Sunday, March 29, 2015

Field Trip 1: Prague and Dresden

           Over the weekend, we went on our first field trip as a group. It was such a neat experience, and I am very excited to share my adventures with everyone. Our field trip started out Thursday morning when we all met at the train station and took a train to Prague. Unfortunately not very many of us were able to sit together, and I ended up sitting by myself in the kids compartment of our car, but I slept part of the way there, so it was not that big of a deal. When we got to Prague, we went to our hostel and checked into our rooms and then headed out to start touring. We did a short walking tour around the Old Town and John Lennon's Wall, and then we were free for the day. The whole city was decorated when we got there because of Easter being next weekend, and it was very pretty to see. I went with some people to do some souvenir shopping, and then we headed back to the hostel. At 8, we met by the astronomical clock and then went to an Irish Pub that one of our Czech professors recommended. We stayed there for a while, and ended up heading back to the hostel to hang out together as a group for the night.

           On Friday, we started touring by 10 in the morning and made it to quite a few places throughout the day. Our first stop was St. Vitus Cathedral, which was up on top of a tall hill we had to climb. However, the cathedral was absolutely beautiful, so it made the climb worth it. After that, we watched the changing of the guards at Prague Castle and then eventually made our way into the castle to tour it. It was such a neat place to see, and I was reminded how much I love visiting castles. We went St. George's Basilica also, and although it was small, it was interesting to visit because of how old it was. We then finished off the planned portion of the day by going to the Golden Lane, which was a road with many small historic houses that had exhibits in them about life many years ago in Prague. Once we finished at the Golden Lane, I went with Miranda, Jessica, Miriah, and Keyli for lunch, and then we made it up another hill to the Petřín Lookout Tower. After climbing 299 steps, we made it to the top, and were greeted with a beautiful view of the city. I never realized how big Prague was until I saw it from the tower. After all of that walking and climbing though, we were ready to rest, and we returned to the hostel. After a few hours, I went back out with Miranda, Jessica, and Jon to Charles Bridge, because we wanted to see it, and the city, all lit up at night. It was really beautiful, and none of my pictures can do it justice. We ate some supper while we were out, and then returned to the hostel where we spent another night just hanging out together and playing games.

           On Saturday, we left the hostel by 8 so we could make it to our train to Dresden. It still completely blows my mind that we could take one two hour train ride and end up in a different country! Dresden was a beautiful place, but it was also a very sad place as well because of how much of it was destroyed at the end of WWII by bombs. One such building, the Dresden Frauenkirche, is a Lutheran church that was destroyed during the war and then eventually rebuilt. The cool thing about how it was rebuilt is that some of the original stones were used in the new church, which is why some of the bricks are much darker than others. We ate some lunch and then returned to the church to go inside and then climb up to the top of the dome at the church and get a bird's eye view of Dresden. After that, we split up and some people went to an art gallery, and some of us went to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, which is a museum in the Dresden Castle. It had a lot of cool artifacts ranging from medieval armor to many different royal treasures. We met back at the church after that and made our way back to Prague. I ate a small supper, and then we spent another night hanging out as a group, but not for as late as the other nights, because the Czech Republic finally had their Daylight Savings time change. It was kind of depressing to have to go through a second time change, after just going through one three weeks ago, but I think I'll survive.

           Sunday was definitely the most humbling and sobering of the days on our field trip. We checked out of our hostel but left our bags there so we could go to the Jewish Quarters in Prague. The first place we went there was the Pinkas Synagogue. It used to be a Jewish Synagogue, but is now a museum/memorial for the Jewish people of the Czech Republic that were killed during the Holocaust. They had all of the names of the people killed written on the walls in multiple different rooms, and they even had artwork done by the Jewish children at that time who were living in the ghetto. It was hard to get through but also very interesting to see. After that, we went to the Old Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery is unique because for around four hundred years, it was the only place that the Jews were able to bury their dead. So when they ran out of room at the cemetery, they put a new layer of dirt down and moved the tombstones to the top layer so they could bury more people. There are actually around twelve layers of graves at the cemetery. We then went to the Klausen Synagogue which had many Jewish artifacts in it regarding burial ceremonies and things of the like. It was very interesting to read about the Jewish customs and see some of the items they had there. After that, we went for lunch and did some more souvenir shopping before meeting and returning to Olomouc.

