A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: srussell912

Prague Poetry

Original poetry written for my Contemporary Culture Class

As an avid writer, I was inspired to write poetry about the different types of contemporary culture found in the Czech Republic. Prague, being the romantic, artsy city it is, was the perfect place to write my poetry. I chose to do two poems each inspired graffiti, Czech poets, and expats. I also wrote a poem in the style of lyrics from the Plastic People of the Universe.

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Poem 1 Inspiration

The first poem I wrote was inspired by my favorite piece from our field trip to Tesnov legal graffiti site (see above). At first the beast looks horrifying, but the smiles of the pink people tell a different story. I wanted to unveil the truth behind a misunderstood being.

The second poem is inspired by the many tags all around Prague, on walls, signs, and trams. The article by Vaclav Magid we read said that tagging is a solely sign of mere presence really stuck with me. I wanted to not only bring that presence to life, but comment on the ignorance and corporate sluggishness of society and the true art behind tagging as well.

My third poem was in the style of Pavel Z, someone I truly find inspiration in. I was deeply moved when he came and spoke to the class. He had an air of intelligence and class, but still a heavily creative mind that was clear when he was speaking and reading his poetry. I wanted to include time, something that is present in many of his poems, as well as the darkness and depth that is apparent in his less optimistic poems. However, I also wanted to bring out some of his more positive words about a person he is in love with, or at least fascinated by.

My fourth poem was fun to write in the style of Egon Bondy. His poetry is satiric, funny, and usually about something that people would find disgusting or offensive. After unfortunate encounters I had stepping in dog poop, I decided that Egon Bondy would certainly write about this interaction. I wanted to use the descriptive vocabulary that Bondy uses, but also make it as quirky and gross as he would. I liked his use of the word ‘stupid’ and decided to add it to my poem as well.

My fifth poem was inspired by the lyrics to The Song of the Fafejta Bird About Two Unearthly Worlds by the Plastic People of the Universe. When reading this and thinking about my own poem, I immediately thought of undiscovered planets and creatures, something that is a motif in the Plastic People’s lyrics. I wanted to capture the beauty of another world as well as the violence that is sometimes found in their lyrics.

My sixth poem is entitled Addiction because of the amount of expats that become addicted to everything that Prague has to offer, the people, the culture, and the city. I hoped to put into words the completion that many expats feel when moving to Prague. However, I didn’t want to ignore the fact that homesickness and missing American things are a fact of moving abroad. However, in my seventh poem, I completely ignored that because once you find a balance and everything you love in Prague, it will become a paradise, something that I have certainly found living in such an incredible city.

Graffiti

1. Inspired by the above piece of street art at Tesnov legal graffiti site

Underneath a lonely child’s bed
Lives a horrid nightmare
Her body long, misshapen, grotesque
Eyes longing for the smell that grazes her
Pig snout sitting above toothy fangs
Glazed with warm saliva
Her many legs pad out from her hell
To the sight of GI Joes and Hotwheels
And a small pink body motionless
Eyes wide and sad
Wet with loss
Clutching a picture of a smiling woman
Forgetting her deformed body
Her terrifying form
She tucks her stunted nose
Under a pink arm and leg
Lifting the body onto her back
Small pink hands tighten around her
Two symbiotic beings
Finding comfort and safety
Underneath the bed

2. Inspired by tagging in Prague

the walking dead pass
by in suits
glazed eyes stare
toward corporate meat
morning stiffness
healed by coffee
sucked in
by dry lips
trudging down streets
ignorant of the city
or walls of color
shouting a pledge
signatures of a campaign
from the living
we are here

Poetry

3. In the style of Pavel Z

hallucinations of time
to be older than we are
closer to finality
to velvet darkness
bones ringing bells
dreams of time
to be older with you
spend my life in velvet love
ecstasy

4. In the style of Egon Bondy

Blue skies above
Brown shit below
My thoughts abuzz
Under my shoes flow
A present of diarrhea
Left by Sophia
My neighbor’s stupid dog.

