Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Reflection (Blog #10)

Topic of my own choosing #3

I never knew how fast time could fly until I studied abroad.  As I sit here on the plane on my way back to America, I keep wondering “Where in the world did the time go?”  It feels as though I just hopped on the plane to get to Europe a couple of weeks ago! Although my time in Europe seemed too short, there is not a single thing I would have changed about my entire experience.  Every experience, good or bad, has helped me grow more than I could have ever imagined. I look back at the beginning of this journey, and I cannot believe how different I was when I started.  Having never been overseas before, I feel like I gained so much priceless knowledge about different cultures. It is easy to think the world revolves around the country you grew up in, because you do not know anything other than that country.  It’s so incredible and humbling to be able to immerse yourself into another part of the world and realize how vast this planet really is. Seeing new places is great, but I will say that it is definitely the people you meet along the way who make the travel so worth it.  We took four different types of classes abroad, but the best forms of knowledge that I gained from this experience was when I was outside of the classroom.  Whether I was visiting a new country for the first time, trying to find my way through a train station, talking to a local about their favorite foods or anything in between, I was gaining forms of knowledge that I could have never gotten from a textbook.  Between the travel and the people, you learn to find out who you really are also.  How much patience do you really have?  How smart do you actually think you are?  Are you appreciative of your own culture and the things you have? These are just a few questions I gained answers to through my experience studying abroad. I already miss the feeling of being in a new place every week, and discovering what each country had to offer.  Living in a foreign place and getting out of my comfort zone was the best decision I have made thus far in my life, and I am so incredibly thankful for my supportive parents, amazing friends, and UNK for helping this dream of mine become a reality. 

12 countries in 12 weeks

Here is a recap of all the countries I was able to visit in my time spent abroad:

·         Czech Republic
·         France
·         England
·         Germany
·         Poland
·         Ireland
·         Austria
·         Italy
·         Vatican City (yes, it is its own country)
·         Hungary
·         Slovakia
·         Netherlands

Thanks for the memories, Europe! Time to get back to America!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Krakow/Auschwitz (Blog #9 due May 17th)

9. Field Trip #3

Last weekend we visited Krakow, Poland for our second to last field trip.  For this blog I mainly want to talk about my experience at Auschwitz, but first I will talk about our two days in Krakow.  Early on Friday we arrived just outside of Krakow at the Wieliczka salt mine.  I had no idea what to expect at the salt mine, but I ended up being happily surprised at how unique it was.  We traveled hundreds of meters underground, into what felt like a giant cave.  We weaved in and out of the winding pathways, and learned all about the history of the salt mine.  When we got to the main chapel, I was completely blown away.  First of all, I was not expecting there to be a chapel in a salt mine at all, and it was absolutely gorgeous! We also saw a laser show along with other smaller presentations.  Our tour guide had a great sense of humor, so that made it even more enjoyable also! 


Tasting the Salt Walls!

On Saturday, we visited the Wawel Royal Castle of Krakow.  We saw the treasury, armory, and several of the rooms inside.  One thing that really stuck out in my mind from this castle was the different ceilings in each room.  Some were beautiful, and some were very strange and unique.  After touring the castle, we went to the main square.  We dispersed, had lunch, and met back again to go to Schindler’s factory.  Schindler’s factory is basically a museum about the Jews in Krakow during WWII and the Holocaust, located in the exact spot where Oskar Schindler’s factory once stood.  It was very interactive, and so incredibly informational.  After seeing the factory I could not stop thinking about how we were going to visit Auschwitz the next day. 

Royal Castle

Inside Schindler's Factory

Sunday was one of the most emotional days I have ever had.  I felt so unprepared to see Auschwitz, but then again I don’t know how anyone could ever really prepare themselves to see something so horrific.  When we walked through the gate “Arbeit Macht Frei” I instantly felt sick to my stomach.  In fact, I felt sick to my stomach for the entire tour.  The atmosphere of Auschwitz was filled with an eerie despair, despite the fact that it almost looked like a peaceful place.  As we walked throughout the camp, I could not think of anything except for the fact that I was walking along the same ground as those who were so innocently killed 75 years ago.  One of the worst parts was walking through the exhibits of belongings from the victims, including the mounds of hair that had been cut off of the victims’ heads.  To see all of this in the raw was almost too much for me to absorb.  I still cannot wrap my head around how atrociously the Nazi’s could treat these victims.  It is as if they had no morals for humanity whatsoever. Not only did they set out to exterminate all Jews, but they did so in the most horrendous ways of torture.  To make it even worse, they had every single aspect perfectly calculated to insure that it would be a complete “success.”  

