Tony in Switzerland: Ski Lodging

February 16, 2016

This week, I saw my first snowfall in Switzerland. I didn’t expect to be so excited to see snow, especially after my traumatizing experience traveling to and from D.C. However, the joy of seeing snow comes right back when you’re surrounded by so many people who have never seen it before. In particular, the Australian students look at the snow with childlike wonder. The excitement truly rubs off on you.

 

Here's a quick scene of my first snowfall in Lausanne. The flakes here look more defined than the ones back home.

Here’s a quick scene of my first snowfall in Lausanne. The flakes here look more defined than the ones back home.

 

The snow also means that I was able to go skiing for the first time ever, much to the surprise of my friends and ski instructor. They expected that I would have gone skiing at least once before because I live in Massachusetts. Of course, it’s not that simple, and the appeal definitely varies from family to family based on several different factors.

 

I layered sweatpants with worker's pants from a local thrift store. Just a day in the life of the thrifty skier.

I layered sweatpants with worker’s pants from a local thrift store. Just a day in the life of the thrifty skier.

 

Here in Switzerland, though, I feel like I would be remiss if I did not ski. I’m only an hour away from the Swiss Alps, after all! Fortunately for me, UNIL offers group trips to Les Diablerets, which include private ski lessons, lodging in the UNIL chalet, and dinner and breakfast.

 

I know. I know...even more mountain views. It's hard not to look at the mountains or think about the mountains or talk about the mountains when you live less than an hour away from the Alps.

I know. I know…even more mountain views. It’s hard not to look at the mountains or think about the mountains or talk about the mountains when you live less than an hour away from the Alps.

 

Skiing is weird. You tire every muscle in your body to go uphill and slide back down as you witness extremes in weather from the tip of a mountain. Somehow, it's still so much fun.

Skiing is weird. You tire every muscle in your body to go uphill and slide back down as you witness extremes in weather from the tip of a mountain. Somehow, it’s still so much fun.

 

My orientation is coming up this week, so stay tuned for even more of the city, but from  the cool perspectives of local students sharing their wisdom.

 

 

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Layla in Australia: A Day in the Life

October 15, 2015

Today I received a reminder on my phone telling me to renew my travel notification for my bank. My bank only lets you notify them that you’ll be traveling abroad for 90 days at a time, which means this notification means I’ve been in Australia for just about 3 months. Needless to say, I didn’t realize how long it’s been! I’m just over halfway through my time abroad, and in 3 more months I’ll be starting the spring semester back at Richmond. To say I’ve settled here in Australia is an understatement – I feel just as home here as I do in the United States, if not more. To use some of my Australian slang that I’ve picked up, I’m really not keen to come home… in fact, I still haven’t booked my return flight to the States. Here, I’m going to describe a typical day for me here in Sydney, and hopefully show why I love it so much.

9 AM, any given Thursday: Wake up… after hitting the snooze button on my phone about three or four times. While I was never a breakfast person in America, the lack of a meal plan and a dining hall on campus means that buying lunch is expensive. Instead, I typically eat a bowl of Weet-Bix, a classic Australian cereal, for breakfast and bring a granola bar and some fruit for lunch. After getting ready, playing around on my phone, and eating breakfast, I make the ten- to fifteen-minute walk up the road to uni.

11 AM: Macroeconomics lecture. While it’s tough to keep focused for the entire two hour lecture, the material is interesting enough to stay awake and the ten-minute break in the middle helps. The professor tends to show how what we’ve learned about in class applies to the Australian economy, so I get to learn about not only general macroeconomics but Australian policies as well.

1 PM: With lecture over, I cave to my biggest weakness: coffee. I don’t really drink coffee at home – I’ve never liked the taste. I did drink caramel macchiatos while studying for the MCAT, but mostly the appeal was the caramel sauce. The coffee was just the bitter obstacle that I drank quickly so I could indulge in caramelly goodness. However, Australia is known for its delicious coffee, and I decided that I couldn’t come here and without trying a flat white, the classic Australian coffee drink that’s like a less foamy cappuccino. Needless to say – I had one, and I was hooked. Coffee here is so good that I don’t even need sugar to make it palatable like I do in America. My guilty pleasure at uni is a flat white and a croissant from the café in the New Law Annexe.

 

A flat white from the coffee shop where I first tried Australian coffee, Campos in Newtown.

