Ask almost any European and they will say that Americans who come to Europe tend to be huge overachievers. To us, everything on this continent seems so close. So why wouldn’t we try to see as many places on this diverse continent as possible? For Easter break, my lovely mother, stepdad, and sister visited to accomplish a whirlwind sightseeing tour of Central Europe.
My adventure truly started on Wednesday when I headed to Brno to pass my A1 Czech language exam!! I had been studying for the past 8 months to pass this exam that all applicants for residency in the Czech Republic must take. Don’t worry yet family and friends, I was taking it just for fun, but I guess it’s good to have in my pocket…The exam consisted of reading, listening, writing, and finally, speaking (the by-far most challenging part). I took the exam with a Vietnamese woman and a Ukrainian man and was told it’s pretty rare that the examiners see an American. With one more accomplishment crossed off my Fulbright year bucket list, I jumped on the train to Vienna to reunite with my family.
And so began our road-trip through Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and then back:
- Our first stop was in Salzburg, city of many wonderful things, but most importantly the Sound of Music!!!! Apparently, very few Austrians (or Czechs) have ever seen this wonderful movie, but we let our tourist flags fly on the official Sound of Music bus tour. Yes, we were the loudest (and possibly only) singers on the bus, and yes we did make sure to reenact every possible moment from the movie ON LOCATION.
- Next we drove south through the Alps toward Slovenia where we first stopped for dinner on the magically gorgeous Lake Bled. Seriously, if you ever find yourself in Slovenia you MUST stop here. Then we headed to the capital, Ljubljana, where we struggled to pronounce the name for the full 48 hours we were there. I think it’s safe to say we were happily surprised by this picturesque, friendly, and welcoming little city. They had a great Saturday market, beautiful churches, cute cafés, yummy food, and of course, an old historic castle on the hill. It was really cool to visit a new and underrated country and to learn about its unique perspective on global events based on its geographic location, a contemporary art exhibit, and larger history.
- Then we headed to Znojmo to experience Czech Easter. Although I had been here for Easter two years ago, I didn’t know so many Czech people, and was in “the big city,” so I had never taken part in the unique Czech tradition of pomlázka. As one of my students poetically described to me in class, “On Monday, boys get drunk and beat girls.” I know how this sounds, but the reality is a lot less horrifying. On Easter Monday, Czech boys and men (from ages 2+) go to their female friends homes and “hit” them with a stick made of braided willow branches while saying a poem. In return, girls tie a ribbon around their willow stick and offer them an egg or candy. This is supposed to bring health, youth, and fertility to the women. Thanks to Jana, about seven 13-year-old boys, as well as her son and husband visited my mom, sister, and me. We gave them American plastic eggs filled with Peeps marshmallows. Reports about our health and fertility to follow 🙂
- Next was Bratislava for a quick 24 hours, during which it down-poured for about 4 of them. However, we managed to have some good times, including my sister being offered a tequila shot after my mom had a solo concert with the restaurant violinist at dinner, checking out the Jewish Culture Museum, seeing a great Mucha exhibit, and getting a great panorama overview of the city from the top of Michael’s Gate.
- The week ended with another 24 hours in Vienna where we went to another Jewish Museum and saw a wonderful concert of Mozart and Strauss music. The performance was great, and was also accompanied by a thunder and lightening storm to enhance the music. It was really special, after seeing Mozart’s birthplace in Salzburg and also when thinking about how much the city we were in had an influence on these composers.
Amidst all the traveling, Znojmo really has come to feel like home. With my family, we had a really great time at my school and with some of my students during their visit. Yet, after leaving them in Vienna on Friday, this weekend really has shown me how much I have come to love this place. On Saturday I had a really spectacular day! I woke up early and headed into the forest to run a “fun run” with my friend and her 4 year-old son, Kryštof. After my two-week abstention of running post-half-marathon, we proudly won first place and second place from the back in the women’s race. You can imagine my surprise when I somehow won 3rd place in my age category (only to be beat out by 2 girls who looked like they were 13). The best part was getting a bag of Znojmo swag :).
The weather was gorgeous and walking the mile home through the forest was magical. The day continued with a full afternoon of Moravian local wine tasting in a nearby village. Finally, I went with an old and new friend to a secret pub in my town that literally felt like we were just relaxing in someone’s house. It’s owned and run by a man and his well-behaved black lab named Aida and was definitely the most “chill” establishment I’ve ever been in. After 8 months, I’m still finding out all of this small town’s hidden secrets!
This Week: Transitioning my teaching schedule and an adventure in Slovakian nature!