Prosthetic parts from the victims

Just a fraction of the victims' shoes

We also went to Birkenau, the extermination camp near Auschwitz.  It was so vast, and I again felt that eerie atmosphere throughout our time there.  We walked into one of the wooden buildings where the prisoners stayed, and learned that they were actually intended to be horse stables.  It sickened me to think that the Nazi’s thought of the Jews as something less than a human-let alone an animal.  As we continued to walk through Birkenau, we listened to the horrendous stories of the victims who were sent there.  As soon as they got off of the train (which had no windows so they had no idea where they were going) they were immediately put through a selection of who would be sent to the gas chambers and who would become a worker.  We were also able to see the remains of the gas chambers, which were destroyed by the Nazi’s themselves in an attempt to hide the evidence.  Near the gas chambers, we saw a couple of small ponds.  We learned that the human bones, which wouldn’t burn in the crematorium, would be crushed up and thrown into these ponds.  By this point, I did not know how much more I could stand to hear.  I was already sick to my stomach and this about put me over the edge.  We ended our tour shortly after that, and I was more than ready to leave. 

Entrance to Birkenau

Remains of the Gas Chamber at Birkenau

  As we left, I continually thought about how lucky I was to be able to freely walk in and out of the doors.  I was so sickened by the thought that it was all a problem of humanity.  How could one human possibly do this to another human?  It is something that I will never be able to understand, and it goes way beyond hatred.   I also don’t understand how some people can try to say that the Holocaust never actually happened, or try to downplay the gruesome events of it all. Although I learned about the Holocaust for nearly six years in school, no amount of information could have prepared me for what I saw at Auschwitz.  I now have an entire new appreciation for the Holocaust, which I could never have gotten from any textbook.  I feel as though none of my words can do justice for the way I felt in Auschwitz.  It is just one of those places where you cannot fully form a full appreciation for until you have seen it in person.  I will remember this visit for the rest of my life, and I can only hope that humanity has learned from this horrific event. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Anything But Average (Blog #8 Due May 10)

1. Daily Life

Life here in Olomouc has been anything but routine.  Every single day we wake up to a new adventure with so much to explore.  Since we do not have class until 3 in the afternoon on weekdays, our mornings are usually free to do whatever we wish.  On a typical day I wake up around 9:00 A.M. and make breakfast in my room.  This mainly consists of microwavable oatmeal and an apple.  We have a small kitchen area in our flat, but we do not have any pots or pans to actually cook food in-so most of my meals in the dorm have to be microwavable.  After breakfast I like to get caught up on any homework or other tasks that I need to complete before we head off into the city.  I also like doing my laundry at this time in the morning, if I need to.  Around lunch time Maddie, Erica, Lauren and I catch one of the trams and find somewhere to eat.  One of our favorite things to do is find new cafes and try different kinds of food.  When all else fails though, pizza or crepes are our go to meals.  With the remaining time left before class we then will run any other errands we have, go shopping, or simply wander around and try to find something interesting.  When it’s time to go to class we head towards the history building and prepare ourselves for the four hours of lecture.  Our lectures take up a big part of our day, and by the time we get out it is 7:15 P.M.  By then we are all starving, so sometimes we will go find another restaurant to eat at.  When we need to go grocery shopping we usually do it after class also, so we can take everything straight back to our dorms.  By the time we get back to the dorms, I am ready to shower and relax in bed.  I knew from the day we got here that our time in Olomouc was going to go fast, so I try to make the most of every day I have while I am here.  We are gone so much with our field trips and other excursions, so the actual time spent in Olomouc is short.  My “routine” is so much different compared to when I was living at home.  At home I felt as though I actually had a scheduled routine; wake up, work out, read, go to work etc.  Here, I never really know what is going to be on my daily agenda.  In some ways I miss the routine schedule I used to follow, but in other ways it has been so fun not knowing what each day holds in store for me.  One of the things I miss is working out.  While home I would run 3-5 miles every single day, and here I have only gone running a couple of times.  It’s not that I absolutely can’t find the time to run; it’s just that I would rather be using my precious time here to explore and find new things.  I also feel like I have adapted more to the “European” lifestyle, where I’ve learned to take my time and not worry as much about the little things.  It feels as though I just got used to life here in Olomouc, and we are now down to our last week!  Although I am ready to see my friends and family back home, I am definitely going to miss this amazing city more than anything.

