I’ve Found my Smile Again

Slovakia

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to go to Piestany, Slovakia for a Fulbright mid-year conference. As with most conferences, this was a great opportunity to network and learn about the work of others Fulbrighters. It’s truly amazing to see the work that we are all doing in a our schools and in our respective communities. We each had to give a presentation, and for my presentation I did a compilation of pictures that represented my time in the Czech Republic so far. Below are the pictures that I used. If you follow my blog you probably have seen many of these pictures before:

All in all it was a nice conference and very relaxing because Piestany is a spa town so our hotel had a heated pool and “jacuzzi.” I say “jacuzzi” because the water wasn’t really that hot, but it was warm enough. The best part was meeting up with the other Czech Fulbrighters and meeting the  ETAs from Slovakia. We always have the best time when we all get together.

Spring Break Travels: Stockholm ✈ Dublin ✈ London

Last week I had my spring break. Usually when I think of spring break I think of warm weather, Mexico, and throwing the football around on the beach. However on this side of the world they do things different. How you can have a spring break when it’s still snowing outside is beyond me. In any case I was happy to get away for a bit.

Stockholm

My first stop was Stockholm,  home of Ikea, H&M, Swedish meatballs, and Swedish fish. I met up with Gabe, a friend from college, and we had a great time exploring the Scandinavian capitol together. Although I was only there for a little under 72 hours we did a lot including several tours. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from my time in Stockholm:

Highlights:

  1. Taking a tour of the old town with Lee, a country boy from Arkansas who showed us pictures of vikings, made up stories about Swedish history, and forgot names of places.
  2. Old drunken guys causing a scene in the main plaza by screaming at each other and chasing one another around the square.
  3. Eating a very satisfying meal at the Kulterhuest – free bread and tea!
  4. Taking a highly informational tour of the Parliament building
  5. Going to the VASA museum, an almost fully intact 17th century ship that was sunk on her maiden voyage
  6. Having a very happy meal at McDonald’s while watching a baby get wrapped up like a present
  7. Thinking that one drink cost 15 dollars but instead it only cost 7.50. Score!
  8. Asking Gabe if “Pete” (our stinky roommate) was still in the room and discovering that he was.
  9. Sitting next to a really sweet Swedish/Irish/Algerian girl on the bus to the airport.

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Lowlights:

  1. Paying 11 dollars for a drink. Stockholm was mad expensive.
  2. Freeeeeezing! Had to quit two tours because it was just too dang cold.
  3. Wanting to eat another meal at the Kulterhuest and finding out it was closed.

So all in all a really good beginning to my spring break.

Dublin

I was really excited to go to Dublin to experience some warmer weather. It wasn’t that much warmer but at least it wasn’t snowing. I haven’t travelled solo in a long time so Dublin was really nice for that reason. Usually when you are with someone else or with a group you have to compromise, but when you are by yourself you get to do what ever you want. The first day I explored the city by foot. By wandering around on my own I saw many of the major attractions. I even managed to get some shopping done. There are so many things that I are not available in the Czech Republic that I miss including cheap used books in English, multi-vitamins, and paper-blanks journals. I was so happy to find all of these things in Dublin. I also stumbled across a store called Asha. They sold really weird things but I guess I can be weird sometimes so that makes sense.

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Couchsurfing is a community of people from all over the world who are interested in meeting new people, sharing cultures, and creating meaningful connections. The website connects travelers with local hosts which is how I ended up meeting Daniel and his girlfriend Belize. Daniel works at Google so on Tuesday he gave me the royal tour and showed me all of the perks that “Googlers” have including free food, massages, macs, and video game rooms. So needless to say Google has got it going on.  That night we met up with Belize and went for Spanish tapas and Guinness. The next day I met up with them again to watch a Turkey-Germany football (soccer) match. Belize is Turkish so we were rooting for Galatasaray S.K.  Ordinarily I don’t watch soccer on TV but its different when you go to a sports bar and there are excited fans from both sides around cheering and shouting.

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On my last day I took a tour with an Irish college student and it was probably the best 4-hour walking tour I’ve ever took. I still don’t know what Irish people ate before potatoes were introduced but I do know where the phrase “the luck of the Irish” comes from and the story behind the temple bar. I really liked Dublin because it was a walkable city with beautiful outdoor spaces, historical sites, and lively people. I will definitely return in the future but hopefully I will be able to experience the Irish countryside as well.

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Irish Coast

London

My spring break ended with all-too-short trip to London. I’ve been to London once before for the Harry Potter premier and was able to see most of the famous sights on that trip. However, this time I really got an authentic experience.  Through couchsurfing I was also able to stay with four British guys who were all creative spirits (dancers/rappers/photographers). My official host was extremely considerate, open-minded, introspective, deep, and soulful. I had so much fun with him and his talented group of friends. All the late night conversations, light hearted jokes, spontaneous dance sessions, herbal teas, and musical schooling (I learned ALL about D’angelo and house music) made it feel like one big sleepover. There was so much energy in that house it was amazing. I had such a great time hanging out with my hosts that I really didn’t do much sightseeing. I did get Chipotle though (man I miss Cali).

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These signs are so necessary.

One of the first things that goes in your life when you live in a foreign country is humor. It’s really hard to be funny or to laugh when the only words you can say are food related or are best suited for the classroom. Perhaps the reason why I had such a great time was that I haven’t laughed like that in a long time. I honestly can’t wait to go back to see those guys again. Throughout the weekend I also went Kizumba dancing with another couchsurfer and watched a Rugby match with a friend of a friend. So all in all I couldn’t ask for a better spring holiday.

I haven’t spent a weekend at home since January but traveling makes me happy and since being back I haven’t stopped smiling. Today I leave for a week-long ski course in the mountains with my students. Should be fun!

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