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Posts Tagged ‘BreAnna’

Day 3 (Afternoon-Night)

After depositing our coats at the hostel, we set out again, this time in search of lunch.  We walked across the Charles Bridge and eventually wound up at a pizzeria located across from the Hotel U Zlateho Stromu restaurant.  I got a spinach and cheese pizza.  The crust was similar to foccacia bread, with light sauce and chunks of spinach and cheese.

After eating, we went to check on prices for boat tours and ended up purchasing tickets.  While waiting in line, Al turned to us asking, “Do any of you girls get seasick?”  We all glanced at each other, each of us turning back to say, “No, why?”  “Well, I do,” he replied.  We found this quite amusing, although we worried that us going on a boat ride might cause him problems.  He said he’d be fine, and soon we were ushered onto a boat.  We were the last few people to get on the boat.  Each bench held two people, so BreAnna and Eliza sat together on one bench.  Al and I sat upon another bench across the aisle, facing the opposite direction.  It was a 45 minute boat tour with drinks and ice cream or bread.  The tour guide gave us historical information, told tales of the river freezing, and talked about the Charles Bridge.  At one point during the ride we passed near a small metal bridge covered in locks.  Lovers carve their names on a lock, attach the lock to a bridge or metal gate, and then throw away the key, signifying love forever.  I mentioned seeing a similar lock-filled gate in Paige.  The guide smiled and asked if Al and I had a lock up on the gate.  I laughed and told the guide we’d only just met a day earlier.

When we finished the boat tour we walked back to our hostel.  We sat and talked for a bit, then BreAnna, Eliza and I headed out for the night.  We invited Al to join us, but he had a previous engagement.  Eliza wanted to see a building called “The Dancing House.”  No, the building is not a huge 24-hour party building.  The name comes from the unusual architecture of the building, giving rhythm to the building.

After snapping night photos, we found a restaurant that our boat guide had indicated as a good inexpensive place for dinner.  The restaurant was a boat sitting on the water, and even though we didn’t get seats near the window, we still enjoyed the food.  When we got back to the hostel, we met our new bunk mates.  They weren’t sure of the sights, so I gave them our itinerary and a map.  I loved chatting with the girls, but they needed sleep and I needed sleep.  I hope they enjoyed their Prague trip as much as we did.

March 17, 2012

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Day 3 (Morning-Afternoon)

Saturday morning, we invited Al to join our touristy explorations, and he accepted.  Our band of four set out, cameras flashing, and bags jostling.  However, before our adventures could begin, we had to investigate the local cafes for breakfast.  The outdoor seating at the cafe we chose was divided, by a metal fence, from the outdoor chairs and tables of the neighboring cafe.  While sitting and enjoying the breeze, we were graced with the jarring clash of two separate radio stations thanks to the competing cafes.  At first, hip hop notes slamming around the classical tunes was amusing, but after about 5 minutes the music styles grating against each other made us wince.  Eventually our cafe conceded to its competitor, and we were blessed with music emitting from a single radio station.  Letting the classical music fall into the background we turned our attention to breakfast.  Deciding against the sweet crepe options, I chose a panini sandwich made from homemade bread, lettuce, tomato, pepper, cheese, and pesto.  It was excellent!

Once our stomachs ceased snarling, we started looking for Petřín hill (an “Off the beaten Path,” suggestion).  Instead of being smart and looking at the provided directions on the website of our 3-day itinerary, I Googled the directions, landing us at a different point than the itinerary suggested.  However, there was still a path to ascend, and we began hiking upwards, smiling at all the families flopped at various heights on the hill.  (I would like to commend Eliza on completing the entire hike, in fact surviving all 3 days, in heels).

At first we concluded our goal would be to reach the castle-like wall running parallel to our hike.  We took a left fork in the path and as we got closer, I decided a photo had to be taken.  Al volunteered, and I broke into a run, followed by dancing over the last few feet to the giant wall.  BreAnna and Eliza kept the normal-walking pace, so I probably looked a bit ridiculous running a race against myself, and performing a victory dance.

Photo by: Al

Once Al caught up, we wandered along the wall.  Unexpectedly, we located a passage through the wall, instantly transforming us into brave explorers.  Through the short passage was a small enclosure.

After dashing about the grassy area, like kids, and peering through slits in the wall, we exited on the other side to find a viewing platform.

I would have been content with staying there all afternoon.  The spring sun, slight breeze, and lazy attitudes conspired to keep us on Petřín hill.  The devious scheme was a success, and we stayed on the platform for an hour or so.

Then we spotted the wasp, a yellow jacket who was amused by our ducking and flailing.  No matter how miniscule a wasp may be, it’s a huge motivation for evacuating an area.  We graciously vacated our spots to the yellow jacket and sped down the hill.  I wanted to avoid appearing as though I was a statue for yellow jackets to sit upon and fan their wings.

We wound down the path to the bottom of the hill.  Relying upon Eliza’s phone for direction, we headed towards the John Lennon Wall.  Upon locating the wall, we added our names to the mesh of colors, peace signs, drawings, lyrics, and names.

After taking photos of this totally cool wall, we felt the sun was sending us rays of love.  So we headed back to our hostel to drop off our coats.

March 17, 2012

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Day 2 (Evening-Night)

After our tour through Prague, we started towards our hostel with the intent of depositing our candy and excess baggage.  We investigated a few shops, but mostly kept to our path.  During the walk we came upon a guy with a life-size doll of an Indian woman strapped to his back.  He was advertising a massage place on the second floor of the building across the street.  While intriguing, we decided it was an activity to save for a future trip to Prague.  Besides, my shingles were still visible, and I doubted someone would want to look at, much less touch them, and I certainly didn’t want anyone massaging the rash (OUCH).  So, we continued walking in the direction of our hostel.