Dorm Room

Beautiful Olomouc!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Still A Student (Blog #7)

2: Academic Life

"Do you even go to class?" 

It feels as though I have been asked this question thousands of times.  Contrary to popular belief, the answer is yes; we do actually go to class.  We may not have what everyone would call a "regular" schedule, but then again this is not what everyone would call a "regular" semester either.  It is a semester of experience and learning both in and out of the classroom, which I personally feel is the most priceless form of knowledge.  We are attending Palacky University, which is the second oldest university in the Czech Republic. Our curriculum consists of a combination of past and current issues/events in the Czech Republic and Europe, religion related lectures, the Holocaust, Czech language, and of course, blogging.  On a typical day of class, we start at 3:00 P.M. with a guest speaker who lectures us on the different past or present events or issues occurring in the Czech Republic or Europe in general.  We have lectures ranging from issues involving political systems and Communism, to lectures about architecture in the Czech Republic.  I always look forward to these lectures because we almost always have a different lecturer, so we never really know what to expect.  I will be honest and say that not every topic is my favorite, so some days these lectures can seem to drag on.  When these lectures end at 4:30, we begin our Czech language class.  At the beginning of the semester, this class stressed me out so badly.  I found quickly that the Czech language is very, VERY different from English, and it is not very easy to grasp.  Also, our teacher likes to call on us during class and make sure that everyone participates, so I am always a little anxious to be called out in class.  However, as the semester has progressed I have begun to rather enjoy the language class.  It also helps that our language teacher is super interactive with us, and incorporates games into our lectures.  The Czech language class is only 45 minutes each day, and at 5:45 we start our last lecture for the day.  This lecture is usually either done by Jan or Martin, and the topics usually revolve around religious issues in Europe.  Every Thursday we watch a Czech movie, in place of Jan and Martin's lecture.  Friday's are also unique days as we begin at 10:30 A.M. with Czech language, and a guest lecture to follow.  Some days it is extremely difficult to sit through four straight hours of lecture, especially since I am a pretty restless person.  However, I usually enjoy the different topics we get to learn about; especially relating to the Holocaust. Overall, the classwork has not been too difficult.  The only class we have homework in (besides blogging) is our Czech language class.  Our assignments are usually very short and simple, so it is really nice to not have to worry too much about outside classwork.  We have had no tests so far, other than a practice test in our language class.  We will be having a final over the lectures, and I am incredibly nervous about it.  Even though I have been to every class and taken notes, I still feel that there is so much information to study and retain.  Especially since our lecture topics vary so greatly.  We also do so much traveling in between classes, so it is difficult to focus completely on our studies.  Before coming to the Czech we were required to read three different books.  We will be tested over these in some form, and that also stresses me out.  I read the books nearly three months ago, so I am hoping I can remember enough of the details to do well on the final!  I still have yet to get a B in my whole academic career, so I would be devastated to lose my 4.0 while studying abroad. However, as I said before, the knowledge we are gaining both in and out of the classroom is priceless.  It is incredible to listen to these various lectures and then be able to actually apply them to the world around us and see the history first hand.  I truly feel that this is the best and most effective way to really gain valuable knowledge, and I could not be happier with the academic side of this program.

Guest Lecture

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spring Break (Blog #6 Due April 26th)

(Topic of my own choosing #2)

