Posts by Jonathan B.

 
 
 

Boston!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last Tuesday, I made the long trip across the Atlantic to travel to Boston! Somehow, this Bostonian has never managed to walk the entire Freedom Trail, a “2.5 mile path that leads to 16 of America’s most significant historical landmarks.” So Wednesday morning, I got up bright and early (around 10 AM) to reacquaint myself with one of America’s greatest cities.

I convinced my youngest brother Joe to accompany me. My other brother, Richard, who rumor has it is going to be living in Battell, had to lifeguard. On the way to Oak Grove, the T stop closest to my house, Joe and I ran into none other than my friend Ben, who readers of this blog will remember visited me in Berlin. I invited him to come along, but wearing formal attire in 90 degree heat, Ben looked like he was ready to step into a cold shower instead. So Joe and I continued on our way and got on an orange line train heading south. There are two big differences I noticed between local trains in Boston and Germany. First, German trains are a lot smoother and second, I have never heard the conductor yell “the platform is not a playground” over the loudspeakers in Germany. Anyway, we arrived at Park Street in good time and after picking up a map at a visitors’ center, we started off on the red brick road.

The Freedom Trail begins in Boston Common. Joe (who I convinced to be my tour guide) told me some cool facts about America’s oldest public park from the brochure we picked up. Then, we walked up the hill to the State House and cooled down inside the air-conditioned Park Street Church. Next on the route was Granary Burying Ground, the first of three burying grounds we would encounter. The old dates inscribed on these tombstones rivaled even those of cemeteries I had visited in Europe. Afterward, we saw King’s Chapel and the Old City Hall. I really liked how the former had been preserved in the midst of modern day skyscrapers and the latter had a cool sidewalk mosaic marking the former location of Boston Latin, America’s first public school. Just down the street from there was the Old Corner Bookstore, a literary center in the mid-1800s, and the Old South Meeting House, which served as a public forum prior to the start of the Revolution. Then, Joe and I walked by the Old State House, outside of which the Boston Massacre took place. Ever since elementary school, I always remember finding it odd that the event was called a “massacre.” The deaths of five people are indeed a tragedy, but calling it a massacre was surely more for the sake of propaganda than historical accuracy. After Faneuil Hall, one of Boston’s best known landmarks, Joe and I took a moment to visit the Holocaust Memorial, not an official stop on the Freedom Trail, but an important reminder nonetheless of what happens when freedom and responsibility are taken out of the picture. One responsible man (along with two oft forgotten companions) took it upon himself to warn colonists that the “British [were] coming”. His name was Paul Revere and his house and the Old North Church were next on the route. I still remember visiting the Paul Revere House back in fourth grade. The best part was eating lunch as a class in the North End afterward. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is the final stop of the Freedom Trail before one crosses the Charlestown Bridge and then if one is feeling really ambitious, one can walk all the way over to the USS Constitution and then up to the Bunker Hill Monument. I was feeling really ambitious and Joe seemed content with going along for the ride. Needless to say, we both were pretty worn out by the time we finally stumbled into Community College station to head home.

As the train rattled back to Oak Grove, I wondered, “was it really worth it to walk the Freedom Trail?” Maybe if I had done it alone, no. But when I looked over at Joe, calmly reading a book beside me, I knew I had made the right decision. Because at a certain point, all the old buildings and monuments lose their appeal and you remember that it isn’t the sights you see or the food you eat that make an experience memorable. It’s the people you’re with. Sure, it’s great exploring a new place on your own, better than not seeing it at all. If you asked me though to describe any of my favorite experiences from when I was abroad, if you go back and pick out your favorite post from my collection of unending prose, you’ll find this to be true. Characters bring a story to life.

I have a very simple strategy for dealing with “reverse culture shock” and you may have noticed it in the first sentence of this post when I wrote “travel to Boston” instead of “return to Boston”. In my mind, I’m still on an adventure! Danke für Lesen und bis nächstes Blog! J               

Boston!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last Tuesday, I made the long trip across the Atlantic to travel to Boston! Somehow, this Bostonian has never managed to walk the entire Freedom Trail, a “2.5 mile path that leads to 16 of America’s most significant historical landmarks.” So Wednesday morning, I got up bright and early (around 10 AM) to reacquaint myself with one of America’s greatest cities.

