London Calling!

My last stop on my European adventure was London to visit one of my sorority sisters, Maggie. She was so great with helping me get everything together for my time there. I had to say my last good byes to Prague on my last night there, so I went on a walk around some of the city one last time before meeting up with some friends. That night I said good bye to all my friends from Prague at 3:30 in the morning, which was extremely difficult. I got into the van to take me to the airport with everyone leaving that day. I got to the airport at 4am, but my flight wasn’t until about 11, so I slept in the airport until I could check in to my flight. I was surprised to find one of the girls was on my flight to London, so it was nice to have a familiar face on my flight. When I got to London, I actually had a huge culture shock from being able to understand everyone around me! I was not used to hearing English anymore and it was a pretty big adjustment back to hearing English. London was the first country on my trip that English was the main language.

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First view of London!

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View from my apartment.
Maggie met me at the airport and we got some lunch after dropping off my bags at my apartment in the London USAC building. It was a really nice building and I had my own room, but I didn’t have wifi in my room, so that was a pretty difficult adjustment for me. It was fun to be able to get to know some of the people who were in the London USAC program after getting to know the people in the Prague USAC program. They were all very nice and fun to spend time with. I even ended up running into a guy who was in the Prague Summer Session I program who I had been in the program with me for my first week abroad.

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Piccadilly Circus
Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.24.50 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.24.33 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.24.10 AM After grabbing some lunch, Maggie and I walked around for a bit and saw Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus. The next day, a few of us went on a tour of the Tower of London. We took tours of the different buildings and learned a lot of history of the place. One tower was called Bloody Tower. We learned that when a king died, his brother kidnapped the king’s two sons and killed them so that he could have the throne for himself. No one knew what happened to the boys until their remains were found in a chest several hundred years later in the tower. After, we walked across the Tower Bridge.

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White Tower at the Tower of London

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Where people’s heads were put before being beheaded

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Shooting a crossbow!
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Tower Bridge
The next day, I went on an adventure of my own! Maggie had class that day, so I explored and navigated around London by myself and it was so much fun! After meeting Maggie for breakfast, she headed to class and I headed to Hogwarts! I went to Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station and took the picture that I have dreamed of taking for so many years. Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.18.48 AM After becoming Hogwarts’ newest Ravenclaw, I went to a museum that was really interesting. Part of it focused on fashion throughout the past century. It also had a lot of history on England and it’s culture. There was also some history on other parts of the world. Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.19.09 AMScreen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.19.31 AM I made my way to Harrods, which is a huge department store with designers like Tom Ford, Prada and soooo many more. After that, I went back to my apartment to rest a little after walking around London all day and then went to dinner with Maggie and a couple of her friends. I ordered some schnitzel and beer because I have having some serious Prague withdrawals. It was pretty depressing that the beer was about $7 though because it was so much cheaper in Prague. Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.18.16 AM Maggie and her friends had to leave to go see a play for one of their classes, so I went and got a waffle with Nutella for dessert. Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.18.33 AM The next day, I took a tour of Parliament with Maggie and her class. Someone from her class backed out, so I was lucky enough to be able to join the tour for free. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside, but it was so interesting to learn how ideas become laws and the Queen’s routine for it.

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Big Ben

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Parliament
Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.17.23 AM I was able to see a few famous sights after the Parliament tour and take some fun pictures. Some of us went to get what Maggie’s friends described as “the best burger in the world.” And it was pretty delicious.

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Westminster Abbey

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The boat at the top was made as a piece of art. Now you can pay millions to stay over night in it.
Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.16.22 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.16.02 AMScreen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.14.56 AM Everyone went back to the apartment and I walked to Kensington Palace. There was a really pretty view of the sun setting over the grounds. People were playing soccer, riding their bikes and walking their dogs. It was a really nice walk by myself, especially since it was my last night in Europe. I got to take it all in for the last time and say good bye to my great time in Europe. Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.13.54 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.13.29 AMI woke up at 5:30 the next morning to start making my way to the airport. Carrying all of my bags to the tube and to the airport was not easy, the trip home was long and tiring. I was sad to be ending my trip, but I was excited to see everyone from home and tell them all about my trip!

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Krakow, Poland and Auschwitz Death Camp

3 concentration camps, 4 days and so many emotions.

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Watching the sunrise from the train car.

