Innovative Learning Week appeared to be some ruse disguise for taking a week off of university to go home or go on holiday. I was lucky enough to take advantage of the second and, along with nearly forty other students from the Edinburgh University History Society, flew to Prague for six days of exploration and (mainly historical and partly food orientated) learning.
Our trip gave us the opportunity for three full days of adventure in the city centre of Prague. It’s a fairly small central area and with our hostel well positioned on the edge of the central attractions, we were well placed to walk out the door and immerse ourselves immediately into the Old Town. It took us five minutes of walking to find a Trdelnik stand – this supposedly traditional Czech delicacy is made by rolling dough around a stick, grilling it on a rotating spit over hot coals, dousing it in sugar and cinnamon and then coating the hollow inside in a variety of sauces such as apple, caramel or the most popular, Nutella. Our tour guide later told us that this pastry treat is actually from Hungary- not the Czech Republic at all- but this didn’t lessen our enjoyment or enthusiasm for eating them.
Food was an integral element of this trip for me. The Czech Republic as a whole is very cheap with 34 Czech Koruna equalling one British pound. With hefty portions of food and commonly two to three courses costing us only 200 CK, we ate like Queens for the whole week. Breakfast at the hotel was a feast of pasta (yes, pasta), bread, hotdogs (yes, I know, hotdogs, insanity), cheese, ham, yoghurt, cereal and a toastie machine if a simple ham and cheese sandwich just wasn’t enough. With enough carbs to sink a small ship, breakfast everyday was no real hardship on our part.
By lunchtime, we were still partly fuelled by breakfast, but with a morning of frantic sightseeing behind us, I’m never going to say no to a slice of cake and a cup of tea. The near religiously sacramental process of taking tea and cake is very important in Prague, just as it is well appreciated by me at home in everyday life. Their version of black tea is their generally homemade mix of lemon and ginger. Often served with a small pot of honey and a fresh slice of lemon, this beverage was the perfect hot refreshment and perfectly complimented the array of cakes on offer. The Municipal House, a beautiful art nouveau building in central Prague brings round a loaded trolley of cakes for you to choose from and my layered chocolate and vanilla sponge with cream, icing and a layer of summer fruit and raspberry jelly was absolutely delicious. Another popular cake is their honey cake (or medovnik) which is layered honey sponge with a rich caramel cream and crumbled walnuts. It was hard to say no.
We would have our main dinner late afternoon and the most common dishes offered meat, potato and often some element of melted cheese. On one day trip to the Medieval town of Cesky Krumlov, we dined at Krcma V Satlavske, where meat is cooked on an open fire in front of you in a cosy caverned room with a medieval theme. This and our last meal in Prague, in which we had our own personal accordion player, were definite culinary highlights.
The trip was well balanced between group activities and free time to do as you please. Our guided tour on the second morning provided us with the historical background to the city we so desperately craved as history students and took us from our hostel, through the old town, across the Charles Bridge and down onto Kampa Island. Here we were left to explore, coming across the John Lennon wall, a constantly evolving wall of rainbow graffiti to remember the man himself and the infamous Beatles. We had two-day tickets to Prague Castle- a complex maze of palaces and churches sitting atop the hill giving beautiful views across Prague. We also climbed the nearby Petrin Lookout Tower at dusk, which gave us even better views, made more magical as the sun had begun to set. Another highlight within the city centre would be the libraries. Our tour guide recommended seeing the inside of the public library, where there is a cylindrical sculpture made from books. Look inside and cleverly positioned mirrors give the impression that you are about to fall into a never ending void of reading material. Across the way, you can pay very little to visit the Klementium library complex. You can see both the old Baroque Library Hall, housing 20,000 works from the early 17th century onwards and climb the Astronomical Tower giving 360 degree views amongst the very heart of Prague’s Old Town.
Our day trips to Cesky Krumlov and Karolvy Vary added variation to our otherwise entitled ‘city break’ and showed us the countryside closer to the borders to both Austria and Germany respectively. In Cesky Krumlov, we explored the castle, failed to spot any bears wandering round in the castle moat (though there was an actual enclosure), found an intriguing monastery exhibition which we failed to understand as the information was all in Czech (still no idea as to why there was a giant three headed dog sculpture) and played pooh-sticks (I won, of course.)
Karlovy Vary is a spa town and therefore attracts a generally wealthier cohort to us students. Surrounded by Prada and Versace, we wondered the beautiful streets aimlessly for a while, surrounded by pastel shaded buildings with ornate frontages. After tea and cake (did I mention, we ate a lot?) in a beautiful café named Elefant, we got together a game plan, made our way to the funicular and took ourselves up the hill. It had already been snowing at the bottom, so at the top there was a full on blizzard and we felt much more at home frolicking about in the snow. The Diana Tower we climbed at the top gave us insane views down over the town and around the surrounding countryside- all blanketed in snow. We even found a mini farm with two ponies, three goats, two micro pigs and a white peafowl named Frosty and made a snowman. On the way back down, we found a statue of Karl Marx. It was a varied day, to say the least.
Thank you to the History Society, in particular Brittany Serafin, for organising such an amazing trip. It was the perfect way to spend the week immersing ourselves in a new culture and more importantly, we were also very innovatively learning at the same time.
[Image: Ellie Parker]