          I definitely learned a lot this weekend. Not only did we see many old and beautiful historic buildings, but we learned about the history behind them and discovered that history has both a good and a bad side. But no matter whether the moment was good or bad, there is always a lesson that can be taught and new things that can be learned.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

5 Cultural Comparisons

           I still cannot believe that we have already been here for a week, but I have already noticed so many things that are different here than back in the United States. So I thought I would condense that list down to five bigger things that really stuck out to me the most.

1. People are allowed to smoke indoors here. This one probably confused me the most, because that is just not allowed anywhere in the U.S. There are some places that we have been where there has been a room specifically for smoking, but that is definitely not the case at most places. It definitely surprises me that this is allowed, given the dangers of second-hand smoke, but I guess this is a different place than back home, so anything is possible.

2. There is not that much take away or fast food. I know this seems like something kind of ridiculous, but it makes it very hard when you are on a limited time schedule but you still need to eat something. When we went to the movie the other day, we had around forty minutes to eat supper. That might seem like a lot, but when most places are sit down, there is no possible way to eat and get out that quickly. Thankfully though, we have found a few places that could be considered "fast food" that we can go to if that ever happens again.

3. When you do get a meal, it most likely will be a multiple course meal. I cannot count the number of places that we have been to that served us a soup, a main dish, and a dessert, and for all under $6. I know back in the states, you get your main course, and that is it. But I have tried so many different soups and desserts because of this, so I have not been complaining too much!

4. Everyone here (in Olomouc) parties during the week and then goes home on the weekend. Maybe this is just something that I notice here at the university because there have been so many different cultural nights that we have gone to. However, when we had our pub crawl on Friday, there was almost no one out and about, and we were told that it is because everyone goes home to their hometowns on the weekends, which leaves the town pretty dead. Whereas I know in Nebraska, everyone is so busy during the week, that there is no time to go out with friends every night, so fun activities tend to get pushed to the weekend.

5. My favorite cultural difference so far is that everyone can bring their dog with them anywhere they go. We have seen dogs at restaurants, on the tram, on the bus, and even at the zoo. It is kind of weird seeing all of the dogs everywhere, but they are so cute, that it is hard to even care about it. And not all of the dogs are always on leashes, and that is a strange thing as well. However, when a puppy walks over to you and wants to be petted, it is hard to turn it away and not just love it. It definitely makes it hard to not miss my pets back at home though!

           Although I have loved my stay here so far, there are a few things that have made me realize that not everywhere is the same as Kearney, Nebraska. However, I would not change being here for anything, and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to experience these cultural differences, even if they do seem a bit strange.

Never a Dull Moment Here in Europe

Hello again,

           I feel like it has been forever since I last posted anything anywhere, whether it was an update to my blog or a picture on facebook, so I figured it was about time to do so. We finally reached Olomouc, which is where we are staying and taking classes, and it is a pretty great town. It is only around 100,000 people, which is nice because that makes it not too overwhelming for us Nebraskans, who are used to smaller cities. I'm going to take it back though, and start where I left off in my last blog.

           On that Saturday when I last posted, I said we were going to go on a walking tour of Prague, and we did do that for a while. It was a free one that we heard about from our hostel, where your guide is a volunteer, and at the end, you can tip the guide if you think he or she has done a good job. We started our tour at 11 that morning, and we all loved our guide. He told us so much about the city, and it was a lot of fun. However, half way through the tour, his wife went into labor with their first kid, and although he felt terrible for leaving us, he left and went to the hospital. We gave him a tip for the hour and a half that he was with us, and we decided to do a little exploring on our own. We went to an ice bar for around ten minutes, just to experience it, and took quite a few pictures there. And on the way back to the hostel, we walked over Charles Bridge, and got a beautiful view of the city. We all went back to the hostel and took naps after that, because we were still exhausted from London.

