Sunday, April 26, 2015

Language Issues

           For the past month, I have been working on learning the Czech language, and let me tell you, it is kind of difficult. From different pronunciations of letters to new word endings to new verb forms, it has not been the easiest learning experience of my life. I was not expecting to become fluent in a two and a half month span or anything, but I have definitely been challenged more in this class than I have before in other language classes.

           In my academic life post, I dived into a little of what we have been learning in our class, so I'll try not to rehash everything again. Instead, I will talk a little bit about what it is like living somewhere where English is not the primary language. Living in the U.S. for all of my life, and being an English speaker, I have never really had a problem communicating. However, I have had many opportunities here to practice my smile and nod when I am not sure what is being said. In fact, we have even had some people continue to try to talk to us in Czech, even after we told them that we do not understand the language! Now just because quite a few people do not speak English, does not mean that everyone here does not. And it can actually be kind of fun sometimes to try to guess what you should order off the menu since there is not information about the items in English anwhere. Nevertheless, it is always nice to find people at the places you go to who speak English, so trying to do even basic things like buying groceries is slightly less problematic.

           Being fluent in the common language is something that I have taken for granted for most of my life. I never really understood how hard it would be to move somewhere new and get adjusted, mainly because of how much the language barrier affects everyday life. Because even though trying to learn a new language can be fun sometimes, it is also one of the most challenging parts of trying to adjust to life here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Field Trip 2: Vienna and Venice

           Hello again everyone! I am finally updating my blog again after our two weeks of spring break. This blog post will be about our field trip to Vienna and Venice as a class, and then I will also post again about what I did over spring break. The past two weeks have been a blast, but it is nice to finally be “home” again in Olomouc and not have to live out of a suitcase.

           Our spring break started out on Monday, April 6th, with a 4 hour bus ride to Vienna. When we finally arrived and checked-in to our hostel. We went on a brief walking tour to the town square and were set free to go eat lunch. After lunch, we went to the Imperial Treasury and saw so many amazing artifacts. It’s always fun for me to see the crown jewels and just imagine what life for the royalty then was like. After that, we had the rest of the day free. So I walked around for a while with another girl, Siming, and we saw quite a bit of Vienna. We went to St. Peter’s Church and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and then we just walked by quite a few other beautiful buildings. After a while, we ran into Stephen and Ellie, and I went with them while Siming went to an Opera. We walked back to the hostel and got food, and then I just hanged out with a few other people who were back at the hostel. We did go out for more food eventually, and then walked around for a while looking for an open convenience store, but then we called it a night and went to bed.

           The next day, we all went as a group to a horse show. It ended up being a training day and not a show though, so we left early and all went to go do our own thing. Most of us went to the Natural History Museum, and it was such a neat museum. Besides having exhibits on geology and other earth-related things, they also had dinosaurs, which were obviously the best part of the museum. After that, I went with Stephen, Ellie, and Siming to the National Austrian Library. It was a beautiful library with so much history, and it was amazing to go see it. After the library and eating some lunch, we went to St. Charles’s Church. It was an outstanding church with so many decorative elements with a lot of impressive baroque architecture. We then went to an opera at the Vienna State Opera House. The opera was Parsifal, and it was all in German. There was an English translation we could read, but since the tickets were standing room only and we had only paid 4 euro for them, we left after about an hour. However, it was a really neat opportunity to see an opera and I really enjoyed it. Then we went to the Sacher Café for coffee and to try some Sachertorte, which is one of the most famous Viennese desserts. Then we just went back to the hostel for the night.

           We left early Thursday morning for Venice, and it was a very beautiful drive. We drove by the Alps and even stopped for lunch and pictures. When we finally got to Venice and checked into our hotel, we went on a walking tour to St. Mark’s square. After that we had the day free. So Miranda, Jessica, Keyli, and I walked around Venice and got lost. Though to be honest, the streets there are so confusing that there was no way we could not get lost. Thankfully though, there are street signs pointing you towards main things in the city like St. Mark’s square and the Rialto Bridge. We eventually got supper and gelato, and then got a little lost again finding our way back to the hotel. Once we made it back there though, we enjoyed the beautiful weather and sat outside at the bar near the hotel for a while. Then we spent part of the night wandering around the city and enjoying how beautiful it was at night. However, our hotel had a curfew so we eventually had to make our way back and go to bed.

