|Charles Bridge in Prague.|
There is no easy way to start this blog post except with wow… It is hard to describe how it was leaving Cesky Krumlov, the place, the people, and the course... I have never learnt so much in such a short period of time and have never met such special people. However, all good things come to an end and it's back to reality.
My trip to the Czech Republic started a little rocky, with the tags on my bag falling off and getting lost on Oslo. Luckily I had my friend Jan, waiting for me at the airport to look after me and help me get my bearings in Prague. Jan, was my Au Pair at the age of 10, when he came to England and helped my family out of quite a rough period and our connection has never been broken. He has been inviting me to his home country for many years and I finally had the opportunity to go and spend time with him and his son in Prague. Although the stay with him was short and sweet I will never forget my time in Prague, it is a truly beautiful city full of beautiful people.
On the Sunday morning I adventured through Prague on my own to get to the bus that would take me to Cesky Krumlov. Although I got onto the wrong tram and had to take a few extra trains to get to the bus stop I can safely say that I am quite confident with public transport in Prague and made it to my bus on time. The 3 hour bus drive to Cesky Krumlov flashed by as I slept most of the way there and I awoke in the city I would be spending a month in and I quickly fell in love. The first night there we got to meet all the wonderful people we would be spending the next two weeks together on the genomics course. Genomics is an interdisciplinary field of science focusing on genomes. A genome is a complete set of DNA and as such genomics is a branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes. At the beginning of the night I bump into the only other student Mercè, that would be staying the entire month and we hit it off right away, I had no idea at this point that she became one of the most important person to me for the month.
|Me and Mercè bingo winner!|
The next day the genomics course began with a quick orientation of the course, the city and what we could do with our one day of free time. In the afternoon, we had a lecture on genome structural variation which is variation in the structure of an organism’s DNA and in the evening, we had speed networking. Speed networking is a bit like speed dating, but with research topics and with more than 80 people it was really exhausting. We got to hear most of the amazing projects people were working on and hopefully connect with people with similar projects. For the rest of the week we got to grips with the virtual computers we would be using, how to use the UNIX operating system, how to use UNIX for genomics, how to test sequence data quality, assemble a genome, and an introduction to R another important program for bioinformatics. On the Thursday of this week me, Mercè and Edo were the first to get the course bingo. The course bingo was 25 activities you do during the course that ranged from learning Czech words to doing the Macarena with one of the TA’s Sophie.
|The masquerade ball room.|
When we entered the Baroque theatre, there were no words to describe the beauty of what we saw. The amazing, beautiful and fully functioning Baroque theatre (one of two in the world, the other being in Drottningholm near Stockholm). The first indirect information about the beginnings of theatre culture in the Český Krumlov castle come from the end of the 15th century, although the real blossoming of theatre life came during the reign of Wilhelm and Peter Wok of Rosenberg in the late 1500's. In 1675 Prince Johann Christian I. von Eggenberg had a theatre scene built in the so-called Deer Hall in the Krumlov castle, then in 1680 - 82 had a new and independent theatre building built on the 5th courtyard, on the site of the present theatre building. In 1765 - 1766, Josef Adam zu Schwarzenberg had the building reconstructed and equipped with new machinery and decorations. The unique mechanisms for changing the scenes and other decorations were prepared by the Viennese carpenter Lorenz Makh, while the wall paintings, ceiling mural, and curtains and wings were created by the Viennese painters Hans Wetschel and Leo Märkl3. We then got to see under the stage to see how the fully function stage worked.