A flat white from the coffee shop where I first tried Australian coffee, Campos in Newtown.

 

 

For the first half of the semester, I had four hours of gruelling chemistry lab directly after my economics lecture. This lab, which I had multiple times a week, was the bane of my existence, endlessly frustrating me with my inexplicable failures in it. But luckily, as of a few weeks ago, the lab has ended and I can finally go to quidditch trainings! Trainings on Thursdays are 3-5 PM in Victoria Park, the park bordering the USYD campus. I’ll generally do a little study after my coffee break and then head to training, where we run drills, play scrimmages, and play netball. Netball is a sport that’s pretty popular in Commonwealth countries but almost unheard of in America. It’s similar to basketball, but one major difference is that you can’t run with the ball. Needless to say, I often forget this rule, so netball isn’t my favorite. Practice usually has about fifteen people present.

5 PM: After practice, the quidditch team heads to the pub! Generally we start at the Forest Lodge Hotel (affectionately nicknamed the “flodge”) just north of campus in the suburb of Glebe for dinner and then head to the neighboring Roxbury Hotel for trivia at 7:30. Weirdly, pubs are called hotels here… as are hotels. That was definitely confusing at first!

 

Me and a handful of quidditch mates at the Roxbury hotel. This was actually taken after my very first training at USYD. I'm in the purple jacket, and pictured clockwise are my friends: Kat, Cameron, Lachlan, Laurel, Nat, Tom, Lachlan, and Paul. Usually our table is two or three times the size!

Me and a handful of quidditch mates at the Roxbury hotel. This was actually taken after my very first training at USYD. I’m in the purple jacket, and pictured clockwise are my friends: Kat, Cameron, Lachlan, Laurel, Nat, Tom, Lachlan, and Paul. Usually our table is two or three times the size!

Since Australian universities are mostly commuter schools, the focus of social life is off-campus, typically at pubs. On-campus or house parties are almost unheard of, except for students who live in colleges (which are akin to American fraternities, and generally only for students who don’t live in the metropolitan area.) Since there are no communal dining halls, dorms, or apartments for students to socialize in after classes, pubs fulfil that role. Speaking sociologically, drinking is much more of a focus in daily life at university here than it seems to be in America, even accounting for the lowered drinking age.  ‘Mateship’ is one of the cornerstones of Australian culture, and buying drinks for your mates and having them reciprocate is one of the ways that it is expressed.

Typically, my friends and I will stay at the pub until it closes, around midnight, with some people filtering out earlier to catch public transport home. Usually then we will split up to go home, or if we’re still feeling sociable, some will come over to the apartment complex where my friend Sam and I live, Urbanest. It has a TV room on the ground floor filled with couches that is typically empty by the time we get there, and is great for late-night hangouts. Once everyone goes home, all I have to do is take the elevator up four floors and I’m home.

Hopefully this post has given you a little insight on what it’s like to be a university student in Australia. My life isn’t glamorous by any means, but it’s definitely fun. While I’m not jetting off to a new country every weekend like many study abroad students, I think that by immersing myself into Australian culture, I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for where I am studying abroad. I think for a lot of study abroad students, between all of the traveling and lack of deep connections with local students, their host country becomes interchangeable with any other place. Not to say that traveling often or being friends with other exchange students is bad, but I think that by making local friends and really getting to know Sydney on a deeper level, my study abroad experience has been infinitely richer. I can’t even fathom how much it would have lacked without my Australian friends – they have made this experience what it has been so far for me, and I will miss them terribly when I go back to America.


Dan in Argentina: The Latest in Buenos Aires

October 8, 2015
The day after the Supermoon, I saw an farcical article about how people's photos from the night before were blurry and underwhelming. While most of mine can be described equally, I think this one is pretty cool. I went to the Planetarium in Buenos Aires with a couple of my friends to see this rare moon. With live music, a big projection of the moon up close, and about 15,000 other people, we had a really amazing experience we'll be able to reminisce about in 2033.

The day after the Supermoon, I saw an farcical article about how people’s photos from the night before were blurry and underwhelming. While most of mine can be described equally, I think this one is pretty cool. I went to the Planetarium in Buenos Aires with a couple of my friends to see this rare moon. With live music, a big projection of the moon up close, and about 15,000 other people, we had a really amazing experience we’ll be able to reminisce about in 2033.