I convinced my youngest brother Joe to accompany me. My other brother, Richard, who rumor has it is going to be living in Battell, had to lifeguard. On the way to Oak Grove, the T stop closest to my house, Joe and I ran into none other than my friend Ben, who readers of this blog will remember visited me in Berlin. I invited him to come along, but wearing formal attire in 90 degree heat, Ben looked like he was ready to step into a cold shower instead. So Joe and I continued on our way and got on an orange line train heading south. There are two big differences I noticed between local trains in Boston and Germany. First, German trains are a lot smoother and second, I have never heard the conductor yell “the platform is not a playground” over the loudspeakers in Germany. Anyway, we arrived at Park Street in good time and after picking up a map at a visitors’ center, we started off on the red brick road.

The Freedom Trail begins in Boston Common. Joe (who I convinced to be my tour guide) told me some cool facts about America’s oldest public park from the brochure we picked up. Then, we walked up the hill to the State House and cooled down inside the air-conditioned Park Street Church. Next on the route was Granary Burying Ground, the first of three burying grounds we would encounter. The old dates inscribed on these tombstones rivaled even those of cemeteries I had visited in Europe. Afterward, we saw King’s Chapel and the Old City Hall. I really liked how the former had been preserved in the midst of modern day skyscrapers and the latter had a cool sidewalk mosaic marking the former location of Boston Latin, America’s first public school. Just down the street from there was the Old Corner Bookstore, a literary center in the mid-1800s, and the Old South Meeting House, which served as a public forum prior to the start of the Revolution. Then, Joe and I walked by the Old State House, outside of which the Boston Massacre took place. Ever since elementary school, I always remember finding it odd that the event was called a “massacre.” The deaths of five people are indeed a tragedy, but calling it a massacre was surely more for the sake of propaganda than historical accuracy. After Faneuil Hall, one of Boston’s best known landmarks, Joe and I took a moment to visit the Holocaust Memorial, not an official stop on the Freedom Trail, but an important reminder nonetheless of what happens when freedom and responsibility are taken out of the picture. One responsible man (along with two oft forgotten companions) took it upon himself to warn colonists that the “British [were] coming”. His name was Paul Revere and his house and the Old North Church were next on the route. I still remember visiting the Paul Revere House back in fourth grade. The best part was eating lunch as a class in the North End afterward. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is the final stop of the Freedom Trail before one crosses the Charlestown Bridge and then if one is feeling really ambitious, one can walk all the way over to the USS Constitution and then up to the Bunker Hill Monument. I was feeling really ambitious and Joe seemed content with going along for the ride. Needless to say, we both were pretty worn out by the time we finally stumbled into Community College station to head home.

As the train rattled back to Oak Grove, I wondered, “was it really worth it to walk the Freedom Trail?” Maybe if I had done it alone, no. But when I looked over at Joe, calmly reading a book beside me, I knew I had made the right decision. Because at a certain point, all the old buildings and monuments lose their appeal and you remember that it isn’t the sights you see or the food you eat that make an experience memorable. It’s the people you’re with. Sure, it’s great exploring a new place on your own, better than not seeing it at all. If you asked me though to describe any of my favorite experiences from when I was abroad, if you go back and pick out your favorite post from my collection of unending prose, you’ll find this to be true. Characters bring a story to life.

I have a very simple strategy for dealing with “reverse culture shock” and you may have noticed it in the first sentence of this post when I wrote “travel to Boston” instead of “return to Boston”. In my mind, I’m still on an adventure! Danke für Lesen und bis nächstes Blog! J               

Stuttgart and Mainz

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last weekend, I took a trip with my pals Marius and Manuel to Stuttgart! Marius’s friend Thomas hosted us for Saturday night. When we arrived, I was blown away by the apartment that Thomas has. For a student’s place, it was quite luxurious and there was even a great view of the city from his windows. Because of Stuttgart’s “bowl” conformation, we could see the other sides of the “bowl” encircling from where we were and the city center down on the bottom. I was lucky enough to be able to experience some of Stuttgart’s nightlife before we all went to sleep, so I am grateful to the numerous Stuttgart natives that showed me a good time.    