"You may have the universe if I may have Italy." -Giuseppe Verdi

Oh how I already miss Italy.  Although I was able to spend nearly eight full days exploring Italy on my spring break, I still wish that I would have had more time.  For the duration of our spring break, Maddie and I were meeting with her mom and aunt for an eight day, pre-planned tour with Collette Vacations.  We began our journey from Venice to Rome on April 10th.  We had to leave our group a day early, and as sad as I was to leave Venice behind, I was more than ready to see what Rome and the Amalfi coast had to offer.  When we arrived in Rome we met Maddie's mom and aunt at the hotel. After living in a foreign country for over a month, it was so comforting to see them and the several other American's in our tour group!  Most of our group on this vacation was around the ages of 60-65 or older.  For two 20 year olds on spring break, it might seem like this vacation would be a bust.  However, Maddie and I loved every second we spent with the people in our group, and I already miss them so much!  On our first day of the tour, we went to the Vatican and Colosseum.  While visiting the Vatican, I was constantly in awe of every single thing around me.  Every statue, building, or monument seemed so grand and Holy!  I could not believe that I was really there at the Vatican, and I had to keep reminding myself at what an amazing opportunity I was having!  We were able to go into the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica.  Both the chapel and the basilica left me speechless, and even though there were crowds and crowds of people I still felt as though I had such a special and personal time in there.  After a short lunch by the Vatican, our group headed to the Colosseum.  As we got closer I noticed all of the beautiful trees and structures surrounding the area near the Colosseum.  It was a refreshing sight, as a lot of parts in Rome are dirty and run down.  When we walked up to the Colosseum, I was shocked at how much construction was going on.  Although there was a lot of construction, I was still so excited to see what the Colosseum was like.  The size, structure, and history of it was so fascinating, and I was beyond impressed with everything.  After we were done touring the Colosseum, we did a little bit of souvenir shopping before going out to dinner.


The next day we were off to the Amalfi coast, and I could not have been more excited to see what was in store for us!  As soon as we arrived at our hotel along the coast, I was astounded by the stunning views of the ocean.  During our time on the coast, we were able to visit many small villages including Sorrento, Vietri, and Paestum.  Vietri was the closest village to where our hotel was, so we ended up going there several times.  It was only a short walk to the beach from Vietri, so Maddie and I got to spend some time relaxing down by the water on a warm afternoon.  Sorrento is one of the most charming little towns I have ever seen!  There were narrow streets full of local shops and cute restaurants or gelato bars.  Paestum is a unique town which consists of many marvelous greek ruins.  The larger ruins we saw in Paestum were said to be created under Zeus' order for his first and second wives.  We also visited Naples, and a winery next to Mt. Vesuvius.  At the winery, we had authentic Italian wine and spaghetti while enjoying the views of the endless vineyards by Mt. Vesuvius.  It was so relaxing and fun!  However, one of my favorite parts on this tour was visiting a buffalo mozzarella farm!  I really had no idea what to expect, and I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  On this farm, the water buffalo are treated like royalty.  They live in a stress free environment where they can receive massages, and the females only give milk when they want to; they are never forced.  Thus, they give the best milk, which turns into the best mozzarella.  We sampled the mozzarella, a canoli and ice cream made with buffalo milk.  Everything we tried was INCREDIBLE, and I am constantly reminiscing on how good it tasted.  Another little excursion we got to do was visiting a limoncello factory.  We learned how limoncello is made, and got to sample several different varieties of it.  I personally did not like the limoncello; I thought it was too strong and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Amalfi Coast

Beach in Vietri

Buffalo Massage

Greek Ruins in Paestum

Winery at Mt. Vesuvius

Limoncello Factory

Overall, our time spent on the coast was priceless, and I am so glad that I was able to experience all of the things that I did.  It is amazing how attached I became to the small Italian towns along the Amalfi coast while only being there for such a short period of time!  As I reflect on this phenomenal trip around Italy, I know there are so many things I am going to miss.  For one, I already miss waking up next to the ocean, and looking out of our hotel windows out onto the coast.  I miss the hefty, six course meals that the Italians always served us.  One thing I think I could never get sick of is authentic Italian food!  Between all of the pasta, pizza, gelato, seafood and freshly baked bread, I know I experienced some of the best meals I have ever had in my life.  Lastly, I miss the incredible group of people I met on our tour.  Although they were quite a bit older than Maddie and I, we got along so great with them!  We listened to their endless stories from their childhood, or when they talked non stop about their adorable grandchildren.  We smiled and laughed when they teased us, and we nearly cried as we hugged them goodbye.  It is such a rewarding experience to become friends with new people, no matter what age they are.  I have heard it said before that it is not what you see when you travel, but the people you meet that leave the most lasting impressions, and I did not fully understand how true this was until I met our group in Italy.  I may have been sad leaving Italy, but never before had I had such a full heart!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Vienna and Venice (Blog #5 Due April 19th)

