Tips and Tricks

Here’s a list of tips and tricks I have found while traveling and studying abroad!

 

  1. Packing / What kind of linens did you need to bring?

I brought a blanket from home and I really enjoy having it here. It’s nice to have one thing from home. Other than that you don’t really need any linens because they are all provided. If you don’t want to have to buy a towel then I would bring that too.

  1. Packing / What are you glad you brought from home?

I was glad I brought a blanket of my own from home. I am also glad I brought cold weather clothes with me. It was colder for a lot longer than I thought it would be here. It’s May now and is still kind of chilly. My portable charger has also really come in handy many times when we are travelling and don’t go back to the hostel for over 12 hours and need to navigate back!

  1. Packing / What do you wish you had left at home?

I brought a towel with me which took up a lot of space and I could easily have bought a really cheap one here in Olomouc at Globus. I could have saved myself some space and weight in my suitcase without it. Other than that, I tried to pack light so I did not really have any excess stuff.

  1. Packing / Travel Tips?

Do you have any travel tips to pass on (planning advice, safety considerations, guidebooks, train vs. bus, etc.)?

I would have an idea of some of the places you definitely want to see before you come over here! You don’t necessarily have to have the whole trip planned but just some ideas in mind is a good plan. I would also make sure to have apps such as Uber, Venmo (you will use this all the time!!!), Hostelworld, and others downloaded before you come to Europe. Some of these can only be downloaded in the United States. A lot of the public transport is easier to just figure out as you go as far as trains and busses go. My biggest piece of advice would be to not be afraid to ask people for help if you’re stuck! Many people speak English so odds are you’ll be able to find someone to help out. For the most part, people are super willing to help and are nice! This can save you a lot of time and stress if you’re really in a bind.

  1. Social Life / How did you meet other students?

It is pretty easy to meet other students here! We live in the international dorms, so you will be living very close to students from all over the world. I even share a cell at the dorms with 4 people from all different countries. Certain places around town will also hold Erasmus parties. These are basically parties and get togethers of all the international students at Palacky University. That is another good way to meet people.

  1. Social Life / How did you like to spend your free time and why?

We like to spend time hanging out with the people we’ve met! Pubs are also a huge part of the culture here. Olomouc also has a movie theater, and bowling alley among other things that are also fun!

  1. Social Life / Is there anything you regret not doing more of in your free time?

I wish I would have gone to Prague more often. The train tickets between Prague and Olomouc are around $3. Sometimes you can even get them for less. The ride is only 2 hours and Prague has so many things to see and do! I also wish I would have spent more time with the people I’m here studying with. Don’t get me wrong we spend a lot of time together but when we were at the dorms I more just kept to my room. Sometimes you definitely need time to just relax since we are so busy over here, but some of the best memories are made just hanging out with people in down time!

  1. Social Life / What social, recreational and cultural events did you like best?

I really enjoyed the pub culture here and getting to experience that. There is also a lake here in Olomouc that I know I will enjoy when I finally get a chance to check it out. I also really enjoy just hanging out at the dorms with all the new people we have met!

  1. Social Life / Any advice for future students regarding their non-academic life while abroad?

I would say to try and travel as much as you can! Exploring the Czech Republic is also really fun. On the weekends and spring break, it is easy to always just leave the Czech Republic for other places, but there are also a lot of fun things to do in Olomouc and around it that are fun to explore during free time.

  1. Academics / How do academics differ between UNK and the host instituion?

Academics here are definitely more lecture based than my classes at UNK. Most of the lectures are very interesting though so I don’t mind just sitting and listening, but it is a change. The Czech language class is more hands-on and we go out and do things in the community to practice!

  1. Academics / Was grading different?

Yes
Explanation: With the grading here, you find out at the end of the program what your grade will be. We don’t have grades along the way, but rather just find out at the end after we have completed everything.

  1. Academics / Were your study habits different?

Yes
Explanation: The studying here is not as prevalent as at UNK. The learning here is more experiential learning, so there are less dates and people to memorize. We focus more on connecting ideas and doing critical thinking about what we are learning.

  1. Academics / Was the library different?

Yes
Explanation: I honestly never used the library here in Olomouc so I don’t even know if the library is different.

  1. Academics / Was computer access the same?

No
Explanation: I again did not need to access a computer as I brought my own laptop so I’m not sure.

  1. Academics / What enabled/hindered your success?

The professors here are all very knowledgeable and willing to answer any questions you have! Jan and Martin are also very helpful and seem to be able to help clear most things up for us.

  1. Money / How much money would you advise students to bring?

I would recommend students bring at least $3000 for expenses while you are here. There are definitely things you can do to make your travels less expensive, but it still adds up over time. Food is cheap here but you still end up buying and eating out a lot when travelling. Globus is a great place for groceries that can help you save some money!

  1. Money / How much host country currency did you take with you from the U.S.?

I did not bring any host country currency with me. It is super easy to exchange money at an exchange office or pull money out of an ATM once you arrive here.

