Where the train can take you

Sometimes you need to just go and find where the train can take you.  In both Italy and the Republic of Czech I found the time to take a train ride to a neighboring town.  In Italy I managed to slip away one evening to Pisa and see the leaning tower.  In the Republic of Czech I succeeded in taking a trip to Kunta Hora to see the “Church of Bones”.

It is amazing the feeling of freedom you receive when venturing out in a foreign country by yourself.  Before I left I was given a few words of guidance.  Try and learn at least a few words or phrases in the native language, excuse me, thank you, good morning, and good bye.  Smile and be friendly.  Always buy a return ticket before you leave so you don’t have to worry about it later.  Have a backup plan in case you miss the train back but most important never panic and enjoy the ride.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually the bell tower of the Cathedral of Pisa.  The tower sits next to the Cathedral and is tilted around 4 degrees.  Construction began on the tower in 1173 and was completed 200 years later in 1372.  The tower stands 183 feet high with eight stories.  Visitors that climb to the top of the tower can get a close up view of the seven bells that are there.  They also are rewarded with a marvelous view of the city.  Well worth the 300 step climb to get there.

The Kunta Hora Ossuary (Bone Church) became well known when in the 13th century the abbot of Sedlec monastery returned from a visit to Israel (then Palestine) with soil that he sprinkled on the cemetery surrounding the Chapel of All Saints.  In turn the graveyard, with its new connection to the holy lands, became a sought after burial site among Central Europe. The number of burials out grew the space in the graveyard so the older bodies were exhumed and stored in the chapel.  It is estimated that the remains of 40,000 people are in the chapel.  The story is told that a blind monk started piling the bones in pyramids and other shapes and recovered his sight. In 1870 a woodcarver was commissioned to build the structures.  When entering the church tickets and souvenirs can be purchased from a cashier working there.  At one point a cashier was asked if she was ever scared by the bones, she replied “Pfft! They’re only bones, they won’t hurt you; it’s the living who scare me”.

I climbed up to the bells just in time to watch the sun go down.

I climbed up to the bells just in time to watch the sun go down.


One of the seven bells in the tower

One of the seven bells in the tower

A ticket to climb the tower also gives you access to the cemetery.

A ticket to climb the tower also gives you access to the cemetery

The tower lit up at night

The tower lit up at night

This is one church you don’t want to fall asleep in during service.  They might make you part of the decorations.

This is one church you don’t want to fall asleep in during service. They might make you part of the decorations.


The family that owned the church had their coat of arms placed on the wall.

The family that owned the church had their coat of arms placed on the wall.


Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad)



A capstone of our trip proved to be the tour of the Prague Castle today. Our last day started early and ended at the Charles Bridge.

The Prague Castle is really more of a complex of much to see. Naturally, royal history is richly shown here, but also political history, displays of Czech art and craftsmanship, gardens and an intriguing cathedral.

Personal highlights included the Old Royal Palace (site the infamous Second Defenestration), South Gardens, Cathedral of Sv Vit, and the changing of the Czech guard. Lunch at the Restaurant Vikarka was a yummy and classic example of Czech cuisine.

Let’s Get Physical

Do you think you have a rigourous daily workout routine?  Can you bench press 100lbs?  Can you do 100 sit-ups at once?  How about jump rope for 10 minutes?

All of those things used to make me think, “Yeah, that’s a great workout.”  But all that was before I visited the Cathedral of St. Vitus in Prague, Czech Republic today.  The bell rings every hour, on the hour.  There are two people that manually toll the bells and the bells make the most melodious sound you will ever hear.  What makes this even more impressive is the largest of these two bells weighs 2 1/2 tons!  Up and down, up and down, up and down for at least 10minutes…2 1/2  tons!  Now that’s a workout!

IMG_2106 IMG_2111 DSCN0904


Traveling thousands of miles away from Greensboro to learn about a company that I pass on the side of the highway on a regular basis may sound odd, but that is exactly how I would summarize Friday’s visit to Syngenta-Prague. Although I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation about this company just a week prior, actually visiting one of the company’s corporate offices and speaking with some of its employees helped me to develop a complete picture of Syngenta’s status as the world’s leading company in the agricultural business.

