March 11, 2006
I have not made peace with that
Mike Lawlor ’06 (susodicho Una Muno) — Friday was a day overcast by a somber, pensive, and melancholy tone. This mood was because all of us realized we only had one more night with our beautiful new friends, beautiful city, and beautiful country. It was such a wonderful trip that we wanted to take advantage of the little time we had left. Moreover, we heard the tragic news about our friend Han Jiang at lunchtime. Dr. Turner let us know about the unfortunate accident because we all new and were friends with Han. Wabash lost a great student, friend, and man. He will undoubtedly be missed by all who knew him.
On a lighter note, Dr. Phillips led an excursion to a nice little café for lunch. We had a relaxing meal, and then it was on to our last little bit of shopping and exploring. I know that Good Times and I took full advantage of this time. I even managed to remember to find the Kubista, which is the first cubist style building in the Czech Republic and one of the first in all of Europe. It is not much to look at, but I thought it was very intriguing merely because the majority of the other buildings in Prague are very ornately garnished, so it was a refreshing change.
The true focus of the day did not come until 7:30. We had made plans to attend the symphony as a group. It was a marvelous experience. The music was very upbeat and uplifting which was much appreciated at this point in time. However, the best aspect of the symphony was the concert hall itself. It reminded me of older style cathedrals with the paintings on the ceiling, elaborate decorations with gold, and one of the most beautiful backdrops I have ever seen. This was mixed about the numerous columns throughout the balconies. All in all, it was a stunning building that could not help but keep my attention, which is quite a feat.
After the performance, we had the longest clap in the history of the arts. It must have been over ten minutes in length. The conductor went away and came out about 10 times. He was quite a showman, but it turned out to be pretty frustrating because we were hoping for an encore. Needless to say, we did not get one, but it was still a wonderful time.
Later, the group decided to give clubbing one last shot. However, this time was a unique experience because our guide was Jitka, our waitress. She took us to a fantastic club near the river. In short, Friday was an excellent way to end our stay in a exciting, fun, and beautiful country.
March 10, 2006
Tax-Free Crystal, Haircuts, and McDonald's
Kevin Shaw ‘06, Thursday — Prague has seduced me. She is beautiful and full of many curvaceous streets. Thursday provided a break from the grind of math research for some of us, myself included. My project advisor could not meet with me and I took the opportunity to explore the city with Cory and Hunter.
Exploring equated to shopping for me and I found perhaps the best crystal shop in Prague. It is a factory outlet and the store proprietor, named Anna, spoke only French and Czech with a little English. Speaking French ended up coming in very handy for our transaction. The store sold hand-made glass blown crystal for less than I saw machine produced crystal anywhere else during the week.
The owner was Slovakian and has lived in Prague for the past five years. Before this she was a middle school teacher for 22 years. She gave us a 10% discount on all of our purchases since we were students and she actually explained how to claim tax-free purchases in Prague. In Prague, if you spend more than 2000 crowns on a given purchase you are entitled to a 19% refund at the airport if you request the tax-free form when the purchase is made. This refund will amount to about $30 for the combined purchases of Cory, Hunter and myself. I recall this event to demonstrate how helpful and nice several of the people have been here in Prague.
I have interviews scheduled for Monday and Tuesday after we return to Wabash and I decided that I could use a haircut since I was rather shaggy. Getting a haircut in a foreign country may seem like a strange choice but I would highly recommend having it done if you ever travel to Prague. None of the haircutters in the salon spoke English which made describing what I wanted a little difficult. At one point I was pretty sure I was going to end up with a serious mushroom cut but was happily surprised with the end result. They do not use guards with the electric clippers when they cut a man’s hair but rather slide the buzzer along with an angled comb. I think this approach ends up making the cut look much sharper.
Well, it is time to begin the last day of research here in Prague. I will be sad to leave this city and certainly hope to come back again.
Nazdravi from Prague.
Top: The Charles University Department of Algebra where Wabash math majors are researching with on-site mathematicians.
Middle: Colin McClellend takes a break from sight-seeing.
Bottom: When in Prague... Kevin Shaw gets a haircut and eats McDonald's!
March 09, 2006
Beautiful Women, Alter Egos, and David Letterman
Chris Jackson (the real Jack Bauer), Wednesday — The daily grind continued on Wednesday. 8:30 came way too early as Tuesday night was the group’s biggest party night yet. Being second nature to ten Wabash men, the lack of sleep barely fazed the group as we made our way through the subway and up the escalator to heaven (see photographs) to another day at the university. The afternoon consisted of picture taking in the city center, naps, dinner and a trip to see "Don Giovanni" at the Stavovste Divaldo – “Estates Theatre” (the opera house where Mozart originally debuted the play).