  1. Money / How did you mange your money (credit cards, bank accounts, cash)?

I make sure to check my bank account often and make sure that there aren’t any weird charges on it. I also try to use mainly cash because first of all, some places only take cash and second it’s easier to keep track of how much you are spending. I try not to carry all of my cash on me all the time though. I leave some in the dorms just to have it split up a little bit. I do the same with my cards and keep one in the dorms just in case I were to lose one or something. It is also important to budget once you get here and get a feel for how much things cost. It can be really easy to lose track of money and then end up with not a lot left.

  1. Communication / How did you communicate with the U.S.?

The dorms have wifi as well as most of the places you’ll probably be staying. Because of that, it makes it pretty easy to communicate with the US. Whether that be by iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook messenger, etc. Most of us also got SIM cards once we got here. I try to mainly use the data on it for navigation and emergencies but if you are without wifi for a while for whatever reason, you can use your data to send a quick message home as well.

 

Top things to do:

  • Get to know the people in your dorm. Making new friends has been my favorite thing about Europe.
  • Eat kebabs in Olomouc
  • Try as many new restaurants as you can! Trying new food has been another one of my favorite things.
  • Go to the Holy Hill on a nice day! Check out the trail down the hill from the church and walk down it! There’s sheep!
  • Hop on a train to Prague for a day! The tickets are cheap, and it can be fun to spend a day in the city.
  • Find your own favorite things to do. Some of the most fun things are the ones you stumble upon without meaning to.

Traveling through Bohemia

This past week, we took our last class field trip (sad) across Bohemia! Our first stop on our tour of the Czech Republic was the town of Litomysl. There we saw a church with a beautiful lookout tower! They had an exhibit on Angels going on as well. We also toured a castle here that was beautiful. The inside of this castle was exactly what I picture when I think of a castle. It was classic and timeless. After getting back on the road, we made a quick stop at the town of Lezaky-or at least what used to be the town of Lezaky. The population of this town was around 700 people when in 1942, Nazis retaliated at the people of this town. The town and it’s people were destroyed in response to the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The Nazis completely wiped out this town as well as another, because they had “evidence” that people living here had helped the Anthropoid mission soldiers at one point. The only thing that remains as evidence of this town are memorials.

Later that day we made it to our final destination for the day- Kutna Hora. After enjoying time in the town and eating dinner, we made it an early night. The next day we visited the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist. It was very pretty and you were able to walk through the attic part 60391969_2513397755338064_6467194053023760384_nof the church to get to the choir balcony. That offered a great view of the church! After the church, we headed to the Sedlec Ossuary. This chapel is completely decorated in human bones. It was very eerie being in there. There was a main chandelier in the ossuary which contained at least one of each bone in the human body. In total the ossuary contains the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people. There is also skulls displayed here that show massive head wounds that somehow people survived! They know this because in many cases, the wounds had started to heal. My favorite part of Kutna Hora was the silver mines! Kutna Hora used to be known as the treasury of the kingdom, with Prague being the capitol. This also meant that Kutna Hora was a very rich town back in the day. We got the chance to see an exhibit that showed some of the machinery they used to mine the silver and get it out of 60565493_2513398282004678_3017732257977729024_nthe mines. One thing that I found really interesting was that the whole town was involved in the mining process. The men would go down and mine the silver, and women and children on the surface would work on cleaning it and preparing it. We also got to go down in the mines! This was honestly one of my favorite things I’ve done in Europe. The corridors were very narrow and the ceilings were very low in some places. Maneuvering through this mine was so fun, but definitely not the place to be if you were claustrophobic. We were all crammed together and lets just say it was a good thing we wore helmets! Many people were hitting their heads left and right. Our guide stopped us at one point and had us turn off any source of light we might have on us. It was total darkness! She had us imagine being lost in the mines with absolutely no light and trying to find your way out. This often happened to miners if their lamps or candles were lost or out of fuel. They only had the slight draft of the wind to try and guide them back to a shaft or an exit. After the mines, we were again free to do what we wanted. We ate some dinner and then spent the night playing cards and hanging out with friends.

The next day we woke up and got on the road! We stopped in a town (whose name is escaping me) that had a huge pond and beautiful grounds. After that we drove a little bit more to get to České Budějovice where Budweiser Budvar beer is brewed! It may have the same name as the American Budweiser, but it is a completely separate brand! Touring this huge factory was so interesting. We got to see where the beer ages, where it is bottled, and a lot more too. We learned that this particular classic beer takes 90 days to fully mature. Also, we learned that beer is mainly sold in bottles here rather than cans because it affects the taste if it is put in a can! It was cool to see the insane amount of technology they had in their factory and just how automated everything was. Later that day, we finally made it to our final destination- Cesky Krumlov. This town was by far my favorite town we have been to. It was a quaint little town, and although very touristy, seemed relatively untouched by time. The main town was surrounded by a stream and it was just such a magical little town.

