Monday, May 18, 2015

Personal Excursion: Budapest

           Today, I just got back from spending the weekend in Budapest. It was such a fun weekend, so I thought I would share what my experience was there. We were only there for two days, and I can promise that was not enough time, but I am still so glad I had the opportunity to go.

           Friday night, we left Olomouc and took a bus to Brno, which is about an hour away. We wanted to take a night bus to Budapest to save money, and that meant spending about 5 hours in Brno before being able to head to Budapest. So to waste time, our group ended up going to Pitch Perfect 2 at the theater. It was thankfully in English with Czech subtitles, and we all loved the movie. We wandered around Brno for another hour, and then were able to get on our bus. I do not think any of us slept very much on the bus, but we all survived and eventually made it to Budapest. 

           When we got there, we went to our hostel to drop our bags off, and then set out to go explore. We wandered by the Opera House, saw St. Stephen's Basilica, and then went to the river and walked around there for a while. Then we went for lunch and met up again at the hostel so we could officially check in. Some people decided to nap after that, but I went back out with a few other people, and we walked around some more. We walked back to a few of the places we had already been, but it was worth it. For example, we ended up going back the St. Stephen's Basilica, and there apparently was a wedding that was just finishing there and the organ was being played. And then we went back to the hostel and went for supper before getting ready to go to our pub crawl. The pub crawl was a lot of fun, and we were able to meet some other people both from our hostel and from a few other hostels in the city. The best part of it was that we were able to go to a ruin bar, which is one of the things that was recommended that we do in Budapest. A ruin bar is a bar that is built into ruins in the city that were simply built around instead of removed, and they are a really neat thing to visit. We even went and danced for a while before calling it a night and going to bed.

           Sunday morning, we all slept in quite a bit, but of course were able to wake up to eat the free breakfast at the hostel. Then we bought our bath tickets and went to the baths. The one we went to was called Szechenyi, and it was a great experience. The baths in Budapest are built on places where there is thermal water, and the water has a lot of minerals and other things which are supposed to be good for you. We went to both of the outdoor pools there, and then we tried a few of the indoor ones as well. We even tried out one of the saunas, which I thought was slightly terrible, but at least I can say I tried one once. We spent a few hours there, and then most of us returned to the hostel and ate some food. I ended up napping for about 2 hours, and then a few other people and myself went to do an escape room. An escape room is something they have in many major cities in Europe. Basically, you get "locked" in a room for 60 minutes, and have to solve puzzles and find clues to try and figure your way out. It was so much fun, and I hope to do another one while I am in Europe, or even try to find one in the United States. Then we went for a late supper of traditional Hungarian food, which is goulash. We wandered back to the hostel, but not before taking quite a few pictures of the city at night.

           We left this morning to take a bus back to Olomouc. It was barely enough time to even see the city, so if there is anyone interested in going there, I would recommend spending more than two days there. I honestly had no idea what all there was to do there, but I am so glad I was able to see another city in Europe.

Here are a few pictures from the ruin bar.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Field Trip 3: Krakow, Auschwitz, and Birkenau

           This weekend's field trip to Poland was definitely one that will stick with me forever. We not only got to go explore Krakow, but we also went to Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was definitely an experience.

           We left Friday morning to go to Krakow and got our first glimpse of the city at the salt mines. The Wieliczka Salt Mine was first built in the 13th century, and has been in operation almost continiously since it was built. Currently though, tours are the only thing that happens in the mine. It was so interesting to not only see the mines, but learn about how the salt was mined, the dangers of mining, and other random facts about salt. One thing I found very interesting is that the salt actually does not look clear until it is ground up, and it does not go through a refining or cleaning process either. Of course I had to lick the wall and taste it, as so many tourist do, and it was definitely salty! We also saw a few of the chapels they have in the mine, one of which is more of a cathedral where services are held every Sunday and is even used for weddings. After the mine, we went to the hostel, checked in, and then were free for the day. I went to the town center to find supper with a few people, and we found some amazing fish and chips. Then we returned to the hostel after a little bit more walking around and played some card games in the kitchen until pretty late at night.

           On Saturday, we went to the Wawel Royal Castle. It was built in the 14th century, but has been remodeled and altered many times in its history. While there, we visited the armory, treasury, state rooms, and royal private apartments. It was a very large beautiful castle, and I really enjoyed visiting it. After the castle, we went to the Old Town Square and talked a little bit about it before dispersing for lunch. I went with a few people to a burger place called Moaburger, and it was amazing. We had burgers the size of our heads, and they were very filling and very delicious. Then some of us met again in the square at 2 and went to Schindler's Factory. It was the factory where Oscar Schindler employed many Jews and saved them from going to concentration camps, and it has now been turned into a museum. It was interesting to not only learn more about Oscar Schindler but to also learn more about WWII from the Polish perspective, since we have mainly been learning about it from the Czech side. After the museum, we were still not that hungry, so we wandered back into town and went for some cupcakes and ice cream. Other students who had studied abroad on this trip before said the cupcakes at Cupcake Corner Bakery were the best, so we had to go try them. And believe me, they were absolutely fantastic! Once we finished with the cupcakes, we did some souvenir shopping and then headed back to the hostel for about an hour. Then about half of us went to this pub and ate some pizza and tried some flavored beer, because apparently that is a thing that it popular in Krakow. After that, we returned to the hostel and played some more cards until pretty late.

