Hitting the road again

Prague, Czech Republic

“In order to pursue leadership positions beyond the creative realm, I need a broader understanding of how companies operate. Part of this involves gaining the necessary quantitative and general business management foundation that I have had only a limited, informal exposure to.”

This is from my application essay last year to Kenan-Flager Business School. My case for admission at the time was pretty straight-forward: with no formal business background, I sought the fundamental quantitative skills, knowledge, and network that were critical to successfully starting and growing my own business. It’s safe to say that after only a semester at UNC — one that has included ten courses, including macro and microeconomics, financial tools, corporate finance, business strategy, marketing, operations, statistics, organizational behavior and financial accounting — I’ve taken a big step forward in building that foundation.

It’s been a whirlwind and immersive four months, but one in which I’ve learned a great deal, met some fantastic people and started working toward achieving that post b-school goal. It’s also been an exhausting semester, making my winter break trip to Central Europe — a ten-day jaunt to Prague, Czech Republic, Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary — a real treat.

After a taxi and bus ride, we arrived at Dulles last night a little before 9 p.m. for our Air France flight to Europe. We checked in, struggled to put our bags on the scale and then went in search of Five Guys nourishment at the airport’s new B Terminal. Our hearts were nearly broken when we learned that one of the locations was closed so we trekked to the A Terminal for Little Cheeseburgers, Freedom Fries and A&W Root Beer. It was a solid final meal on American terra firma and provided the necessary fuel for the 20-minute walk back to our gate, just as our flight was boarding.

We found our seats near the rear of the plane, listened to safety instructions in French and were soon airborne en route to Paris. Strong trans-Atlantic headwinds, the captain said, would make the flying time just around 6 hours. It was enough to have a couple complimentary Heinekens, watch Pineapple Express and catch a few hours of sleep.

A short layover didn’t provide the time we’d hoped for a Parisian coffee and croissant. Instead, Charles de Gaulle was kind of a mad house, with long holiday lines at the security checkpoints. Bleary eyed, we boarded Air France flight 1982 and after an uneventful 90 minutes, were wheels down in Prague at 15:02, a few minutes behind schedule.

Our bags were some of the last on the carousel and we found it strange that there was no customs or immigration checkpoint to pass through. Not even a passport stamp. A quick cab ride brought us to our first hotel of the trip, the Mandarin Oriental, opened two years ago in the city’s Mala Strana (Little Quarter) neighborhood, in the shadow of the famous castle. It’s a beautiful place partially housed in a restored 14th century convent, with radiant heated bathroom floors, exceptional service and all of the amenities you would expect in what has been said is Prague’s most luxurious hotel.

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Our room, #106, overlooked the monastery’s old courtyard. We hit up the rain shower, bundled up and then made our way to the Charles Bridge, a Czech landmark. Built in 1400, the bridge is lined with 30, mainly religious, statues of saints and bishops.

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A walk through a maze of streets on the other side of the Vltava River brought us to Old Town Square, one of Europe’s biggest. The mood at the annual Christmas Market was festive. Food and crafts stalls circled around a huge tree, while a tuba band played a rendition of Rudolph and the spires of the Church of our Lady Before Tyn soared overhead.

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For dinner, we sampled some traditional Czech dishes: klobasa v baguette (sausage with mustard on a baguette), bramborácky (dank garlicky potato pancakes) and trdelndelík (sugar donuts cooked over open coals), all washed down with a couple glasses of hot mulled wine. Very delicious.

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Exhausted from our day’s travels, we headed home, climbed into our exceptionally high thread count sheets and hit the sack.

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