Monday, August 31, 2015

Week One in Sweden!

Yesterday marked my first full week in Sweden, and it has been the most hectic, exhausting, and fun week of my life.

Countries represented in this picture: France,
Switzerland, USA, Russia, and Netherlands
Once I got past the jetlag, adjusting to life in Sweden wasn't that difficult at all. I quickly met other exchange students, and we immediately hit it off. It feels like all nationalities are represented here, and I really love that. Part of me was scared that it would be a bunch of Americans here, but that's not the case at all. Every person you introduce yourself to is from a different country than the last. Everywhere you turn, a different language is being spoken. The entire world is present in my tiny group of international exchange students.

The Old Town!
Many of us are adventurers, so we've gone into Stockholm (we all live a bit outside the city centre) the past five days and done various activities. We've gone on tours, wandered around the Old Town by ourselves, found a lake with a beach, and found the highest spot in Stockholm, which provided us with a beautiful view of the entire city. I can
say with confidence that every inch of this city is gorgeous.

After a week of nonstop fun and adventure, I have to actually start school tomorrow. I'm only taking two classes at a time, and those classes only meet once or twice a week for five weeks, which will be wildly different compared to my normally packed and busy schedule at Maryville College. Right now, I'm taking Swedish for Exchange Students and English Youth and Children's Culture. I'm excited, and hopefully having class less often will give me plenty of time to travel! But if not, I'm more than happy here in good 'ol Stockholm.

Hej då!
- Lee

I'm so hearteyes over you, Stockholm.

Monday, August 3, 2015

I Swear I lived... Final reflections and a mix of emotions

Last day August 1: Calle Estafeta
As I was on a train the other week, the One Republic song "I Lived" came on my ipod and as I listened to the words I felt a sinking realization that my time in Europe was coming to end and as I sit here in the ATL airport I feel the same as I did in that moment listening to that song. The end may be here and I am sad to be gone, but I am so content with my experience because I did do it all. I took the jump and never once felt the fall.

1st day Jan 21st: Calle Estafeta 
The last 6 and a half months have filled me, have changed me, and have opened my eyes to a new world and a new handful of things that I can do that I never before knew or understood. Its hard to describe these things, hard to express my gratitude and growth. And even harder to decide if I am happy or not to be back in the U.S. Don't get me wrong, I am trilled about the year ahead of me. Senior year will come with a new set of adventures shared with my East TN family who I have missed with all of my heart. I'm neither happy nor sad to be back. I feel like I'm floating in and out of emotions: longing for what I have left and eager for all that lies ahead of me. For months, my mentors in Pamplona, my rocks, and my life lines this semester, have warned me about the terrible thing called "post erasmus depression". I don't quite feel it yet, but I am also not settled back into my Maryville routine.

La plaza in all its glory 
I spent my last hours in Pamplona perfectly. Although the city was a bit sad without all of "my people" in it, it was nice to still feel at home there. Many people have asked me about my favorite places in Europe and I always think, this or that place was nice but I can't include Spain. Spain is different, its my second country, it holds part of my heart. The culture, the people, and the language captivate me and I hold them dear and close. Walking through the streets, going to the regular bars for final pinxos, a last night in my piso and with Nele and meeting up with Pablo Simpatico one last time filled me with happy last memories, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
One last Plaza selfie 

I have been contemplating the words for this final blog for a while as my departure creeped up on me. It's difficult though. Nothing seems right or to do justice to all that I have done, seen, learned and felt, but it is my hope that all if anything, everyone can see how great this experience has been for me and that all of the people who I have grown to love these 6 and a half months feel my love and understand how truly important they all are to me. There may be some people that I will never see again, there are some people that I know I will actively seek out in the future, and I hope that as I have learned that the world really is small that there are people that fate will cross my paths with again in the future.

I feel full. I feel blessed. I feel thankful. I feel love and I feel so loved.

I just feel things ;)

My people: My Erasmus Family 

"Big Girls Cry When Their Hearts are Breaking"

Me below my grafiti on the Lennon Wall
It says "Mala Cestovatelka"
I had a lot of final goodbyes in Prague.