I went to Poland with a couple of friends July 17th-19th. It started with a bit of a bump in the road when we missed our train. Our tickets all said “Bus” on them so we waited to be picked up at the main bus station at the train station in Prague. We found out right as our train was leaving that it was in fact a train. We were supposed to get to Poland at around midnight. Instead, we got onto another train to Poland around 11:00pm and got there at 7:00 the next morning, so we didn’t lose much time there. The first day, we wandered around and city and the main square. We came across a wall of art that we all really loved. I think we went back an visited it everyday that we were there and each of us ended up buying a piece from it.Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.38.50 PM We also looked at the market that is in the main square everyday. I loved looking at all the antiques, jewelry and other interesting items people were selling.

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Market in Old Town Square

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.35.31 PM We went on a bar crawl with our hostel that night. We met some interesting people and it was one of the most fun nights I had out in Europe. The next day we went on a 7 hour tour of the death camps Auschwitz and Birkenau. I don’t want to say too much about it because it is really something that you can only really understand by seeing it in person. Auschwitz is the ultimate death camp and where other concentration camps sent people to die. It was pretty incredible to think back on all the times I had learned about the Holocaust and all the museums dedicated to it that I had been to because I never would have imagined that I would visit the place where it all really happened. My tour started with a van ride where a video was shown that went into intense detail and did not hold anything back. It made me feel like I was going to be sick. The feeling that you get when walking through the camp is indescribable. You really just need to visit it for yourself if you ever get the chance.

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“Work sets you free.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.46.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.42.31 PM After touring Auschwitz, we drove over to Birkenau, another death camp. I had seen so many pictures of this camp and walking in the exact spot of these pictures I had seen was so crazy. We saw the ruins of how the Nazis tried to get rid of any evidence of what they were doing and the memorial for it. By the time we left, a storm was starting, making it very windy with rain, thunder and lightning. This added a whole other level of eeriness. Our tour guide pointed out the fact the all the dust that the wind was blowing up was the remains of the people who were burned there and that was pretty disturbing. We walked back to the van and drove home for the night after that. We left for our van and train ride back to Prague early that next day.

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The train tracts lead right into the camp, where people are then sorted into 2 groups: immediate death or be worked to death.

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Class Field Trips to the Jewish Quarter and Terezin

I need to catch up on my blog posts!!!

Ok so a few weeks ago my Holocaust and 20th century Jewish class went on 2 different field trips. The first was to the Jewish Quarter in Prague, Josefov. We went to a lot of beautiful synagogues- old, new and old new synagogues, it’s kind of confusing. But I got to learn so much about Prague’s Jewish history and Jewish history in general. We walked around the town visiting different historical sites, which was really interesting.

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This synagogue had names of people who perished in the Holocaust. There were several walls filled with names.
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These signs above doors are what inspired Hitler’s idea to make Jews wear gold Stars of David.
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Jewish cemetery. 100,000 people are buried here, piled in layers.

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The next day, we went to the concentration camp near Prague called Terezin. I actually found this field trip fascinating. For the class, each person had to do a 20 minute presentation. For my presentation, I read my professor’s copy of the book Fortress of my Youth.
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This is an autobiography of a girl named Jana and her experience living in Terezin. Because I read this book, I felt like a had a personal connection to the camp. As we walked around, I got to see the building Jana lived in that I had read so much about, as well as the place where she had to say a last good bye to her father, best friend and boyfriend as they were sent off to Auschwitz. During the field trip, we listened to some other students give their presentations. When we got to the place where Jana said her last good bye to those closest to her, I gave my presentation of the book. It was probably one of my favorite school assignments I have ever done. You don’t usually get to give a presentation is the actual place that the events took place. I learned so much from this trip that I can’t even explain. Visiting a concentration camp gives you insight into the events that took place there that can’t be learned any other way than to set foot there.

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“Works sets you free.”
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Markings that a prisoner made on the door to his cell.
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The end of the railroad at Terezin where people were picked up and shipped to Auschwitz.
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An apartment for a family in Terezin.

Na shledanou, Prague!

Dobry den!

Today is my last full day in Prague and I can’t believe how fast it came. It’s been amazing to be able to call this place home for 6 weeks and it’s going to be really hard to say goodbye to it and the great people I have met. It holds a special place in my heart and has taught me so much. With that said, I thought I would share just a few of the things I have learned about Prague while I have been here.