On Friday morning, we went to the Cesky Krumlov castle. The castle is a main feature of the town and I had been excited to tour it ever since seeing it sitting up on top of the hill. Many prominent families inhabited this castle over the years including the Rosenbergs, Eggenbergs, and Schwarzenbergs. The castle also has a tradition of keeping bears in the moat- a hundreds of years old tradition. When we were there, we also got to tour the Baroque theater that belonged to the castle. This was really interesting to me! We got to see the machinery and mechanisms underneath the stage that they used for effects! We saw machines that they used to make storm sounds, trap doors, and pulleys to operate and quickly change the sets. The way they lit the stage was by candle, which was quite 60780417_2513398922004614_4435466207511969792_ndangerous considering the whole thing was made out of wood! Our guide said that they just really did not care and did this anyway. Later that day we got to raft down the river! It was so much fun and was definitely a highlight of my Europe trip. It was nice to get a break and just be in nature and relax. We floated down the river together and the whole group met up at a little place off the river around a bonfire. It was the perfect ending to our last class trip! I sure learned a lot on this trip, and I enjoyed being in the Czech Republic and exploring more of this country I’ve come to love so much.

Krakow, Poland

This past weekend, we took a class field trip to Krakow in Poland. When we arrived, the first place we visited was Oskar Schindler’s Factory. As a class, we watched the movie Schindler’s List the day before we headed to Krakow. I am glad we watched this movie img_0668.jpgbefore we went because it gave me a better idea about what we were actually seeing. His factory has been turned into a museum about World War 2 in Poland. Oskar Schindler was a businessman and member of the Nazi Party in Krakow during World War 2. He employed Jews at his enamelware factory because he didn’t have to pay them as much as img_0675.jpghe would have had to pay Poles. In this way, he started his business up and started making a lot of money. When the Jews were forced out of the ghetto, many of his employees were taken away. This started a process of him taking Jews out of this concentration camp to have them work for him. People started viewing his factory as a sort of safe haven. They were given a decent meal for lunch at work and they were safe from violence in his factory. That’s where his famous list comes in. He ended up saving 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factory. Because of him, many generations are thriving today. He was later named Righteous Among the Nations by the state of Israel for his work saving these people. Although it was a complicated situation, as his original use for the Jews was basically cheaper labor, Oskar Schindler is often viewed as a hero for his work to save these people later on. The museum itself was also very interesting. After the museum we IMG_0679had free time and got to experience a favorite of Krakow- Zapiekanki. It is basically bread with cheese and mushrooms and whatever other toppings you want on it! I got a really spicy one with pepperoni, jalapenos, and other peppers! It was super good. We also found a market to walk around which was neat.

On Sunday morning we went to the Wieliczka Salt Mines outside of Krakow. These salt mines are very old and were mined until 2007! The air was very good to breathe down there because there was salt in the air and the minerals in it are very good for you! It was also fun because we were able to lick the walls. There are many chapels down in the mines. The work was really dangerous and the miners were often afraid. They also thought there were demons in the mines as they were closer to hell. I really enjoyed our tour of the mines.

Monday was a really heart heavy day. We went to Auschwitz concentration camp. It was quite surreal to be in a place where so many atrocities occurred. It was hard to wrap my head around just how many people had been there and experienced hell on earth in the very place I was walking. We saw the main gate with the inscription “work sets you free.” We saw roll call square where the prisoners would be called every morning and night to be counted. If someone was missing and no one knew where the missing person was, they had to stand there still and straight until the problem was resolved. The longest recorded time for this was 19 hours that these people had to stand there. We saw the IMG_0704barracks where the prisoners had to sleep at night. It was 4 people to a bunk bed and in the barrack we went into, this equaled out to around 700 people living in one small barrack. We saw the platform where people left the trains in Auschwitz- Birkenau and were sorted. A doctor would separate people into two groups- only the strongest were selected to work and the rest were sent immediately to the gas chambers. We saw huge piles of the property belonging to the people that were sent here that they would never see again. Shoes, brushes, luggage, clothes, and even hair. One thing that was interesting to me was that when the Red Army was approaching, the Nazis just started bombing things at the camp to try and hide what they had done there. However, this was not done in any sort of order and they left many things behind. This included many prisoners that were too weak to force to march away. Many strings were left untied. We saw the ruins of the huge gas chambers that were used to mass murder these people. One thing I didn’t know is that since the gas chambers held many more people than the undressing room did, many people had to just stand in the gas chambers and wait for it to be full. During this time they started to figure out that things were not right and couldn’t do anything about it. The main way the Nazis controlled the people coming into the camp was lying to them. They told them to leave their luggage on the train to collect later. They told them they were going to shower when really they were being led to the gas chambers. They told them on the trains that they were going to be resettled in a place to work. This helped cut down on panic and resistance from the people. We learned that just Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau) itself was the biggest concentration camp that the Nazis had. This did not include the rest of the complex. 1.3 million people were at Auschwitz over its years of operation. 1.1 million died here.