On Sunday, Marius led us all on a grand tour of his hometown. We parked for free near the university and then trekked over to Schlossplatz (castle square), which is in the center of town. On the way, we passed by a bar called Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), whose owners had some wisdom for choosing to operate out of essentially a tiny shack. On a nice summer evening, most of the patrons will crowd the square surrounding the bar, while the owners save big on rent. When we arrived in Schlossplatz, named for the Old Castle and New Castle that are adjacent to the square, Marius recounted how he was here in 2007 with 300,000 other soccer fans celebrating VFB Stuttgart’s first place finish in the Bundesliga. Next, we walked by the Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church) and the Rathaus (city hall). Even though the former looks quite old and the latter quite new, both were constructed around the same time since the church was destroyed in WWII and the city hall is simply an example of modern architecture gone horribly wrong. At least there are plenty of other nice city halls in Germany.

Next, at the Marktplatz (market square), Marius pointed out his favorite toy store. He told us how as a child he’d go there all the time and it was amusing to picture a younger version of our tour guide running around looking at all the toys. After lunch (I had some tasty white sausages served with a pretzel), Thomas bid us adieu and Marius, Manuel, and I climbed (as in took the elevator) up to the top of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) tower where we were rewarded for our strenuous climb with a nice (and free!) view of the city. Most of the Hauptbahnhofwill actually be torn down over the next several years because of the Stuttgart 21 project that many of you have probably heard about. For those of you who haven’t, it’s a construction project that will establish several new high speed railway lines under a brand new train station. Many of the locals, however, have been organizing huge protests over the past couple of months, since the project will likely separate the Schlossgarten(Castle Garden, the city’s green space) for ten years and may cost billions more than planned. Remind anyone of the Big Dig? Danke Marius und Manuel für eine tolle Zeit!        

“Mainz, I thought you left Mainz Jonathan?” “Yes, I did leave Mainz Jonathan, but I had to return today to close my German bank account.” I was a little annoyed when the Sparkasse Heidelberg people told me I would have to go all the way to the Mainz branch to accomplish this task, but the day-off from work made it worthwhile. (Danke Anna-Laura!)  As it turned out, I was in and out of the bank in Mainz in about 15 minutes, so with some extra time, I decided to take one last trip to the university where I learned so much about German culture, plants, and life in general. What I really wanted to do was revisit the botanical garden that I knew would look much more impressive now that it was summer. Once I arrived, I knew I had made the right decision to stay in Mainz for an extra hour before returning to Heidelberg. With all the flowers blooming, more green everywhere, and plenty of people walking around, the place really felt alive. I made sure to visit my American friend Sequoiadendron giganteum, which some brilliant botanist way back when must have known I would need for inspiration to get through studying for my botany final back in February. I was also reminded of how friendly the people of Mainz are. First, the nice girl who handed me a campus magazine upon entering the campus smiled at me as I was leaving and said, “Oh, du hast eins schon” (oh, you have one already). Then, the ******* ticket machines at the Hauptbahnhof refused to accept anything but exact change and I didn’t have exact change. Luckily, a nice lady gave me the last 50 cents I needed for free. I thanked her before running off to make my train.    

For the first time in a long time, I will be traveling next week to a country that lies outside of Europe! Tune in next week for the final post of “Jonathan brach durch!” Danke fürs Lesen und bis nächstes Mal!

  

Stuttgart and Mainz

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last weekend, I took a trip with my pals Marius and Manuel to Stuttgart! Marius’s friend Thomas hosted us for Saturday night. When we arrived, I was blown away by the apartment that Thomas has. For a student’s place, it was quite luxurious and there was even a great view of the city from his windows. Because of Stuttgart’s “bowl” conformation, we could see the other sides of the “bowl” encircling from where we were and the city center down on the bottom. I was lucky enough to be able to experience some of Stuttgart’s nightlife before we all went to sleep, so I am grateful to the numerous Stuttgart natives that showed me a good time.    