 

On top of Palacio Borolo, an office building designed and built during the early 20th century and inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy," lie some of the greatest views of Buenos Aires. From the top lighthouse, you can see the famous Eva Peron mural, the Obelisk, and the Congress building (see next photo). A 6 pm tour of the palace gets you to the top perfectly as the sun is setting over the city.

On top of Palacio Borolo, an office building designed and built during the early 20th century and inspired by Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” lie some of the greatest views of Buenos Aires. From the top lighthouse, you can see the famous Eva Peron mural, the Obelisk, and the Congress building (see next photo). A 6 pm tour of the palace gets you to the top perfectly as the sun is setting over the city.

 

While the view of the Congreso is cool from the top of Palacio Borolo, the ground view is nice too. Once, while driving past the Plaza de Congreso and admiring its beauty, my cab driver agreed that, yes, it is nice on the outside, but remarked that what happens on the inside is not always so pretty. Yikes!

While the view of the Congreso is cool from the top of Palacio Borolo, the ground view is nice too. Once, while driving past the Plaza de Congreso and admiring its beauty, my cab driver agreed that, yes, it is nice on the outside, but remarked that what happens on the inside is not always so pretty. Yikes!

 

A day trip to Colonia, Uruguay is a must for any extranjero in Buenos Aires. An hour ferry ride to the opposite shore of el Rio de la Plata brings you to the gorgeous Spanish colonial town where alley ways with river views like this are the norm. A nice lunch and an excursion to a typical, quaint, Latin American church is basically all the town has to offer, but it is a great change from the hustle and bustle of the streets of Buenos Aires.

A day trip to Colonia, Uruguay is a must for any extranjero in Buenos Aires. An hour ferry ride to the opposite shore of el Rio de la Plata brings you to the gorgeous Spanish colonial town where alley ways with river views like this are the norm. A nice lunch and an excursion to a typical, quaint, Latin American church is basically all the town has to offer, but it is a great change from the hustle and bustle of the streets of Buenos Aires.

 

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Back in Argentina, I have finally made it to a soccer game! On a brisk Saturday night, San Lorenzo hosted Rosario for an overtime game that ended in a 2-2 tie. The stadium was packed with the most dedicated fans I have ever seen…or heard. Throughout the entire 2 hours or so, the fans sang on the top of their lungs. Truly, the simple, alcohol-free stadium, even without a scoreboard, fills with Spanish rhythms and rhymes for the entirety of the game, creating a contagious energy I’ll never forget. My dad joked that it was obvious a vocal audition wasn’t required before being permitted entrance.


Jackie in Switzerland: A Weekend of Adventure

April 6, 2015

Disclaimer: No photo shopped postcard photos were used in the making of this post. They are all actually real, no matter how unbelievably perfect they appear to be.

This weekend, I embraced my inner Swiss and decided to fill my time with some outdoor activities! On Friday, I participated in an indoor rock climbing event organized by the ESN, which is the group that makes events specifically for exchange students. I have only been rock climbing a few times before, but I was excited to try again. It turns out that I am horrible at it, as in, bad enough that two 4-year old Swiss kids were mocking me because I couldn’t make it up the wall. I eventually made it up to the top of some of the walls, but I spent most of my time “chalking up” my hands and trying to act like I knew what I was doing.

This is a picture of the people who actually knew what they were doing

This is a picture of the people who actually knew what they were doing

One of the weirdest things about this event was that it included three free beers as part of the cost for participating. I am getting used to the European mindset that alcohol is not necessarily bad, and that most Europeans drink a glass of wine with friends in order to enjoy the drink, and not to get drunk. I didn’t even consider the fact that our school was sponsoring an event that served alcohol until I realized how odd this would be at Richmond. This is just one of the things that I’ve gotten used to here that will be totally different when I get back home!

After attempting to climb and falling a few times, I decided that rock climbing was not quite my thing, but I got to meet some awesome people.

Expectation

Expectation

Reality

Reality

On Saturday, I decided to try my hand at skiing and that was even MORE disasterous than climbing. I am not exaggerating when I day that I spent more time laying in the snow trying to stand up after falling than I did actually standing on my skis. My brilliant friend Amanda was an absolute pro and went down from the very top of the mountain. I did my best, but in the end I actually cheated and took the lift down the mountain (whoops). To be fair, I had to  I’m giving myself credit for at least trying, I think it would be a study abroad sin if I live in Switzerland for 4 months and don’t even try to ski!