It was a heart heavy day as we got just a tiny glimpse into what these people had to go through- and for no other reason than their beliefs and the Nazi agenda. The people here were brutally murdered. It was surreal to be walking the paths they walked to their deaths-often unknowingly. The conditions the prisoners who were not immediately killed lived in were so poor and they had little chance of survival. Most people died within a year of working. The quote pictured below is a very important notion to remember. untitled

Daily Life in Olomouc

Ah what to say about my home these past few months. Olomouc has become one of my favorite places and I look forward to coming home to it after a busy weekend of travelling. There are many reasons I love Olomouc. I love all of the people I’ve met in Olomouc, including my fellow study abroad classmates, students from other countries, IMG_0639and locals! I have absolutely loved getting to know everyone from Nebraska that I’m studying with. I’ve definitely made some life long friendships here. We all enjoy hanging out together. Whether that be grabbing food after class, shopping together, or hitting a pub at night, it is always a good time. It has also been fun to get to know so many students from other countries here. We live in the international dorms, so we have the chance to meet people from all over! Just in my dorm pod alone we have a guy from Spain, another guy from Poland, and two girls from Romania! We have also met and hung out with people from Italy, Canada, and Turkey! It has been such a cool opportunity to get to know all of these people and find out more about their home countries. It has also helped me realize that the world really isn’t that big. We can all get along and have had so many similar experiences. The place you’re from stops mattering as much and you’re able to be friends with people from all over! It’s also fun to run into other Americans when we are out and about in Olomouc! The locals have also been awesome. There is a waitress at our favorite café (Nase Café) that knows us as regulars now and always says “hi” even if she isn’t waiting on us. There is a stereotype that people in the Czech Republic are not very friendly, and while this might be true in some cases, we’ve found many locals that are super nice and will try their best to speak to you and be friendly even if they don’t speak great English!

Another one of my favorite things about Olomouc is the prices! Everything here is so cheap. You can easily get a giant, yummy bowl of pasta and a drink for under $7. Eating IMG_8630out is very inexpensive at most places here. I can spend $5 at a restaurant and leave feeling very full! There are also so many great places to eat here. We are never running out of new places to try and I am bummed I won’t be able to try every place I want to before I leave! Also, every time we go to Globus (basically like Walmart) for groceries, I spend under $20 for over a week’s worth of meals and snacks. Compared to what I’m used to in the US, these prices are incredible. We are also in the land where beer is cheaper than water, which is inconvenient sometimes, but not so bad at other times.

There are also many awesome places to shop! We have found a few second hand stores that are awesome. There is one where everything is 39 crowns, AKA under $2. There is also a giant shopping mall here in Olomouc that has just about everything you might want! Like I mentioned before, Globus is also a place that I love. It is the equivalent of Walmart here and they have just about everything. It has been fun to try new foods and drinks that we stumble upon when wandering the aisles there!

It has definitely been a change getting used to using public transport here. I have honestly never used public transport anywhere. It is nonexistent in Kearney, and is not even that big in my hometown of Omaha. It was kind of tricky at first figuring out where all of the tram stops are, but eventually I got it mostly figured out. Sometimes it can be annoying having to wait until a certain time for the tram to come. It can also be stressful if you are running late to the tram you need to catch. If you miss the tram you need, you IMG_0659are most definitely going to be late. One time, I was also on a tram alone and there was a car accident in front of us. Everyone had to get off the tram and start walking. I wasn’t sure where exactly I was when the tram stopped, but I eventually made it to class. It can also be nice though! When we want to go somewhere as a big group, all we have to do is hop on the tram and we all easily fit! It is also nice to not have to worry about parking or physically driving. We also do so much more walking than I am used to. Even just in Olomouc, we walk a ton!

The weather since we’ve been here has been oddly similar to Nebraska. It was very cold when we first arrived in March. It has since warmed up a little bit, but it still is too cold IMG_9806for my liking in May! It is also windy all the time here which makes me feel right at home. We luckily haven’t been snowed on since we’ve been here. I do tend to notice the weather here more than I do in Kearney, since we do so much more walking!

Some of my favorite things to do here involve just wandering around the town and enjoying the scenery. I also love going to different restaurants and trying new food! The food has been a highlight of Europe for me and Olomouc is no exception. I have to say though that my favorite thing about Olomouc is all the friendships the city has allowed me to make. I will forever treasure the place that gave me so many great friends!

I have absolutely fallen in love with Olomouc since we arrived and I am going to miss the little town dearly when I have to leave.