           On Friday, Miranda, Jessica, and I started early and went and explored more of Venice. We wandered down quite a few streets, and eventually found some delicious pastries for breakfast. At 11, we all met at St. Mark’s column in St. Mark’s square. We then went inside St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge's Palace. The basilica was very beautiful, and the museum was very beautiful on the inside and had many fantastic paintings. We were free after the museum, so we went for lunch at a takeaway pasta place. The pasta was surprisingly delicious, and I would most definitely go there again, assuming I could find it again. After that, I went on a gondola ride with Kara, Marissa, Miranda, Jessica, and Keyli. It only lasted 30 minutes, but it was just one of those things that I am glad I got to experience in Venice. Miranda, Jessica, Keyli, and I did some souvenir shopping after that, and then eventually made our way back to the hotel. We found another takeaway pasta place for supper, and it was almost more delicious than the first place. Then we just all spent time bonding outside the hotel before we split up into our own groups for spring break.

           The field trips were a lot of fun, and I’m glad we were able to go to those places. It really was helpful with just practicing navigating a city on your own, as we were going to have to do that for the next week for spring break. It also showed us how to research what to do before going to a city, so you would not get there and then just be overwhelmed by the options of things to do. Overall, it was a fun start to spring break, and a great learning experience as well.

Spring Break 2015: Rome, Paris, Barcelona

           Since my other post that I wrote only covered the field trip part of spring break, I wanted to do another one about the other places I went as well.

           Saturday, April 11th, was the first day of our individual spring break. So the four girls I was going with for break, Miranda, Jessica, Miriah, and Nancy, and I started our break by doing a half day tour of three of the islands off of Venice. We started out the tour on Murano, which is known for its glass works. We watched a glass-blowing demonstration, and then wandered around and looked in some shops. Then we went to Burano, which is known for lace and the islands painted houses. It was a very beautiful island, and it might have been my favorite. And last but not least was Torcello. It was more of a historic island with a couple of old churches and things of the like, but it was still very neat to go visit. After our tour, we did some last minute souvenir shopping, and then were on our way to Rome. We got to Rome that night, found some amazing ice cream next to our hostel, and the wandered to the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately it was under construction, but we still attempted to throw coins into the fountain anyway.

           On Sunday, we got up kind of early to go to Vatican City for mass. However, we did not realize that it was a holy day, so there was only one mass going on that day and we ended up missing it. However, they had it projected on the screens in St. Peter’s Square, so we watched it there. After that, we waited around for a while so we could watch the Pope’s address. He was a little too far away to see, and it was of course all in Italian, but it was still fun just to say we saw it in person. We found our way back to the hostel and ate some lunch and got some more ice cream, and then we were on our way again to do more sight-seeing. We went to the Colosseum first, and it was so amazing. Then we went to the Roman Forum which has quite a few Roman ruins, and it was pretty fantastic to walk around there as well. We walked back over to Trevi Fountain to see it during the day, and then we made our way over to the Pantheon. It was closed by the time we got there, but it was still neat just to see it from the outside. We finally found somewhere for supper, and had an amazing meal, both because the food was good and also because one of the hosts was very entertaining.

           Monday morning was our last time to be in Rome, so we decided to go tour Vatican City. However, we did not realize how long the lines would be to get in, so we ended up paying a little more and going with a tour group. However the tour group left 45 minutes later than what we thought it would, so we kind of had to rush to see everything we wanted to see. Either way though, it was still great to see the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to do so. We hurried back to the hostel after that, grabbed our bags, and made our way to the airport to go to Paris. When we finally arrived in Paris, we got a little lost trying to get to our hostel, and it took us probably about 3 times as long to get there as it should have. So we just ate some supper at the hostel and called it a night.

