Prato 101

Well, I’m finally all nice and settled down in my new home in Prato, Italy!

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I’ve been here for about five days now. I spent my last day in Vienna exploring the Schonbrunn, which was pretty cool – the gardens were very extensive and I felt like I could have spent hours wandering through them (and getting slightly lost. After a while, trees and bushes all start to look the same…)

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I did have a slightly unsettling moment while there – I was still very sick, and so I had to take a lot of breaks to wheeze quietly to myself. There was a large hill to climb in order to get to the Gloriette, a small palace-type building with a view of Vienna, and so I paused about two-thirds of the way up to take a breather. I sat down on a bench with my sunglasses on to look at the view. It was very pretty, though I was rather ruining the quiet spot by coughing my lungs up, and so I tried to just take a moment and enjoy it. Next thing I know, I look at my watch and it’s been half an hour. Apparently I passed out…on a park bench. The height of class, I know.

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I also found some pretty cool building art. Maybe I can transplant them to San Francisco…

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Friday I left for Florence, and got to meet up with some of my field school group. I didn’t get too much of a chance to see Florence, though it’s only half an hour away from Prato so I will definitely go back. We did hike the Duomo though – 464 steps of claustrophobic stairs straight up. It never seemed to end, but the view at the top was totally worth it.

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Saturday I went to Prato, and I’ve been here ever since! It’s actually a much larger city than I originally thought, but we are living within the city centre, which means it’s more manageable in terms of navigation. (Though I’ve definitely gotten lost a few times). It has been such a relief, though, to get out of tourist-land. It feels much more like authentic Italy here.

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I’ve had some classes now, both for literature and for Italian, and we’re starting to get into the groove of things. The apartment I’m staying in is super cute and very European, and we’ve already been cooking up a storm. The food here is absolutely amazing – best gelato and salami I’ve ever had in my life. Tomorrow we go on our first field trip to Assisi, which has an awful early morning start but looks to be an exciting day. It’s just been really nice to have a home base to return to, and to not be living out of my backpack. So far so good – wish me luck in getting up at 5:30!

My new second-favourite city

(Vancouver being the first, because it rocks).

However, the position of my second-favourite city has now been filled by Vienna, which I firmly believe is a place of magic. Everywhere I look there is another incredible building or sculpture that looks like it belongs in a postcard. I’m not kidding. EVERYWHERE. It is magic, I tell you.

I’ve been pretty busy here – I spent yesterday morning at the Belvedere, where I was more mesmerized by the rooms of the palace than the art that it was housing. I’m pretty efficient when it comes to art – I look, I enjoy, I move on. I don’t exactly linger. Hey, I’m into literature, not art.

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I spent most of the rest of the day just wandering through the streets, completely mesmerized by everything. I love old buildings, and Vienna is just brimming over with them. I visited the Museums Quarter, the market that has a German name that I can’t remember, part of the Hofsburg, and Parliament, among a few.

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Today I went to the Natural History Museum, which was pretty cool – the building was amazing, and worth visiting even if just for that alone.

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(I’m actually fluent in Moose. We had a good conversation).

I went back to the Hofsburg and actually went inside this time – the State Hall with the library was breathtaking. I was practically drooling at the proximity of so many books. The imperial apartments were pretty cool too. Not as grandiose as some other palaces I’ve been in – I still think Versailles takes the cake for crazy I-had-too-much-money-and-time.

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My last stop was Stephensplace, to check out the cathedral. It was pretty impressive, though I don’t think it managed to beat the ones in Prague.

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I am so exhausted right now though – this cold is still here and not budging. It’s making it a bit rough because I’m out and about all day, so I’m not really giving myself much time to rest. On the other hand, though, tomorrow is my last day of serious sightseeing before I head down to Italy, so I’ll have to make it through one more day and I can relax a bit more.

Cathedrals, castles, and more cathedrals

Accomplishment of the day: navigating successfully between two countries and not getting lost, while battling a severe chest cold and lugging my life in a backpack. I would call that a win. (Well, not the chest cold, maybe). I’m sitting comfortably in my hostel in Vienna, completely exhausted because of my shortage of white blood cells.