Prague has a population of about 1.5 million people.

The 9th century Prague Castle is in the Guinness book of records as the oldest castle in the world. The castle buildings include St. George’s Basilica and St Vitus Cathedral.

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The Czechs love their beer (as do I) and the locals drink more beer per capita than any other country in the world. The total consumption, divided by every man, woman, grandparent and baby in the country, equals about 150 liters per year. So that means almost half a liter for every person everyday. Beer is actually cheaper than water here.

The Czech Republic i also home to the most dogs per capita in the world. Pretty much everyone has a dog and they are EVERYWHERE! It’s so great. They ride the metro, bus and go pretty much anywhere humans can go.

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TV tower prices, including prices for dogs.
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Behind a dog on an escalator in the metro station

Everything here is so cheap compared to the U.S. 1 dollar = about 25 krowns. You can get a drink for less than $2 here and meals for like $5. I’m going to miss that a lot.

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Placemat from a restaurant I ate at that Albert Einstein used to always go to.

Prague’s Old Town has the astronomical clock. It was first made in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. The clock can tell every month, and describes every angle day of the year, with the current date being displayed at the top. Every hour, the clock goes off and some of the figures on it actually move. Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 2.24.44 PM

Josefov is Prague’s historic Jewish Quarter and includes the cemetery and Europe’s oldest active synagogue, the Old-New Synagogue (there’s a story behind it’s name). Hitler actually planned to retire in Prague and preserved this area as a museum. He had actually already made the museum during World War II, but had made it as a museum for Jews as an extinct race! Now, the Jewish Museum in Prague manages this collection of 6 synagogues, historical relics, and a holocaust memorial. I went on a class field trip here, so I will post about that soon. I just haven’t had time yet.

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Jewish cemetery
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A synagogue

There is so much more I could tell you about Prague, but you should really learn it for yourself.

Na shledanou, Prague! I miss you already.

Now off to London tomorrow morning!

Hike to Karlštejn Castle and Velka Amerika!

A couple weeks ago I went on a day hike to see Karlštejn Castle and then Velka Amerika limestone quarry with some of the people from USAC. We took a 40 minute train ride and then hiked through a town, up a steep hill and steps to Karlštejn Castle, the most famous castle in the Czech Republic. Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.30.33 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.30.18 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.29.57 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.29.44 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.29.36 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.28.59 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.29.16 PM Then we hiked to Velka Amerika (Big America). It’s known as the Grand Canyon of the Czech Republic. It is a partly flooded and abandoned limestone quarry in the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. It was a little bit of a challenging hike, but swimming it the water when we got there was so worth it! Not to mention the view was beautiful. Walking through the green fields made me really want to listen to The Hills are Alive.

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We had to climb a latter to a rope to climb up.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.29.27 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.28.38 PM  Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.28.18 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.27.58 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-12 at 9.06.37 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-12 at 9.03.17 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.27.11 PM After swimming and hiking back up, we stopped for some lunch before walking the rest of the way to the train station. The whole trip took about 6 hours and I am really happy I went on it. I like being able to see other parts of the Czech Republic that isn’t city.

Venice, Italy: The Floating City

This past weekend was not only the 4th of July for the U.S., but it was also a big holiday weekend for Prague. On July 5th and 6th, the Czech Republic celebrates the act of Christianity being brought to their country. The 6th is a celebration of a religious reformer named Jan Hus being executed at the stake in 1415… so I was lucky enough to have class off Friday through Monday! SO I WENT TO VENICE, ITALY OF COURSE!

Our plane landed a little after 3:00 on Friday and because of some difficulty getting to the hostel, we did not get there until I think about 7:00, but I was so grateful when we did. The Hostel we stayed at was called Camping Jolly. It was very interesting. We stayed in a bungalow, which was just a big tent with a bunk bed and another twin bed in it with some lights and 1 electrical outlet. It was a good experience to have had. The hostel had a pool, restaurant, bar, grocery market and a bathroom/shower area.

