Yesterday we were able to visit the village of Franneker in the Northern part of the Netherlands. This was our only visit to an European small village on this trip and it was remarkable. The village was very similar to many of the small towns in the US, like those back at home, but much older. We were able to visit a church in our free time that was built in 1421, seventy one years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue! The village also contained the oldest still-working planetarium in the world, which was built in a living room of a house. We also visited the city hall which was built in 1650 and is a very ornate building. This city is one of the best we have visited on the trip and one of the places that I would like to return to!
Friday, May 30, 2014
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Well yesterday marked the half-way point on the trip and boy has time flied! Today we are spending our final of three days in Leiden which is a much different city than any of the cities that we have stayed at or will stay at during this trip as it is quieter and more peaceful than Prague or what I expect in Amsterdam. It has been a nice way to relax and just soak everything in. One thing I have noticed is that there are a lot of bikes in the Netherlands, yesterday we ventured to Utrecht to visit an observatory and even there bikes dominated the city. It is easy to walk in Leiden, however the only danger is an oncoming bicycle with their only warning is a small ring of a bicycle bell. I have been almost run over by a couple of bicycles so far on this trip. Below I have posted pictures of myself at the observatory (I believe the first photo of me on this blog!) and pictures of the bicycle culture here in the Netherlands. Another thing that you will notice in the pictures are the canals. In nearly every city near the coast in the Netherlands canals are an important geographical feature that people built to keep the homes and villages dry. 1/3 of the Netherlands is below sea level so these canals help to funnel the water through the cities and helps them avoid the issues that water can cause to cities that lie below sea level. Tomorrow we are heading to Amsterdam, the capital and largest city in the Netherlands and quite a change from cozy Leiden which we have called home the last three days. Amsterdam is the last stop on the trip and it is hard to believe that in only a week I will be back in the United States.
Monday, May 26, 2014
This won't be a long post as I am exhausted after another long day. Today we arrived in the Netherlands after a 14 hour overnight train ride where we could barely sleep and an alarm on the train went off at 5am to make it even more difficult to sleep. After the 14hr train ride we took another train to Leiden which is a smaller town in the Netherlands that is absolutely beautiful. We were in Dresden for most of the day yesterday and it was interesting to see the difference a couple of miles and a border makes as Dresden seemed more Westernized. Much of this is due to the firebombing of Dresden in 1945 by the US as most of the buildings and most of the town has been rebuilt. The Netherlands is another country that seems more Westernized than the Czech Republic as it is very clean and has much more green space than Prague. It has also been interesting to see that the closer we go to England and the West the more fluent people speak English. In the Czech Republic very few spoke English and those weren't very fluent. However, in the Netherlands people seem to speak excellent English and at times better than I even do! It is hard to explain what that means, but the people are very proper with their English pronunciation and word usage. It is very nice knowing that people here can speak English and speak an understandable English. The Czech Republic was a great time and a great experience, so I don't want people to think that I didn't enjoy it but it is interesting to see how much we take fluent English speakers for granted in the US and how people in the group felt safer and more comfortable when they realized that people here could speak English and speak it well. I probably won't have a post tomorrow as we are at an observatory in Utrecht and won't be back to the room until midnight. I thought I would sign off of this post with some pictures of Dresden, Germany (where we were yesterday) and of Leiden.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
One thing I have noticed about the Czech Republic is that they are more obsessed with Native Americans than people in the United States. I have no pictures to show, however there was a cigar store statue of a Native American in front of an "Indian" restaurant near our Hotel. Also we saw a couple posters advertising for the 30th anniversary of Czech Woodstock which had the title "Geronimo presents" and two pictures of Native Americans. When talking to a local college student one thing that one noted was that he likes Americans but doesn't know why they come here as they should learn more about their own country. I completely agree with that part of the statement and couldn't have said it any better, however he continued by saying that they should learn about "Indians" (which I also agree with). We originally thought he meant India's Indians but he meant Native Americans which was interesting that a person from Czech knew about Native Americans and would bring them up before anything else, but I couldn't agree more with his statement. This statement made more sense after I saw the posters, however the obsession of the Czech with Native Americans baffles me. It is important to note though that some of the Cowboy and Indian authors of the early 20th Century actually were Germans, so that may have something to do with it, but even then that is still very strange.