Before we reached the Charles Bridge, we stopped at a marionette shop so I could look at a collection of Prague’s buildings carved from wood.  Like 90% of the other stores constructed for tourists, this shop had a wide variety of marionettes.  Springing upon the opportunity to sell us goods, the shopkeeper and her assistant delivered an in-depth explanation about marionettes.  Most marionettes found in stores are made from ceramic, and are therefore heavy, or a mixture of wood and plastic of low quality.  These puppets are produced in factories, and the label “made in Prague,” placed on them for authenticity.  During my trip to Prague a few years ago, I had purchased such a marionette, a Robin Hood puppet that I love.  Because of this purchase, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a second puppet.  However, the two women showed us marionettes that were hand-made, and told us that only marionettes with an artist’s signature were legitimate.  These marionettes were made entirely from wood, lightweight, and their looks dependent upon the artist.  BreAnna and I each decided to purchase a marionette.  Our little marionettes are jokers, the traditional puppet, with mischievous wood faces.  We both liked the black-haired version, but they only had one left since the puppets sold quickly, so I got one with brown hair.  The puppets were 600 Czech crowns each (about $30), and we’re both very happy with our adorable puppets.

We continued on our walk, stopping by a stand titled “Traditional Goodies,” to purchase drinks and a bread roll with cinnamon.  BreAnna and I each got a Cocobomb (hot chocolate and Baily’s Irish Cream), and Eliza got a Lomombomba (hot chocolate and rum).  Then we headed back towards our hostel to relax and decide what to do for the night.  After depositing our stuff in the room, we surfed the internet in search of a night time activity.  Resulting sites mainly gave names of clubs, and we weren’t up for dancing.  Maybe with a bigger group or a greater amount of confidence, we would have attempted a night club, but we felt it was a good night to sit and get a drink.

As we exited the hotel, three guys from our dorm also headed out.  They were walking several paces behind us, and I debated asking them if they knew of a place to get a drink.  Partway down the hill, I turned around and posed the question.  Turns out, they didn’t know where to go either.  We introduced ourselves and decided to go in search of a bar or restaurant.  The only thing I knew from the internet was that there were bars near Old Town Square, so we crossed the Charles Bridge and wandered into Old Town.

Two of the guys were Italians (and I’m afraid I can’t remember their names) who were visiting Prague, but leaving the next day.  The other guy was Alioune (or Al), from Paris, and was staying at the hostel temporarily while looking for a more permanent living place.  In Old Town Square a group of guys advertising an Irish bar came up to us, saying there was a massive St. Patrick’s Day party that we should attend.  “You should check it out, there are lots of girls!” one guy exclaimed to our group, then realizing that half our group WAS girls, suddenly announced, “Oh! And lots of guys too!”  We excused ourselves, saying, “perhaps later,” intending to avoid the bar entirely.

After wandering under the Powder Tower into the more modern area of Prague, we located Applebees and decided it would be a good place for a drink.  I got an Appletini cocktail, which was pretty good, even though I still have issues with the taste of alcohol.  The Italian guys went to meet a friend at a casino, but Al stayed and chatted with us.  After finishing our drinks, we walked back to the hostel, talked for a bit, and fell asleep.

March 16, 2012

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Day 2 (Morning – Afternoon)

Touring Prague

I woke up on Friday and let my brain process the fact that it was morning.  I wondered if perhaps the alarm set for 9am had failed, and it was now 11am.  Not that it particularly mattered since we weren’t running on a set schedule, but I didn’t want to start out so late that our explorations would be rushed due to shortening daylight.  A quick glance at Eliza’s phone averted my worries: it was 7:15am.  After midterm week with stress and early hours, my body alarm was set to before-school-time.  The bright sunlight filtering through the curtains may also have triggered my awakening.  First Eliza then BreAnna stirred, and I watches as their eyes perused the room.  Answering the morning’s bright bugle seemed like too much effort, and they rolled back over in their comfy beds.  I considered bounding from the room in search of photo opportunities, but instead, I tried to study.  I soon found myself dosing on my notes so I rolled myself into my bed sheets for more sleep.

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, the song from “Inception,” pulled me from my dreams, to observe Eliza stretching to switch off her phone’s alarm.  9am seemed suspiciously similar to 7am; our room was still bright, we were still blinking at each other, and the room was filled with us and quiet.  Wait a second!  Where was everyone else?  Around 7, the glance around the room revealed at least one other bed lump, and there was shifting in the other section of the dorm.  They were gone.  Of course, it’s not like we were expecting them to wake us up.  I had no idea what they looked like, and doubted they were concerned about our sleep habits.  We figured they had probably gone to breakfast.

Breakfast in the hostel was offered for a small charge, however, we wanted to explore the food options around Prague. So, we paraded onto our street and returned to our usual clattering and chattering as we clomped off to locate a meal.  We quickly located the Caffeteria (review coming soon, I hope), a Ferrari-loving shop filled with photos of cars.

After breakfast, we began to follow directions from a suggested 3-day itinerary that BreAnna located online.  We modified the order in which we saw various buildings and areas to fit our preferences.

Our first stop was the Prague castle complex.  From our hostel, we hiked up the cobblestone-lined hill, took a sharp right and continued hauling ourselves upwards.  The view of Prague below us was wonderful, although, personally, I preferred the view from the Clock Tower.

We walked through the castle walls, past the guards, and into a courtyard.  After a few minutes of locating our position on a map, we headed into a tunnel, in the direction of St. Vitus Cathedral.  Blocked by a group of stunned tourists at the end of the tunnel, we started to squeeze through the crowd.  Then we glanced up, and instantly halted, caught in the crowd of gaping mouths.

St. Vitus Cathedral’s Gothic spires loomed overhead.  The Cathedral’s entrance was planted so close to the tunnel that capturing the entire church in a photograph was impossible.  A photograph capturing both bottom and top of the church required circling to the right, where there was a greater amount of space.  After several minutes of fighting crowds and struggling to take photos, we headed inside the church.  Our necks craned backwards as we tried to take in the details.  Intricate stained glass windows filtered light into the church, and arched columns swept above our heads.  We weren’t willing to pay to circle around the church, all three of us deciding food was more important than a closer look.  So, instead, we tumbled outside to explore more of the castle complex.  We saw the old castle, a pale pink building stretching around the courtyard.  Then, we located the St. George Basilica, a ruddy red building with white trimming and white towers.  After learning that the Golden Lane required payment to enter, we wandered about the complex for a bit then exited through the palace walls.

