Since last writing, the itinerate Bloomsburg students and professors traveled by bus to the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague (Praha), and early this morning returned to Kraków. It was the coldest it has been for any of the 5 years (around -5F) and this morning in Kraków it is about -22C, which is about -8 on the Fahrenheit scale. That is quite cold for here. At breakfast this morning, our breakfast person, who was in his mid 20s, said this was the coldest winter of his life. While we know to bundle up in the cold, that process is very different when you are walking around a city center for 6 hours or so. It also has a different effect when you have been traveling on a bus for about 11 hours and you got up in the morning after a nap of about 3 hours or so. Yesterday as Dr. Polyhua and I were going to visit the Charles Bridge Museum, I got a senior discount on admission, so I am now officially able to note the importance of needing my sleep.
We left Kraków on Thursday night about 7:00 p.m. on the bus Prague-bound. It is amazing how many game of 20 questions can be played between various groups of students on an 11 hour bus ride. After a quicker-than-most-wanted turnaround, we were up and out to visit the castle complex in Prague, where there is a metro and a subway, the exchange of money and a pretty tight schedule did not allow for availing ourselves to those options and so after a quick breakfast this past Friday morning, we forest-marched our way across part of Prague to meet our tour guide at Prague Castle (parts of it built as early as the 9th century) for a tour. We toured the castle, which had stricter than usual security because the President was on the grounds, managed to get across the bridge in spite of the swarms of people, toured various parts of the city, including the Jewish section . The picture gracing this posting is the Prague Castle taken from the market square at sundown. The temperature was not as chilly as this morning, but it was certainly cold. Twice we made a small detour to spend a bit more time inside; however, in spite of a few with sniffles and some a bit worse, it is a hearty bunch and we walked up and down the steep hills of Prague learning the complex and eventful history of this capital city of the very center of Europe. While in the past the tours have occurred over two days, this year our tours were back to back after a break for lunch because sunrise of Friday begins the Sabbath and most of the sites we would have visited the second day would have been closed. The good and the “less-than” for some tired a chilly explorers was Friday was long, but Saturday would be a more free day for small group discovery.
Prague is a beautiful city, but it certainly caters to tourists and we happened to be there on Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, so the market square was still bustling on Friday with all of the things you could imagine, as well as a couple of surprises like three wisemen and real camels. In case you are unaware, which is not the case for many students, the Czech Republic is known for its beer, and particularly a pilsner, but between tours a quick lunch just outside the main square with 8 of us offered the possibility to sample both amazing food and beer. Spicy goulash with potato pancakes and a Kasteel Rouge (a cherry flavored beer that was not as fruity as a Lambić) was amazing. The fruit is hearty and flavorful, and while it might seem a bit heavy, managing to walk over 11 miles and up more than 20 flights of stairs burned off more calories than consumed, or at least my legs and the holes in my belt seem to indicate such a result. Experiencing the culture of the different places never grows tired, and as you listen to the dates of when things were established, you cannot help but be awed. When guides speak of things more recent, they are speaking about 3-5 centuries old; often when they speak of the old part of things, it is possible that it is as much as millennia since it was first started.
Students are amazed by both the ability of most people to speak two or three languages as they are by the differences from country to country, which are in close proximity. That is what, of course in part, creates both the likelihood and necessity of being multi-lingual, but it also begins the process of understanding why students from Europe, who might study at Bloomsburg University, have a much more astute worldly view. As humans, in spite of our ability to see beyond ourselves, the hectic pace of living seems too often to close us off to the astounding opportunities for growth that cross our paths. Speaking with students, listening to their conversations, and watching their faces, taking trips like this, and many of the others offered by the Study Abroad Office, make it impossible for us to not be changed by the immersion of learning which occurs on a 24/7 basis. As noted in an earlier post, from street signs to conversations, from transportation to food, everything you take for granted on a daily basis as you walk from your dorm to the commons, from classroom to town, while attending school at Bloomsburg is called into question because you are mandated to rethink it all. That is the gift of taking the chance and traveling for a January term or summer session.
This particular program, however, carries 7 credits, 6 of which come, as previously noted, from the second oldest university in Europe. The time spent on those credits is significant, and, for instance, before leaving on Friday paper outlines were returned, with comments from Dr. Orla-Bukowska about their proposals. Another round of consideration with one of the three of their Bloomsburg professors, and students were given their outlines back as we sat in a rest-stop on the Czech and Polish boarder. The classroom is not merely four walls, the classroom is daily living and the experiences crammed into each 24 hour period. Managing things like colds, sniffles, or even worse than what seems to be a common cold sometimes means a person takes a day off and sleeps to regain their energy and there has been some of that, particularly over the last couple of days. Again, those events are not uncommon because the days seems to blend together and the temptation to stay up and experience every minute of the day is hard to ignore. The consequence for many, even when we do go to bed at a reasonable time, is the days blend together. I have had to think more than once, and ask myself thoughtfully, what day is it?
One of the things an individual traveling abroad will quickly learn is to make sure you are ready for the unexpected. Because we had a bit more free time yesterday, and because of the cold, the decision was made to return to Kraków a couple of hours earlier than the original itinerary had noted. This was to help a couple of those who were still trying to shake whatever bug was thumping them to get a bit more sleep back in our dorms in Poland. Things were proceeding nicely, including even a rest stop at a McDonalds (I do not think I have ever seen so many Big Macs and French fries in one place and I am guilty of ordering both also – a first in all my times in Europe), and with about an hour to go and getting ready to go through a toll gate, a car attempted to pull into the lane occupied by our bus. In fact, this vehicle tried it numerous times. Finally, the occupants of the car came up with some hair-brained idea they could push the bus out of the way with their little Volvo. Needless to say, the plan was misconceived and after their mirror hit the bus, they pulled in front of the bus and the father in the vehicle got rather animated in his responses to the driver (and anyone else who might care to listen). Long story, short: for the next two and a half hours after wreckers, Policija, watching the SD card that buses have loaded for just such things, and a very angry family in a Volvo, in spite of their own stupidity, we were finally on our way. Our bus driver, Marek, was calm, collected and professional the entire time. It is the second year he has driven for us. 40 students actually cheered him as he was finally able to take us on our way. However, so much for getting back earlier than our proposed itinerary. By the time we were back in either Bdygoska or Dom Professorski, it was almost 1:30 a.m. As these trips and even my own first journey to Europe as a sophomore in college has taught, on any study abroad trip is it is impossible to plan for every contingency. So today is a free day, at least as far as scheduled events. Some will sleep a bit more; some will work on their papers and their reaction papers that are due for both classes, and some will visit places in Kraków like Schindler’s Factory, which is now a museum. I will work on my Polish language lessons, and syllabi and BOLT for my next semester classes, all of which are coming much too soon.
Thank you for reading and Do widzenia,