Today we visited Terezin Concentration Camp today in Terezin. This was the site where prisoners were placed before being sent to the Extermination Camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka. The camp was associated with the town of Terezin which is a fortressed town built by the Austria-Hungarian Empire in the late 18th Century. The camp was also originally built as a fort by the Austria-Hungarian during this time period to halt Prussian advances which never happened. The camp eventually became a prison and was the site where Garvilo Princip, the assassin who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and almost single-handedly began World War I, was imprisoned and the site where he died. The Nazis used both the town and prison during the Holocaust. The town was used as the ghetto which was where many of the Jews resided and was masked to the outside as a spa town for the Jewish people. The prison was used for those who didn't obey in the town or were sent there for other reasons as well. There were a couple thousand who died at the camp, but many died of old age or disease, while a vast majority of those who stayed at Terezin eventually were killed when they arrived at their next stop. The town, which held 40,000 Jews at its peak is currently home to 2,000 residents and the Ghetto Museum. It was a very interesting day. This will probably be my last post until Monday as we are travelling by train to Dresden and then we are going to Leiden in the Netherlands after that.
Friday, May 23, 2014
It is very interesting to see how other countries adopt religious practices and how the degree of their religiosity changes over time due to a wide array of factors. Many impressive churches were built in Prague before the 19th Century, however today many are being used for concert halls than for religious functions. One example in particular is St. Nicholas Cathedral which we happened to stumble upon in our search for Prague Castle. St. Nicholas Cathedral sells tickets for 70 CZH to enter their church with a nun taking the money at the front gate. The immaculate church with multiple small altars and an impressive large altar covered in gold is a sign of how important religion was to the Czech during this time period. An interesting history of this church is that it was originally built by the Eastern Orthodox Church, but they were kicked out and the Catholics established the church for themselves. The church might have Sunday masses however when we were there more were gazing up at the gold plated angels than praying. The Czech people lost much of their religious identity during their Communist Era from 1945-89 as the Communists banned religion and that is one reason why many of the old churches today are being used as concert halls for classical performers. Another religious complex that is no longer being inhabited by religious peoples is the St. Thomas Monastery in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. The monks fled Brno during the 1950s as the Communists forced them to escape to Austria to allow for them to keep practicing their faith. The monastery today is better known for a monk who lived their during the later half of the 1850s and that is Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics. Mendel grew his pea plants in a garden inside the monastery's gates and today the Mendel Museum operates in a building that was once a classroom that he once taught in. Another impressive church in Prague that is used for a different purpose today is St. Vilnius Cathedral at Prague Castle. Today this church is a tourist attraction as the grounds it sits on claims to be the largest Castle complex in the world. The church is of the Gothic style and is much older than the St. Nicholas Cathedral and plays an important cultural role for the Czech people. Below are pictures of the St. Thomas Monastery, St. Vilnius Cathedral, and St. Nicholas Cathedral.
It has been very interesting to see how American culture has impacted life in the Czech Republic and how American culture has helped create a generational gap in the Czech Republic. We went to a mall yesterday and there were American fast food shops all over the mall with places like Burger King, McDonald's, and KFC. We also went to a toy store and it was interesting to see how many of the toys were in English and are found in stores in the US. One example is how the lego sets that they use are in English and are based on American characters such as the Simpsons and Star Wars.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Well Day 3 is in the books and as I am writing this now one of the things that stands out to me is how people get around in Europe and big cities in general compared to how we get around in rural communities like Galena. Everything seems fast-paced here, which is common in many big cities in Europe. It is also important to note that the Czech Republic drives on the same side of the street and driving from same side of car as we do in the US. However, there are a lot more trams here than I have seen in any big US city (I have a picture of one below that was taken right outside our hotel). Like big cities in the US they do have metros (subways). However, these were faster than those that I have rode in the US (in places like DC), but there are fewer cars as it seems many prefer the trams. I have a picture of the metro station 10 minutes from out hotel. It is also important to note how these trams connect people 25-30 walking minutes from the downtown area like where I am to that business and tourist area. It is much hillier here than I expected, very similar to home, so the trams are essential for people to get around. Tomorrow I have yet another mode of transportation as we are taking a train from Prague to Brno so I will include pictures of that experience in the near future. I also have included pictures of a couple places we toured today and visited briefly such as the Charles Bridge and the Astronomical Clock. Enjoy!