Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spring Break Travels: Russia and Czech Republic

For spring break, I jumped on a great flight deal from DC to Moscow and decided to visit my dear friend Amy who works for the State Department in Moscow.  I also went to Prague, Czech Republic for a few days during the week.  This was the furthest east I had been in Europe and it was an eye-opening trip.  It was my first time leaving the United States in almost two years (since I returned from the Peace Corps in April 2011!)  It felt liberating to travel again, especially to an area that was so unknown to me.

Russia was cold (15-20F some days and windy) and appropriately very "Soviet" feeling; there were no tourists besides me.  Without my friend, it would have been very difficult to get around on my own.  I couldn't read the Russian alphabet, so it was hard to even sound-out words that I saw written.  We did a whirlwind tour of Moscow and saw all the main sights in just a few days: the Kremlin and its Armory full of Russian treasures and jewels, St. Basil's Cathedral and Red Square, Cafe Pushkin, a concert, hockey game, the Bolshoi Theater (we went to the ballet), and the Soviet version of "Epcot" - an exposition center that was built in the 1940s.  The exposition center is known as the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements and is an impressive monument to Soviet past.  There are various pavilions built in the Exhibition to showcase each of the Soviet republics (Belarus, Armenia, etc.) 

US Diplomats vs Russian Diplomats hockey game we attended.  Guess who won?? :)
At the Soviet Exhibition Center - each golden statue at the fountain represents a Soviet republic
Ballet at the Bolshoi Theater
This Russian babushka was sitting outside the metro playing music for coins.  It was International Women's Day (March 8) and someone must have given her the tulips in her bag to recognize it.  All the women had flowers
Walking around Moscow
Inside Russian Orthodox Cathedral at the Kremlin
Me in Red Square
St. Basil's Cathedral 
Prague was quite different from Moscow - I took a three hour flight to Czech Republic to see a friend from undergrad.  It was much warmer to begin with, most people spoke English, and there were many tourists.  It felt much more like Western Europe.  People call Prague "the poor man's Moscow" since it is a popular place for Muscovites to move due to its much lower cost of living.  Many multinational corporations are also based there since they can pay employees less and have less operating costs, relatively close to Western Europe.  I met several Prague residents who were originally from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Spain, Canada and the US who were working or studying there.  It was a popular destination because of its low cost of living combined with a wealth of cultural activities and its Western European "feel."  Prague truly was a "fairy tale town," around every corner and on every hillside there was a different palace, synagogue, cathedral or church.  It was a very walkable city and I spent most of my two days there walking and sightseeing.


Prague's Vltava River

Looking west in Prague

Traditional Czech pastry.  The dough is rolled over hot coals to cook, then covered in sugar
Blowing bubbles in the Prague old town square

It was a wonderful week-long break, and now I'm back to the grind in DC.  This semester ends in two months; the end is in sight!  I'm not sure what my summer plans will be yet.  I've applied for a few internships (some abroad, some here in DC).  I hope to find out soon!

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