First, I said goodbye to my theatre before my sister visited me. I finished my job of organizing the theatre. I turned off every light, looked in each room one last time, and used my keys for the final time.

Then I stayed up until the early hours of sunrise so I might get to the Lennon Wall before tourists swarmed it. I painted the words “Mala Cestovatelka” (Little Traveler) so that Prague might not forget me. It also felt very equal. Prague left its mark on me (specifically my left shoulder) and now I have left my mark on Prague. I also managed to get my picture with the astronomical clock without a sea of people around me and have a moment on the Charles Bridge with no one around.
Me and my closest Prague friend, Hali

I then spent the next six days incredibly busy with my sister (as you can read about in my last blog post) and even passed an exam during those six days! I got my first C in college ever in that class (Economic Game Theory) but I still loved it nonetheless. It taught me life lessons like when to burn my boats (commit) and that everyone is selfish (even in kindness). In a weird way, the classes that kick your butt are the ones that teach you the most. I’m incredibly glad I took it.

I had a going away party with my coworkers at Prague Shakespeare Company while my sister was in town. I made sure to have a heart-to-heart with each and every one of them. I cried, they cried. They told me how much they appreciated me. I told them how much they changed my life. Then they told me they’d be seeing me again. I promised they would.

my CEA Prague friends
After my sister left, I had forty-eight hours left in Prague. I went on a date with someone I knew I’d never see again, who made me smile and laugh a lot. We got dinner and saw a horror movie with Czech subtitles (I’m going to miss having those in my movies). It was my first date since my breakup and it was such a breath of fresh air to smile and flirt again.

Prayer candles in the Vysehrad cathedral
On my last day I went with some of my closest friends to Vysehrad, the historical fort with an amazing cathedral in the center. I thought Prague couldn’t get any more beautiful but then it did. I lit a prayer candle in the cathedral and buried it in sand (a very peaceful and beautiful practice). We then got Angelato and I had Bageterie Boulevard as my last meal. There are no better words to describe my final day but: perfect.

I said goodbye to my roommates as they left for their flights. I stayed with the friends I went to Vysehrad with until one in the morning and took the night tram back to my apartment. I cried the entire ride home. I could see my reflection in the window and I wondered if everyone around me was noticing my tears as well. What were they thinking? Did my boyfriend just dump me? Did I just fight with a friend?

I doubt anyone could guess that my heart was breaking for the city I was leaving.

The Vltava River as seen from Vysehrad
the Vysehrad cathedral
I begrudgingly then went home, packed my bags, and slept for an hour before waking up and getting on the metro for the last time to get to the airport where I flew for London. Where I am now until the tenth, when I fly to America
 had so many goodbyes with Prague, but they still weren’t enough. I never knew how someone could love a country so much, until I fell in love with Prague.

I promised myself I would do anything I could to find my way back. Of course it’s easier said than done. I’m here on first-time study abroad scholarships which I won’t qualify for again. Also, I don’t know if I could come here again unless it was for an extended period of time. The transition of leaving everything I love is just too difficult after a few short months.

I love Prague more than I’ve ever loved anything in my life. I breath better there, the weight on my shoulders is lighter. It’s the first time I felt I could call a place ‘home’. I’ve never had that feeling before. It’s as if all the songs of heartbroken lovers are beginning to make sense to me. I truly do feel as if my heart has broken. But I know I’ll be back.

Me on the Charles bridge with my tattoo of the Charles Bridge

“I’d give it all away just to get you back.”

A Londoner Comes to Prague

Due to my insane final weeks in Prague and a lack of working WiFi, I am finally able to post a blog. Since it’s been awhile, I’ll be posting two. So here is the first one:

Underneath the Astronomical Clock
where the Executioner lived.
My sister visited me in Prague! Since she lives in London, it was only a two-hour flight for her. I’ve done more tourist stuff with Rachel than my entire time in Prague. She was here for six days total. Between studying for final exams and finishing up with my internship, I’m amazed I found time in the day to do everything we did.

