I have always enjoyed travelling and discovering the world. When an academic trip to Prague was announced, I was thrilled, not only because I had never been to the Czech Republic before, but also because I had never had the opportunity to participate in a poster conference whilst representing my university; it was especially interesting to participate in this conference, seeing as some of the researchers’ interests coincided with mine. It didn’t take any further thought before I applied, and four months later I was on a plane to Prague together with a group of twelve fellow students. I had no extraordinary expectations for Prague as the only sources and information that I had consulted were a travel guide that my mother bought for me during Christmas and a quiz that we were given in class (and one that we did not do particularly well in).
Despite starting from zero and knowing two basic Czech expressions, namely “dobré ráno” (meaning good morning) and “dobrou noc” (meaning good night), it only took a day for me to fall in love with the city. Maybe it was the architecture, the colours, the food or the aura of the place. We had a day in Prague and it began at around 10:00 am, with delicious eggs and sandwiches at the breakfast table, which gave us the energy to walk more than 15,000 thousand steps that day. Early in the day, we split into groups of two for a practical reason: it is hard to find a place to sit in restaurants and bars for fifteen people in most places in Prague – the Czechs don’t particularly like large groups.
So, six of us were ready to explore the city of Prague. We printed our day tickets and caught the tram, which is the easiest and fastest way to travel around the city. At this point, I need to remind you that koruna is the currency of the Czechs, and pounds or euros are not your friends in this country. Our first stop was outside the Palladium, a huge shopping centre, where lovely puppets, various souvenirs and lots of food surrounded us; after we smelled all the delicious foods in the market, any effort for building a bikini body proved pointless. We followed our instincts (along with Google Maps) and headed towards the Square. There were many shops around us, and the atmosphere created a perfect symphony. We walked outside the “Divadlo Hybernia”, the main theatre in Prague, where ballet and opera performances take place, and there was a man who was playing his violin on the pavement so beautifully, giving us the impression that we were in another era. Bubbles, the smell of Chimney cakes (cakes which are unique to Prague) and taking hundreds of pictures in front of the church of Our Lady Before Týnwere a few of the things that we did; one of us even took pictures with a dancing bear, and it was a great laugh for all of us.
We visited various shops in the city, but the one shop that drew our attention was the original shop of the puppets in Prague; it made me feel as if I was part of a fairy tale. If only I had more space in my suitcase!
After exploring the main Square, we discovered a ‘hidden’ restaurant; we tried some local dishes, and of course beer. Beer in the Czech Republic is extremely cheap (£1 for a pint!) and it was simply great. With full stomachs, we decided to continue our self-guided tour. We crossed the Mánes Bridge and it was beautiful. The sun was bright and, having not seen anything apart from snow in Durham, it was a wonderful ‘gift’ for all of us.
We started walking uphill towards the Castle. The buildings were aristocratic, artistic and it was a lovely walk until we reached the famous stairs; there were so many, but we found a spot where we rested for a while. The view was breath-taking and there was a small tower that reminds me of Rapunzel’s story.
‘Aristocratic’ buildings on our way to the Castle.
The famous stairs and Rapunzel’s tower.
After half an hour we finally reached the top just in time for the changing of the Prague Castle Guard. It was too crowded but we managed to take a good look.
Coffee was essential afterwards. We had a cup of coffee at Starbucks (where else!) and enjoyed what is arguably one of the best views in Prague. The downhill was very pleasant, as you can imagine.
We had several hours left before meeting with the rest of the group so we decided to go to the New Town and the Dancing House.
There were not many things to do, and so we decided to sit at a lounge bar that we encountered on our way. Two hours later, we went to the Žižkov Television Tower, which is 709 feet! We then started running to catch the tram, and thankfully we made it. We were breathing heavily as if we had run a marathon; it was probably the beer. When we arrived, everybody was leaving, but we were more than happy to stay and try the cocktails. Each cocktail had an impressive presentation; fumes and special effects intrigued us enough to post Instagram and Snapchat stories! It was a modern place. On our way to the hostel, we found a Burrito place with good prices. Needless to say, our first day was a success.