 

Amsterdam, Netherlands

This past weekend Kira, Rachel, Kristina, and I went to Amsterdam! Before we got there however, we had a mess of a time with transportation. Our train was completely packed full and we ended up squeezing 10 people in a 6 person cabin with some of our other classmates. The train also took longer than we thought it would so we knew we would be cutting it close to get to the airport in time for our flight. We ran through the train station and Kira and Kristina somehow flagged down a shuttle to the airport that was already leaving. We made it to the airport and rushed through security to our gate! We ended up 59364879_2282881071754911_1607159075487875072_nmaking our flight and it was even delayed by almost an hour. After we landed in Amsterdam we had to figure out the public transport there. We also realized that since our flight had been delayed that we would not make it to our hostel before midnight which is when the website said that their check-in closed. None of our phones would work to call the hostel and after trying to figure out a payphone, we ended up using a security guard’s phone to call them. That was our first taste of how nice everyone in Amsterdam is! After a long day of traveling and running through train stations and airports, we made it to the hostel! The actual transportation part of travelling can definitely be stressful and has taught me some good problem solving techniques when things don’t go quite how you thought they would.

Our first morning in Amsterdam, we woke up to rain and cold weather which was a bummer since we were going to the tulip fields but we made it work. When we arrived59330306_2282880158421669_3819138735543418880_n at the tulip farm, it was nothing like I imagined it. The grounds were huge and there were legitimately flowers everywhere. The dreary weather didn’t stop us from having a blast there! There was a museum type building with a lot of information about tulips! There are around 3000 different kinds of tulips. The ones you can see in this picture with the two colors are actually a result of a disease in the tulip genetics! These flowers were my favorite. After wandering the tulip fields for a long time we headed to the part of town where the Anne Frank house is located because we had scheduled a tour there. When we started getting closer to it, there started to be people everywhere. Little did we know we had stumbled in to the very thick of the King’s Day parties. King’s Day is a national holiday that celebrates King Willem-Alexander on his birthday. Everyone wears orange in honor of the royal family and celebrates all day long. It was definitely fun to people watch and be in the thick of these celebrations if only by accident. We then went into the Anne Frank house. It was so interesting to be there. You could feel the history in the walls. In Anne’s actual room in the annex, there were still pictures she had posted up on the walls. They also had pictures of what the rooms would have looked like when they were all hiding out there. There is no furniture in the annex because the Nazis took everything when they raided the annex. Otto Frank-the only surviving member of the annex- decided that it would be best to leave the rooms empty when the museum opened to show the destruction the war and the Nazis left. It was moving to imagine how they all coexisted in these tiny rooms and spaces without really being able to go outside or carry out any activities that could get them noticed during the day. They were there for over 2 years in hiding and I cannot even imagine being in a house for 2 years straight, let alone in a tiny annex with (necessarily) very strict rules. You can also see Anne’s diaries in the museum and it was very interesting to see and read some of her words and inner thoughts.

On Sunday we went on a canal tour! Amsterdam is often referred to as the Venice of the north due to all of its canals. However, we learned on our tour that Venice has Amsterdam beat bridge wise- 400 to 250. We58902308_2282880741754944_5011770872113922048_n rode through these canals and it was very relaxing- a very different scene from the chaos of King’s Day on Saturday. We saw the clock tower that is right next to the Anne Frank house and that she describes in her journals. She said that it always annoyed her mother and sister because it chimed every 15 minutes. However, Anne always found it comforting because it was proof that the world was still moving outside. We also learned that Amsterdam is a very progressive city in almost every way. It’s citizens are not afraid to protest and they often lead the way in progressive ideals. It 58586755_2282880975088254_2943769090029780992_nwas also neat to see many bike garages instead of parking garages along the way. Many locals bike everywhere so it would make sense that they would need these garages. We also found out that there are 2500 house boats in the canals of Amsterdam. These emerged as a result of the housing shortage after World War 2. The permits for more house boats are no longer granted and the number is fixed. The boat pictured here is decorated for King’s Day! We ended our trip to Amsterdam with a trip to the Scandalous Red Light District. Definitely unlike anything I have ever seen. Amsterdam was a beautiful city (even though it rained on us a lot) and everyone we came across was so nice and helpful. I love the progressive nature of this city and only hope that I will be able to visit it again sometime.

Spring Break!!!

After we were done with our trips to Vienna and Venice, we were set free for spring break! We almost missed our bus out of Venice to get to Milan, but we made it with two minutes to spare. We arrived in Milan to cold rain and an Uber driver who was definitely very animated! I experienced my first Boba tea and then we went to explore the main square. There is a huge outdoor shopping mall here. All of the stores were designer IMG_9230brands such as Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton and more! After wandering around that area for a while we called it an early night after a long day! The next day we went to a café for lunch. We found out that the language barrier here was more difficult than anywhere we had found thus far. The workers at the restaurant spoke virtually no English, and we don’t speak Italian and due to the lack of a menu, we were really struggling. Thankfully there was a Spanish man in the restaurant that spoke English and Italian and was able to help translate for us. I was impressed that he knew three languages, given that his native language is Spanish! From there, we found a huge park to explore. It was nice to relax a little bit and enjoy some nature in the middle of the IMG_9226bustling city. We then headed to a church called San Bernadino. The unique thing about this church is that they have a chapel that is completely decorated in human bones. The reason for this is that back in 1210, a nearby cemetery ran out of space so a room was made to house bones. Later the church was attached and you can still see the bones today. It was an eerie feeling being in there. Seems like an interesting and I guess practical (?) solution to an overcrowded cemetery. After that we decided to actually go in some of the designer stores we had seen the day before. I definitely felt out of place in there! On our last day in Milan we went to another cafe for breakfast. The waiter informed us that the only things they had for breakfast were cake, cheesecake, and cappuccinos. We had no choice but to eat cheesecake, good thing we weren’t too upset about that option. We went to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology. There were some interesting exhibits in the museum. It was a nice change from some of the museums that we had been to before. It was more modern science than history which was neat! We then hopped on a late bus to head to Florence, Italy. This time we made it to our bus with 4 minutes to spare! We are clearly really good at being on time ;).