Music

5. In the style of the Plastic People of the Universe lyrics

Rolling waves of red lava
Crash into the endless red sand bank
Swirling tornadoes of sun and sky
Spray painted stars over her head
She lays under thunderclouds
Black and grey and thick
The sun and moon in constant battle
To overtake the endless heavens

Behind her eyelids lies a green forest
With blue fat raindrops weighing down leaves
Juices drip from plump fruit
As big as the beasts that hunt them
The mossy ground envelops her bare feet
Her naked body burned and peeling

Her eyes snap open
Dust chokes her throat
Giant orange ants gnaw at her bloody skin
Her mouth dry and vocal chords brittle
The Fafejta Bird rips at the insects
Their bodies popping
She smiles at her hero
Closing her eyes again
Floating into utopian space

Expat Culture

6. Addiction

College graduates itching to leave
Chaos of classrooms and politics
Drawn to the unknown
Black hole of culture
Different from their own
Lost artists and intellectuals
Fitting their puzzle pieces into
The Vltava and Wenceslas
Occasionally craving Kraft blue box
But learning to drink their fill of Pilsner
Awed by the city around them
Awed by their home

7. Prahaiku

Can’t speak the language
Happily lost in the town
Paradise in Prague

Posted by srussell912 19:27 Comments (0)

Na Skledano, Praha

The Last Week

The last week of my study abroad experience was a blur. I wanted to do everything I hadn’t done, do everything I did again, see all my friends multiple times, as well as pass all my finals of course.

I ended up studying and finishing papers over the weekend so I could get up early and tour before, between and after classes. I only had a few things left on my Prague bucket list, but I wanted to make sure I had ample time at all of them.

Garrett, Emily and I went to the last hockey game, and possibly one of the best on Sunday night. It was Sparta Praha vs Kladno, the team that the famous Jaromir Jagr owns and now plays for due to the lockout. We stood in the fan section, (see my soccer post) amongst people waving flags and beating drums. The rest of the stadium was sold out, of course, because Jagr is such a Czech hero. It was loud and crazy in the stands. The main difference that I saw between the soccer fan section and the hockey fan section was the soccer fans seemed to feed off each other’s energy, even some that weren’t paying attention to the game. However, hockey fans fed off the energy of the game, which was a blast because everyone was so in tune to what was going on on the ice. The final score was 6-3, with Sparta besting Kladno, a wonderful end to my Czech hockey experience.

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Winner winner!

Another thing on my bucket list, recommended by Lauren, was to wake up early and watch the sunrise on Charles Bridge. Though I’m not keen on waking up early, and I had failed at several attempts to check this item off the list, in my last week it was now or never. Sunrise was around 7:45, so actually pretty late. The bridge was covered with about 2 or 3 inches of fresh snow, undisturbed by the mass of crowds. It was only me and a couple other photographers hoping to get a perfect shot. The sun part of the sunrise was disappointing due to clouds, and it was hard to see the change in light. However, the pinks, yellows, oranges and reds that lit up the clouds was incredible. The castle shone in the soft light and reflected off the Vltava. Though sunrise on Masada in Israel is still my favorite, Prague was still breathtaking.

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Between classes I headed to Kampa Island, an island park with the modern art museum as well as a great view of Charles Bridge. The museum was small and hosted art from David Cerny, the artist who created the babies on the TV tower, as well as other Czech artists and young artists who had not yet been featured. One room featured art by an elephant at the Prague zoo.

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Cerny Babies

Another must-do in Prague, for anyone really, is paint on the Lennon wall. The wall started out as a small portrait of John Lennon just after he was killed. It expanded the length and width of the wall with other portraits, quotes of love, peace, or Beatles music, and rainbow colors. I had been there several times and it changed each time, even overnight. I met my two friends, both named Mallory, and we each painted a little something. I of course spray painted ‘Carpe Diem’ and wrote ‘She loves IU, yeah yeah” to represent Mallory and I. Afterwards, we gave the paint to another group to use and left our art to the public.

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Hoo Hoo Hoo, HOOSIERS!!