Ceci n’est pas une carte postale. It’s real!

Ceci n’est pas une carte postale. It’s real!

My friend Amanda was an absolute pro, she made it all the way down and she hasn’t skied in years!

My friend Amanda was an absolute pro, she made it all the way down and she hasn’t skied in years!

Apart from the actual skiing, the view was absolutely incredible and I just cannot put into words how amazing it was to just be there and soak it all in. I see the mountains everyday going to school, but being on the very top was something totally different. I will definitely never forget it!

You don’t see this everyday (unless you study abroad in Switzerland! ;)

You don’t see this everyday (unless you study abroad in Switzerland! 😉

I should probably mention that I am actually terrified of heights and did not realize how absolutely frightening the ski lift would be. Really, it is just a tiny little box held up thousands of feet in the air by a little cable. Totally not scary at all. Even at the top of the mountain, I was so scared looking down and seeing how high up we were. They say that studying abroad helps you overcome your fears, and that is the truth.

Absolutely terrified in the ski lift.

Absolutely terrified in the ski lift.

This is a beautiful background, but more importantly, you cannot see the fact that I was terrified. This ledge was about 200 feet from the ground below and after some serious peer-pressuring, my friends convinced me to face my fears and climb up for the picture. It was totally worth it.

This is a beautiful background, but more importantly, you cannot see the fact that I was terrified. This ledge was about 200 feet from the ground below and after some serious peer-pressuring, my friends convinced me to face my fears and climb up for the picture. It was totally worth it.

Finally, I figured I couldn’t end my weekend of adventure with a lazy Sunday, so I decided to go hiking with the exchange group on Sunday! We took the train to Interlaken, which is a notoriously sporty region of Switzerland. The hike was great and pretty relaxing until we got to the last half hour. We were running late and had to practically run up the steepest part of our whole hike. Despite the pain in my legs, the view from the top of the mountain was worth it, once again.

After spending the whole day in the woods, I realized that I’m not so much of an outdoorsy girl, but I still had fun!

After spending the whole day in the woods, I realized that I’m not so much of an outdoorsy girl, but I still had fun!

These are the kind of things that you think people exaggerate about when they describe Switzerland’s natural beauty. I can attest: it’s really real.

These are the kind of things that you think people exaggerate about when they describe Switzerland’s natural beauty. I can attest: it’s really real.

After a long weekend of nature sight-seeing in Switzerland, I am looking forward to exploring something new for Spring Break! This week, I will be going to Nice, France and then to Venice and Milan in Italy! I have never been to Italy before, so I am really excited to see what it is like! Speaking French every day is becoming more and more comfortable for me, so I think it will be strange to find myself in a country with a foreign language. I will definitely be taking a lot of pictures and videos! Be prepared for a fan-girl freak out in my next post, I am already anticipating the pizza, pasta, gelato food coma.

Another amazing Switzerland weekend with amazing friends!

Another amazing Switzerland weekend with amazing friends!

P.s. I forgot to mention how cool it is that John Kerry and other world leaders are here in Lausanne for the Iranian Peace talks! I have actually seen heightened security in certain places in the city. I just learned that the talks are being held at EPFL, another University in Lausanne that is right next to UNIL. Even more, my apartment building is between the city and EPFL, so I see the entourage of secured vehicles pass by our building every day. It is really cool to be in a city that has so much international attention and importance right now!


Jackie in Switzerland: French, Flaubert and Fondue

February 23, 2015

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t start each post with food? This week, I had the most Swiss-centered food experience that I might have actually gained 5 pounds in a single day. After braving the snow to check out a local farmers’ market, my friends and I stopped into a well-known little café for some hot chocolate. What we got served to us was essentially a cross between a drink and pudding. I have never seen a hot chocolate so thick that you need a spoon to eat it. I have also never tasted anything so delicious.

Braving the blizzard

Braving the blizzard

Pretty even in the snow

Pretty even in the snow

The Greatest of All Time

The Greatest of All Time

Later on in the day, my apartment mate offered to make us some authentic Swiss fondue; he is from the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Honestly, I thought fondue was only melted cheese, but there is a lot more to it. In the end, it was one of the best things I’ve had here in Lausanne, who wouldn’t love bread dunked in cheese?

