Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

Bohemian rhapsody

Luke from UEA in the UK here with a post about mine and Tilly’s trip to Prague!

The bus trip from Norwich to Prague was our longest yet: TWENTY-FIVE HOURS.

Trepidatious anticipation at the journey’s beginning. We were gonna get a disheveled ‘after’ shot as well, but couldn’t be bothered by that point.

But it actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It was fine except for when the coach had to stop for whatever reason and the air-conditioning would stop too. We had excellent weather during the trip, in the thirties and sunny every day.

However long the journey was, it was worth it to be in Prague. It’s an incredibly beautiful city, simply a nice place to be. We did a lot of that thing tourists are s’posed to do where you just walk around not doing much but absorbing the atmosphere.

 

  

 


 

 It was the perfect place to visit to augment my nascent, Grand Designs–inspired interest in architecture; the styles to be seen are multifarious: medieval, neo-classical, cubist, art nouveau, Modernist, postmodern, everything!


Prague Opera House.


The one on the right looks like it’s made of bubble-wrap, or … you know … glass bricks …

 
 A glimpse of art nouveau.
Cubism: they look like snub noses.

Thought this looked like a grand design abroad in progress.

And there are just nice touches everywhere. As with so many European cities, Prague is a testament to its people’s value of the nonessential. The bare functionalism of so many elements of society, of so many minds in Australia has been brought into contrast for me by my trip to Europe. I’ve been made to feel really defensive about my appreciation of art and my choice to do an arts degree by the attitude at home, so now whenever I’ve been coming across relevant quotes I’ve been writing them down, like these:

‘The fact is, while we’re on the subject of cheese, and it’s a bit like wine, and it’s a bit like love: there are things in the world that are not necessary for survival. And it is one of the paradoxes of being alive that it is only the extras that make you want to keep on living. We don’t really embrace the world because there is water and warmth. They are the necessities without which we cannot live. But actually, what we can’t live without are the extras; wine and cheese.’ – Stephen Fry

‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.’ – Dead Poets Society

People in Australia are always talking about the uselessness of art and arts degrees, but you find less of that attitude over here, and their attitude shows up in the extra, nonessential details of their cities, like the legs of public benches, the lampposts, the gates, the fountains everywhere, which I can never help myself walking up to and taking a photo of – I’m obsessed with water (features)! I’m beginning to wonder if the human race has evolved to find water beautiful and therefore want to live near it, because all the people who thought it was ugly wandered off into the desert and died.

 
Oh and also, they have COLD-WATER PUBLIC BUBBLERS.
 They’re YEARS ahead of us!

We found our way to the St Christopher’s hostel without a travel mishap or disaster to be seen. The hostel was really swanky, perhaps the best we’ve stayed in. We wondered if maybe the St Christopher’s chain spends the same amount on every one of its hostels, and they just got more for their money in the Czech Republic, which I should say was refreshingly cheap. The hostel was really environmentally friendly as well, which I thought was fantastic. It runs on 100% renewable energy sources, recycles shower water for use in toilets, extracting heat from that water beforehand and putting it to use, and it has automatic lights to conserve energy. If they can do it, why can’t everyone?

We didn’t know when we arranged to come to Prague, but fortuitously our stay coincided with the last four days of the Prague Fringe Festival, so there was plenty for us to do. The lady who told us about it recommended some events to us, two of which we attended on our first night. Funnily enough, both performers were Australian, as well. The first one was a musical comedian named Merry-May Gill, the conceit of her show being that, along with the timid local librarian (who bore a remarkable resemblance to UOW Creative Writing lecturer Chrissy Howe), she was on a quest to learn what she could from the cultural hubs of Europe so that she could turn the rural NSW town of Moree into the cultural capital of the world. The show was pretty funny, but most of the humour was based on poking fun at Australia and Moree which, while different and new to the Europeans in the audience, was nothing we hadn’t heard before. She had an astonishing voice, though. Incredible.

The next event we attended was an intimate show with Australian songstress Phebe Starr, another incredible voice. She had a charmingly sincere dialogue with the audience, and Til and I and two Canadians we’d met (the dudes in the foreground of the above photo) had a chat to her after the show. The Canadians’ names were Matt and Luke, which was funny  (Til’s family often calls her ‘Mat’) because they said the other people they’d met on their travels and gone around with were also named Matt and Luke.

Next morning we went on yet another New Europe free walking tour with the Canadians, eh. Highlights included seeing the Kafka monument and the stories about the Czechs’ subjugation by the Soviets.

Looks like something out of a story my friend Sean would write.
Our guide telling us the (New Europe Free Walking Tour–compulsory) final story of citizen uprising when the people of Prague gathered in the central square dangling their keys to demand democracy.

 

In addition to the Chrissy lookalike from the night before was this guy who reminded me of (another lecturer) Joshua Lobb, pictured here with his friends desperately trying to answer the tourguide’s question.

 

Pick me, teacher, I’m ever so smart.

(picture from blog.chinesepod.com)

 

And after the tour we had a beeeeautiful, cheap-as-chips gourmet, al fresco lunch at this place around the corner.

Like I said, we spent a lot of time just wandering around. One afternoon we wandered our way to the super-cool Lennon wall.

Someone hilariously profaned the Lennon wall with Rebecca Black lyrics.

 

We also came across another one of those lock-bridges we saw in Paris.

