host dad who, unfortunately, had been out of town for work for the day but we were happy to at least have met him. And here is our memento from the evening, I am so short!

After saying goodbye to Jon, and expressing how much we all wished Michael's sister, Laura could have been there, we headed back to the hostel for another cold and noisy night. Originally we had planned to stay in Denmark for another day but upon realizing that our train ride back to Metz would be an entire day's endeavor (and me secretly longing for our bed back home), we decided to start back on Friday to allow ourselves the weekend to get back into Metz life before Michael had to go back to school.

After 12 hours on trains, and without any supplies for Friday night pizza, we were forced to make pizza pasta for dinner, which was sad but we had enough pizza through the week that it wasn't a big deal. Saturday (Halloween) we celebrated the holiday by finally buying me a mop (very festive, right? at least I no longer have to clean the floor Cinderella-style) and making this delicious pumpkin chili with bloody cocktails (blood orange orangina mixed with vodka).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fall Break Part III: Berlin

The photo above is of the Berlin central train station which is currently the largest train station in all of Europe and also the only train station in Europe to have train tracks running into it at right angles. You enter on the ground floor, which is a shopping area. The next floor down (below ground level) is a shopping area. The bottom floor, which is two floors below ground level is one of the train platforms. Then, above the ground floor is another train platform floor (it was creepy to have the trains going over you in a mainly glass building) where the trains run perpendicular to those on the bottom train level. It was in this train station that we arrived after the long train journey back along the river, through Dresden again then up to Berlin. We had roughly 24 hours in Berlin before we planned to catch our next train up to Copenhagen. Because of this I was worried that we wouldn't get much out of our time in Berlin. Thankfully I was proven wrong. In Dresden and Prague tours and admission prices were pretty exorbitant so if you wanted to learn the history of the city, you either had to pay top dollar for it then or do as we did and read all about the place in Wikipedia after coming home; at times I'm convinced that Michael is having an affair with Wikipedia, he will sit down and read for days on end after a trip -- which I've decided is probably a good thing after we've spent many days in much closer proximity to each other than is normal in this tiny apartment, but I digress. Berlin, unlike those cities, makes all of it's history very prominent and public. Our first night there, we spent a good 2 hours (freezing) reading walls with hundreds of posters documenting the rise and fall of Hitler and the subsequent rise and fall of the Soviet occupation of the city and country.

The Rick Steves Europe 2009 clued us into the fact that there are many companies that organize free walking tours of Berlin so after a Dunkin' Donuts breakfast (pictured above) we took full advantage of that little tip. If you are ever visiting Berlin, I urge you to find one of these tours. The guides work for tips (and are very animated and interesting because of this) and give you a very comprehensive 3-ish hour tour. I'm going to give you a brief overview of the main sites we visited while in Berlin both on our own that first night and with the tour guide the next day.

The first stop on our walking tour was of the Brandenberg Gate located on Pariser Platz. It was formerly one of many gates around the city and is now the only one remaining. Located to the left of this picture is the ugly bunker-style American embassy and to the right is the doubly ugly French embassy...the pictures aren't worth posting here.

The newly finished (2005) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was next on our tour. The memorial was meant to be indivually interpreted by each visiter but at the same time, was meant to cause a feeling of confusion and unease. This picture was taken at the very edge of the memorial but as you can see in the distance, the paths between the concrete slabs dip down and the slabs get higher and highter. By the time we got to the middle, we 10 feet below street level with 20 ft of concrete towering over us. We heard somewhere (either Rick Steves or our tour guide) of a scandal when the memorial was getting it's final touches. It was found that the company hired to cover the slabs with a graffiti resistant glaze had been a major producer of the deadly gasses used to exterminate people in the concentration camps during the war. This lead to a lengthy and heated moral debate within the board of trustees but in the end they decided that they can't continue to shun everyone who wasn't on the right side of the war; not to mention the fact that many slabs were already coated in the glaze and would have to be destroyed and rebuilt if they voted against the company which would have cost many millions more. In the end, the concrete slabs were glazed for free by the company.

The parking lot pictured above doesn't look like much but was actually very important. While standing on this lot we were actually standing over the bunker where Hitler and his wife famously killed himself just before the soviets succeeded in taking Berlin.

This was the first view that we had of a remaining section of the Berlin wall. We were shocked at how thin it was but were later told that this was one of two walls that made up the border and the dangerous part was the space in between where guards and menacing dogs kept watch.

This is another daytime view of this section of wall. It is fenced in and will eventually be a part of a Museum exhibit. Most of the wall was destroyed by the people of Berlin just after the collapse but they managed to save a few small sections.

Through the city, the former path of the wall is marked out in these double cobblestones.

Very few buildings were left standing after WWII but those that did remain still bear the marks today.

Checkpoint Charlie was the only wall crossing checkpoint where allied forces and foreigners were allowed to cross the border between East and West Berlin. The poster in the photo shows an American soldier.

This mural was painted as a piece of socialist propaganda to show the German people just how well socialism works and how good life can be under a socialist government.

This mural was placed on the ground just in front of the mural above after the Soviet occupation to illustrate how bad the lives of the people actually were under the socialist government.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fall Break Part II: Prague

For a more detailed photographic tour of Prague, click HERE to view the accompanying photo album.

After our delicious sausages in Dresden we set off on our train to Prague. As it turns out, the river that we took so many pictures of in Dresden winds through the countryside, meets up with some other rivers, and eventually becomes the Vltava river in Prague. Because of this, the train ride down to Prague was absolutely beautiful. The weather was still as cloudy and rainy as it had been up until that point in the trip but the combination of the gray fall clouds, the brightly colored fall foliage and the vibrant green of the grass was enough to keep me happy. This was my second trip to Prague; Hamilton Gibson children's choir (for those of you not from Wellsboro, HG is a community theater and choir group) did a tour of Prague and the Czech countryside back in 2003 that my mom and I went on. We had an incredible time in Prague back then so I was very anxious to get back and show Michael how wonderful the city is.