I ate my weight in fondue, like a real Swiss

I ate my weight in fondue, like a real Swiss

Moving away from my food obsession, let’s talk about classes. Here in Lausanne, the class system works a little bit differently. For the first four weeks, students can go try out classes without pre-registering. This way, you can see what you like, and what you don’t, before committing to anything. I think this is a really good idea, but it is STRESSFUL. My parents can attest to that- I have called them everyday in a state of minor panic. Taking classes with students who speak only French, with professors who speak perfect French, and in subjects that revolve around French literature can be very intimidating, all while trying to figure out what will transfer back to Richmond. But as of now, I am beginning to figure things out with the help of some awesome professors here!

Better start reading!

Better start reading!

Right now, I am following nine classes, which seems like a lot, but they all require less work than in a typical Richmond course. It is definitely harder to keep all of these courses in order, but the subjects are really cool. I am taking a course about the French author Flaubert, and at the end of the semester, I have to give a 45-minute presentation in French. Again, really really intimidating.

That being said, I am incredibly happy to report that I can understand French! I was getting seriously worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand a single word that my professors said. But it turns out, I can understand almost every word. The language isn’t really a struggle, even in taking classes about more technical literary and historical subjects.

Finally, at the end of a long week full of French, Flaubert, and Fondue, it was necessary to unwind a little bit with my friends! As a proud Pittsburgher, hockey has been one of the things I have missed the most Luckily, I found a bunch of hockey-crazy Canadians who feel the same way. We went to see the local Lausanne Hockey Club play one of their last games of the season and it was wild! The fans were so into it, and the atmosphere was incredible. We needed up winning 3-2 in a shootout, which was the perfect way to end a full week of class and to start another amazing weekend in Lausanne.

Me and my fellow hockey-lovers

Me and my fellow hockey-lovers

 


Jack in Czech Republic: Souvenirs

January 5, 2015

I considered writing a simple reflection on my time in Prague in my penultimate post (I will write a finale right before I return to UR), but I figured the souvenirs I returned with could do a better job illustrating my last four months. Don’t worry, I got y’all a bunch of gifts too. Without further ado:

Football Ticket — I had to save my ticket from what was the greatest sporting event I have ever witnessed. One of the best, if not the best, nights I had in Prague came 48 hours after I arrived. Four other students new to Prague and I ventured to Generali Arena in hopes of experiencing the atmosphere surrounding a European Qualifying match between the Czechs and world-class-juggernauts Holland. Unexpectedly, we stumbled into five tickets, and witnessed a truly amazing game that the Czechs miraculously pulled out. I recapped the night in more detail soon after it happened.

Pilsner Mug — Spending a semester in Europe, and Prague in particular, comes with the stigma that it is a big, endless party, which is far from true. If your study abroad experience was just one big party, you wasted a non-replicable opportunity. At the same time, experiencing different bar atmospheres and meeting a wide range of people, both locals and other foreigners, at bars around the city proved to be an informative and fun way to learn about the local culture. Pilsner Urquell is THE beer of the Czech Republic, so I brought a mug home with me as a reminder of all the amazing people I met and all the fascinating stories I heard while drinking Pilsner Urquell.

Lucerna Ticket — The other souvenir from my nightlight adventures in Prague differs greatly in its meaning from the Pilsner mug. I brought home a ticket to Lucerna’s weekly 80s and 90s party, which was the spot for Americans on Friday nights. The playlist was top notch, consisting of throwback after throwback. Lucerna served as the perfect venue for our one last going away party.

Prague Beanie — Prague’s Christmas markets, like many other cities in Europe, were fantastic. There were many small markets scattered around the city with little stands full of Christmas trinkets, food and drink, and cute winter clothes. My one tangible takeaway from the markets is a bright orange beanie that I will excessively rock next semester.

Mike Tyson Energy Drink — I bought this energy drink when my entire program traveled to Krakow for a weekend. There isn’t a whole lot of significance behind this drink – I just saw an energy drink with a huge Mike Tyson face on it, so I figured I had no choice but to buy and save one.

Thanks for the energy drink, Mike.

Thanks for the energy drink, Mike.

Berlin Collage — The lone souvenir I bought in Berlin is a collage from a small art market that an expat American made. The caption, translated from German, reads, “You can’t buy culture.” Yet that was exactly what I was doing – buying a piece of art from Berlin that is linked to a cool story and interesting artist I met. I’m looking forward to hanging this collage in my room next semester, so everyone knows how cultured I am.