One of the places I wanted to visit that many other people did not make it to was the Jan Zizka Memorial, rising high on a hill above the city. Zizka was a Hussite and Czech general, and is a national symbol of the Czech Republic. The statue is the biggest equestrian statue in the world, 30 ft high and weighing 16.5 tons. The national monument is also the home of the grave of the unknown soldier, as well as a spectacular 360 degree view of Prague. The view was spectacular.

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Jan Zizkov Memorial

The very last day before we left was dedicated to 'CIEE Graduation'. It was early, long, and kind of a mess, but a nice time and fun memory nonetheless. Thursday night, the entire program went to club Radost and stayed out hanging out and having fun on our last night out in Praha. After a couple hours of sleep, we woke up, dressed nice, and headed to the graduation ceremony in one of the halls of Charles University. Just about everyone was hungover or still intoxicated. Even the staff looked rough. Some classes performed traditional songs in Czech, and other students presented slideshows about Czech culture. A staff member played Slovak songs on three Slovak instruments, one that was similar to a Shofar. We were all pretty exhausted and giggly, but had a great time, especially at the giant lunch buffet. It was a great official end to the program to be able to spend time with all the students and staff outside of class.

Of course my friends and I went back to all of our favorite restaurants, Christmas markets, and local spots. It was nice to stay busy and see new things even as the semester came to a close. I checked off much of my bucket list, made lifelong friends, and had a once in a lifetime experience living in the second greatest country in the world (I'm still biased toward the US!). I wouldn't trade my time in Praha for anything.

Posted by srussell912 11:23 Comments (0)

Prague Days

I’m so happy I stayed in Prague the last two weekends of my semester abroad. I feel like I’ve gone to almost all the museums, attractions, and activities I wanted to experience. Even with all my papers and studying for finals, I made sure to find the time to do what I wanted to do around the city I chose to study in.

First of all, I went to the last few Sparta and Lev hockey games of my time in Prague, and assuming the NHL can’t get their act together, the season as well. Lev finally won the last game we saw, which was incredibly exciting. We beat the team that the former-Cap Semin plays for. At the second to last Sparta game, Heather and I were chosen to be a part of the between-the-periods entertainment. Four guys, Heather and I went underneath the stands near the team locker rooms and were given waivers to sign and kneepads. We were split into teams of three and were given large blowup bubbles to wear. They covered us from the head to thigh. We were supposed to run on the ice and kick a ball into a goal, like soccer, but it ended up that we just ran into each other and knocked each other down. It was a blast though, I laughed the entire time. At the end, we hi-fived all the Sparta players and I told Neuvy he was awesome!

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Human bowling?

At the last Sparta game, and last game while I am in Prague, Garrett, Emily and I got tickets in the fan section. It was different than the soccer game. Though people were wild and crazy and had tons of drums and flags, they all seemed more involved in the game and less involved in getting drunk and crazy. Sparta was playing Kladno, the team that Jaromir Jagr, Czech and hockey superstar, owns and plays for. I remember him not being too great when he was on the Caps, but he was in his element and quite the sight to watch. However, Sparta still won the game 6-3 with Neuvy in goal and a hattrick from Hovorka

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Jagr!!

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Fan section

Over the weekend I also went to the modern British Paintings gallery at the Rudolfinium. The gallery was small and featured modern or satirical art by younger artists, mostly paintings or drawings on huge canvases. The Rudolfinium itself had beautiful sculptured ceilings and a massive staircase from a fairytale. We also went to the Museum of Young Art, which I was less impressed with. A couple pieces, such as David Cerny’s work, were spectacular, for example a chained Saddam Hussein in a magician’s escape tank. However, the rest of the museum looked like it was unfinished and we couldn’t tell if some parts were under construction or it was part of the art.