 

Stalky stalky stalky.

 

And an art gallery with these anti-consumerist statements crawling around outside.

 

David Černý’s Babies.

Reflected in an artwork.

 

That night we went to another two Fringe events. The first was called ‘Glue’, a spoken word event by British poet Annie Moir. It was nice, but bizarre. It was in the tiniest room imaginable (the kind you walk into and instantly realise there is no escape from, causing you to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into), with a small audience mostly comprised, I’m fairly certain, of the poet’s friends. She was a grey, steatopygious woman who mostly read poetry about … y’know, love and children and getting old and housework and twee things like that, with a healthy helping of cliché in between. There was the usual discomfort of a spoken word performance, where you don’t know whether what you’re hearing is just the poet addressing you, or if it is supposed to be a part of the performance. But it went to a whole new level of weird when, to accompany her poetry, Moir drew different objects, images and toys out of a box onstage and arranged them on a table or stuck them on a big board like some kind of Play School presenter – there was a definite sense of the pantomime about her. Furthermore, in each transition between poems, her husband standing at the back of the room (about thirty centimetres away from the front) would play twenty seconds of some tenuously relevant song, to which the poet would halfheartedly and awkwardly dance.

 

But I mean, it’s a fringe festival – what else do you expect. It was weird, but her poetry had moments of poignancy and beauty, and I think sometimes that’s what art and poetry are about. Even though the style may not be your preference, you actively experience it, you hurl your intellect up against and into an artefact, a performance, a text, and see what you come up with, see what it makes you think about. I didn’t regret going at all; she was a lovely, warm woman of some talent who I was glad to support with my presence and entry fee.

In between the poetry performance and the next event Til and I had another delicious dinner and I discovered how AMAZING Pilsener Urquelle is. No wonder the whole city is obsessed with it – it’s to Prague what Bintang is to Bali. Possibly it’s so good because the Czechs, apparently, INVENTED lager, and have the highest beer consumption rate in the world per capita. So if you’re in Prague and you go to a Pilsener restaurant bar and have the Urquelle in the proper glass at the proper temperature (12 degrees), you won’t be disappointed. Even Tilly liked it and she hates beer!

 

Hesitant initial sampling.

 

The next performance was this highly recommended (by Matt and Luke) play called 7th Circle about these magician charlatans that accidentally summon a demon and have to complete three tasks or the world will end. With hilarious results. It was funny, but it felt a bit like a band three or four HSC Drama group performance to me. I think the Canadians might’ve been more easily impressed than us, or perhaps had lower expectations beforehand. Either way, I personally enjoyed the subtle equation of charlatan magic with religious practice.

 

Onstage antics.

 

The second challenge was a dance-off against Michael Jackson.

 

Til and I stayed in different dorms throughout the trip, because it was cheaper that way. My dorm was supposed to be mixed, but I swear it was eighty per cent annoying American girls. That night, just as I was finally drifting off to sleep, two of them came in and started YELLING to each other. I couldn’t BELIEVE it. SO RUDE. I feel bad judging Americans on these girls; I know all nations have their idiots, but the incidence seems to be higher in Americans in my experience of hostel life. At first it was like, ‘Oh my Gahd! Where’d you go!? Did you go to the big club? We were so wurrayed’ and then it turned into a half-hour discussion of the top ten most inane topics in the world. And then, just when you think it’s over and they’re finally going to sleep:

 

‘Oh, I forgaht to aask you if you like guacamole.’

 

‘Whut?’

 ‘D’you like guacamole?’

 ‘Why, do you have guacamole with you?’

 ‘No.’

 ‘Well why’re you aasking me that?’

 ‘It’s from Step Brothers.’

 ‘Oh, raight.’

 ‘Have you seen it?’

 ‘No.’

 ‘What? Why naht?’

 ‘I have started, I just never finished it.’

 ‘Gahd, get with the times.’

 ‘I’ve seen most of it, I just never saw the whole thing!’

 And it’s like oh my God SHUT UP! Learn to express more than one single unit of meaning in each utterance. Every notion of your speech does not have to be given the maximum dramatic space and effect! Your conversations just devolve into these long, vapid exchanges of nothing, that way. No wonder the world hates America.

 

On our last full day in Prague Til and I went to look around the grounds of Prague castle, from where there are great views of the city. We had lunch up there with one of these views, then came back down to go to one last Fringe event. But alas, we could not find it in time and gave up (something that happened frequently on the trip). We did, however, find a Gloria Jean’s, whose iced coffees I’ve been missing desperately. That was a treat. One of the (few?) positives of multinational corporations.

 


 

The inviting entrance to Prague castle.


A view of the castle at night.

 

Joy!

We rounded out our exploration of Prague with another stroll, a venture down to the water’s edge, a stint in the Kafka museum shop where I bought a copy of The Metamorphosis, and then a mouth-watering pizza dinner.

 

 

That night was the last of the Fringe Festival, with Belushi’s, the bars on the ground floors of all St Christopher’s hostels, hosting the final party, so we hung out in there, me enjoying my last Czech Pilsener Urquelle.

 

Next day we departed Prague for Berlin by train. Here’s hoping we don’t catch E coli and die in Germany!

Cheers,

Luke

PS. All these blog posts and I still haven’t worked out the formatting … No idea why the font changes halfway through, or why there’s such big paragraph gaps sometimes and other times no gaps, but sorry about that.

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