8: Field Trip 2

"Wherever you go, go with all your heart." -Confucius

When I think of this quote, I think of all of the traveling I have done already throughout this program. As I look back on our second field trip to Vienna and Venice, I can't help but smile at all of the amazing memories our group has made!  Before we departed for Vienna on Tuesday morning, I really had no idea what to expect.  I knew Vienna was famous for Mozart and known as the "city of music", but I had no idea how historically rich it really was.  As always, we checked into our hostel right away when we arrived in Vienna.  Although we don't spend lots of time in the hostels, I am always looking forward to what they will be like.  We stayed in the "Happy Hostel" and I absolutely loved it!  Each hostel we have stayed in has been unique, but this hostel definitely had lots of character.  In our room, we had our own small kitchen area, dining table, three twin beds, a large bunk bed, and a private bathroom.  After dropping our luggage off at the hostel, we followed Martin to start our little tour of Vienna.  We first went to the Maria Theresa Monument near the Museum of Natural History and another museum of Art History.  We used this spot many times after exploring when we were finding our way back to the hostel.

Maria Theresa Monument

Martin then led us to another main square of Vienna, and let us free for lunch.  At lunch I realized that Vienna's prices were not very cheap.  The food and souvenirs all cost much more than I thought they would, so I was a little surprised.  After lunch we met back with the group to go to the Imperial Treasury.  Seeing all of the crowns, jewels and other items in the treasury was pretty amazing, but I have to admit that these type of museums are starting to bore me a little.  I was excited to leave the museum and explore more of Vienna afterwards.  A group of us walked around and found a beautiful park, and a large cathedral.  From there, a few of us girls decided we wanted to shop along the main shopping street by our hostel.  Vienna definitely had some good places for shopping, but I was shocked when I found out that nearly every store closed at 7:00 P.M.  Since most shops were closed, we found a cafe to eat and called it a night.  The next morning we were so excited to attend a horse show!  We patiently sat in the arena, waiting for the horse show, until we realized that it wasn't a show.  It was just a practice for the upcoming horse shows! Even though we were disappointed that we did not get to see an actual show, I still thought it was special that we were able to see the fancy arena and a little bit of what the horses can do.  We had the rest of our day free, and I was determined to see something involving Mozart.  Luckily, we ended up finding a cheap music museum called Haus der Musik.  I was so incredibly happy that we were able to go to this museum!  Not only did it have a section on classical composers like Mozart, but it also had several areas involving the science of music and hearing.  I never considered the science of hearing and music until I had been to Haus der Musik, and now I am so glad that I was able to see such an incredible and informative museum.

Mozart's Possessions in Haus Der Musik

That night was our last night in Vienna, and I had mixed feelings. I was a little sad knowing that we had to leave after two short days, but I could not contain my excitement to visit Venice!  The next morning we hopped on the bus for our seven hour bus ride to Venice, which I was not looking forward to.  However, we drove right by the Swiss Alps, which was absolutely breathtaking!  I had no idea we were going to drive through the Alps like that, and it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.
Beautiful Swiss Alps

 As we drove further along, we noticed miles and miles of vineyards as soon as we entered Italy.  When we finally got to Venice, I was more than ready to explore!  After our bus dropped us off, we had to then board a train to get to our hostel. Our hostel in Venice was pretty small, but clean and comfortable.  It did not surprise me at all that it was small, considering how close all of the buildings are together.  My first impressions of Venice were nothing but pure amazement.  I remember seeing pictures of Venice and thinking there's no way it could be that pretty in person, but all of my expectations were exceeded.  Each and every winding street was so unique, and the buildings were all different kinds of colors.  Martin first took us to St. Mark's square, where he then left us to explore.  Since Maddie and I were leaving Venice a day earlier than the rest of the group for our spring break, we knew we had to make the most out of our short time in Venice.  So, that night we set out to go on a gondola ride.  We found a good deal for five of us to go on a gondola ride, so we decided to go for a ride.  The gondola ride was so unbelievably breathtaking!  The sun was setting while we were on the gondola, so everything was twice as beautiful!  I will never forget all of the beauty we were able to see along that ride.  It made me feel so blessed that I was able to even see such an amazing sight! When our gondola ride ended, we knew we should probably head back towards our hostel before it got too dark.  The only problem was that we had no idea where we were going!  I am not sure how to describe directions in Venice, because around every corner there is something completely new and you usually have no idea where you are at.  Martin even said that you sometimes have to go in the wrong direction of where you are supposed to, in order to end up in the right direction you need to go.  Needless to say, it was definitely an adventure finding our way back to the hostel.  I truly believe though, that the best way to see Venice is simply to walk around and get lost in the streets.  There is always something different around every street, and it is so much fun just exploring without a purpose! We eventually found our way back to the hostel (after stopping multiple times for food and gelato) and went straight to bed so we could wake up early.  We did not have to meet our group until 11 A.M. at St. Mark's square the next morning, but a group of us woke up very early so we could explore Venice at 7:00 A.M.  Waking up super early was definitely worth it as we found the streets mostly empty that morning.  Not many stores were open, and only a few people were up and walking around.  It was so awesome to see what Venice was like that early in the morning before the streets got busy.  Everything was so peaceful and calm; even the pigeons weren't out that early!  Throughout that morning we relaxed on some benches by the sea, tried the famous Italian spritz beverage, had an early lunch, and tried a canoli from a local bakery.  We soon had to meet the group, so Martin could take us to the Basilica Di San Marco and a museum.  The thing I liked best about this museum we went to was the underground chambers it had that were once used as a jail.  It was crazy to think about all of the history that Venice had, as we learned that it was an important port for shipping.  Once we were finished at the museum we were free to explore once again.  Maddie and I had to leave that afternoon for Rome, so we quickly walked through the streets of Venice one last time before heading back to the hostel.