Now, I would like to share with you some of the highlights of our trip.
Firstly, the city of Olomouc is extraordinarily beautiful and peaceful, especially in comparison to the busy and touristy Prague. Everything is within walking distance and the locals are very friendly and welcoming.
There was an exhibition to the Museum of Natural History titled The Magical World of Optics, dedicated to the 85thanniversary of the appearance of the optical industry in Czechoslovakia; it was well worth the visit. There was also laser show which was fascinating. We felt like international spies on a secret mission! Don’t forget to try the Green Beer while you are in the main square of Olomouc!
Main Square in Olomouc.
Also, the beer tasting at the Brewery Yokes was quite interesting as we got to taste the seeds that make the actual beer that we had all been drinking for the past week. We learned so many things and we also kept the glasses from the tasting. We also found a restaurant which had the best schnitzel in Olomouc.
One of the highlights of this trip was that we managed to cross the borders and visit another country, the wonderful Vienna! The fact that we planned this on a free day was great for all of us. We took the early train and the trip was pleasant. We had booked a hotel room in advance and spent a whole day there. Vienna is a city that has art in every corner, no matter where you look. I had already been to Vienna in the past, and so I was interested in visiting the Belvedere Palace, a choice that I can assure you I did not regret! A good friend of mine and I paid for a ticket to see a current exhibition.
Later on, we walked to the gardens and felt like royals. Entering the main museum of the castle, we went to see the painting of The Kissby the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt among others. We couldn’t take our eyes away from it; it is simply magnificent. Paintings like The Kiss, which are widely known and printed on a multitude of products, take your breath away when you actually see them in real life. Having spent two hours in Belvedere, we walked towards the Resselpark, where people were enjoying their picnics and children were playing on the playground, making our way to the State Opera House. The walk was very pleasant, despite the streets being quite crowded and busy. We were heading towards Stephansdom, the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of Vienna, through the shopping streets. We had lunch and the six of us decided to go to Café Demel, one of the best cake shops in the city. I had a cup of fruit tea (my favourite!) and we ordered hot chocolate and cakes. It was quite pricey but totally worth the money and the queue. We spent our night ata techno party where we all had so much fun. The following day, we went to the train station only to discover that the trains were delayed, and as a result, we missed the day trip to Brno. Fortunately, however, we managed to make it on time for the last dinner of the group.
On our last day we visited the Sedlec Ossuary, or the bone church as we call it. It was a unique experience as there are not many churches whose interior decorations include bones. For some it was spooky and freezing cold. A couple of minutes later, a close friend of mine and I walked into a small café and built up the courage to talk to an Instagram celebrity who had almost 80,000 followers. It was a crazy coincidence that we found her there, and she was very glad that we talked to her. I recognised her through her Instagram posts about Prague, a page that I was following for only three weeks to get a taste of Prague. We had a little chat, she was very kind and took some pictures with us. A couple of weeks later she uploaded one of them on her Instagram page and she tagged me. We gained some popularity too. It is definitely a story to tell from that trip!
Kutná Hora was a small, quiet village. We didn’t have much time there, but we found a place with the best view and the best Italian restaurant, where we had great pizza.
Finally, on my extra day in Prague, I visited Charles University in Prague, met some students and had a walk around the main building. I also took some magazines of the University Press to read on my way back and explore the ideas of the students.
In a nutshell, it was one of the greatest trips I have ever gone on in my life; that may sound cliché, but I couldn’t have wished for anything better. The Czech Republic offered us an amazing and unforgettable week, full of adventures and memories that I will carry with me for life.
It is an opportunity that I would suggest to any future Foundation student to take; you won’t regret it!
A final piece of advice: take a camera with you and record some of the great moments you will definitely have on this trip.