Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Budapest & Prague - A Bit of History and Good Luck

We only had 1 day of classes this week because the other two days of classes were canceled due to a career fair at ESSEC. Thus, MC and I decided to jet off to Budapest and Prague for a few days.

Budapest, Hungary
Early morning on Tuesday, MC, Dana and I stumbled off our plane. We were exhausted from getting little to no sleep the night before, but we were all troopers and excited to explore Budapest. First things first, getting to an ATM to withdraw cash. Two hundred Hungarian Forints is approximately equal to one dollar. Easy enough. We calculated how many Forints to take out since we each wanted to withdraw $100 for our short 2 day stay. I withdrew my Forints from the ATM thinking "that's a lot of bills for just $100. Oh well." MC stepped up to withdraw money, punched in a few numbers and suddenly feels uneasy. We all re-calculated the conversion and at the exact same time, we realize that there was an extra 0. MC hit the cancel button furiously, but the Hungarian machine ignored her request, spitting out $1000 worth of Forints instead. We had a total of $2000 worth of Forints for 2 days. Tip #1: Get a good night's sleep before you approach an ATM.

The rest of the trip was thankfully uneventful. One of my favorite parts of Budapest was the House of Terror (see below), a museum dedicated to those whose lives were lost during the Nazi regime (1944-5) and the Communist regime (1949-89). It was a multimedia experience which challenged almost all my senses and it really gave me a sense of the tragedies Hungary has gone through in the last 100 years. Check out the "Terror" word filtering through at the top of the building.

Other things we did in Budapest were a walking tour, a tour of the opera house, and a visit to the Jewish Synagogue (see below). This beautiful synagogue is the largest in Europe and the 2nd largest in the world. In the gardens behind, there are also several memorials to those that were killed during the Nazi regime. It was sobering to think that these terrible things only took place a mere 70 years ago.

Overall, Budapest was much harder to navigate because few people spoke English. The letters were so foreign, we couldn't even pronounce the words we wanted to ask, so it was quite difficult to get around. It didn't help that I was slightly sick andn medication. I have to say though, a smiling face and a Thank You goes very far. Tip #2: Learn how to say Thank You in the local language.

Prague, Czech Republic
We began our Prague trip with a visit to Kutna Hora, a small town just 1 hour outside of the city. Wonderful and friendly elderly women helped us figure out how to take the local bus in the town since it was not a very tourist friendly time of the year. It helped that all three of us had strong charades skills.

The morbid side of me wanted to see this famous church, which is decorated with human bones, in Kutna Hora. These bones came from an estimated 40,000 people who died during the plague. Oddly, I wasn't as creeped out as I thought I would be. It was more artistic than I imagined. Dana and MC were thoroughly disturbed.

For the next two days in Prague, we wandered the cities, visiting the Prague castle, taking a boat cruise, and going on another walking tour. Prague is definitely one of the most gorgeous cities I've visited and words don't do it justice so I'll let my pictures do the talking.

Old Town Plaza - where we ate most of our lunches

The Charles Bridge at Night

A scupture by David Cerny, a controversial Czech sculpture. Here you see two statues peeing famous quotes into a pond. If you text a message to a number, the statues will stop and begin peeing your message into the pond. David Cerny has another art "piece" where you climb a ladder and stick your head in the sculpture’s arse to see a video of two Czech politicians feeding each other slop to a soundtrack of "We are the Champions." Gotta love him sense of humor.

Last but not least, I must comment on the luck factor. It seems that people in both Budapest and Prague are in need of a lot of luck. This isn't surprising given their similar history of Nazism and Communism. After visiting both cities, I've come across 6+ statues that you can rub to obtain good luck. This includes sculptures of a lady, the knees of a child, and the belly of a policeman (this will give you luck in the pregnancy department).

You can tell which parts of the statue you should rub since these areas are usually golden from being polished so often. I am befuddled though, by these two statues below and who exactly decided that it would be good luck to rub these body parts. Tip #3: Think before you rub.

Yes, she is holding the underside of the horse.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Marketing 101

After one and a half months in Paris I should probably be posting pictures of Parisian sites - Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the shoe store by us where I covet nearly everything.  Instead, I thought I'd put my Kellogg marketing training to use and dissect a sign which has amused me the whole time we've been in Paris.

Ok, let's start with the circles in the center, which I've helpfully linked with a line for you.  
     - Left center circle: Union Jack on tongue
     - Right center circle: Wall Street reference
I guess the Wall Street Institute is so busy teaching English that they can't be bothered with geography.

Let's move down to the tiny circle in the center of the same ad.  That is a footnote.  Why does an ad need a footnote you may wonder.  Well, if you are trying to reach an audience that is looking to learn English, then perhaps running your ad in English is not the best idea.  Consequently, the Wall Street Institute has had to add a translation at the bottom of their ad...thus the footnote.

Now let's head right to the ad that has likely been distracting about 50% of you.  In this case the lingerie model is actually selling lingerie, but I understand if you're confused.  Here in France lingerie models are used to sell everything from diet pills to toilet cleaner.  (Note: If you are thinking that this happens in the US as well, I can assure you that it is much more egregious here in France.)  Heck, when you have grandparents making out on the Metro you have to do something to catch people's attention.  Actually, I guess all the loving going on in the Metro makes the placement of this lingerie ad pretty fabulous.

And finally, moving all the way to left to the lovely woman standing against the half wall.  She has absolutely nothing to do with either of these ads, but since she happened to be in my picture I thought I'd point out the Parisian uniform du jour:
     1.)  Black tights with boots
     2.)  Mini skirt (typically jean) / short shorts
     3.)  Intricately wrapped scarf
I'm certain that in that large purse she is carrying around the requisite pack of cigarettes.  Sadly though, if she's looking to learn English I'm guessing the sign in front of her is of no use.