On Sunday, Marius led us all on a grand tour of his hometown. We parked for free near the university and then trekked over to Schlossplatz (castle square), which is in the center of town. On the way, we passed by a bar called Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), whose owners had some wisdom for choosing to operate out of essentially a tiny shack. On a nice summer evening, most of the patrons will crowd the square surrounding the bar, while the owners save big on rent. When we arrived in Schlossplatz, named for the Old Castle and New Castle that are adjacent to the square, Marius recounted how he was here in 2007 with 300,000 other soccer fans celebrating VFB Stuttgart’s first place finish in the Bundesliga. Next, we walked by the Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church) and the Rathaus (city hall). Even though the former looks quite old and the latter quite new, both were constructed around the same time since the church was destroyed in WWII and the city hall is simply an example of modern architecture gone horribly wrong. At least there are plenty of other nice city halls in Germany.

Next, at the Marktplatz (market square), Marius pointed out his favorite toy store. He told us how as a child he’d go there all the time and it was amusing to picture a younger version of our tour guide running around looking at all the toys. After lunch (I had some tasty white sausages served with a pretzel), Thomas bid us adieu and Marius, Manuel, and I climbed (as in took the elevator) up to the top of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) tower where we were rewarded for our strenuous climb with a nice (and free!) view of the city. Most of the Hauptbahnhofwill actually be torn down over the next several years because of the Stuttgart 21 project that many of you have probably heard about. For those of you who haven’t, it’s a construction project that will establish several new high speed railway lines under a brand new train station. Many of the locals, however, have been organizing huge protests over the past couple of months, since the project will likely separate the Schlossgarten(Castle Garden, the city’s green space) for ten years and may cost billions more than planned. Remind anyone of the Big Dig? Danke Marius und Manuel für eine tolle Zeit!        

“Mainz, I thought you left Mainz Jonathan?” “Yes, I did leave Mainz Jonathan, but I had to return today to close my German bank account.” I was a little annoyed when the Sparkasse Heidelberg people told me I would have to go all the way to the Mainz branch to accomplish this task, but the day-off from work made it worthwhile. (Danke Anna-Laura!)  As it turned out, I was in and out of the bank in Mainz in about 15 minutes, so with some extra time, I decided to take one last trip to the university where I learned so much about German culture, plants, and life in general. What I really wanted to do was revisit the botanical garden that I knew would look much more impressive now that it was summer. Once I arrived, I knew I had made the right decision to stay in Mainz for an extra hour before returning to Heidelberg. With all the flowers blooming, more green everywhere, and plenty of people walking around, the place really felt alive. I made sure to visit my American friend Sequoiadendron giganteum, which some brilliant botanist way back when must have known I would need for inspiration to get through studying for my botany final back in February. I was also reminded of how friendly the people of Mainz are. First, the nice girl who handed me a campus magazine upon entering the campus smiled at me as I was leaving and said, “Oh, du hast eins schon” (oh, you have one already). Then, the ******* ticket machines at the Hauptbahnhof refused to accept anything but exact change and I didn’t have exact change. Luckily, a nice lady gave me the last 50 cents I needed for free. I thanked her before running off to make my train.    

For the first time in a long time, I will be traveling next week to a country that lies outside of Europe! Tune in next week for the final post of “Jonathan brach durch!” Danke fürs Lesen und bis nächstes Mal!

  

Strasbourg and Mannheim

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last Saturday, some other RISE students and I checked out what has come to be known as the legislative capital of Europe- Strasbourg! Ahmad, Charlie, Cheng, Josh, and I were able to get there for only about 15 Euros each by splitting a Baden-Württemberg-Ticket,which is good for groups of up to five throughout the German state, then paying 3,90 essentially to cross the border into France. A lot has been said about the “futuristic” trams that run in and around Strasbourg with comfortable seating, expansive windows, and a sleek design. I, however, was just extremely annoyed to be packed in with about a hundred other people on the 2-3 car long vehicles. Would it have been that difficult to keep the fancy design AND make them long enough to accommodate a regular load of passengers? Once we arrived of course, the fresh air and wide open park in front of the central train station were all the more welcoming. It felt good to be in France.