Warning: These next two items might be overly sentimental.

Czechoslovakia T-shirt — My pal Kevin and I stumbled into a sweet clothing market on one of our last days in Prague. There were a bunch of shirts that stood out to me, but this one light-blue shirt of a van with the caption “Made in Czechoslovakia” jumped out. I thought the shirt was cool, so I bought it – pretty simple equation, I know – but I began to appreciate it more in the coming days. “Made in Czechoslovakia” began to have more of a meaning for me. Sure, Czechoslovakia no longer exists and I wasn’t exactly “made” in Prague, but still, it fascinated me. Prague, in a way, shaped me. Any place where you spend a great deal of time will shape you in one way or another, and I can actually notice vast differences in my personality, views, and goals compared to who I was and what I believed in last August. I may not have been made in Czechoslovakia, but I was shaped in the Czech Republic.

Tattoo — My favorite souvenir, and the one that will stick with me for the rest of my life, whether I like it or not, is the tattoo I got in the final few weeks of my stay. I had a globe sketched into my right bicep along with the caption “Svét je náš”, which means, “The World is Yours” in Czech. The cheesiness here is obvious, but this quote, which comes from a movie I’ve never seen and a song that I like but don’t love, inspires me. My father has always preached to me that the world is much smaller now than it was a generation ago, but that never really struck me until I actually got to experience a new part of the world. And I don’t want to stop now. I love my friends, and I love my family, but I like Prague, and Europe in general, more than I like the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic of the United States. My time in Prague was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – how many times do you get to spend a few months in a foreign city with unlimited freedom and limited responsibility – but now I want to explore somewhere else. Grad school in Europe? Why not. The world is yours.

Is it obvious I don’t work out?

Is it obvious I don’t work out?

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

I struggled to find time to write a blog post in my final days in Europe, but I managed to find time when I really did not want to. On Dec. 24, the day I moved out of my apartment, I thought I’d be creative and send my suitcases down two floors in the elevator. I’ve used this shortcut before to make my life marginally easier, and I expected similar results. Instead, my bags fell on the elevator door, preventing it from opening. Two hours of waiting, $125, and increased loss of sanity later and the elevator door magically opened thanks to a repairman gracious enough to accept my cash on Christmas Eve. This is when I knew I was ready to come home.

I struggled to find time to write a blog post in my final days in Europe, but I managed to find time when I really did not want to. On Dec. 24, the day I moved out of my apartment, I thought I’d be creative and send my suitcases down two floors in the elevator. I’ve used this shortcut before to make my life marginally easier, and I expected similar results. Instead, my bags fell on the elevator door, preventing it from opening. Two hours of waiting, $125, and increased loss of sanity later and the elevator door magically opened thanks to a repairman gracious enough to accept my cash on Christmas Eve. This is when I knew I was ready to come home.


Jack in Czech Republic: Czech Football

December 1, 2014

I knew I would see some European football while studying abroad. Now, I haven’t seen any of the big-name club teams, such as Barcelona and Munich, and I won’t make it to London to catch an EPL game (sorry, Ed). I have, however, seen four Czech games – two Euro 2016 qualifiers, one league game, and one Europa game – at three different stadiums and in two different Czech cities. A quick recap of the matches:

2 Czech Republic – 1 Netherlands: 9 Sep 2014, Generali Arena, Prague

This was far and away the greatest sporting event I have been too. I knew then and there that my study abroad experienced peaked the second night.

2 Czech Republic – 1 Iceland: 16 Nov 2014, Doosan Arena, Plzen

The game itself was exciting, but the adventure of actually attending the game was even more thrilling. Doug and I bought a one-way train ticket to Plzen five hours before kickoff without tickets and a plan of how to get home. Luckily, we met a Czech fan on the train, and he helped us buy tickets. Similar to the Dutch game, the Czechs won because of another hilarious defensive error from their opponents. Everything worked out too perfectly.

1 Slavia Praha – 1 Hradec Kralove: 23 Nov 2014, Eden Arena, Prague

I had an open Sunday night last weekend, so I ventured to Slavia’s beautiful and relatively new stadium to watch a Czech league tilt. The stadium was far from full, but the Slavia fans, who all sat together behind a goal, were out of control. Because of their constant singing, dancing and screaming, they made a half-empty stadium feel full. While some fans celebrate goals by cheering, clapping, and high-fiving friends, Salvia and Kralove fans chose to light flares instead. So that was something.