Syngenta is a 13.4 billion dollar company that focuses on the development of crop protection and the development/production of seeds, young plants and other garden/lawn products. My classmates and I visited the Prague office of Syngenta on Friday and spoke with two of its representatives: Andre the Pricing Manager and Itka a Marketing Representative. From these representatives, we learned a number of things about the company (some of which I highlighted in the prior presentation materials), but those items that were unique to Syngenta-Prague were as follows:

  • 54 percent of Syngenta’s Czech Republic market is herbicide sales, and 31 percent of that market is fungicide sales;
  • One of Syngenta’s largest farms for product development and testing in Central Europe is in the Czech Republic; marketing is tied strongly to big farms in the Czech Republic which means bigger yield for the company;
  • There are 17 sales managers in the Prague office and each has a different region of the country (and surrounding countries) to introduce products and cultivate relationships with potential/existing customers;
  • The European Union has developed policies requiring companies like Syngenta to be “eco-agricultural” (i.e., preventing the sale of certain products containing chemicals that may affect bees) which has led to recent legal issues; and
  • The Prague office of Syngenta is said to be the most attractive Syngenta office in Central Europe and thus, is the location of many of the company’s regional meetings.

As a whole, I was impressed by the company and its focus on constantly improving its products which will, in turn, be very instrumental in allowing for the increased production of crops to feed the world’s ever-growing population. Thus, I believe Andre when he says that employees are so happy with Syngenta that they never leave!

Labuti Jezero aka Swan Lake

A group of us got our theater best on and headed to the Narodni Divadlo (the National Theater) to see the Czech National Ballet perform this classical work, which dates back to 1877.

For a former dancer and non-dancers alike, this was truly an enriching experience of Prague culture. Particularly, given the fact that CNB was the first to perform the ballet outside of Russia.

The ballet, usually set in four acts, explores faithful love and deception. This production had a wonderful blend of the well-know 1895 revival choreography by Petipa and modern touches set to Tchaikovsky’s score. Story transitions were clearer while also adding aspects to possibly push the boundaries of Czech society. Folk inspired dances gave a taste of flamenco, the Mazurka and Russian dance.

To secure tickets, the traditional methods were available, though some better than others. Prices were cheaper in general than the US counterpart at roughly 500-1100 Kc (or $30-60). I ended up walking in person to the box office to secure the best of the remaining tickets.

The attendant was very friendly and proficient in English. I had read that the company cancelled some shows earlier in the month – he said that was likely due to the recent flooding and that he had seen a high demand for these tickets in particular.

The theater is smaller than expected but generous on architectural detail. Red velvet seats, carvings with gold gilding, and magnificent proscenium frame. As an MBA student, several questions come to mind: what is the book value of such an asset and what is the associated maintenance cost or depreciation?

Programs were not included in the ticket price. To purchase, present the usher with 50 Kc. What one receives amazed me. Multiple pages of large photos, biographies, and descriptions in several languages. In the states, such a program would cost a small fortune, particularly for a small company. But at 2.96 in US dollars and considering a markup was added, what is the actual cost?

The dancers, costumes, stage staff, ushers, etc. – what are the operating costs?

In the US, performing arts rarely recoup operating costs with ticket sales alone. The difference is made up with grants, foundations, and individual donors. What is the situation here in the Czech Republic?

To be continued…


After touring GE on Tuesday we all had the opportunity to explore Siena for a couple of hours.  The main sight to see in Siena was the cathedral, which was really impressive.  Below are some of the photos that I took to try to capture the beauty of and intricacy of the building.  Enjoy!

Siena from afar





Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

The ceiling of the dome

The ceiling of the dome

More inside

More inside


Marble designs on the floor

Marble designs on the floor

More marble...

More marble…


In the Library

In the library

The library wall

The library wall

More library wall

More library wall

The ceiling in the library - stunning!

European Food

Before starting this trip , I believe we all had a list of things we wanted to eat and try.  Everyone  chattered about tasting the pizza, pasta, and gelato. However, as I reflect  I think we missed the most important part about the meal. It was the time we shared together and learning about each other. The laughs we have made as a class over  breakfast, lunch and dinner made the European Experience.

Im not a food critic but for me eating or sharing a meal is more than what we shove down our throats. In fact, it is the time we shared together outside our comfort zone, learning about different cultures, basking in good  conversation, “Making it Rain”, laughing about ” Nasty Dan”, looking for Alice, or walking miles together to find resturants .  It is evident that no matter how far we study abroad , the one thing we have in common is quality time that takes place over any meal. Nevertheless, quality/bonding time was the key ingredient in all authentic european dishes!

Worlds Famous Gelato!!!

Worlds Famous Gelato!!!