For Part II and the main event for my Model UN trip to the Czech Republic, the team took the Hogwarts Express to a smaller city (population nearly 100,000) in the western part of the country called Olomouc, the capital of the province of Moravia. Okay, so it wasn’t quite the Hogwarts Express, but it did have sliding doors in the seat sections and a snack trolley. Sadly, no chocolate frogs 🙂
When we arrived in Olomouc, some students from the Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci who were staffing the conference took us to the town’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the main square, Horní náměstí. The main square is also home to an Astronomical Clock and the Holy Trinity Column, the largest group of Baroque statues in central Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whole town must have turned out for the tree lighting as crowded as the square was, and I loved having the opportunity to participate in their community’s tradition. As someone who can barely wait until after Thanksgiving to cue the Christmas music, I thoroughly enjoyed getting into the holiday spirit a tad early! Music, Christmas markets, a huge tree lit up in the square…it was, to be obnoxiously cliché yet truthful, a winter wonderland.
National Model United Nations does an excellent job of balancing international conference work with cultural experiences. We began with a tour of Bouzov Castle a few miles outside of Olomouc. The castle was originally built in the Gothic style in the 14th century and redesigned in the Romantic style in the 19th century. We explored the living quarters, the kitchen, and, my favorite, the inner courtyard. Outside, we had a team snowball fight, because coming from Texas, we were excited for some wintery fun!
Fueled with amaretto-filled chocolate, the team also ventured into the snowy woods to reach Javoříčko Cave in Slavětín. A narrow walk into the depths of the cave revealed beautiful formations of stalagmites and stalactites. We also had some close encounters with the bats who dwell in the caves–definitely a startling thing to find hanging right in front of you in the lower passages of the cave! My friend Dakota and I had fun messing with our bird-fearing friend Alayna and pretending that a bat was behind her…too mean or nah? That’s just the type of best friends trio we are 🙂
The next few days we spent primarily at the Model UN conference at the Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci, where Alayna and I represented Argentina in UNESCO. Even still, we managed to spend our lunch breaks and evenings enjoying the town. The hot and heavy street food at the Christmas market was very welcome in the frigid temperatures–this far north, the sun set around 3:30 PM. It was not difficult for one of the vendors to convince me to purchase a thick blanket scarf! Since the Czech Republic is not part of the eurozone, the exchange rate was extremely kind to us, and we were able to enjoy full meals with a drink for less than $10. I particularly enjoyed a dumpling dish that appeared rather plain…until you cut up a tiny yet powerful pepper and stirred in the pieces.
Perhaps my favorite night was the night my group of close friends went ice skating in the main square. The rink was small, and as a figure skater I lamented having to wear plastic rental skates with dull blades that did not allow me to do anything fancy, yet it was a perfect moment. The lights strung across the rink added to the holiday spirit, and we enjoyed the simple thrill of gliding across the ice until we were numb. To top off the night on a warmer note, we savored some svařák, mulled wine. I tried to learn a little Czech, and never quite figured out how to pronounce “thank you,” but the one word that has stuck with me years later is Nazdraví, cheers!
After the conference, we the took a train back to Prague for one final night. I am certainly ready for a second taste of Eastern and Central Europe already!