The first day was relaxed. I met her at the airport (which very much helped me know how to get there when I was leaving), helped her to her hotel to unpack, showed her my apartment, took her to a traditional Czech dinner, then we found a park on an island in the middle of the Vltava River. It was beautiful and one of the most relaxing moments of my entire time in Prague. I almost fell asleep in the grass. We stayed there until dark.

I hate coffee, but I have yet to
 have a bad one in this country.
The second day I took her to my favorite Mexican restaurant, Cantina. It’s a very Tex-Mex kind of place with huge portions and strong (too strong for me) margaritas. We went to a ghost museum which was incredibly cheesy but a lot of fun. It told all of the ghost tales of Prague (none based on fact of course). We then went on an actual ghost tour (completely different company) which took us underground beneath the Astronomical Clock. We learned about the historical executioner that lived down there with the kingdom’s prisoners. After we were properly spooked, we got incredibly lost getting to the vegetarian restaurant Maitrea (which turned out to be around the corner from the ghost tour where we started). The food was well worth it, though. The Buddhist restaurant had a temple next door and everything they made was from natural, healthy ingredients. After dinner I took her through my theatre so she could see where I worked. Despite being a tiny attic theatre, she was impressed.

a bird of prey in the Castle Gardens
The third day we got crepes from my favorite place for brunch. We visited another museum, the alchemy museum. It’s a partner with the ghost museum and equally cheesy. Nonetheless, it was great fun. We saw what it would have been like being an alchemist in earlier centuries. We even saw Shakespeare who “might have spent time with one of the most famous Czech alchemists” (all just rumor of course). Afterwards we made our way to the one place I’ve been dying to see since my first day, the Franz Kafka museum. I learned so much about one of my favorite authors and felt as if I was able to glimpse into his life. In one of his quotes, he describes Prague as a mother with its claws in you. The city he loved so much was the same city he hated for being the cage he was trapped in. I walked the streets of Prague differently after that, feeling like I was walking in Kafka’s shoes. We went to our third museum of the day next to see Dahli, Warhol, and a famous Czech artist (whose name escapes me). This was more for my sister, but I did find myself enjoying it. I was amazed how much art a small museum had from such famous artists. Our night was sadly cut short after this because I had to run to a study group.

The fourth day we got up early for a sushi lunch at Hanabi out near the Palladium. This was the first good sushi I’ve had in Europe, and it was heavenly. After this, I sadly had to go to class. When I was done, we went out to get dinner at a Belgian mussels restaurant. This was the best service I got my entire time in Prague. When I complimented my waitress, she gave us homemade jam. Then we went to a show that night. The Czech Republic is famous for their Blacklight Theatre which is only found in the area. We were… to say the least, confused by the show we saw. There was no story line or plot. Instead it was a lot of fantastical scenes in black light with cool tricks. Would I ever see it again? Definitely not. But it was nice to experience once and I picked up some interesting ideas for my future theatre career.

inside the Cathedral
The fifth day we woke up early so I could take her to the Charles Bridge where we made our wishes on the polished golden plaque of one of the statues (a long tradition of the bridge) and went to the Lennon Wall where Rachel left her mark (I left my own the day before Rachel got here). We got fancy coffees across from the National Theatre then lunch from Las Adelitas with some friends of mine (where the margaritas are like delicious smoothies and the food is very traditional Mexican). We then visited the castle, where we first walked into the gardens. We were greeted by birds of prey and their trainer who were giving a show for the public. After spending some time with them, we walked through the actual castle and went inside the cathedral that stands in the center. We took our time walking back down from the highest point to the center of Prague. The rest of the day we visited last minute tourist sites like the astronomical clock and where the swans live.

On the sixth day we sat in the same café Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein sat in before I put her on a metro back to the airport. Despite being incredibly busy, I’m so happy I got to show off the city I love. I also got to do everything I wanted to before saying goodbye (I left Prague two days after my sister). Sometimes it’s good to play tourist even in a city you know well.