We then went in search of a monastery, and while we found a religious building, I think we located a random church instead of the intended monastery.  However, we were content with this, as it gave us the chance to examine the statues that lined the front of the church and take photos of the church from an elevated parking lot.  By this point, hunger was bothering our stomachs, so we began tromping along streets in search of a meal.  Down some steps, we were drawn to a restaurant with outside seating called Mystic Café (review hopefully on its way).  While enjoying lunch, we noticed the sneaky antics of a pair of pigeons intent upon a bellyful of chips.  There were chips upon each table, and the birds repeatedly fluttered down to the walkway and performed a Pink Panther skip/jump to the one empty table at the restaurant.  The waitresses continuously chased the birds away ts-king at them, but after a few minutes, they fluttered down from their perch on the wall to make another attempt.  One even crept inside to attempt a raid of the indoor premises but was quickly chased out.  Finally, the pigeons seized a waitress-free chance and swept directly onto the table.  They hurriedly pecked at potato chips, gaining only a few bites before a waitress discovered their pilfering and shooed them away.

After lunch we headed across the Charles Bridge and began an exploration of the Jewish Quarter.  The exact synagogues that we visited are listed on Day 1 of our itinerary.  Having no knowledge of the synagogues’ histories, but still in need of entertainment, I adopted the role of tour guide.  “Welcome, thank you for coming along on this tour, I’m very new at this, and I hope we’ll get to where we need to be.”  I started making jokes about my “tour group,” intentionally picking on BreAnna (she started this by saying I wasn’t very good), and proceeded to mangle the names of the streets and synagogues.  At each synagogue, I announced our arrival, and we all took photos.  Then I commented on my extensive lack of knowledge on the building’s history and directed us to the next synagogue.

Whenever our brief time at each synagogue ended, I moved everyone along with the words, “Shall we?”  Before the Prague trip, it fit quietly into my speech pattern, but as a tour guide, I threw weight onto these two words, adding to my role as an incompetent, terrible tourguide to keep my group of two amused.  Now, these words are stuck as cues in my language for BreAnna and Eliza, and whenever I say this phrase, I’m assaulted by rolling eyes and sarcastic grins.

As our tour ended, we decided to head to Old Town Square for some water and rest, and once again, I shuffled us forward with my characteristic, “Shall we?”  The water and shaded park benches gave us an escape from the sun, which I’m near positive was responsible for half of my crazed tour guide antics.  Noticing a candy stand, the three of us grabbed bags and selected multiple candies for delectable consumption.  While sampling a few of our newly-purchased treats, we walked past the Church of our Lady Before Tyn, and wound our way to the Powder Tower, the historical entrance to Old Town.

We then set our eyes on the trek back to our hostel.

March 16, 2012

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Day 1 (Noonish-Bedtime)

“Guys?  We’re in Prague!”

Commence squealing and high fives. The 7 hour train ride was over, and we were officially in the capital of the Czech Republic.  Goal #1: Reaching our Hostel.  We used our expert skills of observation and followed the massive crowd of people away from the platform, towards the station’s main doors.  I have no idea what the train station looks like outside because we were focused on reaching our hostel.  So, we stayed inside, examining the map of metro lines.  We knew the name of our metro stop, it just took a bit of map reading skills to discover what metro trains we would need to board.  Then we weren’t sure what to do about getting to the metro.  It was obvious we had to walk down the stairs located beneath the huge Metro sign, but we weren’t sure if we needed someone to check our tickets.  We had the stamp “PID” on our tickets which would allow us on most transportation around Prague, but we weren’t sure if we needed that stamped signed or punched or whatever.  We tried to get assistance, but the man at the ticket stand indicated that he didn’t speak English.  After discussing the issue together, and then discussing it with two other travelers, we determined that it would be fine to head down and board the metro.  In Budapest, people simply board most modes of transportation without needing to show their passes to the driver, so we figured it was probably the same here.

When we reached the platform for the metro train, our guess about the passes was confirmed when a transportation controller walked over and asked us for our tickets.  We showed him the stamp on our train tickets and he nodded then wandered away.  I guess we looked clueless enough that he targeted us for potentially not having passes/tickets.

After the metro ride, we began walking towards our hostel.  The streets were cobblestone, and I wanted to take pictures, but we had to make sure we checked in first.  We followed Eliza’s directions and soon found ourselves hiking up a road, our suitcases weighing down as though the cobblestones had jumped from the street into our bags.  Then we spotted our destination, Little Quarter Hostel. I’m going to keep descriptions of the Hostel confined to My Review of Little Quarter Hostel (Post Coming Soon).  After storing our luggage and resting for a bit, we set out to locate the Charles Bridge, and ultimately, some food.

We clattered along the cobblestones, quickly reached the Charles Bridge, a 700 year-old, pedestrian-only bridge, and started across.  The weather was beautiful and a breeze flowing down the Vltava river slid through the crowd to tease hair into my mouth.  We drifted past street musicians, peddlers, and artists.  Atop the castle-like arches that funnel tourists from the town onto the bridge, trumpeters stood, their melodies flowing across the river, signaling the hour.  Statues of Saints lined the bridge, and people posed for photos before the statue depicting the crucifixion of Christ.

After crossing the bridge we crossed the street and decided to eat at a restaurant connected with Hotel U Zlateho Stromu.  (I will have a separate post for all restaurants/food soon).  After eating, we stepped back into the flow of pedestrians and followed the steps of the crowd to Old Town Square.  The first building we noticed was the enormous Astronomical Clock Tower.

We drifted around the square, admiring architecture, watching children chase pigeons, and listening to the street bands.  Amongst the hundreds of other tourists, we fit in perfectly, photographing every detail, gaping at buildings like nothing else was quite so beautiful and squishing through the crowd accumulating at the base of the clock tower.  After several minutes of fanatical photographing everything in site, we fixed upon climbing the clock tower.  We did reach the top, although instead of hauling ourselves up impossible staircases, we simply stepped into the elevator.  Even with the ridiculous crowd (no longer clogging the pathway since the clock stopped ringing), there weren’t may tourists who ventured into the tower.  In summer, attempting to reach the tower’s summit would have been an hour long wait, but since it was March, we were standing above Prague within a few minutes of purchasing our tickets.

Standing in the middle of Prague, at the top of the astronomical clock tower was like discovering a secret passage from which you emerge into an exquisite clearing in the forest.  I almost expected fairies to drift through the afternoon light and dance across the rooftops.  I could have stayed on the clock tower balcony until sunset.  It was difficult to remove myself from the magic and return to inside the tower for our descent.  This time, Eliza and I took the stairs while BreAnna went down in the elevator.