After snapping a quick group photo in front of the futuristic-looking train station, we headed straight for the city’s historic city center- a UNESCO site (so it has to be good!). Beautiful old European architecture, including some pretty white-timber framed buildings filled the island that made up the old town. Charlie, Josh, and I got lunch at a restaurant on the riverside while Ahmad and Cheng did some wandering. I had one of the best and definitely the most expensive cheeseburger in my life. Still not sure if it was worth it, but hey, the French know food and I’m sure it will be a while before I make it back to France. Reunited with Ahmad and Cheng after lunch, we visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. It’s said to be one of the best Gothic cathedrals in the world and for a while, it was even the tallest building in the world (from 1647-1874). Next, we walked north to check out some grandiose government buildings. The stuff near Place de la République was all pretty nice, but the best and furthest away were definitely the European Parliament buildings way up near the NE-edge of our map. We saw the colossal Palace of Europe and abstractly-designed Hemicycle (the blue sheep I mentioned in a previous blog post were also here). Afterward, we made our way south, hoping to check out the botanical garden, but we were greeted instead by a pointy fence. A wrong turn did lead us to stumble upon Rue Beethoven (Beethoven street). As a mediocre violinist, I found that pretty cool, but was shocked to learn that SOMEONE in the group did not know who Beethoven was! Kids these days . . .
               
So, we kept walking south and eventually made it to the highly-anticipated Citadelle. Only the Citadelle was really just an ugly fort by the river that no one bothered to tear down, so that was kind of disappointing. The park surrounding the eyesore was pretty nice though. I especially liked seeing basketball courts and what was essentially an outdoor gym. There was an elliptical trainer and even several pull-up bars! I have this weird obsession with searching for structures that I can do a couple of pull-ups on after completing a run, so I was happy to see that the French share this eccentricity of mine. At this point, we only had about two hours left to spend in Strasbourg. This time was well spent stocking up on some French goodies at a grocery store we found on the way back to the train station. To our chagrin, the “futuristic” ticket machines at the train station only accepted credit cards, so we had to run to the ticket office before it closed to buy our train tickets back to Deutschland. I kind of see the value in encouraging a complete switch from cash to credit (less chance of armed robbery, etc.). At the same time, however, a currency system that relies entirely on computers doesn’t seem that reliable to me. But enough negativity, all in all it was a great trip. Strasbourg has even been a sister city with Boston since 1960! The Esplanade is an amazing park back home, but did you know the name comes from the French word for an open field in front of a citadelle? Now you know!

I should end here, but I want to spend at least a little time talking about Mannheim, a city just up the river from Heidelberg. The same group of students went, just subtract Charlie and Josh and replace them with my pals Ilyas and Lorenzo. The tour of the city started with a visit to the Wasserturm (watertower), which was constructed back in the 1880s and today is a symbol of the city. We then walked over to Paradeplatz (Parade square) which had a nice monument in the center, followed by the Schloss, a former castle now used by the University of Mannheim. Next up was the Jesuitkirche (Jesuit Church) which had a very ornate interior. Then, we walked over to Schillerplatz (Schiller square) where I translated the words on a memorial for the Trümmerfrauen(“rubble women”) who cleaned up the rubble stone by stone after WWII and helped to rebuild the city. At the end, we took a nice stroll along the Neckar and explored Luisenpark a bit before heading back to Heidelberg.

I know, this short summary really doesn’t do justice to Mannheim. I have a feeling I’ll be back in Mannheim quite soon, however, stay tuned! Danke fürs Lesen und bis nächstes Mal!