Beautiful Venice

I was struck with immense waves of sadness as we had to leave Venice.  I had never before been so attached to a city, and I had only been there for less than two full days!  I was not expecting to fall in love with it the way that I did, but now I just keep thinking about when I will be able to return.  The overall experience I had in Vienna and Venice was something that I will never forget.  I had a lot of fun, but I also learned a lot along the way.  In Vienna, we dealt with a lot of rude locals, which was not something I was expecting.  However, I just had to take every experience, good or bad, and use it to help myself learn and grow.  I also had to learn that you cannot rely on your expectations of places, because it's normally not what you think.  I figured this out in both Vienna and Venice.  I had high expectations for Vienna, and it was not what I had pictured.  I was expecting to see Mozart statues everywhere and that we would go to an opera or something.  Instead, we went to a horse show, which was fun-- it was just not what I was expecting. I also had high expectations for Venice, and it completely exceeded those expectations.  Although I did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked in both of these places, I believe that the time I had there was priceless.

Monday, April 6, 2015

London Trip (Blog #4 Due April 19th)

(Topic of My Own Choosing)

This weekend trip to London can only be described as a roller coaster of emotions.  It was a mixture of excitement, exhaustion, happiness and stress, but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.  Friday, right after class, we had to head straight to the dorms to finish packing for our weekend trip to London.  Our train for Prague left right around 3:45 P.M., and our hectic journey began.  We arrived in Prague and boarded our plane around 9:30 P.M.  Since our flight was arriving in London at around midnight, we decided to be save some money and sleep in the airport for a few hours before our bus picked us up at 5:30 A.M.  We flew with RyanAir (super cheap airline for Europe) into the Stansted airport, which is actually quite far from the city. When we arrived, we went through customs and pulled out some British pounds from an ATM.  For how late it was, the airport was packed with people.  There was a countless number of people sleeping on the floor, which made us feel a little better knowing that we wouldn't be the only ones!  Once we found a somewhat cozy spot, we all sprawled out on the floor to try and get some sleep.  However, the floor was way too cold and the noise level was way too high.  Maddie and Lauren stayed up all night while Erica and I attempted to sleep, but I only ended up dozing off a few times throughout the night. Around 4:00 A.M. we got up to get ready for the day. I was tired, cold, and cranky but the fact that we were seeing London that day was getting me through the exhaustion! After a big cup of coffee and freshening up, it was time to board our bus.  The bus ride took about an hour to get to our stop, which was the Victorian Coach Station. This is where things went a little downhill. We wanted to go straight to our hostel to check our bags in, but little did we know that we were nowhere near where our hostel was.  Somehow we ended up way on the wrong side of London, but thank goodness the locals spoke English and were able to help us find where we were supposed to be. We bought a daily pass for the underground "tube" and headed way out into the direction of Acton Town.  When we walked out of the train station, we realized we were in a very different area of London.  It was not touristy whatsoever, and we knew we were very far from the big attractions we wanted to see. We finally came to our hostel, and it turned out that to be a pub with  hostel rooms upstairs.  No one was there, and we started to panic.
This is a hostel? No thanks!