I had been really excited to come to Florence but got even moe excited when our hostel roommates in Venice told us that they are studying abroad in Florence. They gave us some really great suggestions and recommendations about what to do and where to eat. The crazy thing is that we were walking down the street on our first full day in the city and ran into one of the girls we had roomed with! Sometimes it blows my mind just how small the world can be. After running into her, we checked out a leather market since Florence is known for it’s leather! It was really neat and one of my favorite parts of IMG_7184 (2)Europe so far. We got to test some of our bargaining skills and enjoyed just walking around. After grabbing some pasta for lunch (big surprise, right?) we headed to the meeting place for our wine tour. The tour itself was awesome and we got to see some beautiful Tuscan countryside as well as tasting some really good Chianti (specialty of the region) wine. We also stopped at a medieval walled city called Monteriggioni, whose walls are still totally preserved. It was really neat there and it offered some nice views too. That night we accidentally ended up at a really expensive bar. All part of the adventure of travelling right? The next day in Florence, we were very busy! We woke up that morning and went to a really good (recommended by our hostel friends) café! Over the next few hours we wandered the streets and found some cute shops, many amazing statues, and some street artists and vendors that we got some really cool stuff from! We also went to IMG_7326the Gucci Garden which is basically a collection of old Gucci clothes and items. I accidentally set off the alarm there by touching one of the purses without realizing what I was doing! We then headed across the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge towards the Boboli Gardens. The bridge is important because it was the only bridge across the river for a long time in Florence. Today it is a IMG_7453vibrant area with many shops and attractions. The Boboli Gardens were huge gardens with many incredible views of the city and foliage abounding. After that we headed up to Piazzale Michelangelo which is a very tall point in the city at the top of a huge hill (we climbed so many stairs to get to the top.) Once we got to the IMG_9503top, there were people everywhere and street musicians playing. We found a place to sit and then just took in the view. You can see the whole city from up there and it was amazing to watch the sun set over it. That was definitely one of my top three memories in Europe so far. After the sun was set, we went to a favorite pizza place of many locals and enjoyed pizza there! Florence was amazing and everyone there was so nice and helpful! I had such a good time and just have to return to the city some day.

The last stop on our tour of Italy was Rome! The first night we were there we decided to head to the Colossuem. When we got close we started having to go through all of this security but did not really think much of it. We got in a big line and started hearing things about the Pope. Eventually we figured out that the Pope was coming to the Colloseum that night! We decided to wait the 4 hours to see him. He presided over a Good Friday Stations of the Cross service. It was incredible to be there and be a part of it. The whole service was in Italian, but it was so speical regardless. Such a once in a lifetime experience that we completely accidentally stumbled into. That took up the rest IMG_9680of our day so we headed home to get ready to site hop the next day. We started the day with going to the Vatican City. We decided to get a tour guide due to the city being so full because of Easter weekend. I really enjoyed the tour but unfortunately we were not able to go into St. Peters Basilica because of the preparation for Easter Sunday services. The Sistine Chapel was incredible to see however. It was definitely not what I was expecting but it was inspirng nonetheless. The art in all of the Vatican Museums was incredible! After the Vatican, we went to the Trevi fountain. It was completely packed there but it was neat to see the famous fountain. We also threw coins into it in hopes that we would return to Rome someday. Only later did we find out that we threw them over the wrong shoulder. Hopefully it still worked and I find my way back to Rome in the future! We then hurried back to the Colosseum to get IMG_6650into it before they closed! For some reason, out of all the history in Rome the Colosseum was what really blew my mind. It was crazy to think about how much had happened in the very places we were standing. There are so many stories and we learn so much about the Colosseum in school, so it was kind of surreal to actually be there. Everywhere in Rome is connected to history somehow and it was a great way to end spring break. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to travel around Europe as part of this program and may have found my new favorite country over spring break (Italy.)