|Amazing people at the top of the castle in a snow flurry.|
Once we had finished the castle tour we came outside to a beautiful snow flurry where we explored some more of the castle ground and then we were able to head up the castle tower. “This is a rounded six-storied tower. The lower part (first two stories) is much wider and is separated from the upper one by the cornice, with the original ceilings dating from the 1580's. The facade is decorated with illusively painted architecture. The second floor has a rounded ceiling as well. The ceiling above the third floor is a simple joist ceiling with a porthole and rounded windows with semicircular vaulted niches placed in the circular stonework. The belfry is on the fourth floor, where four bells are set on the bell supporting construction located in the high ceiling room. The fifth storey is an arcaded barrel-vaulted gallery with triagonal segments. The corridor passes upwards through the Renaissance portal into a segmental hutch-vaulted room. The room with the clock is situated on the sixth floor and is lit by small rounded windows. Above the simple joist ceiling is a garret with the lower part of the truss. On the top of the tower is a lantern with bells4.”
After a relaxing lunch, we then had the chance to join the previous mayor of Cesky Krumlov for a wine and cheese tasting evening in his puppet shop. The wine was not much to be desired but our host was the star of the show, a spitting image of father Christmas and the humour to match. He was telling us about all the people he had met as the mayor including Princess Margaret, Prince Charles, the King, and Queen of Sweden and many more! He went into great detail about their personalities and how good they were at drinking.
|Prizes and T-shirt design.|
The second week built on the knowledge we gained in the first week and went into many different programs and techniques that were vital to my research. RAD-sequencing, stacks, QIME, Transcriptomics and then some additional interesting topics such as, Epigenetics, metagenomics and how to show your work truthfully. The week was so full of information and I had never learnt so much in such a short period of time but before I knew it, it was the end of the week. We got given a couple of prizes for finishing the bingo and ticking off the most of the bingo squares (21/25) and the t-shirts for the course amazingly designed by my good friend Mercè. For the final dinner, which was arranged by the students we had a short screen play written by one of the students and acted out by the supervisors of the course and some gypsy dancing. During the party, people started leaving and we began our goodbyes to all the amazing people we had met during the course. It was very hard so some of us stayed awake until 5am for those lucky people taking the first bus back to Prague. However, I was lucky enough to have another two weeks with the lovely Mercè.
|Old fashioned photo shoot.|
The weekend between the two courses was completely free so me and Mercè made the most of the time and relaxed for most of it but did a little bit of exploring the in the city and took some old fashioned photos at the photo museum. On the Sunday evening, we started all over again meeting all the people we would spend the next two weeks with on the Phylogenomic course. Phylogenomics is the intersection of the fields of evolution and genomics and refers to analysis that involves genome data and evolutionary reconstructions. I would go into more depths regarding the sort of things we learnt during the course, but going into depths regarding the massive variety of programs and techniques we learnt would take long in itself and could also be rather confusing so if you are interested I will leave the links to the timetables at the bottom of this post.
The two weeks flew by and before I knew it was the last evening, this time I was the person who had organised the final dinner and party. I took the idea from the previous party and designed a bingo sheet myself for the supervisors of the course that involved similar aspects as ours, but ones that they could finish within one evening. It went really well and was fun to see everyone enjoy themselves, but then came the hard part of having a good evening and saying good bye to another bunch of amazing people. The next morning, I left my beautiful hotel and the beautiful city of Cesky Krumlov behind to get my bus to Prague. There was a group of us taking the same bus together which meant I didn’t have to say good bye to everyone in one go but once we got to Prague it was the final good bye to everyone including the amazing Mercè. Once again, I was lucky to have my friend Jan there in Prague and I spent my last night in the Czech republic with some lovely people and a small little concert. I flew back to reality the next morning, it was very hard but I was greeted by all my favourite people the next day!
|Me saying my goodbyes to Cesky Krumlov.|
This was just a small summery of what I experienced during my time in the Czech Republic. I have grown so much as both a person and in my knowledge of my field of science. I am by no means an expert in my field, but I am much better equipped to tackle the task of my PhD. I was able to talk, have lunch and drink with some of the leading experts in my field and now have friends all over the world that I can turn to for support. What I gained from this experience is unquantifiableand I hope that I can do everyone proud with what I have learnt.