We came into the north station of town which was a part of the city that I don't remember ever visiting in '03. The streets and even the train station showed the telltale signs of years under communist rule with the massive concrete buildings, dilapidated streets, graffiti everywhere and vacant lots overgrown with weeds and junk. We again had a bit of a hard time finding a detailed enough map to find our hostel but we eventually bought one from the tourist information office and made our way through more dilapidated, vacant streets to our hostel which happened to be very close by. The hostel was still in that very depressing neighborhood but as we neared the hostel (and neared the downtown area) attempts at improvements became more and more apparent. You could see where nicer, older styled architecture apartment building were being put in the vacant lots between the 1970's era concrete block buildings, which cheered me up a bit. The hostel itself was very nice and even had a fully equipped kitchen which to took advantage of while we stayed by buying breakfast supplies at a near by grocery store, saving us quite a bit of money! After getting some pointers from the receptionist we started what would become our twice daily 2 mile walk into and out of the city, which was not the prettiest of walks. The picture below was one of our first views of the river.We made our way, winding through the streets until we finally came up on Old Town Square which is the home of the Tyn Cathedral (shown below), Old Town Hall, and the Astronomical Clock which is also known as the Praha Orloj (originally built in 1410). "The Orloj is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; "The Walk of the Apostles", a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months." (taken from the wikipedia article on the Orloj). People start to gather in front of the clock at about 20 'till every hour to get a good spot for the moving spectacle. We happened to arrive at the square just a few minutes before the hour so we witnessed the moving of the clock ourselves before walking and exploring the streets of Old Town Prague by night. For dinner that night we decided to get some traditional Czech food which translates into: we decided to each eat a fist-sized rock. It's not that Czech food isn't good, it's just insanely hearty and heavy. I had a rich beef stew with the traditional and very dense boiled bread dumplings; the only veggies on the plate were the 3 or 4 slices of cooked onion in the stew. Michael managed to go a little (but not much) lighter with a spatzle, pork and saurkraut dish. We both enjoyed some cheap but good Czech beer to go along with the meal. Everything was tasty, but not amazing, although the final bill was something like $12 for the two of us (even after being scammed out of $2 with a 28% "tax") so we weren't complaining.

Day #2 in Prague we ventured to the other side of the river and explored the Senate building, Prague Castle, and St Vitus Cathedral (which is surrounded by the Castle). My memory may be skewed but because of the sudden jump in tourism, what was a dirt-cheap city when I visited 7 years ago seems to have gone up quite a bit in price. I don't remember tours being quite so pricey back when we were there with HG and since we were working a pretty small budget on this trip,
we didn't opt to tour any of the buildings. We did walk through the streets and royal gardens (where we took the photo below) and since the Cathedral was free, we went in, admired everything, and took some pictures. In the afternoon we hiked up to the next hill over to see the The Petřínská rozhledna (Petřín lookout tower) which was modeled after the Eiffel tower but is much smaller (only 60m high as opposed to la Tour Eiffel at 324m), however, since it is situated on top of a large hill, the tip of the tower is at the
same elevation as the Eiffel tower. We hiked around the hill a bit more and found an obscure statue of Mary with an incredible vista of the city, then headed down to the the Strahov Monastery for dinner and more beer which served as another flashback from my trip in 2003 when we sang at a Sunday mass in this very Monestary. Obviously we had to practice in the Monestary the day before and while there, we realized that they had a brewery within the Monestary which we thought was pretty interesting. Most of our group of friends were 16 or 17 during the trip but the drinking age in Czech Republic is 15 so that night a big group of us and our parents made a trip back to the Monestary for some late night drinks. Needless to say, it was pretty novel as a 16 year old to be able to legally drink with your parents, at least for us Americans. The Monastery was a wonderful memory from that original trip and I was very happy to have found it again and to be able to return for dinner. The beers were wonderful, and for a little less than $2 for a glass, they were well worth the price. For dinner Michael had chicken roasted in beer with braised red cabbage and bread dumplings while I had a crispy trout with fried onions and herbed potatoes; while still being traditionally Czech, this meal was much lighter and tastier than our first meal here.

Day #3 in Prague was spent mainly in the downtown or Old Town area of Prague. We wandered over to Wenceslas square where we admired, yet again, the sudden boom in tourism and consumerism in Prague. The photo below is the statue on the square of St. Wenceslas.Then as a contrast, we walked up to the Jewish area to see the old Synagogue, the beautiful architecture and the Jewish Cemetery which is so old (and so small, I guess) that is consists of 12 layers of graves. We also walked over the Charles Bridge where we saw the exact vendor that I bought an orange barret from back in 2003. We wandered a bit on the other side of the river and eventually found what I was looking for, the Lennon wall, once a normal city wall that was converted into a peaceful wall covered in Beatles inspired graffiti. It was a constant source of irritation to the communist regime in the late 1980's, repeatedly the wall was painted over only to have the graffiti reappear overnight. The wall looks nothing like it did just 7 years ago but since much of this trip was focused on the atrocities of the communist rule in this part of Europe, I was happy to re-visit this ever-changing memorial to peace. After exploring the bridge and taking some pretty twilight time pictures of the bridge and castle, Michael was determined to buy a little bottle of absinthe as a souvenir so we went from store to store until we found a bottle of Czech absinthe (which is pretty gross, for the record). And after a yummy pizza dinner and one more night in our awesome hostel, we hopped on another train on our way to Belgium.