Vienna, Austria & Venice, Italy

Our class took a field trip to Vienna aIMG_8825 (1)nd Venice before our spring break started this past week! We arrived in Vienna on Tuesday and after getting some lunch, we tried to head to the Imperial Treasury. However, when we got there we found out that it is actually closed on Tuesdays! We then tried to go to the Museum of Natural History. Turns out it was closed too! I guess the “traditional” day for museums to be closed in Europe is Monday, but that was not the case here. The museums got moved to the next day and we had a chance to explore the city ourselves. A few others and I stumbled upon a traditional Easter market (Ostermarkt). It was so beautiful as they had decorated eggs everywhere! As per usual with markets in Europe, there was plenty of food and drinks to enjoy as well. It seemed very traditional and like a place that locals might even come to get Easter goodies. We then went to a café. One of our professors had told us that Viennese cafes IMG_8826are a must-do when in Vienna. It was very relaxing to sit outside at the café, people watch, and enjoy a good coffee. The next day, we were able to go to the museums! The Imperial Palace was filled with many extraordinary things. IT was neat to see the ceremonial robes and such that royalty would wear. There was also a  huge “unicorn horn” displayed in the treasury. Unicorn horns (really narhwhal tusks) were thought to be magical and full of healing powers, so it makes IMG_8877 (1)sense that the royal family would want to display their own in the treasury. After that we went to the Natural History museum in Vienna. There were many displays of IMG_8882animals from all over the world. It was fun to try and see what animals we recognized or could name. They also had an exhibit on jewels and precious gems which I found really interesting! The rest of the day also involved animals as we headed to the zoo! The zoo was called “Haus des Meeres Aqua Terra Zoo.” It was mainly an aquarium and was so fun to walk through and see all of the different animals. There was also an incredible view of the city on the rooftop of the zoo that I enjoyed.

The next day we traveled to Venice, Italy. Even just watching the scenery out the bus window was incredible. The Alps mountains are beautiful. We had to take a train to the island as there is absolutely no way a bus could get around the streets of Venice. It is a completely pedestrian city. There are no cars anywhere, only boats. The main way to get IMG_8896 (1)around is by either walking, or taking a boat or gondola through the canals. We had a really great view of a canal out of our hostel window and from then on I knew I was going to love Venice. The first night, we traveled through the city following Martin to St. Mark’s square. We were so confused as to how Martin knew where he was going. There were so many turns we took and the streets are so confusing! The streets are often very narrow and don’t make much sense to follow because of all the channels and bridges. Many people told us that it is very easy to get lost in Venice and we definitely found that to be true, IMG_8912even when using the GPS on our phones. That was part of the fun though! We also had my favorite meal since being in Europe this IMG_8907night! Venice has some of the best seafood, given that it is surrounded and filled with water. I got crab gnocchi and it was so fresh and delicious!  In the morning we went into St. Mark’s Basilica which was absolutely stunning. There was no detail left out and no space left undecorated. Then we went to the Doge Palace, including the Bridge of Sighs, which was IMG_8919just amazing. The ceilings were all ornately decorated. It is crazy to think about how much time and money went into creating these masterpieces throughout the entire palace. It was also neat to go over to the prison through the Bridge of Sighs (which offered a great view of the channel) and see the extensive prison system and cells they had. We also went to the Correr Museum which had many beautiful rooms and also a special exhibit on the evolution of printing and the effects it had on the world and academia. Later that day, a few other classmates and I took a gondola ride! While the ride we took through the canals was definitely very touristy, locals actually do use gondolas to get around the city and across channels. On our ride though, we glided past Marco Polo’s house and our gondolier told us that there are over 400 bridges in Venice. That’s a lot of stairs! It was very beautiful and peaceful on our ride. Our last day in Venice, we went to a museum of perfumes and costumes after riding across the channel in a gondola. It was interesting to see what people might have worn years ago as a typical Venice citizen. They also had craftsmen in each room working on their craft right in front of you. There were woodworkers, perfumers, and quilt makers. We spent the rest of the day walking around and taking in the beauty of Venice. We went to a market and into a free museum of old string instruments.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Vienna and Venice. It was interesting to note the parallels and differences between the Imperial Treasury and the Doge Palace. Venice is one of my very favorite places we have gotten the chance to visit. It was just so different from everywhere we have been and all of the people were very nice. I can’t believe I am getting the opportunity to see all of these amazing places.

Academic Life

Academic life here in Olomouc is definitely different than it is back in the States and at UNK! One of the main differences is that for every piece of history you learn, you are likely to actually be able to see that history in one way or another. History is not as far removed here and it goes back so much further than our history as the United States. One example is how our professors even have connection to the history themselves in many cases. One lecturer told us that he was involved in the student protests of the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic. In 1989, he was involved in the protests at Palacky University against the communist regime. The communist party also tried to get him to join them on one occasion and when he denied they blacklisted him. He also got suspended from the university for a time because he disagreed with a professor during communist rule. Another professor’s family helped to hide a soldier involved in the Anthropoid mission during World War 2. In this way, it makes the history much more fulfilling to learn about when hearing it from someone who actually went through it! There are also many historical sites that we learn about in class and then are able to visit. This too makes me feel much more connected to the history and therefore more interested in it. The lecturers we hear from all come from different disciplines and it is interesting to hear all of their different viewpoints.

