Saturday, November 26, 2011

Oh And Vienna: Day 6

I wasn’t kidding when I said we decided (or more I) decided last minute to go to Vienna.  Some of my friends had been planning on it and researched a hostel and train tickets.  Wednesday they were talking about it, and I guess it is just my personality coupled with the travel genes I get from my dad that made me wonder if I should go.  Well I woke up Thursday and decided “Hey, why not??” and threw some stuff in my purse so I would be ready to leave straight from our tour of Radio Free Europe.
And we we're off!
Since there were seven of us, Will and I ended up in a car with two Americans who were teaching English in Prague.  It was interesting to hear their experiences and perspective on the Czech culture which still shows traces of its Communist past.  They shared that Czech people appear cold at first, but once they warm up and trust you, they are quite friendly.
One of 50 pictures we took during the 4.5 hour train ride to keep ourselves entertained.
Prague may be beautiful, but in my opinion, Vienna is BREATHTAKING!  The moment we exited the train station, we were met with an enormous, illuminated cathedral and streets lined with every designer store imaginable.  There was such a positive energy and liveliness.  We decided that an opera was a must and for only 4 Euros were able to get some standing-room only seats that were only 15 rows back at the State Opera House.
Welcome to Vienna.
For 4 Euros, not bad at all!
Our Hostel.
For dinner, Will decided to ask some locals on the street where the best place to go was and they all recommended the same restaurant: Figlmuller.  We had the most massive schnitzel (pounded, breaded chicken) I have ever seen in my life and it was quite delicious.  We spent the rest of the night wandering through the city, finding gorgeous architecture everywhere we turned.
We came across a crime scene they were filming for some TV show on our way to dinner.
Christmas decorations were already up!
The next morning we were up bright and early with a list of sights to see.  First off was the Schonbrunn Palace with its beautiful gardens.  It looked like it was straight out of Pride and Prejudice. 
My new friends at the market.
It was great to have Beau and Will figure out the directions the whole time!
Next up was the Christmas market at City Hall where we became like giddy little children. They had the most clever idea; with a 2 euro deposit you could get a Christmas mug filled with hot holiday punch to enjoy while you walked around the market and if you wanted, you could take it home as a souvenir.
The rest of the day was spent wandering through the city and Mozart Museum.  I have to say the museum, which was in his old apartment, was not too impressive.  Basically everything in there was all based on speculation and it did not focus as much on his music.
One of Vienna's many museums.
The following photos are ones I captured on a major shopping street in the city...
Look, the store was almost named after me.
The only time we paused all day was when we got some lunch and even then we didn't sit to eat it!
We ended the trip in a vintage little cafe which was a local favorite.  Waiters in tuxedos took our order without writing it down and came back with a silver tray to serve our Vienna coffee (coffee with whip cream on top) and sachertorte (chocolate cake).  I could not have asked for a better 36 hour trip!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Prague: Days 4-5

The first half of Tuesday (Day 4) was spent in a classroom setting, meeting with the head of International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) and CEOs of BCH Telecommunications and UFO Productions. The head of the seminary was an amazing storyteller, sharing with us how the seminary building was transformed from a Gestapo and Communist headquarters building into a place to do the Lord’s work.
Even learning from Czech business magazines...
We enjoyed learning from the CEO of BCH Telecommunications about his road to success in Prague, using the talents he had and seeing every circumstance as an opportunity. It was fascinating to learn about the film industry in Prague from the CEO of UFO Productions. We all particularly were interested in his strategies to raise capital since all of us will have to fund raise at one point or another.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent exploring the beautiful city of Prague. The fuzzy Russian hats were a favorite among the guys and everyone did their best to negotiate a better price. It is amazing how fast everyone bonded; I guess traveling abroad has a magical way of doing that.
The Russian hats were a hit with the guys!
A little market filled with every trinket a tourist could want and plenty of opportunities to bargain.  I won the contest for the best deal talking a merchant down from 650kc to 400kc.
We couldn't help but do a KKG by the fluer-de-lis!
U Vejvodu...a restaurant I highly recommend.
The pretzels were tricky...they looked free but they would actually charge you for them.  We saw past the trick and just took a picture before placing them on another table.
The famous clock tower, complete with animated figurines and a trumpet blower every hour.
Charles Bridge.
We found this cozy little Italian place which was a nice break from all of the Czech places.
Wednesday we headed out early as a group to see Prague castle and cathedral. Dr. Reed, our fearless professor led the way as we zoomed through metros and buses at a high-speed pace. We actually ended up losing a couple of people along the way, but no worries they showed up. The castle was massive, and I could not help but wonder how on earth they could keep a place like that warm. I am pretty sure they could have kept meat frozen in the main hall the day we toured it.
After 30 minutes the lost ones found us!
The whole group.
The cathedral
This balcony, according to Rick Steves, was designed specifically for the king so he could attend church in his pajamas and no one would see him.
Matt is a little too tall for this village.
Our business plan group for Senior News: Todd, Me, Mark, Scott
After the castle we wandered our way back to IBTS, making stops along the Charles Bridge and a lovely antique store.  Back at the seminary we met with the founder of The Fleet Sheet, a daily business newsletter in Prague.  Not only was his business interesting to learn about, but I found it fascinating how his children are learning three languages at once: English from him and school, Russian from their nanny and school, Czech from his wife.  From meeting with the various expats, I found it interesting how all of them left the US because they were cynical of where the country was headed, yet they still maintain that same cynicism to an extent about their lives in Prague. 
Charles Bridge
Judging from how shiny this statue was, we determined that rubbing it must bring you good luck.
I guess it's just a guy see a gun and have to take a picture.
We did a lot of waiting for public transportation on the trip so we found ways to stay occupied...
Like attempting to balance on narrow pipes...
Or cramming 6 people in a photo booth...
Or experimenting with taking pictures on slow shutter speeds.
Thursday morning (Day 5) we had the incredible opportunity to get a tour of the Radio Free Europe building because one of my classmate’s father’s real estate company had just purchased the building.  Radio Free Europe is funded by the US government and serves as a "surrogate" free press in 21 countries (primarily the Middle East) where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed. Its journalists provide what many people in those countries cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.  Because of the controversy over the material it broadcasts, it is one of the most secure buildings in all of Europe and based off the amount of security we had to go through, I would say they are doing a fantastic job of protecting it.
Relaxing in a hotel lobby before heading to Radio Free Europe.
We all learned what an amazing pianist Mark is when he began to play the piano in the lobby.
Inside Radio Free Europe.
After our tour, we were free to do whatever we wanted for the rest of Thursday and Friday so seven of us decided, why not go to Vienna.  We jumped on a train for 4½ hours and did just that.