Strasbourg and Mannheim

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last Saturday, some other RISE students and I checked out what has come to be known as the legislative capital of Europe- Strasbourg! Ahmad, Charlie, Cheng, Josh, and I were able to get there for only about 15 Euros each by splitting a Baden-Württemberg-Ticket,which is good for groups of up to five throughout the German state, then paying 3,90 essentially to cross the border into France. A lot has been said about the “futuristic” trams that run in and around Strasbourg with comfortable seating, expansive windows, and a sleek design. I, however, was just extremely annoyed to be packed in with about a hundred other people on the 2-3 car long vehicles. Would it have been that difficult to keep the fancy design AND make them long enough to accommodate a regular load of passengers? Once we arrived of course, the fresh air and wide open park in front of the central train station were all the more welcoming. It felt good to be in France.

After snapping a quick group photo in front of the futuristic-looking train station, we headed straight for the city’s historic city center- a UNESCO site (so it has to be good!). Beautiful old European architecture, including some pretty white-timber framed buildings filled the island that made up the old town. Charlie, Josh, and I got lunch at a restaurant on the riverside while Ahmad and Cheng did some wandering. I had one of the best and definitely the most expensive cheeseburger in my life. Still not sure if it was worth it, but hey, the French know food and I’m sure it will be a while before I make it back to France. Reunited with Ahmad and Cheng after lunch, we visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. It’s said to be one of the best Gothic cathedrals in the world and for a while, it was even the tallest building in the world (from 1647-1874). Next, we walked north to check out some grandiose government buildings. The stuff near Place de la République was all pretty nice, but the best and furthest away were definitely the European Parliament buildings way up near the NE-edge of our map. We saw the colossal Palace of Europe and abstractly-designed Hemicycle (the blue sheep I mentioned in a previous blog post were also here). Afterward, we made our way south, hoping to check out the botanical garden, but we were greeted instead by a pointy fence. A wrong turn did lead us to stumble upon Rue Beethoven (Beethoven street). As a mediocre violinist, I found that pretty cool, but was shocked to learn that SOMEONE in the group did not know who Beethoven was! Kids these days . . .
               
So, we kept walking south and eventually made it to the highly-anticipated Citadelle. Only the Citadelle was really just an ugly fort by the river that no one bothered to tear down, so that was kind of disappointing. The park surrounding the eyesore was pretty nice though. I especially liked seeing basketball courts and what was essentially an outdoor gym. There was an elliptical trainer and even several pull-up bars! I have this weird obsession with searching for structures that I can do a couple of pull-ups on after completing a run, so I was happy to see that the French share this eccentricity of mine. At this point, we only had about two hours left to spend in Strasbourg. This time was well spent stocking up on some French goodies at a grocery store we found on the way back to the train station. To our chagrin, the “futuristic” ticket machines at the train station only accepted credit cards, so we had to run to the ticket office before it closed to buy our train tickets back to Deutschland. I kind of see the value in encouraging a complete switch from cash to credit (less chance of armed robbery, etc.). At the same time, however, a currency system that relies entirely on computers doesn’t seem that reliable to me. But enough negativity, all in all it was a great trip. Strasbourg has even been a sister city with Boston since 1960! The Esplanade is an amazing park back home, but did you know the name comes from the French word for an open field in front of a citadelle? Now you know!

I should end here, but I want to spend at least a little time talking about Mannheim, a city just up the river from Heidelberg. The same group of students went, just subtract Charlie and Josh and replace them with my pals Ilyas and Lorenzo. The tour of the city started with a visit to the Wasserturm (watertower), which was constructed back in the 1880s and today is a symbol of the city. We then walked over to Paradeplatz (Parade square) which had a nice monument in the center, followed by the Schloss, a former castle now used by the University of Mannheim. Next up was the Jesuitkirche (Jesuit Church) which had a very ornate interior. Then, we walked over to Schillerplatz (Schiller square) where I translated the words on a memorial for the Trümmerfrauen(“rubble women”) who cleaned up the rubble stone by stone after WWII and helped to rebuild the city. At the end, we took a nice stroll along the Neckar and explored Luisenpark a bit before heading back to Heidelberg.

I know, this short summary really doesn’t do justice to Mannheim. I have a feeling I’ll be back in Mannheim quite soon, however, stay tuned! Danke fürs Lesen und bis nächstes Mal!