As the day stepped into evening, we began drifting into stores and working our way back towards our hostel.  We paused for gelatos, and switched into window-shopping-mode.  Later that night, we traveled back along the Charles Bridge for night pictures.

As we crossed the bridge, BreAnna threatened to throw me into the river (can’t imagine what could have provoked this declaration).  I figured my being thrown over the wall into the Vltava river was begging for the creation of a song.  You can sing the following lines to the tune of “Over the River and Through the Woods.”

Over the wall and through the air

Into the river she goes!

She’s swimming around, maybe she’ll drown

Thanks to Lucretia’s throw-o!

Lucretia is BreAnna’s evil twin, so it wasn’t really BreAnna who threatened to toss me into the river, it was Lucretia!  Eliza continued to walk along the cobblestones in her high-heeled shoes, while BreAnna and I played a game of Lucretia and her target.  Throughout our entire Prague adventure, Eliza strode along in her heels across cobblestone, conquering stairs and even climbing….. well, I’ll save that tale for another post.

After crossing the Charles Bridge, we decided to walk along the river and take photographs.  We entered a tunnel that lead us beneath Karlovy Lázně, the biggest club in Central Europe (5 stories high).  In the tunnel was a sign that read “Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments.”  We paused for a minute when all of a sudden Eliza suggested we try purchasing the torture devices.  Ensue silliness and jokes along the lines of adopting such devices for use in the bedroom.

Our night walk along the river involved pictures, laughter, and many more inappropriate jokes.

March 15, 2012

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Day 1 (4am-Noonish)

Train Traveling Tales

We really did not want to wake up at 4am, but by 4:30, at least one of us was awake.  For some crazy reason, BreAnna, Eliza and I decided the perfect train to catch was departing from Keleti Palyaudvar at 5:30am.  Let me backtrack for a minute and answer the basic question of, “Why Prague?”  Personally, I wanted to go back to Prague because my memories of the few days I’d spent there in high school were limited to a bridge, a marionette shop, a cafe, a boat ride, and a clock tower.  I remembered a beautiful city swollen with summer tourists, and bursting with dancing puppet legs.  I knew my trip money would be spent on Prague.  Luckily, BreAnna was also interested in visiting.  Then, the week before our trip, I invited Eliza on a whim, and she bought her train ticket two days later.

We three adventurers set our trip to extend over a 4-day weekend thanks to the Hungarian National Day which falls on March 15.  This year, the 15th was a Thursday, so school was canceled for Thursday and Friday.  When BreAnna and I wandered into Keleti Pályaudvar two weeks ahead of our desired departure date, we quickly located the international ticket section and waited for our number to be called.  (I didn’t think to invite Eliza until the following week).  Normally, the online route would have been simpler, but trying to purchase tickets online resulted in webpages in Hungarian, confusion over ticket prices, and difficulty in signing up.  Therefore, we chose to purchase them in person.  As I began listing the train times that we wanted, the woman behind the plastic wall said our tickets would allow us to board any train.  We thought this sounded marvelous.  She also suggested purchasing a transportation pass for Prague that would last the first 3 days we were in the city.  Since we were unsure where we would be traveling, we decided to pay the extra 10 euros.  We booked the hostel online, and by March 15 we were packed and ready.

At least our suitcases were ready, but at 4:30am, waiting for the 4/6 tram to arrive, we felt like falling asleep on the concrete.  The only thing keeping us upright was the excitement that had been building all week and was now keeping our knee joints and spines from collapsing.  After catching the tram and then a bus to Keleti, BreAnna and I met Eliza in the train station and found our train.  It was about 5:10am and the train was scheduled to depart at 5:30, so we boarded the train and found empty seats.  About 10 minutes later we learned why the “boarding any train,” wasn’t the best choice because that meant we had no assigned seats.  A family with reserved seats received the added bonus of evicting me and my friends from those particular seats.  They were actually very polite about it, but we stood around feeling foolish as the train car began filling up.  Soon it was clear that the seats in this train car were completely full, so we began working our way through multiple train cars.  This is an extremely complicated process as the doors between cars stay open for 10 seconds and then close whether or not you’re out of the way.  There were also issues of passing people loading their luggage and awkwardly smiling at others who also lacked seat reservations.  We were still drifting along when the train released its brakes and began to move away from the station.

Eventually, we located empty seats and plopped down for the beginning of a 7 hour train ride.  I was very excited and didn’t want to sleep.  Even though the Pennsylvanian town in which I live developed thanks to the train yard, I never had the chance to ride on a train.  So my first train ride in my life was this trip from Budapest to Prague, a fact that I had been discussing with friends and family ever since I bought the ticket.  After an hour, I was still ridding on my hype and was attempting to snap photographs of the unique houses rushing past.  Most of the photos are blurred because of the speed of the train and have glaring streaks of light thanks to the inside train lights reflecting on the windows.  Watching the sunrise was spectacular, particularly since I usually see sunsets.  My normal waking times are apt to prevent glimpses of early morning colors.  This sunrise consisted of an orange dome hovering behind blue mountain ridges and surrounded by a salmon-pink sky.

As we passed through a city, 4 skyscrapers rose above 3-4 story buildings, embracing the orange sunrise in their windows.  I took out my papers to study for midterms, however I couldn’t focus and put them away after 10 minutes.  Then I decided to relax and drift away into my dreams.  Around 9:00am, the train made one of its numerous stops and a young couple found us in their seats.  BreAnna and Eliza decided to locate new seats and allowed me to continue relaxing in the one remaining seat.  Several stops later, I found myself standing in the aisle.  I had noticed that a lot of people without seat reservations were sitting in the sections between cars, where the stairs and doors were located.  After a few more stops I began debating whether awkwardly joining the group would allow me the chance to sit down.  I then noticed an elderly woman rising to her feet and preparing to depart the train.  Her now vacant seat was located next to the window, and the other three seats, plus the four across the aisle were occupied by extremely boisterous guys drinking beer.