           The next morning, we left our hostel because we had to go to the airport to meet the rest of our group. However, instead of following the route that we had taken from the airport to our hostel, we tried a new route that Google Maps told us about. After waiting for about 30 or more minutes for a bus that never showed up, we back tracked and took the original route back to the airport. We waited at the airport for an hour or so, and after a four hour bus ride and a stop at McDonald's, we made it to our dorms. And after getting our rooms and throwing our stuff in them, some of us hurried down to the supermarket close to us, Globus, and picked up some things that we knew we would need while here, like food for example.

           On Monday, we were picked up at our dorms by one of the Czech students, Tereza, and were led to our university, Palacký University. We had a few presentations as part of an orientation and then were led on a walking tour of part of the city.we even got to tour city hall and go up a tall tower it has, which provided a nice view of the city.That night, we went to one of the clubs, 15 Minut, for an Africa night thing. It was pretty fun to get to know some of my fellow Nebraskans better while also getting to dance.

           The next day, we all tried as a group to find our university, and after almost getting lost, we made it right on time. We had a presentation about Czech history from a professor who was actually from the U.S., but immigrated to the Czech Republic after the Velvet Divorce of 1989. After lunch, we had another presentation about the history from a different professor, who after presenting, took us on another tour of some of the other parts of the city. That night, some of the Czech students organized a welcome party for us, and we went to a pub for kolaches and drinks. Some of us continued to stay out with some of the Czech students, and went to a couple more pubs before we called it a night.

           We had another presentation on Wednesday from one of the professors about the Gentle Revolution. He spoke about how the students were a big part of the end of Communism in the Czech Republic. It was a very interesting presentation, and the professor even spoke from personal experience because he was a professor at the university while this was going on. We got a tour of the library that afternoon, and then we waited around at the dorms until later that night when we went to another club, Belmundo, for the Taiwan, Ireland, and Belgium night. We got there a little too early, because apparently no one shows up until at least an hour and a half after it is suppose to start. It was still fun though to experience more of the multicultural community of Palacký University.

           Thursday we had a class about the effects of communism in the Czech Republic, and then we had our first two Czech language classes. The language is very difficult, mainly because the pronunciations are sort of confusing, and they have some extra vowels and consonants in their alphabet. We made it through the class, and then we went to watch a Czech movie that was being put on by the university. It was a little different, but still entertaining, and we finished off the night just hanging out with some of our new Czech friends.

           Yesterday, we had another three hours of Czech language class, and once it was over, I made another run to the supermarket, and came back and ate a late lunch. I had to hurry though, because we had a pub crawl organized by a former UNK student who studied abroad in the Czech Republic, and is now living here getting her masters. We started out at 5 going to Měšťanský Pivovar, which is a restaurant and brewery. After an hour there, we went to a winery, Vinotéka U Zlatky, and then eventually to Drápal, where we ate supper. We continued to Cocktail Bar OSA, and then finished off the organized part of the night at Black Stuff Irish Pub, where a few of us eventually continued on to 15 Minut to dance some before going to bed. It was a lot of fun to go see what restaurants and other places they have in Olomouc to go see, while also just bonding with the group.

           Today I decided to update my blog, and I really need to do laundry tomorrow (it has been a few days). Some of us went to Svaty Kopeck this afternoon, which is a basilica about twenty minutes from Olomouc. It was such a beautiful church, and I loved every second of being there. There was also a zoo about five minutes away from the basilica, so of course we had to go there as well. It obviously could not quite compare to the Henry Doorly Zoo, but it was still fun to be able to go see some animals. We ate supper at a restaurant near the zoo/basilica, and it was really good. They had hamburgers there, and although they were different than the ones back home, it was still nice to have some red meat.