I spent my third and final day in Prague entirely by myself. Does it sound lonely? Maybe, but in fact it was wonderful. I think I was probably too cranky from my cold to play nice with others, and this way I got to see exactly what I wanted to. So far, the only thing that I kind of dislike about flying solo is eating alone in restaurants. For some reason, I always feel like the waiters are judging me, and I never know if it’s rude to be constantly people-watching. Other than that, it’s been amazing just having my own space and doing things on my own time.

I think I saw a grand total of three and a half cathedrals, a basilica and a castle yesterday. (Half a cathedral because I missed the opening time for Our Lady Before Tyn and had to content myself with staring through the doors).

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This one was my favourite – Saint Nicholas, I believe. I happened upon it entirely by chance, but it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen (and trust me, I have seen a lot of cathedrals for someone who isn’t religious).

It was raining in the morning, but luckily for me that meant that Charles Bridge was way more tourist-free and I didn’t have to elbow my way through masses of people.

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Charles Bridge was cool because it had all of these statues along the side of it. They were super intense, as always.

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I also climbed the Astronomical Clock Tower and got a beautiful view of the city. It was breathtaking. (Literally, I kept on getting elbowed by other people and getting the wind knocked out of me).

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Overall, I really liked Prague. It was full of history and it was definitely a very beautiful city. One of my favourite things was the architecture – everything was just wonderfully preserved and you could see three different eras in one street. What more could you ask for?

Waking up in Prague

Well, I’m here! DobrĂ½ den, Prague!

I’ve been in Prague for two days now. I arrived on Thursday night, completely exhausted from my travels, and basically fell straight into bed. I’m staying in a cute little hostel called the Hostel Downtown, which is located in the middle of everything – so far I’ve been walking everywhere and it’s been great. (Well, not so great maybe…I’ll explain in a moment).

First impressions of Prague: this is a city that is bursting at the seams with history, which makes me a happy happy camper. Yesterday I did two tours, one of the city and one of Prague Castle:

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The tour of the city was free, which was great (especially I’m watching this trip drain my bank account away). I got to visit a lot of the major sights of the city, including the Astronomical Clock Tower, Old Town Square, St James Cathedral, Our Lady Before Tyn Cathedral, the Jewish area, Wenceslas Square…in all honesty I actually forget everywhere we visited, but our tour guide was really helpful in telling us about the history of the city. I’ve probably already forgotten half of it but it was a really nice way to get oriented.

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I ate lunch at Old Town Square, where I had the best – and hugest – piece of ham I have ever had in my entire life. I ate like a third of it.

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The second tour I did was of Prague Castle. I was actually expecting more out of this castle – it looks huge when you see it from the city but when you get up closer you realize that a lot of it is actually just the grounds, which includes things like a monastery and buildings for the servants.

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Saint Vitus Cathedral was also really impressive. I love cathedrals – I look up and think about how the heck people managed to figure out how to build a building tall enough for a ten story building.

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I think I would’ve gotten lost without a tour guide, though, and just wandered around in circles. A lot of the streets looked the same. My favourite part was the view of the city!

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Today I went to Karlstejn castle, which is a 40-minute train ride outside of Prague. It’s a bit of a trek to get from the train station to the castle, which is perched on top of a hill, but along the way there’s all these cute little restaurants and stores and such to keep you amused. The castle itself was pretty cool – I did a tour where I got to see some of the chapels inside. The chapel where they held the Crown Jewels was pretty impressive. Lots of pictures of old dudes on the walls, looking very dignified and staring down their noses at you.

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Sightseeing has been fun, but I’m really exhausted today. I think jet lag is catching up with me, and all day I was yawning and trying to keep my eyes open. On top of that, I woke up this morning with a cold. Possibly the best timing ever. I’m going to take some medicine tonight and pass out and pray to the god who takes care of rocking-your-travel-plans that it goes away. The other thing that’s been cramping my style a bit is my foot. I was extremely clever and slipped when getting out of the shower on Friday morning, resulting in a foot with a huge bruise on it that protests loudly when I walk. I’ve given it a stern talking-to about this getting better business, but so far it’s ignoring me. I’m doing more walking tomorrow, but at least if it’s not better by then I have Monday to recover, as I’ll be sitting on a train to Vienna.

So far so good though – I’ve only been lost once, I’ve already seen two castles and eaten the best potato pancake of my life. Nom. Can’t wait to check out more cathedrals tomorrow and get my geek on. Goodnight!