I headed over and asked if I could take the empty seat, and the guys immediately said, “yes.”  I settled into the seat, stared out the window and watched out of the corner of my eye as the group of guys passed around a bottle of vodka.  Judging by the cluttered trashcan under the window, it wasn’t their first drink of the morning.  At first, the guys asked a couple of questions and I mostly stared out the window as they chattered to each other.  About 10 minutes later, I suddenly became the center of attention.  Luckily, the guy who sat next to me spoke English fairly well, and questions directed at me were sent through him.  The group of guys were Slovakian, and only 2 or 3 of the group understood a majority of what I was saying.  Everything else was translated for the guys who understood some or very little English.  One guy sitting across from me was limited to naming American movie stars, movies, band names, and quotes in English. Most of what he said was accompanied by hand gestures, such as pointing to his arm muscle for “I’ll be back,” and “Govenator.”  Our conversations consisted of him saying words and me repeating them as a confirmation that I recognized the names.  We really made quite a comedy team, particularly as we compared bands we knew of, accompanied by doubtful head bobs and furious nods.

The guys talked to me about the Slovakian government and a bit about Slovakia.  They told me they were taught only a little English in school, and I was impressed by what they did know considering I know zero Slovakian.  Throughout our conversations they regularly offered me a drink from the bottle they were passing around.  Since I generally dislike the taste of alcohol, can’t stand hard alcohol, and was pretty sure the bottle held vodka, I politely refused.  “It’s European,” they told me, and I understand that drinking together is a sign of friendship, but I really hate strong alcohol.  Finally, they offered me a can Slovakian beer, “the best beer,” which they opened in front of me.  I figured since the top was clean and I hadn’t tried beer in a while that I would take a sip.  Beer is still disgusting.  So, they asked me what I drank, “soda?” No, I really don’t like soda, instead I drink juice, milk, and at about this point they tried to convince me that beer was milk.  They then opened a different can of Slovakian beer, half of them claiming it was a better beer.  I sipped it, and when asked which was better, I threw my judging platform out the window.  As far as I’m concerned, beer, Slovakian or otherwise, is not milk and tastes terrible.

After the assault on my taste buds, I calmly chomped on a bread roll to eradicate the beer taste from my mouth.  The rest of the train ride involved a great deal of laughter and some confusing issues involving translation.  The guys were impressed that I took martial arts, and one of the guys across the aisle expressed his respect for my dedication.  On the other hand, when one of the guys said something rude in Slovakian (left untranslated), others in the group said I should hit him for it.  I tried to say something clever along the lines of “not hitting defenseless people,” but I’m not sure the concept got across and I gave up.

When the train arrived in Prague, I found BreAnna and Eliza asleep in their seats.  If I hadn’t been worried about us missing our stop, I would have taken a photo.  We stepped off the train in Prague and I had my photo taken with the guys.  I’m still working on composing the other parts of this trip, but for your amusement, here’s me with the 7 Slovakian guys:

March 15, 2012

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Saturday I was wandering the Great Market with BreAnna and Elise when I spotted a Hungarian cookbook at one of the stalls.  Not only have I been looking for a cookbook for the past few weeks, but it was in English!  I scanned through it and noted that at least some of the recipes were non-meat.  I figured it was enough to warrant purchasing the cookbook.  So, for 3,500fts ($16), I acquired my very own Hungarian Cuisine cookbook.

My Hungarian Cuisine CookbookA good 70 percent of the recipes probably include meat, but for some of them I can substitute other ingredients.  Besides, BreAnna and I were running out of online recipes because unlike French and Spanish cuisine, Hungarian cuisine is not well known.

As we were perusing the market, I glanced through the cookbook and happened upon a fairly easy recipe.  So without further ado, we claimed it for our Sunday night dinner attempt and went about purchasing red onions and sweet paprika.  Our recipe of choice was Mushroom Pörkölt (Gombapörkölt).

Ingredients (for 6 servings):

  • 3 lb mushrooms (any type or mixed)
  • 8 tablespoons oil
  • 3 medium red onions
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • salt
  • 6 eggs (if desired)

Even though the recipe called for 6 servings, we planned to have Elise and Clare over, and we figured it would leave us with some extra.  Unfortunately, Clare was unavailable, so Elise, BreAnna and I buckled down to the task of cooking 3 lbs of mushrooms.  When I went to purchase these mushrooms, I looked up the following conversion: 3lbs = 1,300 grams.  Since mushrooms came in a pack of 260grams, we bought 4 packs, and used up the rest of an open pack in our refrigerator.

Our Ingredients

Directions:

Step 1: Peel and chop the onions, and chop the mushrooms into slices or wedges.  There is nothing like trying to chop 3lbs of mushrooms. Luckily, I wasn’t chopping mushrooms, instead I was crying while slicing onions.

Step 2: Heat the oil in a pot and sauté the peeled, chopped onion in it.  It looked silly sautéing the onion in so much oil, but we figured the two huge bowls of mushrooms would soak up the oil.

Step 3: Add the mushrooms, suaté a bit longer.  Unfortunately, only one huge bowl of mushrooms ended up in the oil, because our pot wasn’t big enough to hold both bowls of mushrooms.  Instead, we put the rest in a second pot and had to douse those mushrooms in their own oil to cook everything at the same time.

Step 4: Mix in the paprika, black pepper, and thyme.  After the mushrooms finished cooking they shrunk enough to stuff everything into one pot and add the spicing.

Step 5: Cook over high heat until all the liquid evaporates.  We thought the liquid would never evaporate.  After 10 minutes we began debating if we should just add the eggs or not.  Elise recommended we wait a little longer, and I’m glad we took her advice because eventually we noticed the liquid level in the pot was reducing.  Finally, the liquid was nearly gone, so we decided to add the egg.  We didn’t let the liquid completely evaporate because 1) we didn’t want the food to burn, 2) we’d added extra oil when we had to sauté our mushrooms in two pots, and 3) we were hungry and didn’t want to wait any longer.

Step 6: Add salt only at the very end, as the mushrooms do not absorb the salt easily and the dish can become overly salty.

Step 7: If you prefer, add the beaten eggs.  We did prefer, and we poured in the eggs.  After about two minutes, the eggs began cooking.  When we poured them in, the eggs turned red, but as they cooked, they turned brown, making the mixture appear to be mushrooms and ground beef instead of mushrooms and eggs.