           It completely blows my mind that we have already been here for almost a week, because I can already tell the days are going to fly by, and soon I'll be heading back to Kearney. But for now, I'm going to enjoy the time I have here, and try to not waste a minute of it!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My Adventures Before School Starts

Hi Everyone!

            I know it has been a while since I first posted about my blog, so I am sorry that it has taken me this long to post anything again. It has been a fantastic past few days, and I am very excited to share my experiences with all of you. We just arrived in Prague yesterday, but we spent the past few days in London sight-seeing and taking in all that it has to offer.

            We arrived at the airport in London Tuesday morning, and after a little bit of confusion and misdirection, we were able to get to our hostel. It wasn’t a five star hotel or anything, but it gave us somewhere to sleep and that is all we needed. On that first afternoon, my friends that I traveled with, Miranda and Jessica, and myself took ourselves on our own tour of London. Miranda and Jessica had already been there before, but it was a new experience trying to navigate the town without the help of a tour group or other adult figure. However, we did just fine and went and saw places like Soho, the Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square and saw things like Big Ben and the London Eye. We even had fish and chips for lunch, just to partake in the London experience. We finally finished off the night by exploring some of London before supper, so we could see everything all of the buildings lite up for the night.

            Our second day there was the most tourist packed day of them all. We had bought a London Pass for twenty-four hours, we just means that you can see so many attractions all throughout one day, as long as the discounted total for the places equal how much the pass is worth. So we went to five different places with our pass in less than eight hours! We started out the day by going to Kensington Palace, which is where William and Kate Middleton live, and did the tour there. It was a very beautiful place with a lot of history, and well worth our time. We then went to Westminster Abbey, which just took my breath away with how beautiful it is. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed inside of the abbey, but it was still amazing to go see. We then ate some lunch at a market and got right back into touring. We went to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels and just admire the medivel design of the building. We also went to the Tower Bridge Exhibition, which allowed us to go up into the Tower Bridge and get a bird’s eye view of the city, which was a lot of fun. And for our last tour with our pass, we went to London Bridge for the London Bridge Experience. It was a scary yet educational tour of what went on at the London Bridge in the early days of its existence. After that, we went and found the Globe Theatre, because I thought it would be cool to see it, even if we did not go inside. We then found a pub to eat at for supper, and went back out to see Big Ben and the London Eye at night.

            The next day was probably one of the most fun days. We started out the morning by taking a bus, then a train, and then another bus to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Although I’ve only ever read the books and not seen the movies, it was so much fun to go see all of the hard work that went into making the movies. We spend around two hours there, and then came back to the main part of London and ate at the same market as the day before. After lunch, we went to Buckingham Palace, but we weren’t sure when the changing of the guards was happening, so we just went to see the Palace. And for our final tourist place in London, we went to Hyde Park and just sat and observed how pretty it was (also because we were exhausted from walking, so we didn’t want to walk around the park). We stopped by the Sherlock Holmes Museum before supper, and returned to the same pub as the night before for some more great food. We headed back to the hostel, where we repacked and went to bed early.

            Yesterday morning, we left our hostel at three in the morning to get to catch the 3:30 A.M. bus to the airport, because the airport was around an hour away, and our flight was at 7 this morning to Prague. We hit a few snafus at the airport, but eventually made it to Prague. Although it was not difficult to find our hostel here, we had to pull our suitcases up a super long steep hill to get to it. We found a café to eat at for lunch, and then we went to the grocery market to get some snacks to eat for supper. It was not the busiest day, but it was nice to relax and recuperate from the previous three days.

            Today is probably not going to be a very busy day either, but we are planning on going on a walking tour around the city and just seeing where we go from there. Sunday is when we finally go to Olomouc, and I am super excited to start our classes and get to know the rest of the students going on this program.

Until next time,