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Saddam in Water

I also went to the Franz Kafka museum. I am not a huge Kafka fan, but this small museum certainly did him justice. Rather than just looking at his books and successes, the museum was able to give the audience a look into Kafka’s mind, his motives and messages. Outside the Kafka museum is a Cerny statue of two men peeing onto the Czech Republic. The men pee real water and their hips and genitals move. It was hilarious. However, I was more impressed with the Jan Svankmajer museum. The museum houses sculptures and art, as well as films and props from Svankmajer’s films and art galleries. There were many mythological-looking animals made of different kinds of bones and artifacts. There was even a many sided die made out of teeth. Life size puppets made of household items and brushes hung from the ceiling. It was a little creepy, but truly original.

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Cerny's men peeing

On Saturday night my friends and I decided to head to a club called MeetFactory for their rollerdisco night. We took the tram to what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, and after climbing through a wall and over train tracks, we finally made it inside the club. We grabbed our skates, grabbed a drink, and made our way, awkwardly skating into a room with a stage and a bar, and dance floor turned rink. There were a bunch of people there in neon, most of them really good at skating. It took me a while and a few spills to remember how to rollerblade, but it was an absolute blast. We stayed there skating and drinking for a few hours before heading to Cross Club, a futuristic club with electronic and techno music. Appliances, wheels, and steampunk instruments moved all over the building and were lit up in neon. We didn’t stay long, but it was certainly worth it to check out.

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Garrett, Paul, Sasha and I discoing

Now I’m into finals, with many papers and of course my Czech oral exam to study for. Time has flown.

Posted by srussell912 08:25 Comments (0)

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava is a perfect city for a day trip. It is about four hours East of Prague, an easy bus ride away. Michelle and I caught an early bus to the capital city of Slovakia and relaxed for the day in what seemed like a small Czech town. The language, Slovak, is similar to Czech and was easy to read, but we couldn’t understand the spoken word very well. For a country that was part of Czechoslovakia not so long ago, the differences in accent and language were surprising.

The first sight we ran into was, of course, a Christmas market in the middle of Old Town. It is surrounded by gorgeous buildings including Old Town Hall, with a beautiful white, green, blue, and brown tiled roof, and the 1777 purple Primacialny Palac, where the mayor sits.

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Town Hall

Compared to Vienna, the Christmas market was small, but the central location and children singing onstage sporting traditional Slovak dress told us this was also a main market for locals. We ate a Slovak sandwich of meat and onions, marinated in something delicious. We also tried the vanilla hot wine which was incredible.
After lunch we wandered around Old Town and through Michalska Brana, the oldest city gate in the country, dating from the 1300’s.

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Michalska Brana

The main sights are easily walkable from the gate, so we made our way up the hill where Bratislava Castle sits. It was small compared to Prague’s castle, but it had more of the stereotypical castle architecture. Unfortunately, the castle is under renovation until 2014, so we were unable to go inside.

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Bratislava Castle

However, the view from the surrounding wall was breathtaking. Bratislava was spread out below, and the Danube twisted under bridges. We could easily see the soviet-style bridge featuring the ‘UFO’ tower, an observation tower that looks quite alien.

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Aliens have landed in Bratislava

From there we continued up a steep hill, passing the U.S. embassy. Michelle and I may have gotten way too excited to be so close to American soil. The embassy looked like a tiny decorated White House. Up another steep hill, we finally hiked to the top to the Slavin Memorial. The tower commemorates the Russian soldiers who died liberating Slovakia during World War II. Slavin is also a Russian military cemetery, something that truly showed me the divide between Czech and Slovak culture. The cemetery was peaceful under the blue sky with the castle and city dotted below.
We hiked back toward Old Town, stopping for hot chocolate on the way down. The hot chocolate served is literally that – melted chocolate with a side of a glass of water. It was delicious, rich, and thick.

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Michelle and I at the Slavin Memorial

We continued on to the Old Synagogue, a red building that looked like an apartment with a small plaque remembering the Holocaust. It was simple, just as most synagogues are. With only a few hours left, we again grabbed food in the Christmas Market, including ribs and goulash, and a dessert that looked like a chocolate filled taquito with powdered sugar. It had a sweet and almost sour taste. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was certainly worth the taste.
We then made our way to Bratislava's White House, the President's house. No surprise, it looked very similar to the US White House.