           The next morning, we went to Versailles, and it was definitely one of my favorite places I have been in Paris. It took a while to get there because it is so out of the city, but the palace was just so over-the-top ornate, and I loved it. We spent a couple of hours there, and then made our way back into Paris. We stopped on our way to our next destination by the Eiffel Tower and took some pictures with it during the day. After that, we went to the Catacombs. This was something I had really wanted to do last time I was in Paris, but we did not have the time. But it was definitely exciting to go wander through the Paris underground and see all of the bones that are down there. After the catacombs, we went for food and then made our way back to the Eiffel Tower. We waited in line for the elevator because we did not think we could climb up it, and then we got to see the city at night. It was so beautiful, and I’m glad I can now say I have been up the Eiffel Tower.

           Wednesday was our most touristy days in Paris. We started out by going to Notre Dame. It has so much history and is so very beautiful, and I enjoyed getting to see it again. We then went to the Paris Opera House, where the Phantom of the Opera takes place. After that, we went to the Louvre. We were only there for a couple of hours, but I was still able to see other things there that I did not see the last time. After the Louvre, we went to the Pont des Arts, which is the bridge that people put locks on. However, because the locks have been compromising the bridges structure, it does not look quite the same because some of the locks have been removed. After that, we went to the Pont Alexander III, which is one of the most beautiful bridges in Paris. It is also right next to Les Invalides, which is where Napoleon Bonaparte is buried. We then returned to the Eiffel Tower and rested with our feet in the water of a fountain that is close to it. Then we just returned to the hostel, ate some dinner, repacked, and went to bed.

           On Thursday morning, we woke up early to catch our plane to Barcelona. We got there around noon, and instead there being nice weather there like what it had been in Paris, it was raining. But we took a taxi to our hostel, and by the time we got there, the rain had pretty much stopped. When we got to the hostel, we happened to run into four other people from our UNK group who were visiting Barcelona as well for spring break. So we all went for lunch, and then walked for about an hour to get to La Sagrada Familia Basilica. It is still just as beautiful as it was last time I was here, and there has definitely been some work accomplished on it since I last saw it. We did not go in since the line was pretty long, but I have already decided I am coming back to Barcelona in at least 11 years when it is supposed to be complete, so I will definitely go inside it then. After the basilica, we walked to Las Ramblas, which is one of the main shopping areas in Barcelona. We walked around for a while, and then returned to the hostel. We waited there for a while, and then eventually went for a late supper.

           We slept in on Friday, because we did not really have much on our agenda for the day. When we did finally get up, we took the metro to Park Güell. We walked around it for a while, and then finally made our way towards the beautiful mosaic part. However, we realized that apparently you need tickets now to get inside that part of the park, so we left and went to go find lunch. We found a great smoothie and sandwich place near the park, and then took the metro again to the Christopher Columbus statue. We thought the beach was pretty close to the statue, but we ended up having to walk for quite a ways to get there. We walked around on the beach for a while though, and then returned to the hostel for a nap. After our nap, we went for supper and had paella and then came back to the hostel because there was supposed to be a beach party going on that night. However, it was not really a beach party, and instead we went to a bar for a while and played some pool, and then we went to a club. We danced for a while, but the club was a little too obnoxious for us, so we did not stay there that long and then went back to the hostel to sleep.

           On our last day of spring break, we slept in again. Miranda and I woke up first and got ready to go to the beach. We walked around the beach for a while and finally found some sunscreen, and then we rented a chair on the beach since we did not have beach towels. Jessica, Miriah, and Nancy eventually joined us, and then we just all stayed there and relaxed for a few hours. We finally returned to the hostel to freshen up, and then went on our way back to Las Ramblas for some more souvenir shopping. We even found the place that Miranda ate at for supper last time she was in Barcelona, and it was pretty delicious. We all had paella again for supper, and absolutely loved it. Apparently, they also have a really nice ice bar in Barcelona, so we went to try to find it after supper, but when we did finally find it, it was a little too expensive to get in, so we just returned and went to bed.

A mural on a wall of some of the more
well-known buildings in Barcelona
           We flew out of Barcelona on Sunday, and got back to Olomouc yesterday afternoon. Spring break was a lot of fun, but I’m glad to be back and have a normal routine again, even if it does mean having class again.