I’m finally back on track! Now that I’m past the halfway point of my exchange, it’s sort of crazy to look back on my past posts and see everything that has happened and all the things I’ve been fortunate enough to do. Even though it’s been only five months, it feels as though I’ve been able to live a lifetime through the opportunities I’ve had.
This post (in case you couldn’t tell by the title) will focus mainly on two of my favourite events on my exchange so far- our Rotary weekend trip to Poprad and the High Tatras in January, and my most recent solo trip to Prague.
Before I get into that though, I’ll go over a couple other cool experiences I had before and in between these two packed weekends.
Skating in Zvolen. Me and the other exchange students have taken advantage of the open skating rink in BB many times before, but on this occasion we travelled to nearby Zvolen for outdoor skating in the evening. I know I’m living here, but for some reason skating in front of a church in an old square felt like an especially “European” moment on exchange.
Hiking up Urpín. The small mountain of Urpín (510 m) looms over Banská Bystrica and the Hron river despite its unimposing height. Even still, it’s a really important symbol of Banská Bystrica and, unsurprisingly, is the inspiration behind one of Slovakia’s most famous beers/breweries, Urpíner. Throughout Banská’s history it has remained important, and now is home to a cute calvary church on the top, stations of the cross winding along its trails, and one of the best views of Banska. Considering it’s only a 20 minute hike I was pretty surprised I hadn’t ever been up yet. Nonetheless, it was as nice as I could’ve expected.
Skiing on Tále and in Poland! After a long stretch of skiing solely on Chopok with my host family, later in January we decided to head to an easier hill (Tále) in order to teach Gabi how to ski ahead of our Rotary ski week in March. For it being her first time skiing (and my first time teaching how to ski) she did really well! We went a couple more times that week, before heading for one night into Poland, where there’s a really popular place to go night skiing. It was really cool to ski with only the glow of lamps to light the way, and even though it did get quite chilly (even for me) it was fun to go out for the night and have that experience.
Now for the first of the big two- Poprad! This was our fourth official meeting with Rotary for the exchange students in Slovakia, and probably my favourite so far. Whereas our Bratislava/Vienna meeting comprised of lots of sightseeing (don’t get me wrong, I still absolutely loved it), our Poprad meeting allowed for a lot more time just to hang out with the other exchange students. Since, for many of us, it was approaching our 5 month marks in Slovakia, it was nice to be able to spend the time in such a beautiful place with our closest friends.
The first day of the weekend we arrived in the afternoon, and much of the remaining time in the day was largely set aside for formalities- the opening of the weekend, picking and preparing songs for us to sing at our Rotary district conference in May, and writing/undergoing our last language tests of exchange. The tests were definitely a large step up from our previous ones at the Vienna meeting, but I felt I had done enough preparation over the Christmas break so that I felt pretty good about how I did. We had an early night to rest up before Saturday, which undoubtedly was the busiest.
Early in the morning, we took a mountain train from Poprad to Štrbské Pleso, the famous mountain lake I mentioned in one of my previous posts. This was our starting point for a day-long hike through the high Tatras. We really struck out with the weather, as it was sunny all day and only around 0-1°. Once we started walking I heated up quite a bit, and actually ended up taking off my coat and ski pants and walking with just with my tshirt and sweatpants. This led to plenty of Canadian jokes, as you may have expected.
We had plenty of fun on the hike, visiting with eachother, admiring the views of the Tatras, and at one point– as is to be expected– having a snowball fight.
Halfway through the hike, we stopped at a cute chalet to take pictures with our flags and grab a snack, before heading out on the second half of the hike. As I said before, it was a really nice day, but that also came with an unexpected hazard– ice. In the second part of the hike specifically, the trails were glazed with rink-like sheets of ice. People were dropping like flies all over the place, and luckily I had my phone out to capture pictures of some of the best tumbles (dont worry, no one was hurt). Even myself- a long time curler back home- went down twice pretty hard. It made for a very treacherous, but very exciting hike. As you can see from the pictures, poor Gabi went down the most, and I think the tally we were all keeping was close to, or slightly above 10 by the end of the day.