One of our classes here is a Czech language class. This class is often very challenging and definitely makes me use my brain. It has been a few years since I have been in a foreign language class and I had forgotten how much it makes you use a different way of thinking. Our professor is very helpful and encouraging to us though! We are also always constantly getting exposure to the language given the fact that we are obviously staying in a Czech speaking place. This helps to make the process of learning a bit easier since we hear it constantly! We always get excited when we catch a word from someone’s conversation and know what it means. Today we got an assignment to go to a restaurant and speak to the waiter only in Czech. We had to order and also get the bill and pay all in Czech! Our waitress was super friendly and it went well!

Overall, the main difference about learning things here is that we are fully immersed in whatever we are learning about, whether that be language or history! It makes for a much more well rounded experience and I feel like I will retain a lot more of this information because of that fact.

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On the ceiling of one of the conference-type rooms at Palacky University. Beautiful, right?

Brussels, Belgium

This weekend we traveled to Brussels! Kristina, Seth, Kira, and I headed to the train station, and after being very confused we got on our train to Prague! I of course set off the metal detectors because I can never go through airport security without doing something wrong, but after that we were off to Brussels.plane

The first night we got there, we found our hostel and grabbed some fast food. Our hostel was actually really nice and we had a private four person room with our own bathroom! We decided to sleep in Saturday morning and the first thing we did was head to the Atomium. It was built for the World Fair in 1958. It was huge!! We didn’t end up going inside but it was atomstill impressive from the outside. We then went and got food. Our waitress was so nice and spoke around 5 or 6 languages! She directed us towards the city center so we hopped on the metro! We walked through the city center and came across a comic book museum. It was pretty neat! I think it would have been cooler if any of the comics had been in English, but regardless it was cool! After that me and Kira waited in line for a Maison Dandoy Belgian waffle. It was sooooo worth it. We got Brussels waffles with strawberries and vanilla ice cream on it. Although it is more traditional to get them with powdered or brown sugar, our version sure was delicious. That night we headed to Delirium, which is a world record holding bar for the most bars on tap! It was super cool in there!

waffleOn Sunday, we got up a little earlier and scoped out a place for breakfast. After that, we headed to a walking tour. Our tour guide was so awesome! He told us so many stories and legends about Brussels. He also told us that the Manequin Pis statue everyone sees in the street is not the original. I guess many people have stolen it over the years and the last straw was when they found it dumped in the river with the legs broken off! The original is now in a museum. After the tour we went and found some famous Belgian Chocolate!!! There are chocolate shops literally lining every street around the city center and Grand Place. We spent a good chunk of the day just wandering around the city and discovering different shops and restaurants. It was nice to have a more relaxing weekend! Our Monday was all spent traveling and then going directly to class where it was nice to be reunited with the whole class 🙂

Language barriers abroad

Coming to the Czech Republic, I was honestly really nervous about how we would communicate with the locals. I thought it would be very challenging, even though I had heard that many people in Europe spoke English. When we first arrived to Prague and left the airport, the first thing we did was go to a restaurant. We decided to go to a more traditional looking place near our Air Bnb. When we walked in it was pretty clear that it was a very local spot and that no one spoke much English. Our original waiter passed us off to someone else when he heard the language we were speaking. The new waitress we got spoke English, but it was very limited. We pretty much ended up ordering something random off the menu (that was also all in Czech). It all worked out in the end, but this was a very harsh introduction to Europe for sure!

After that whole fiasco, we have found many more English speakers here. It is crazy to me that most people here seem to speak more than one language. The USA (at least the part I am from) is definitely very different in that way. The younger generations here for the most part know at least some English. A girl we met that is studying at Palacky and is from the Czech Republic told us she has been taking English for about 8 years. She was very good at it! I took Spanish for 5 years in school and feel like I was nowhere near as good at that language as she is at English! Even if people don’t speak super good English, they mostly all know enough to be able to communicate general things to you. There is a waitress at our favorite café here (Nase Café) who always apologizes for her “bad English” but she actually is really good at it! She always knows what we mean and she is so nice and apologetic when we something gets miscommunicated.

Another interesting thing I have noticed is that most places here seem to be more accommodating to people who speak different languages than the official language of Czech. Many restaurants have menus available in English and sometimes even Spanish. The trains and airports have multiple recordings of announcements in different languages. I will say though that at the Olomouc train station we definitely had to ask a lady for her help reading the sign that lists all the trains and platforms. We were kind of confused about the train station in general and the fact that we couldn’t understand the signs did not help the situation. We got it all figured out with the help of that lady. The people are a great resource here because even if you don’t understand something, chances are that someone nearby speaks enough English to help you out!

The language barrier has really not been as big of an issue as I thought it might be here. Google translate is also always helpful in a bind :). It has been kind of eye opening and a fun challenge to have to figure things out when they are in a language that you know almost nothing about. I am grateful for the people here that are always willing to help you out if you are confused and will laugh with you about it when all is said and done.