So far I have made several observations about the group and about Prague that I would like to share. I will lump them into two categories: Bad and good. The first bad thing, and I think the worst, is that it is very difficult to travel and immerse in a culture in a large group. A large motley crew of Americans is very imposing to a young Czech waitress or smaller groups of individuals. We are generally louder than Europeans and we are quicker to pull the trigger on a feisty debate in a public place. This doesn’t necessarily draw positive attention to the group. Some other “bad” things about the Czech Republic are that it costs money to use public bathrooms (roughly the equivalent of a quarter); Czech businesses do not believe in ice cubes; and the beer is cheaper than the water. These things make you realize how good we have it in America.
Now I move onto the good things. First, the beer is cheaper than water. This is bad only if you want to hydrate yourself; otherwise ten Wabash men are going to take full advantage of this. Czech women are absolutely stunning. I know we have quite a few beautiful women in America, but “they are everywhere, they grow them here,” according to Una Muno ’06 (just bear with us on the alter egos). (That's my new girlfriend on the right.)
Another thing I find fascinating is that people bring their dogs everywhere. Furthermore, these dogs don’t bark, bite, or misbehave – they just lay at the feet of their master waiting for the next instruction. Finally, it is a very, very good thing that absinthe doesn’t make you see green fairies.It does however create extremely vivid dreams, such as: Meeting David Letterman in Kroger in Crawfordsville and becoming best friends with him; and pulling up carpet in your own house, only to find a river where you start fishing in it.
As shown, the good definitely outweighs the bad on this trip. As we pass the midway point in our journey, we realize how important this trip is not only to get our math work done, but also to learn more about each other, the Czech Republic, and the world. I leave you now with a picturesque, heavy snow falling over the city. The group continues the daily grind on this Thursday morning, eager to find even more great things about this outstanding city and its people.
March 08, 2006
Math is Good, Beer is Great
Thomas Rice, Day Four — So we have been in Prague now for four days and there is one thing that stands out to me as being odd, but not necessarily a bad thing. Beer is the cheapest thing to drink with meals here. And believe me, this is no Keystone Light that we’ve been drinking!
Each place that you go to will have one beer on tap, so there is not exactly a decision as to what beer you will be drinking, unless you pick the places you eat based on what beers you like, which we have done on more than one occasion.
Staropramen is by far the best beer here, and we are lucky that our hotel serves it. We can get a large glass of beer for only a dollar, whereas ordering water or pop will cost much more.
As far as our work goes, we continue our work at the university yesterday. Talking about math research is not the most exciting thing to talk about, so I’ll move on to our lunch. We ate at Alberto’s Pizzeria and it was great. We each got our own pizza and some of us got a glass of beer, and it only cost us $5 for the whole meal. The food here has been amazing, and our meals yesterday have continued that trend.
One of the more interesting aspects of our day yesterday was coming up with aliases and background stories for our names. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will mention that we did have a Chuck Norris and a Jack Bauer.
We finished the night by going to the Discotec, where a good time was had by all. This trip has been a great experience, and it’s hard to believe that we only three days left here.Prague is a great city and I would love to come back and encourage everyone to come here and see the town.
(By the way, that's me on the left in the photo below. Jack Bauer is my name...)
March 07, 2006
Crepes, Cobblestones, and Strange Toilets
Hunter Fields ‘06, Day 2 — Monday started off as any other day, crepes for breakfast and a nice glass of wine for lunch. This morning we met our tutors at Charles University.
The University doesn't look like I expected it to look. Picture yourself taking the metro from the Northern side of Prague to a few blocks outside of the downtown. Then, see yourself walking down a street littered with pubs, pizzerias, and Bohemian crystal shops. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, there is a grayish building, perhaps limestone. My expectation was a few enormous buildings in the middle of a park. This was not the case, but I learned quickly not to judge a book by its cover once I met the people inside the building. My tutor’s name is Houza. He's a very nice man — I expect he would be a great Wabash man.
Our first day was short, but there are many things to do in Prague to occupy some time. We visited Hradcany Castle, which had too many stairs for a larger man’s liking. However, we did make it up the hill to see some of the best architecture I’ve ever seen.
From there we made our way down to St. Charles Bridge where the most spectacular views of the River Vlatava can be seen. The most intricate details of the city are the cobblestone roads and walkways. To see these beautiful streets and walkways makes you really appreciate the hard work that went in to creating this city.