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Copycats

Our final stop was St. Elizabeth’s Blue Church. The small, pale blue and white church had rounded sides and gold tiled portraits. Michelle and I decided that if we were to remake The Little Mermaid, this would be where Ariel gets married. It was a great end to the trip.

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Ariel's Church

Though Bratislava was perfect for a sightseeing day, I’m not sure I would have wanted to stay much longer. However, I do hear the nightlife is pretty great. All in all, I felt like my study abroad was complete by going to a country that has so much significance to the one I chose to study in.

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Michelle and I hanging out with the Bratislava Statues

Posted by srussell912 08:25 Comments (0)

Vienna, Austria

I was afraid I would find Vienna overrated since my parents, Max and Katherine could not stop talking about how wonderful it is. I was pleasantly surprised, even after I had heard so much good, how much I enjoyed the city. My only disappointment was the lack of any sort of Chanukah market! It was a perfect, relaxing weekend with a ton to do and see. It was definitely one of my favorite places to visit.

I went on a coordinated trip with CIEE, and at first, I was worried they would not let us go off on our own to sightsee what we wanted. However, we ended up having every day free after around noon, which was perfect. We took about a 5 hour bus ride there Friday morning and checked into the hostel around 1pm. Immediately we went on a planned walking tour around the city until after dark. It was really nice to get out and walk and sightsee, but I wish the tour was a bit shorter. We stopped at a lot of neat places that I wanted to see on my own so I could spend some time there and go inside, so the tour was kind of a waste of time for me. The tour guide seemed very knowledgeable, however our large group and the many tourists made it hard to stay together and hear what she was saying. We did walk by the detailed St Stephens Cathedral and the old Jewish Quarter where the only surviving synagogue stands.

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St Stephens Cathedral

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Synagogue

Finally, we were let loose in the main Christmas market, one of 67 in Vienna alone. Being Jewish and missing Chanukah, I wasn’t too excited about the Christmas markets because I thought it would mostly be ornaments and Christmas-y crafts. However, no one told me about the food. Everywhere I looked there was hot wine, candy, soup, bread, and cookies. I was in heaven.

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All lit up

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Garrett and Tyler with a giant something delicious

We of course started off at the hot wine stand, where I actually ended up getting the best hot apple cider I have ever had. The drink comes in a unique Christmas market mug that you put down a deposit for. If you want to keep the cup, you keep it, if you want to return it, you can get your money back after you finish your drink. It’s a great system. I tried a ton of gingerbread cookies, candy, and chocolate, but the garlic soup bread bowl was the best. It was thick and creamy and the bread bowl was to die for. I ended up having one a day over the weekend, and I don’t regret it.

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Enough to make a life size house

Saturday we got up with the group early and went on a bus tour. Again, the sights we passed were all the ones I wanted to see up close, except for one. We drove a little way out of the main part of the city to the UN Headquarters. The massive buildings are constructed in an odd shape so that sunlight can enter every room. The complex was huge and secure. We then headed to the Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment building built with no straight lines, and many shapes and colors. Even the floor was uneven. It was very unique.

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Hundertwasserhaus

After the tour we were dropped off and left to explore on our own. A bunch of us decided the best way to see everything in a day would be to do a bike tour. This was probably one of my favorite activities during my study abroad. We started at People’s Park (no, not the stoner park in Bloomington) where a famous statue of Mozart stands. We each had the chance to play our air instruments with him, and Kevin and I of course picked the best, the cello.

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Sweet Sweet Air Music

Next we biked to St. Charles Church, a gorgeous church with a green roof and huge columns sticking up in to the sky. In the square behind it was a more local Christmas market. Locals sold handmade crafts and there were a ton of kids playing in hay with goats and ponies. They even had furry pigs – that’s right, pigs with a sheep’s coat on.

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Paul is ecstatic

We grabbed a bite to eat and headed across the street to the Soviet War Memorial. It is the last statue of a Russian soldier standing in Vienna, with a half circle of columns behind it and a rocky fountain in front.

