Since last posting I have kicked off my spring season of visitors and travels! However, before going into detail about all of that, I’ll first recap the subject of almost all of my lessons 2 weeks ago: St. Valentine’s Day. I have never been a fan of Valentine’s Day, but the amount of lessons I gave on the subject probably made me look like a large enthusiast. Czech people largely see Valentine’s Day as a consumerist holiday, invented by the West, to slowly encroach and impose on traditions of other cultures (similar to their negative feeling toward the concept of Santa and American Christmas). While some shops advertised flowers and chocolates, I was told that Valentine’s Day is really only celebrated by young people in relationships. To be honest, I can’t really argue with their perception. According to the video I showed them as part of my presentation, Americans spend $20 billion on the holiday= $130 per person per year (make sure to watch for some other ridiculous statistics). I also learned that the Czech name for Cupid is “Amorek,” some students will speak in exchange Hershey kisses, and Czech people find the concept of Groundhog Day ridiculous! If you’ve never watched the actual video of the Punxsutawney, PA celebration you will understand why.
Nevertheless, my pessimistic Patty feeling toward Valentine’s Day softened a bit when I though more about the essential component of the holiday: Love. Yet Valentine’s Day in America isn’t just about romantic love, it’s really about showing love to everyone. And even if we need a good consumer holiday to remind us to do it, it’s better than nothing. So if you forgot to spread some love on Valentine’s Day this year make a random effort now (or there’s always next year)!
I am so lucky to have so many people from home living in the European region right now! Dani came to visit me from Italy and we had an awesome weekend seeing Znojmo and rapid-fire touring around Prague on an absolutely amazingly gorgeous sunny day. We even got to see my Fulbright friend, who also happens to be the current world freestyle frisbee champion, compete in a tournament. Then after a stressful week of lessons, meetings with students, and preparing I was off on “spring” break to France and Spain!
I really have started to believe I was meant to live in a Mediterranean country. Visiting Floriane in Aix-en-Provence was really very special. Floriane came and stayed with our family for many summers, but I hadn’t seen her in 2 years and my family hasn’t seen her since 2010! She was the best host in showing me around the area and introducing me to some of her colleagues there. So instead of moping around on a single Valentine’s Day, I was exploring a gorgeous French city, basking in warm weather (and sunlight until 6pm), eating French food and desserts at a French bistro, and then drinking rosé at a wine bar with her 2 French friends. Not bad. Literally everything about the weekend was perfect. First, on Saturday, we bought baguettes and fresh fruit at the market, then unintentionally hiked to the top of Montagne Saint-Victoire, the subject of many of Cézanne’s paintings, and finished the day eating Indian food and dancing with more of Floriane’s work colleagues. On Sunday we explored Marseille. Besides seeing the major parts of the city I will have to say my two most exciting moments were seeing the sea and finding a bagel shop. I guess it’s the little things 🙂 Then on Monday it was so warm I sat at a café in a tank top and went to the Atelier Cézanne and saw where the painter worked.
Madrid was a city with a much different pace and 4 days of jam-packed nightlife and sightseeing. After preparing in my Spanish lessons about the main sights of Madrid, I managed to hit them all: Parque Retiro, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Palacio Real, Museo Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Lee, my fellow Fulbright friend, and I even squeezed in a rushed day trip to see the Catedrál and El Tránsito synagogue of Toledo. I think the biggest shocker was the different culture and schedule of Madrid life. Coming from Znojmo, Madrid was bustling, crowded, and loud. Also, my body needed adjusting to the Spanish daytime of eating lunch at 3pm, dinner at 9pm, and going out at midnight! Luckily we had my friend Nicolle, who is studying abroad in Madrid, to guide us around and introduce us to some of the Spanish friends she has met in her residencia.
Overall, the whole week was pretty surreal. I had been planning these trips to see these friends for so long and it was strange to have it all actually happen. It was really a great break of warm weather and beautiful places. Luckily, the weather in Znojmo has decided to be equally nice with 50 degrees and sun! Yesterday, Hana and I reunited with an “American” decision to meet for lunch and a spontaneous walk across the border and back. Not so bad to come home to 🙂