Step 8: To turn this dish into a paprikash, mix in some sour cream as well at the end.  We had no idea what a paprikash was, but we still added two globs of sour cream to the mixture.

Alternative Step: There is an alternative option of preparing the dish with lescoWe decided against this, but you may be interested in attempting it.

  • Either add 1 scant cup of lecso at the end or
  • Add 2 each of chopped peppers and tomatoes to the onion base at the beginning.

BreAnna and Eliza

Yum!

It smelled delicious

Results:

  • MUSHROOMS!!!
  • One bite and lots of nodding. We didn’t want to talk about the food, we wanted to keep eating it.
  • The egg looked like ground beef, but luckily wasn’t beef.
  • Since we used sweet paprika, it wasn’t hot spicy.
  • We could have added more onion, but the red onions we bought were a bit small, instead of medium sized. Next time, we’ll be sure to acquire medium sized onions.
  • We probably could have added more sour cream as well, or perhaps none, I wonder how much it affected the taste.
  • Overall, it was delicious, and has been one of our favorite meals.
  • Between the three of us, we finished all of the dinner. That means we each ate about a pound of cooked mushrooms….. I’m still letting this fact sink into my brain.
March 11, 2012

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I spent these past few days in a near-panic.  I usually meet problems with a drill, ready to crash through the issues at hand.  In most situations, I believe that “Shit is gonna happen, so you just have to deal with it.”  On any normal day, even if I break down, I’m back on task an hour later.

On any normal day, I’m not in pain.  In most situations, problems don’t terrify me.  I usually have an idea what to do, but this past week was not normal.  Something was encroaching on my body, growing steadily across my back, and adding stress to my shoulders.

A rash ran across the right side of my back.

At least, that’s what I saw on Sunday Night.

Sunday

While packing up items for the following morning, I noticed my back was a bit itchy.  Running my fingers across my back, I discovered bumps and concluded that I must have some bothersome pimples.  I started examining the pimples so I could target them in the shower.  I removed my shirt, revealing a stretch of red bumpy skin running from the center of my back to under my right shoulder blade.  Great, a rash, now what could that be from?  BreAnna indicated my computer bag as the culprit.  My mother suggested a new chemical might be the cause, so perhaps the addition of fabric softener when washing my clothes was a bad choice.  I activated my astounding powers of deduction and concluded that New Fabric Softener + Irritation from Computer Bag Strap = Rash.  However, I still had two problems 1) Yesterday was laundry day, and 2) I still needed to carry my computer around.

My best solution for this issue was to shift my computer bag around so that the strap would run under my left shoulder blade.

Monday

My right side felt sore, but I had to carry my computer bag on my right shoulder because I didn’t want to irritate the area under my right shoulder blade with the bag strap.  I was beginning to worry, and by evening I’d trashed the concept that my muscles were sore.  Instead, I had to accept that my rash was causing me pain, and I couldn’t figure out why.

Tuesday

Each morning I looked at the monstrosity developing on my back.  It wasn’t getting smaller, in fact, it seemed the red area was reaching further under my shoulder blade.  What creature had attached itself to my back?  Could it be a mold?  Why won’t it stop?  It’s hurting worse, and I don’t know how to prevent that.  I’d taken a shower, washed the area carefully, applied skin cream, and in response, the rash claimed more of my skin for its own.

In class, I was accosted by burning sensations alternated with throbbing pain of various degrees.  I wanted to run home, weave a cocoon, and shed the diseased skin from my body.  I couldn’t focus on class, feeling pain each time I moved my arm or shifted in my clothes.  My salsa dancing class was only distraction I received from the alien patch on my back.  Dancing from step to step, learning to keep up with the fast beat, I forgot about the rash until it sent me a wave of pain every time we paused to learn new steps.

I began seriously considering seeing a doctor, but I wondered if I could still possibly solve the rash issue myself.  Then I woke up on Wednesday.

Wednesday

10 minutes after I woke up, I wanted to cry.  Pain was screaming through my shoulder and I located definite confirmation that the rash was taking over my body.  The rash that covered my back had crawled onto my chest in the course of one night.  I started to freak out, saying, “That’s it, I need to see a doctor!”  I arrived at Professor Trader’s to babysit Jade, and I mentioned the rash to him.  He listened to my description of the rash, and said it might be shingles.  I Googled shingles, and learned that shingles is adult chicken pox, appearing as a blistering rash with burning pain.  I reexamined my rash in the bathroom and discovered that the “pimples” on the “rash,” were actually blisters.  Holy Shingles!  I finally had a name for my rash, but the only thing this did was convince me I needed medication.

That evening, I was still babysitting Jade because Dr. Trader had a meeting.  Jade wanted to play a monster game, but moving was painful for me, so instead we watched videos on my computer.  Soon, my friends in Maryland began getting on skype, and Jade had a chance to chat with my friends (her new favorite activity).  My boyfriend, Anthony, and I had a minute to talk on skype, and I explained my medical problem.  I nearly cried, but Jade was sitting nearby and I didn’t want to scare her.  The entire week I had been holding back tears, but I wasn’t about to let them lose just yet.

When I arrived home that night, I examined my Hungarian insurance card and discovered that the number I needed was a 24-hour number for people who speak English.  I immediately called, and after some confusion over the spelling of my name, I was told someone would call me in the morning to schedule a doctor’s appointment.  Thank goodness.

That night, even though I had released some stress, I couldn’t sleep.  The searing pain on my back compelled me to shift from side to back to front to side in my bed.

Thursday

I woke up exhausted after only a few hours of sleep.  I’d set my alarm for 7am because I was not going to miss the call for my appointment.  I woke up and forced myself to stay awake.  Every few minutes I checked my phone to make sure the call hadn’t come and gone.  At 8:00, BreAnna and I headed off for school, and I was probably stressing her out as I worried when the company would call me.  Right before class, around 8:20, my phone rang, and I nearly dropped my phone as I tugged it from my pocket.  The insurance company shuffled me around from one person to the next, with frustrating music filling the minute or two between each person.  At one point a man, who I believe was a doctor, got on and asked me to describe something.  I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but after making him repeat himself 5 times, I grasped that he wanted me to describe my symptoms.  When I finished, he told me, “Don’t worry, it’s only a rash.”  I could have screamed loud enough to smash a window.  Instead, I very firmly told him, “No, it hurts too much.  It hurts, and it won’t stop.  I don’t know how to make it stop.  I want someone to look at it.”  By this point, I was frantic, and he shuffled me down the line to the next person.  I felt I was finally getting somewhere with the last woman, but then she told me, “I’ll call you back.”  All I could manage was, “ok.”