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Biking in front of the Soviet War Memorial

Across from it was obviously from the complete opposite era – a giant black, rounded, spiderweb sculpture that you could bike underneath. The sculpture was making odd, almost trippy sounds that wasn’t music, but sounded like something on the sci-fi channel. We have no idea what it was, but it was a truly surprising experience.

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(insert alien sounds here)

After taking some cheesy bike pictures, we biked over cobblestone (oy) and up to the Belvedere Palace. The palace and gardens were huge, and of course, there was another Christmas market. We biked around the lake in the front garden, and then down the giant hill in the back enclosing huge fountains, gardens, and sphinx statues. At the bottom of the hill there were even more palace buildings. The main palace and gardens were built in the early 100’s. The sloping hills and classic building were mindblowing. The trees in the garden reminded Tyler and I of the womping willow from Harry Potter. I would love to see it in the summer.

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Garrett, Paul, Tyler and I in front of Belvedere Palace

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This is not your mother's Sphinx

We headed back to the city center and past the gigantic National Theatre. Apparently the theatre has a repertoire of over 365 plays they can produce in a day’s notice. I would like to see a year of a different show a night!

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National Theatre

We then returned the bikes and sat down for some much needed relaxation and schnitzel before heading to a bar in the Bermuda Triangle – the main street of clubs. Mallory, Josh, Kevin and I were pretty tired and decided to head back to the hostel. We ended up planning charades for a good few hours before falling asleep. It was a great childhood throwback.
The next morning we went with the whole group to Schonbrunn Palace, or the summer palace. I was a little sad while I was visiting because everywhere I looked the name Maximilian was right before my eyes, making me miss my own Maximilian! The palace was incredible though, I still can’t believe that it was only a summer home. We toured the inside, gardens, and of course, the Christmas market. The most spectacular room inside was the ballroom, a huge open space with gold mirrors and dazzling chandeliers. I would have loved to have more time to explore the gardens, with the massive plots of designed bushes and the fountain that was practically a lake. On top of the hill was a gazebo, as intricate as the palace. Unfortunately the hedge maze was closed – another reason to go back in the summer! The blue sky and sun made the gardens even more beautiful.

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Schonbrunn Palace

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From the back

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Inside

On our own again, we headed to the center of town to see the Hofburg Palace, or the Winter Palace. It is right in the middle of town and looks more like a state building than a palace. It was still huge and beautifully detailed though. The palace also houses the Spanish Riding School, which was the only thing I had to see when visiting Vienna.

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Hofburg Palace

The Spanish Riding School is an elite equestrian organization that has bred and trained Lipizzaner horses since the 1700’s. The unique and natural movements of Lipizzaners are sought out by royalty, the rich, and nowadays, tourists. I first saw the Spanish Riding School in DC when I was a kid. Unfortunately there was not a performance while we were visiting, but we did go on a tour behind the scenes. We saw the training ring surrounded by the world’s biggest horse walker. The horses need it to exercise with the lack of fields in the middle of Vienna. We then went through the stables where we saw real, live, working Lipizzaners. I was so excited! We also got to hang out with the fat barn cats. We stopped in the tack room which was the most interesting part for me. Each horse has a training saddle and performance saddle. The training saddle is standard, but the performance saddles are white and uniquely to fit each horse perfectly so there is no need for a saddle pad.

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Performance Saddle

In performance, the only saddle pads used are attachable and use color to determine the rank of the rider. The bits were all fit exactly to each horses mouth in the Vienna style for comfort. Next, we went into the stables and saw each of the horses.

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Gorgeous Stables

They were on a day of rest, and that’s exactly what they were doing. Most of them were asleep but a couple were playing with each other. They were adorable! We ended the tour in the Winter Riding School, a beautiful ring with huge windows built in the 1700’s. Performances are still held there today.

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Lippizanner

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Performance Ring

After such an incredible tour, I was satisfied (except for the fact that I couldn’t keep a Lipizzaner). We hit one last Christmas market and boarded the bus back to Prague. One weekend is too short for Vienna. It is definitely somewhere I would love to spend a week in.

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Who wants to cuddle??

Posted by srussell912 08:24 Comments (0)

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