           Today, we checked out of our hostel and headed to Auschwitz for our tour of the concentration camp. It had been really good weather all weekend except for today, and it sort of seemed to set the mood for what we were going to be seeing. We started in Auschwitz 1, which was the original camp. Although it was obviously not that nice of a place, it really did not seem that scary or saddening. However, hearing about the atrocities that happened there were very hard to hear and just made me sad. The barracks that were there were all set up as museums related to different parts of the camp. One that we went into was dedicated to the things that the Nazis had taken from the people that they killed there, There were shoes, suitcases, pots and pans, combs, shoe polish, and even human hair. Another barrack showed what some of the living conditions were like. There were hundreds of pictures on the wall of people who had been killed at the camp, and in the basement, there were cells that were used for various forms of torture, like starvation for example. Unfortunately, the Nazis did not think that this first camp was efficient enough for killing people because only 1000 could be killed at one time and only 343 bodies could be cremated every 24 hours. So they decided to build Auschwitz 2, a.k.a. Birkenau. Birkenau was the real death camp of Auschwitz, and was built because of Hitler's demand to eliminate all of the Jews. It was partially destroyed after the Nazis fled about a week before the camp was liberated, but it was still very interesting to see. Unlike Auschwitz, it seemed much more solemn and saddening to me, and it just seemed so obvious that terrible things had happened there. We went inside one of the barracks where people used to live; and although it no longer had the bunks in it, I still could not imagine living in there. Then we went to one of the latrines and learned that cleaning one of them was actually one of the best jobs you could have at the camp, even though it was rather disgusting. Then we went to the third gas chamber. One of the gas chambers was destroyed by prisoners during a rebellion, but the others were blown up by the Nazis when they fled the camp. It may have just been ruins, but it was painful to even imagine the 1.1 million people that were killed in a gas chamber similar to that one. We saw the memorial to the people who died there after that, and then we left the camp.

           We just made it back to Olomouc a little after 6 our time. It was a very interesting weekend, to say the least. Although I love learning more about history, it was so difficult to visit the camps and hear about the terrible things that went on there. However, it makes me think of the quote by George Santayana that says, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." What that means to me is just because the Holocaust was one of the worst human tragedies in history, it does not mean we should forget about it. Instead, we should learn as much about it as possible so we can insure that nothing like it happens again.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


           One of the most interesting parts about studying abroad is meeting new people. We have met people from all over the world here, even the occasional person from back in the states. Though I have loved meeting so many world travelers, I want to talk about my experience with the local people here.

           I remember when we got here, we were told quite a few different things about the people here. They said something about how the people here do not walk around smiling all the time, and they will not just say they are "good" when you ask them how they are. This sort of put into my head that there must just be a lot of unhappy people here, and that just seemed strange compared to what I am used to back in Nebraska. I think I even started to think that is how everyone here was at the beginning, just because I was still a little culture shocked and not used to my new surroundings. However, my "idea" of what they people here are like could not have been farther from the truth.

           Since I have been able to get adjusted, I have really noticed how friendly and nice the people here are. I have met quite a few people, mainly students, who just want to go hang out and get a drink or some food or even play pool at a pub somewhere. At restaurants, even if no English is spoken there, they will still try their hardest to understand you and make your meal very pleasant. My favorite part about the locals is when they try to speak Czech to you, even knowing that you do not speak any of the language. Sometimes, it does not matter that you tell them you do not understand or that you only speak English, they will still stand there and talk your ear off. One particular instance at a tram stop comes to mind when I think of this. We were waiting for the tram to come take us back to the dorms, and this older lady comes over and tries to talk to us. We told her that we did not speak Czech, but she just continued to try to talk to us. So we tried to listen and pick up on some of what she was saying, but it just was not working. But we stood there and she talked to us both at the stop and on the tram until she got off at her stop. It was an interesting experience, and it definitely gave me a new perspective on how friendly the people here actually are.

           I could think of quite a few times where I have encountered some of the locals and walked away smiling after our encounter. It has just been so much fun to meet them and learn more about the people here. For the most part, they have all been very welcoming to us, and for that I am so glad. Sure we might have a language barrier sometimes and maybe we smile too much or them not enough, but we are all very similar people who just happen to live an ocean apart from each other.

Us with a few of our Czech friends that
 we had dinner with at the beginning of
our program