I flopped down in my seat for class.  Luckily, we had individual work to complete, so even when the pain caused me to halt my work, I wasn’t missing anything.  When class ended at 10am, and I hadn’t received my call, I was a mess.  Since I hadn’t yet set up the morning appointment I wanted, BreAnna, Clare and I decided to go to the immigration office instead.  On the trolly, I finally received my call, and the woman told me I had an appointment for 1:30pm.  I agreed, determined to make the appointment, no matter what I had to miss.

When I called the insurance company on Wednesday night, I knew if I had to, I would miss class, the immigration office, meeting BreAnna’s friend, almost everything we had planned for Thursday, just to see a doctor.  Instead, I was able to make class, and go to the immigration office.  Then shit happened again.  Clare and I were taken care of within 5 minutes, but after 25 minutes BreAnna was still waiting for assistance.  Since she was supposed to meet her friend at noon, I volunteered to pick up her friend, Elise, who was visiting from Spain.  I met Elise and gave her directions and an update, then rushed off to my apartment.  I got to my apartment at 12:45 and looked up directions to the office for my appointment.

1:00pm, I ran back outside, with 30 minutes to reach the doctor’s office.  I jumped on the trolly for a few stops, located the metro and emerged a few blocks from where I needed to be.  Luckily, I had 10 minutes to find the office.  I reached the correct street, and then had to ask for assistance at which point I learned that I was merely on the wrong side of the street.

In the doctor’s office, I described my symptoms, and he named it as “herpes zoster,” the official name for shingles.  He then took a look at my back to confirm his assumption.  Professor Trader’s guess on Wednesday was correct, I had shingles all across my back.  For more details on shingles, please see: Shingles (Herpes Zoster).

“Shingles,” is a really creepy name, and it fits the disease which is itchy, gucky, and painful.  The doctor gave me three prescriptions; an anti-viral pill, a pain-killer, and an anti-itch powder.  I returned home armed with my prescriptions.  I was relieved to gain the appropriate medicine, but by this point, I was pretty hungry, so I met up with BreAnna and Elise for lunch.  Then, I headed off to babysit for Jade.  However, the pain was still haunting me, and I could only take the pain killer twice a day (once in the morning, once in the evening), so I was waiting until it was nearer to my bed time.

After explaining to Jade that I was in serious pain, she suggested I just relax on the couch.  I tried working on my computer, but I was still in pain, so I took her advice and lay down.  I never intended to fall asleep, certainly not while I was supposed to be babysitting a 6-year old, but I lost consciousness.  I woke up suddenly to find Dr. Trader and Jade debating whether or not I was alive.  Apparently, I scared Dr. Trader because he told me I woke up with blood-shot eyes, and as I tried to get off the couch, I kept wincing.  It was time to take the pain medication.

I mixed the powdery pain-killer into water, took a sip, and nearly spit it out.  It was a vile mixture that made me gag as I attempted to drink it.  After watching me force part of the drink down, Dr. Trader got me a spoon-full of honey.  Mary Poppin’s advice wouldn’t work in this case.  Sugar can’t coat the tongue in the same way honey does, and I was able to slowly consume the rest of the medicine.  Then, the pain left.  It didn’t completely go away, but diminished enough that I nearly cried.

Friday

I could relax.  I learned what was causing me pain, I got medication, and I knew the rash would soon heal.  I finally cried, sobbing out the pent up fear and stress I had been carrying all week.

Update:

The shingles are officially healed.  I still have a slight rash, but the medication was only for 14 days.  The rash is slowly disappearing, and other than a bit of itching and a few pricks of pain, I’m fine.

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Tonight I performed a martial arts demonstration in front of some 100-150 people.  Alone.  As a bit of background, I’ve studied Tang Soo Do for about 12 years.  Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial arts style over 2,000 years old, and is closely related to Tae Kwon Do.  I study under Grand Master Young Ui Min at Min’s Karate in Camp Hill, PA.  My mother runs a preschool karate class called Mini Dragons which my sisters and I help teach.  My father doesn’t do karate because he says, “I have you girls to protect me.”

This wasn’t my first demonstration.  I’ve been a member of the Min’s Karate Demonstration Team for about 6 years.  You can see one of our more recent videos HERE, although the end is cut off because the camera battery died.  Being a demo team member has given me plenty of experience, and I’ve been on stage alone before.  However, each time I was on stage, I had the rest of the demo team nearby, providing support.

Tonight was my first demonstration alone.  We had an International Dinner at the college where I’m studying abroad, McDaniel Europe Budapest Campus.  The dinner involved food from the different countries and a talent show.  Two days ago, I finally decided to sign up for the talent show portion, and wound up with the opening act spot.  BreAnna nearly fell out of her chair, laughing, when I told her.

So, at 6pm this evening I arrived ready to go, full of adrenaline and nerves.  They were soon tamed as the minutes plodded by and there was no announcement for the talent show.  I couldn’t do more than nibble at the multitude of available foods because my stomach was a mess.  I tried inconspicuously stretching in a corner, but the room was extremely crowded and I didn’t want to draw attention (yet).  Finally, close to 7pm, they announced that we had 5 minutes.  I’d been ready to perform since I got myself dressed in sweats at 5:00.  I was very nervous, but I had chosen two forms that I am very familiar with, so I wasn’t overly worried.

I stood in front of a room full of people talking about who knows what.  So, I started yelling my introduction, and they started quieting down.  Trust me, I can shout over people if need be.  After I introduced myself and gave an introduction to my performance I began my first form.

I started going through the form’s motions, and moving across the floor towards the multitudes staring at me.  There was a lot of chatter, which annoyed me because I’m used to people being relatively quiet during a performance.  When I was a few feet from the audience, I threw my kick and kiyaped.  Surprise!  Everyone began freaking out.  There was a lot of laughter and so many eyebrows dancing across the room that I turned and screwed the form up.