0 Sparta Praha – 0 SSC Napoli (Italy): 27 Nov 2014 Generali Arena, Prague

Napoli, currently third in the Serie A and sporting world-class stars, such as Higuaín and Hamšík, is the best club team that visited Prague this fall. My friends and I had great seats; close but not too close to the rowdy Sparta fans. The Sparta fans were the best fans I witnessed, but, as I will soon mention, had some serious flaws. The game, however, was dull. Some scoreless games can still be exciting, but this was not one of them. The freezing-cold weather didn’t help either.

***

I have heard, read and watched many different things about European football, so I had certain expectations on the culture surrounding football when I arrived in Prague. Four games later, I am now able to assess my expectations:

Expectation: Czech fans would be rowdy, yet tolerant

Result: Not exactly

I almost wrote a post only on this — and still might – because of how shocked I was at the Sparta fans’ racism. I had a hard time cheering for Sparta after what happened to some of my friends at the game. A group of us wanted to get to the stadium early, so we arrived before a second group. At halftime, our other friends had still not shown up. Maybe their Thanksgiving dinner went late? Nope. They were forced to sit in other seats, because this section was too dangerous for Indians and Eastern Asians, they were told by stadium security. How bad could it be, I thought. After I heard that fans had already spat on and thrown cigarettes at my friends, we were all disgusted. What a disgrace.

Expectation: The fans would create an incredible atmosphere

Result: Duh

A crazy crowd for European soccer games? No kidding. But seeing the craziness in person is totally different than watching YouTube videos. What makes football fandom so unique is the unparalleled tension that football creates. Fans spend the whole game singing, cheering, clapping, but most importantly waiting; waiting for that one moment that can totally turn a game on its head.

Expectation: National games would have a wilder atmosphere though

Result: False

What I didn’t expect, however, is how much more intense club fandom is compared to national team fandom. That is the case in the Czech Republic, at least. While national team fans are certainly into the games, the club games have a much more raucous energy. Oh, and then there are flares, which, I’m sorry, are both dangerous and cool. Both club games featured multiple flares in the crowd.

Expectation: All Czech stadiums would be old and beat up

Result: Some are, but not all

I imagined Czech stadiums would be these small, beat stadiums, and two – Generali and Hoosen – met my expectations. They were both tight, and on top of the fields, creating an intimate atmosphere. I assumed all Czech stadiums would fit this mold. Slavia’s Eden Arena, however, is both gorgeous and modern. I can’t imagine it being too different than a new MLS stadium. In fact, it was almost too nice, for me at least. For some reason, I just love the atmosphere that older stadiums produce.

Expectation: Czechs love their football

Result: Not quite

Ok, so of course the Czech Republic isn’t like Brazil where everyone bleeds football. Still I’ve been disappointed with the overall lack of fandom. When I go out to watch either European qualifiers or Champions League fixtures, I always end up at an Irish pub. Don’t get me wrong, these Irish bars are quite fun, but I didn’t realize there would be practically no Czech options. The most disheartening games have been the two away qualifiers that the Czech national team has played since I have been here. Both times a few friends and I tried to find a good place to watch with Czech fans, but have been disappointed each time. I’m probably just naïve, but I’ve asked around and found nothing.

 

Expectation: Scalping tickets would be manageable

Result: Spot on

Scalping tickets has a certain thrill aspect regardless of what game you are buying tickets for. Buying tickets from people who speak little or no English is a different ball game, however. I anticipated it would be tricky but doable before coming to Prague, and both times my friends and I had little difficulty getting tickets when we needed to.

Expectation: The Czech National Team would be all right, but nothing too special

Result: I was wrong, but there’s no way I’m alone

My friends and I must be good luck charms, because the Czech national team has been on fire sense we have been here. The Czechs have surprised many, including their fans, I’m sure, and lead their table through four games of qualification. I’m expecting someone from the Czech Football Association to give me a call, asking me to stay here longer.

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

Trying on some traditional Vietnamese garb in Prague. Wait what? I'll elaborate on this in my next post.

Trying on some traditional Vietnamese garb in Prague. Wait what? I’ll elaborate on this in my next post.


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