After the hike we arrived in another mountain village- Popradské Pleso, where we had a much needed lunch. Then, we headed out for a highlight of the weekend- sledding! We walked over one hour up a hill, dragging along sleds. By the end everyone was so tired that we were unsure if it would even be worth it. It was. I don’t have any substantial videos on my phone I can upload to my blog, but I got an absolutely amazing GoPro video of the whole thing, which includes a lot of screaming, and 3 sled wipeouts captured on camera. I was not expecting it to be as intense, or fun, as it ended up being!! One funny thing is they actually had to have speed limit signs of 20km/hr on the sledding hill (I doubt we were able to keep it below 30, we were tearing along the hill). We ended the night bumped and bruised, and thoroughly tuckered out, but it was a really awesome time. And boy did we ever sleep well.
And now, the weekend I know my sisters have been dying waiting to hear about- Prague!!
Friday January 31st I embarked out from Banská completely by myself. Since it’s after Christmas we exchange students are officially allowed to travel alone with permission from the district, so this was my first time utilizing this privilege.
Since Prague is almost completely across the district from Banská, I made the trip in two legs. The first night (Friday), I stayed in Bratislava with Leo, the other Canadian, and we had a movie night with the other Bratislava students. Then the next morning, I was up at 4 am to head to the train station! The trip was fairly uneventful, but I spent the time marvelling at the landscape shifting as I entered Czech Republic. Though the western side of Slovakia isn’t in the mountains like Banská, you could really tell the difference once we entered the Moravian hills of Czechia. The land gets a lot smoother, and dotted all over the hills you can see vineyards. I’ll have to come back later in the spring, because I’m sure it’d be even more beautiful when they’re actually growing!
Now- I have a lot to talk about from Prague, so rather than go chronologically, I’m going to divide it up into major sections that I think will make sense.
The Sections will be (with a little Czech/Slovak terminology thrown in for fun 😉 :
-Praha Nové Město (New city)
-Praha Staré Město (Old City
-Prahský Hrad a Zvony (Prague Castle and the Bells)
-Český Vtipy (Czech Jokes/humour)
-Ostatní (any others/extra things)
Before I get into the juicy stuff though, I will mention first and put here thanks to my good friend (and exchange student) Malachy and his host family for taking me in for the weekend for this trip of a lifetime. I felt extremely lucky to have had someone just as obsessed with history/sightseeing as I am to tour me all around Prague for 3 days– without any charge! This also meant that not only did I see and learn very thoroughly about all the main tourist attractions, but also got to see some pretty spectacular places that only locals (or temporary locals, such as himself) know of.
Now let’s get down to business- Nové Město!
The new city is centered around Wenceslas square, the busiest pedestrian area in all of Czech Republic, and named after the patron saint of the Bohemia region of Czech Republic. Other than the main square and surrounding area being gorgeous in its own right, a few standout buildings here were the state opera house, a massive synagogue, and the national museum (behind the statue of Wenceslas on the horse). Also, this area featured a couple examples of ‘cubist’ architecture, which Prague is apparently very famous for. Here we also saw one of my favourite non-famous buildings, which reminded me of some sort of Gothic villa an old millionaire would inhabit.
It’s worth noting here that we also struck out big time with the weather for the weekend, especially on Friday. For most of the day it was 15 degrees and sunny. Yes, you read that right, 15 degrees and sunny. In February. Mind. Blown. We did get some rain in the evenings, but even on Sunday and Monday the days were still between 5-10 degrees, so you’ll hear no complaints from me.
More from Graydon:
An inbound exchange student to District 2240 – Slovakia! Born and raised in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada 🇨🇦. Cat lover, movie lover, and adventurer.