For most Americans there is some sort of obstacle to overcome. For me, the toilet technology was a problem. After a long trip across the Atlantic I found myself needing to conduct some business of a private matter. So I went to the nearest “office” and conducted the business meeting. However, what perplexed me was the operation of the toilet. There isn’t a traditional flush handle, so there I was in the middle of one of the biggest business meetings of my life and I couldn’t close the deal. Fortunately, I found the appropriate procedure for closing the deal which consisted simply pulling a knob in vertical fashion. This was a small detail that Professor Phillips forgot to mention in our pre-Prague meetings. (I feel this should be classified as “need to know” and the future math majors should thank me for sharing the information.)
Until tomorrow, the trip continues…
Top — Professor J.D. Phillips (with camera) and senior Jake Koeneman take a view of the city.
Bottom — Prague's architecture is breathtaking.
March 06, 2006
Day of Sightseeing, Bird Watching
Colin McClelland, ‘06, Day 1 - After conquering the jet-lag that plagued us the previous day, we set off Sunday morning to explore. A simple walk through the park quickly turned into a birding adventure searching for the almost mythical snow parakeet and rainbow-crested nuthatch. Being unable to locate these excellent specimens, we moved onward to the city proper.
Our lunch was a story to speak of, consisting of (probably) the only Lebanese restaurant in the Czech Republic. The groups favorites included kibbi, tabouli, homus, and as Will Certain described them, “little cheeseburgers.”
We found our way to the Prague castle Hrad, where we had excellent photo opportunities, and also discovered that wine bars in this part of Europe are top-notch.† Kevin Shaw found out the hard way that exchanging money on the streets can be a shady task.† At the same time, we all learned a valuable lesson in economics: Hungarian dollars, although similar in appearance to Czech korunas, are absolutely worthless. We did our part in keeping up foreign relations at a dorm party in the local agricultural university, and look forward to meeting the students and faculty of the mathematics university tomorrow.
The Longest Day of My Life
Cory Shafer '06, Day 1 - The trip started out very interesting to say the least. At the Indianapolis airport we got the opportunity to meet Tony Dungy, the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. He was gracious enough to take pictures with some of us.
The flight to Detroit was my first experience on a plane. I was pretty nervous, but the ride was an enjoyable one. At Detroit we had our next run-in with a celebrity, Stevie Wonder. We then flew to Amsterdam, which was a really long flight, but I am sure that most of the guys chose to watch movies instead of sleep. From Amsterdam we flew to Prague where our cab driver proceeded to take us to our pension house. From here we plan to have lunch and then go tour the city.
A Missed flight
Jake Koeneman '06 - That’s right, I missed the flight. After a week filled with interviews and complicated situations, I thought I was in the clear. I had been saying all week that I would know that all was well when I was on the plane departing from Detroit. I almost made it too, but I was 20 minutes late.
The plan was that I was flying from Chicago to Detroit and meeting the group for the rest of the trip. Well, my flight was delayed 45 minutes in Chicago which put me behind. When I got to Detroit, I learned that the United Airlines terminal and the Northwest Airlines terminal are not connected and you have to take a shuttle between the two. All of these factors combined, I arrived at the Northwest International Check-in desk, 40 minutes before the flight was to depart. I thought I still had time, but I didn’t.
They did not let me on the original flight and then informed me that there were no more flights leaving Detroit and ending in Prague until the next day. It was only after calling the travel agency, and playing the middle man between the travel agent and the check-in agent, that I got a flight from Detroit to Amsterdam and then to Prague. The only kicker was a five-hour layover in the Amsterdam airport.
To keep the story short, I made all of the flights and got to Prague. The next struggle was to make sure that I got a cab that knew where we were staying. But, that proved to be the easiest part of the trip.† As soon as I walked through the door, a cabbie asked me if I needed a cab. He brought me straight to the hotel (and provided some amazing driving moves on the way).
I got to the Pension about 5 and the rest of the group got back from touring about 9. All told, my first day was an outstanding success.
Charles Bridge Fascinates
Will Certain '07, Day 1 - I have been looking forward to visiting Prague all semester because I have heard of the rich religious history of the city. I am a religion minor and I have studied Prague in Religion 171-172.
The best part of my day was sight-seeing the beautiful churches, the Jewish quarter, and the Charles Bridge. The Charles Bridge is fascinating. There are several religious sculptures lining each side of the bridge built centuries ago. The sculptures have been restored so the structures that stand now are not the originals, yet they are still a great sight. My favorite sculpture is of Jesus Christ on the cross in the center of the bridge. I will have to go back during the day because we went at night and I was unable to capture great pictures.
This is the first time I have been overseas. Prague is a beautiful city with plenty of things to do and see. The city center is full of interesting shops and great history. One thing from Prague that is very similar to Mexico is the driving. Drivers will not stop for pedestrians and do not stop at stop signs. All in all, my first day in Prague was a great time and I look forward to spending more time in the city and especially seeing more religious sites.