University of Haifa International School Student Blog
Greetings and happy holidays everyone! I’ve had a whirlwind past two weeks. The last time I wrote I was headed to Prague and now I’m safely back from what I can describe as an exceedingly successful trip. The break during the holidays combined with Israel’s convenient proximity to Europe made it possible for me to fly to Prague quickly and cheaply. Additionally, I had a friend (Molly) from college in the States studying at Charles University there, so I stayed with her for free. Prague is an architecturally beautiful city with many interesting tourist sites. While Molly attended class during the day, I went exploring on my own.
Since I’d already gotten used to sightseeing by myself in Israel (when I visited Nazareth and Tiberius), Prague was a breeze. I figured out how to use the subway within a day or two and discovered that if I mapped my route on Google maps while I had wifi (in Molly’s apartment), it would still direct me once I lost Wi-Fi. On my first day out, I strolled through Prague’s picturesque Old Town Square, complete with many churches, statues, and memorials. The main attraction in Old Town is its Astronomical Clock, which is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest still operating. Crowds gathered in front of the clock twice hourly to witness its chiming, complete with a show of moving sculptures depicting the apostles. For lunch I headed to a small food stand and ate “dulsen zeli,” a traditional Czech braised cabbage dish with bacon. It kind of reminded me of vinegar-y tasting mashed potatoes. The Czech Republic is a very affordable country to visit—more so than Israel. The Czechs even like to say that beer is cheaper than water! Before heading back to my friend’s apartment, I stopped at the Franz Kafka gift shop to buy a compilation of his works. Besides being extremely influential to the field of literature worldwide, Kafka is particularly important in the Czech Republic because he was born in and grew up in Prague. Never having read any Kafka, I felt this was my chance to do so—especially while traveling in his city!
In addition to Old Town Square, I also visited the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and John Lennon Wall while I was there. All these areas are bustling with tourist shops (and tourist traps) so I got my souvenir on and picked some things out for the family (and for myself!). The Prague Castle is probably considered the city’s main tourist site and besides being the largest ancient castle in the world, is also known for representing almost every architectural style of the last millennium. Upon hearing this, you would think the castle looked like a mish-mash of unmatched buildings, but this is not the case. Instead, viewing it is like viewing history and time—leaping from one century to the next within a few hundred feet. The castle has so much to see that it can be overwhelming. I recommend purchasing a ticket for the short tour (tourist information offices sell them), which guarantees five great sites. Though I did the short tour, I was still there for around two and a half hours. I would also recommend visiting the John Lennon Wall, which was painted after Lennon’s assassination in 1980. Although the original graffiti has long since been covered, the wall still is riddled with Beatles lyrics and images of Lennon. The significance of the wall was not necessarily what it looked like, but rather the youth rebellion against Communism that it represented.
While in Prague, I took the “Flixbus” (convenient cheap bus that travels all over Europe) to Berlin. Molly had a mandatory class trip there, so I decided to stay in a hostel and do some exploring of my own before meeting up with her at night. The bus took about four hours. After arriving at the station, I used various Wi-Fi to map the train and subway to my hostel. I got lost at first but eventually figured everything out. My hostel, the Circus Hostel, was really cute and in a hip area near many sites. It even had its own brewery in the basement. I spent four hours one day just in the 20th century history exhibit of the German History Museum. The exhibit was extremely cohesive and detail oriented, describing the conditions in Germany from WWI to the rise of Nazism to the present. I haven’t taken a history course since high school, and was able to refresh my memory this way. Furthermore, I never quite understood how such a horrible, fascist group like the Nazis and Adolf Hitler ever gained power. The exhibit outlined (but in no way excused) how this happened. The next day I took advantage of the Hostel’s free (tip based) tour around the city. The tour was surprisingly impressive. I learned much I didn’t know about the Berlin Wall and the differences in life between East and West Germany. I returned to Prague feeling satisfied that even though I was only there for two days, I managed to get a good feel of Berlin.
After Molly was finished with classes each day, we would check out a fun restaurant and then maybe head to a local bar. It was really interesting hearing about her abroad experience and comparing and contrasting it to my own. Her program was mostly Americans, and they didn’t have much interaction with Czech students besides their “Czech buddies” who lived with them. At the University of Haifa, I’ve had a much more international experience. Though there are a lot of Americans in the program (we’re everywhere!), there are also many other students from all over the world. I’m happy to be exposed to other young people from different cultures and backgrounds. Also, even though I had a great time in Prague, I’m glad I’m not studying abroad there—or any other European city for that matter. I wanted a special and unique abroad experience different from that of my classmates. Studying in another big European city was not for me. Being in Haifa has allowed me to get the one-of-a-kind abroad adventure I wanted and still have the opportunity to visit Europe and other places. Looking back, I’m really happy and satisfied with how my holiday travels went. I can now settle back down and get ready for the rest of the semester!
Atlanta, GA, USA