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The “Bungalows”
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The restaurant/bar at the hostel

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We ate dinner when we got there and then went to the pool party the hostel was having and stuck our feet in the hot tub until we went to bed. The next day for 4th of July, we ventured out to find a beach. This was pretty difficult because transportation in Venice is not nearly as easy as it is in Prague. We asked our hostel how to get a bus pass and when we got there to buy our ticket, we asked where to get off to get to the beach. The guy just laughed at us. Luckily, we found other people our age wearing swim suits, so we asked if they wee going to the beach, too.They were, so we stuck with them to get there. We ended up also buying a day pass for the water ferry. We took the ferry all the way to the island which was about an hour and a half long. At first it was very hot on the boat, but it was nice once I was able to get a spot next to the railing by the water. We walked down a street with some shops until we finally found the beach after trying to get there for about 2.5 hours. I got my first gelato in Italy, which melted in about .02 seconds because it was over 100 degrees, thanks to the heat wave that hit almost all of Europe. We finally got to lay out on the beach and the water was so warm. I think it is the warmest ocean I have ever been in- warmer than Hawaii and SoCal. It was so nice. I even got a pretty good tan, but mostly just a million more freckles than I already had. My friend and I also got some cornrows because we were on a beach in Venice for the 4th of July and you just can’t say no to that.

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Cornrows

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There were a lot of people there wearing American flag swim suits, which was a nice reminder of home, except for the American flag-printed speedos. After spending hours there, we started the trip back to the hostel to shower and get all the sand out of our hair and recuperate from the extreme heat and sun.

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Views of the Grand Canal from the ferry

The next day we headed out to explore the city more and were determined to ride in a gondola. The city is definitely a maze with many side streets, alleys and roads made out of water. The Grand Canal was so amazing. Can every street be made out of water? Then we looked at shops, many for masks and glass, which is another thing the city is known for.

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Shops of masks and glass were all over the city.

We found a gondola ride and hoped on! It was pretty fun, I just wish it had been longer. I could have been on that boat for hours.

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Stephano killing the gondola ride

Then we walked around the city more, looking at the sites and stopping in stores and places to grab a bite to eat. We needed any excuse to get out of the sun. It was so hot that just standing outside and not moving was over bearing.

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Had to put my feet in to cool off

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 12.18.43 AMVenice is called many things, some being the “City of Water”, “City of Masks”, “City of Bridges” and the “City of Canals”. These are all true because Venice has so much to offer. I think out of the five major cities I have been to in Europe so far, this has been the most breath-taking. It was so different from the others. I really wish I had had more time there and that it wash’t so hot. It was really difficult to see everything when it was so hot that just being outside was difficult. I loved Venice, but I was ready to leave on Monday, go back to a familiar place and not be constantly sweating. I do not understand how locals there were wearing black long sleeve shirts and black leather pants. I had also accumulated over 20 bug bites in the three nights I was there, which drove me a little crazy.

I have always wanted to go to Italy and it is pretty crazy to be able to say I have now, even though I still have so much of it I want to see someday (Rome, Florence, Verona and so many more).

Ciao for now!

P.S. Euros suck.

School at Charles University in Prague

I started my first week of school last week out of the four weeks I will be in classes. I am taking two classes while I’m here: Holocaust and 20th Century Jewish Studies and Intro to Czech Language 1. On my very first day in the Holocaust class, we had a Holocaust survivor guest speaker, which I found fascinating, as she told her story of her experience of being in the concentration camp. I was also assigned a presentation on a book that I have to read. I am already over half way done with the book and I need to finish it soon because my presentation is due in a week. We are taking a field trip to a concentration camp in Prague called Terezin. I am going to be presenting on my book while in Terezin because the book is a true story of a girl who survived being in this concentration camp, which I think is a pretty cool opportunity. I just have to finish reading the book and get the presentation together, which is pretty hard to do when all you want to do is explore Prague.