Czeching out Prague

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

It was Friday night. I was standing outside of Prague main railway station with my friend Ahmad thinking that our trip was over before it had even started. Why wasn’t the number that Peter gave me working? I took a deep breath, exhaled, and suddenly remembered a piece of advice that Dylan gave me back in Venice. “We have to dial two zeros before our numbers for our phones to work.” I tried again and breathed a sigh of relief as I heard Peter’s voice on the other end. “Hey, you made it,” Peter said in a surprised voice. It was the first of many jokes that my friend Tomas’s father would make throughout an unforgettable weekend in the Czech Republic.

Saturday was dedicated to exploring the Czech region of Bohemia. The Melrosian family that Ahmad and I were staying with took us first to Žlleby castle. The medieval castle was filled with suits of armor, art, and other cool stuff, but unfortunately for all of you, pictures were forbidden during the tour. It’s worth checking out, however, if you ever make it out to Zleby! After lunch, we drove to the town of Kutná Hora, home of the stunning, UNESCO-certified St. Barbara’s Church. While the interior of the church was indeed amazing, it’s the walk along Baborská street leading up to the church that I enjoyed the most. Besides the breathtaking view, Peter pointed out all these traces of sea life that one could see in the sandstone wall along the street. A long time ago, Bohemia was actually underwater and although the Czech Republic is now a landlocked country, Peter was still proud of the fact that his homeland has a navy! The other part of the walk that I enjoyed was a certain little someone constantly stopping to lie down in the street to snap silly self-portraits of himself with the family’s iPad (aka Bob).      

Bob got a chance to rest at our next stop- the family’s cottage, where Peter spent his summers growing up. Here, Ahmad and I got a chance to help the family out with some good old fashioned yard work and I mean it when I say old-fashioned! No power tools, just a scythe (the thing the grim reaper carries) and a few sickles (think Communist flag without the hammer). In under an hour, we had the whole front lawn mowed and then had some time to play a modified version of cricket involving a frisbee and bouncy ball. As dusk began to set in, we piled back into the car and headed back to the family’s apartment in Pardubice. I could tell everyone was pretty tired, but Peter insisted on giving Ahmad and I a quick tour of his hometown. He showed us the main sights of the city and we had a good informal chat about life. Someone made an amusing slip of tongue that led us all to agree that there not only needs to be more discourse between peoples of the world, but intercourse as well. In addition, I found it fascinating that Peter’s one big wish for the US is that more Americans learn a second language. It is only through learning another language that you realize that the other guys you think are so strange and perhaps dangerous are more similar to yourself than you think. I had never really thought of learning German before as a way of building world harmony, but now I have extra motivation to both maintain my German when return to the US and perhaps start learning a new language.

On Sunday, Peter gave us all a grand tour of Prague. Even though Ahmad and I were only able to spend about five hours exploring the city, for much of the time in the rain, we both agreed that it was one of the best European cities we had visited and resolved to come back in the future. In order to see everything as efficiently as possible, we began on the west side of the city up on Prague Castle and worked our way east toward the main railway station. The castle complex was really something else. The Czech Republic’s president has Royal Gardens, St. Vitus Cathedral, and spectacular views surrounding his official residence. The lucky bloke doesn’t even have to mow the lawn- a robot lawn mower takes care of that. Next, before crossing the famous Charles Bridge, we visited the Infant Jesus of Prague in the Church of Our Lady Victorious. The wax-coated wooden statue has an interesting history worth looking into if you have time. Afterward, we spent the remainder of our time walking around the Staré Město (old town) and Nové Město (new town). We stopped in another nice church called Our Lady of the Snows before rushing over to see the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square strike 4 PM. An automated procession of apostles and Death emptying his hourglass occurs once an hour, often above a large crowd of tourists. As our own time winded down, we walked along the grand Wenceslas Square (more of a boulevard than square) to pay our respects at a memorial for victims of communism and to take a group picture in front of the National Museum. It was sad to say good-bye to the family back at the train station so soon, but I will see my neighbors again in August once we are all back in Melrose. Děkuji Peter, Maria, Tomas and the rest of the family for a wonderful time! Danke fürs Lesen und bis nächstes Mal!