We knew we did not want to stay there, so we got back onto the tube and went back to the Victorian Station.  Luckily, in the train station we found an information kiosk for hotels, and we booked a hotel right away.  It was a super fancy 4-star hotel for about $55 per person for one night, but we were desperate so we took it.  From there we went to our new fancy hotel and dropped off our backpacks so we could start sightseeing.  We knew we wanted to be in the area of Big Ben and the London Eye, so we started making our way towards those areas.  On the way we walked across the London Bridge, and took some pictures of the Tower Bridge as well.  It started to sleet/rain and we were hungry, so we stopped for lunch at a cute restaurant to get our classic fish-n-chips.  I am not a huge fish fan, but I have to say that it tasted pretty amazing!
Tower Bridge

After lunch we made the trek towards Big Ben.  After 20 or so more minutes of walking, we found ourselves standing next to the London Eye.  I was once again left speechless at the marvelous views of the Eye and Big Ben.  I was in such awe that I had to keep reminding myself that I was in London, and how lucky I am. Seeing Big Ben in person was something that I have always wanted to do, and I could not believe it was actually happening!  After taking some pictures by Big Ben we walked back over to the London Eye. We had pre-purchased our London Eye tickets online (best decision ever) and all we had to do was find the kiosk to print them off.  Since we had our tickets, we got to skip the huge line of people and go through the "fast track."  It only took a total of maybe five minutes for us to get our tickets and get on the ride.  I would imagine that the people who had to wait to buy their tickets would have been in line for at least an hour or two!  The views from the Eye were incredible, and it was so cool to be able to point out the different buildings we could see.  We were only on the actual ride for about 30 minutes, but I think it was worth it!

Big Ben

On top of the London Eye

After the Eye, we had plenty of time to spare before our scheduled night cruise.  We then decided to walk to Buckingham Palace, and ended up stopping at a couple of gorgeous parks along the way.  When we finally got to Buckingham Palace it was pretty crowded and there wasn't much to see, so we took a few pictures and headed back towards the river.  By this point we were absolutely exhausted, and our feet were hurting.  We had already walked over ten miles at this point, and we needed a break.

Beautiful parks

Buckingham Palace

 Our next stop was at an Italian cafe next to the Eye, and it was pretty pricey. Everything in London is expensive though, especially compared to Olomouc.  After we ate, it was already getting dark, so we headed over to find our boat for the river cruise. While waiting to board our boat I noticed a Ben & Jerry's vending machine, and I just HAD to get some ice cream from it.  I had never seen one before so I was super excited!

Best invention ever

I took the ice cream on the cruise with me, and sat back to enjoy the amazing views of London at night.  Seeing Big Ben and the London Eye all lit up was breathtaking.  We also had a very informative guide telling us about the different buildings along the river, such as the school where Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) attended when he was younger.

When the cruise was finished we were all beyond ready for bed, so we began to walk back. On our way back we noticed a crowd of people around a fenced in building, so we approached them to see what it was all about.  We ended up seeing Shaun Wallace (a guy who won Mastermind and is on the quiz show "The Chase") and although we didn't know who he was at the time, it was still exciting because we knew it was someone famous.

Shaun Wallace

When we got back to our fancy hotel, we all took hot baths and went right to sleep! After breakfast the next day, we headed straight for Kings Cross station to see the famous Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. It took us a while to find our way there, but once we got there it was so exciting! We took a few pictures there, and then realized we were running out of time.

Platform 9 3/4

We needed to get back to the Victorian Coach Station to catch our bus on time, so we headed back in that direction for our last couple of hours in London.  It was a little past lunchtime at that point so we stopped at one last cafe before going to our bus.  I was so sad knowing we had to leave London, but I knew I was returning to the Czech Republic with some unforgettable memories.  As I reflect on this trip, I can't help but think of the quote, "To travel is to take a journey into yourself." I could not think of a better quote to describe my feelings about London.  After experiencing the panic of staying at a creepy hostel, the frustration of endless train rides, and the pain my exhausted body felt after running on little to no sleep, I can truly say that I have learned more about myself on this trip than I have in my entire life.  I tested my limits, and was pleasantly surprised with how much I could handle.  Being in a foreign place can be scary, exciting, emotional, but most importantly-rewarding.  Seeing the amazing things that London had to offer made every bad/uncomfortable moment of travel worth it, and I could not be happier with the way that things turned out.  Overall, though the trip was short it was one that I will never forget. I hope that I can one day return to this wonderful city and visit more places such as the Harry Potter museum and Westminster Abbey.