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The entrance to my building at Charles University

There is not really an actual campus for Charles University; it is spread out over the city. My classes and the USAC office are in one hallway of one building. It takes me about 40 minutes to get to class. I walk to the bus station, take the bus, then take the metro and finally walk for about ten minutes to the building. Charles University is the oldest and largest university in the Czech Republic. It was founded in 1348 and was the first university in central Europe, east of France and north of the Alps. It is one of the oldest universities in Europe still used and ranks in the upper 1.5 percent of the world’s best universities. I feel lucky to be able to attend classes here! On the very first day of class, Jan gave us each this chocolate bar: Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.52.44 PM He joked that these were our student ID cards because it is called Studentska. I have heard from a local here that Czech people either love this chocolate or hate it because it contains dried fruit. I loved it. My Intro to Czech language class is going well. We don’t have any homework and I now know how to count up to 199, and say many things, such as my name, where I am from and that I am a student. I also know how to ask for the price of objects and when I am out buying things and people tell me how much I owe, I can tell how much by listening to them say the numbers in Czech without looking at how much the register says! I am also starting to recognize words around the city and am able to better understand what is around me. I’m excited to see if I will ever be able to understand a conversation I over hear at any point, but that is pretty ambitious. The Czech language sounds pretty crazy to people who don’t speak it. For example, ř is pronounced kind of like a “j” sound but also kind of with a “d” sound (“dj”). It is only found in the Czech language and many Czech people can’t even pronounce it. Listening to us trying to pronounce it in class is pretty hilarious. I will have to post later about all of the field trips I take with my class. We are going to go to some petty cool places.

Glassworks

About a week and a half ago (I know it’s been a while, sorry.) we had a field trip to a glassworks company in the Czech Republic. It was about a two hour bus ride there and it was in the very north part of the country. We drove through a nice little town where there were buildings striped black and white like a zebra. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a picture of one, but they were pretty cool. We got there and were told that we would be making some objects; I made a beer mug! We got to choose what colors we wanted, too. I picked a violet color I think, but I haven’t actually seen it yet. They were supposed to arrive in Prague within 2 weeks, so they should be here pretty soon. They told us that when we are blowing into the glass that we needed to blow very slowly so we don’t expand it too much. Dasa, a sweet woman who works with USAC explained that many glass makers begin smoking because their lungs become weaker, making it better for glassblowing. It occurred to me that I played a wind instrument for 10 years and have some pretty strong lungs. When I got up there to blow into the glass, I really didn’t think I was blowing any air out at all, but he was still telling me that I was doing too much and I needed to slow down. Whoops. It’s my strong lungs, I guess.

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Blowing up my glass mug

After this, we ate some lunch. Yep you guessed it: Beef Goulash with bread dumplings. We ate on a back deck and it had such a beautiful view. It was almost like the back part was its own little park. It had a pond with a fountain, pier and boat to go out on. There was a wooden swing bench and a zipline, along with a creek and a bridge to walk over right next to a playground. All around there were glass decorations,which reminded me of Chihuly Glassworks in Seattle. Of course, I had to try out the zipline! Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 2.27.09 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-01 at 2.26.54 PM Jan went out on the boat and went right next to a beaver that was swimming around. I think that was the first time I had seen a beaver in person, at least that I can think of.

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“There is a beaver or what?”-Jan

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 2.26.35 PM Next, the manager took us on a tour, showing us how the glass is cooled after being made. They put the objects on a conveyer belt that slowly moves it from a very hot temperature to room temperature. The belt moves so slowly that you can’t really tell it’s moving by watching it. The process takes hours because the longer the glass is cooled, the less likely it is to break. We walked through the factory and he told us how much items cost and which colors were the most expensive. He said their most expensive piece is worth $100,000! The heat the glass is put under when being shaped is 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The manager explained that the heat that the average household uses in half a year is how much their factory uses in one day! It was pretty cool to learn about how the famous Czech Republic glass was made. I am excited to see how my glass turned out and hopefully I can get it home in one piece. Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 2.26.25 PM  Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 2.24.11 PM

My Apartment in Prague

I have finally been able to settle into my apartment. It took some time and issues that I won’t go into, but I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor with no space for a few days and then had no sheets for a couple days after that. But I have gotten everything sorted out! I live on the top floor of the building, 124 steps to my apartment and a total of 139 to my room! There are 8 girls total and I share a room with one other girl upstairs. My room is the only room upstairs.

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The restaurant my apartment building is on top of.
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6 floors up to my apartment!

My room: My room opens up to the balcony that the kitchen also opens up to.

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The kitchen:

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My bathroom: I share a bathroom with mostly just one other girl.

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Views from my apartment:

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One of the people working for USAC showed a path that is good for running. I have gone on runs there twice now and love the path! It has some really great views and theres a lot of people and families who roller blade, jog and bike here.

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Tunnel where I run