I was so shocked by the audience’s reaction that I did the wrong step.  This is unusual because I generally don’t have trouble during a performance.  The misstep didn’t worry me, and I improvised to get back on track (although it reduced the amount of room I could move in).  I returned to the correct form, and continued, expecting the noise to die down, but it continued and each time I screamed there was shocked laughter.  The talking never stopped, in fact they began to talk louder, so I began to increase the volume of my keyap.  I finally completed the first form and bowed to a wave of applause.  The positive reception felt amazing, but I wasn’t finished yet.

Since I didn’t want to take up too much time I had to shout over the chatter to bring the students’ attention back to my act.  I gave a brief explanation about using everyday items as replacements for the weapons that we’re trained to wield.  The point of this was to clarify why I was using a fork for a knife form.  Mainly it was because the person who I talked to about the demonstration wasn’t comfortable with the idea of me using a butter knife.  So, I compromised and used a fork, promising not to kill anyone.

As I started my form there was still a large amount of chattering, and as I keyaped, once again, people were startled.  Across the room from me, people flinched.  Maybe they weren’t expecting the intensity or concentration I displayed.  I don’t claim to be amazing at martial arts, I’m pretty average, but perhaps there were people who hadn’t seen a demonstration.  Maybe to them, I was a kick-ass black belt stepping out of the movies into real life (maybe I’m dreaming).  I know the room held people from all around the world, Spain, Iran, Germany, China, Norway, Israel, Japan, etc.  I don’t know how popular martial arts is in other countries, or exactly what the students were expecting when I announced I was doing karate.  Martial arts is often viewed as a male sport, and I’m a small female.  My appearance isn’t intimidating, until I start doing karate.

The talking, however was still annoying, and didn’t just color my act, it continued into other acts.  Most of the audience was polite during the performances, but the few people that were talking really bothered me.  It particularly annoyed me when they were talking during music acts.  A student played Bach on his violin, and people were talking!  It was a group of guys in the back of the room who were being rude, and inconsiderate.  If they were so bored, they should have just left.  There wasn’t a moment of solely violin music, for every second there was an unwanted vocal accompaniment.  I felt bad for the guy.  If I was unnerved by the constant chatter through my performance, which in normal performances evokes some surprise and laughter, then how did he feel, playing his violin and hearing people talk?

Overall, I very much enjoyed the talent show.  I had fun demonstrating Tang Soo Do as a representative of Min’s Karate and a representative of the U.S.  The acts that followed me were amazing, except a slapped-together, albeit funny version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  It was funny solely because it was uncoordinated and the guys weren’t serious about it.  The final act was my favorite.  A group of guys, I believe from Spain, put together a brilliant and funny act.  They used black sheets to make it seem as though there were three midgets dancing on a table.  Two people made up one midget.  The front person became the midget’s head and chest.  He used his arms as legs with shoes on his hands.  The back person slid his arms through the front person’s sweater to give the midget arms and hands.  The black sheets prevented us from seeing the back person, effectively completing the illusion of three midgets dancing on a table.  Then, they went through a selection of songs, moving and dancing about.  It was hilarious and very well coordinated, particularly since the midgets could slow-motion jump or float at will.

March 1, 2012

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BreAnna decided to search for this particular recipe, thanks to a wonderful meal at the Great Market (described in To The Market!!).  BreAnna successfully located this particular recipe at: Hungarian Langos.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • 1.25 teaspoons of yeast
  • 0.75 teaspoons of salt
  • water
  • oil for frying

This Sunday Night Dinner had 3 pairs of hands involved in its creation; My hands, BreAnna’s hands, and Clare’s hands. Our friend Clare owns the two puppy dogs, Judae and Buddy (see Puppy Love).  We actually doubled the recipe since it said it produces four small langos or two large langos, and our hunger called for 4 Large Langos.

Instructions:

Step 1: Combine the flour and yeasts with your fingersBreAnna stepped up to the plate, and we figured so far, this is.

Step 2: Add the salt and lightly stir throughYep, going well.

Step 3: Add sufficient water to make a thick sticky dough – basically just enough to absorb the flour, not too much or you’ll need more flourI began adding water, a few pours at a time and BreAnna stirred the increasingly goopy mess. We analyzed the amount of water needed, added a few more pours and plopped into the next step.

Step 4: Mix together well and turn out onto a board or workbench to kneadHaving only plastic cutting boards that I felt were too small anyway, we wound up spreading flour on the kitchen table for our work space. I remembered enough from previous experience that excess flour was necessary to keep the dough from gluing to the table. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop the dough from gluing to BreAnna’s hands. So, I took over the kneading, BreAnna washed clumps of dough from her hands, and Clare added flour when necessary.

Step 5: Knead in the French style, making sure to capture much air in the dough. (Pick up the sticky dough in the middle, whack one end onto the bench and fold over the other end, repeat). VIDEO Demonstration by Me!

Step 6: The dough will eventually become smooth and springy. Set aside to rest for 1/2 hourFacebook Time!

Step 7: Once rested, carefully tip out the dough onto a floured surface and then carefully stretch out into a square. Cut into four (or two for larger langos).

Step 8: Stretch out each piece with your fingers into a rough square with the centre being thinner than the edges.  The only issue: our dough squares didn’t want to stay stretched!  Eventually, Clare and I wound up with 4 oval pieces of dough.

Step 9: Place into hot oil, turn once such that each side is goldenBreAnna and Clare busied themselves with frying the dough as I was briefly occupied with an email.  They began to smell delicious!

Step 10: Optionally brush with garlic oilWe decided to forgo this option since I was planning to put jam on part of my langos, and garlic + jam didn’t sound appetizing.

Step 11: Top with grated cheese and sour creamOur particular toppings involved sour cream, stir fried mushrooms, and cheese. BreAnna and I also tried strawberry jam.

Langos with jam, and mushrooms, sour cream, and cheese

Results:

  • Fried dough and toppings = A scrumptious meal that we couldn’t stop discussing.
  • I can’t decide which I liked better, the strawberry jam or the mushroom/sour cream/cheese version because they were both delectable.
  • I’m going to make this meal for my family when I return home, although with 5 people, I’ll have to at least triple the ingredients.
Feb 26, 2012

BreAnna wants me to take the picture faster because she's hungry.

Ready to Eat.

What a wonderful Dinner with Friends!

Both topping types were wonderful!

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