Anna Tompkins
2004-05 Outbound to Slovakia

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor: Arlington Rotary Club
Host: Zilina Rotary Club, District 2240, Slovakia

September 30 Journal

Well, I’ve been in Slovakia for a month now. Quite possibly the most difficult, and certainly the most confusing month of my young life. The plane ride on the way to Slovakia sucked, I felt absolutely crappy. I don’t know why, but I always seem to forget that I have motion sickness, and every time I get on a plane it all comes back and slaps me in the face (or the stomach for that matter). My family is great and I’m living in a very nice house instead of an apartment. I think that the only real issues that I’m having with Slovakia is that they don’t use shower curtains and they always have those shower heads that you have to hold. I guess I’m just lazy.

The first day of school was a bit of a shock for me, but in a good way. It started at 9:00 and ended at 11:30 in the morning. They basically just gave my class our schedule and we waited for the day to be over. I remember asking the girl next to me, “We’re done?” And of course they all thought that it was funny when I kept on asking in disbelief, “Is school over?” I probably looked like such a dork. Oh well. The second day of school I agreed to go on a bike ride with some of my classmates, little did I know that it was a 17km (10 mi) trip and that we would be going up a small mountain. I eventually made it up the mountain, but I had to walk my bike up a good deal of the way, it was like a 35 degree incline. Then a week later I went on another bike ride with my parents to visit the site of a ski resort. This one was the same distance but about half of it was uphill. But all in all, I’ve gotta tell you that all that work was definitely worth the rush of the downhill.

It’s so weird, everyone keeps talking to me in broken English that I’m beginning to think in it. But once I got to language camp I was so excited to be with other exchange students who speak my language. I was talking so fast, and with a bit of a southern accent (?), that no one could really understand me. While at camp, Ivan Lamos (Slovakia’s Al) thought it would be a great idea for us to go hiking through the mountains to go visit a really old castle. I’ve never had so much constant exercise in my life. In Martin, my city, if you ever need to go anywhere the best ways to do it is either walk, bike, or take the bus (which only costs 5 crowns! or 15 cents). Everything’s so cheap, I love it!!

After the language course was over we all hopped on a bus, grabbed our passports, and headed for Kromeriz in the Czech Republic for a district orientation. While there, with all the other Czech and Slovak inbounds, I took a dance class that taught some traditional and some non-traditional Czechoslovak dances. My two favorites were the Cha-Cha and the Polka. Yes, I know how to Polka. Now all of you out there that actually know me might be a little shocked that I now know how to Polka, but its really quite fun and can be very useful for things like balls and stuff.

Octoberfest is coming up in Kosice and a lot of the exchange students are planning on going there and stay in a hostel. We’re calling it an officially unofficial meeting; we’ll probably stay there for a few days. We’ve all decided that it’s time that we speak Slovak to each other even though it would just be easier to speak English. I sometimes have to speak Slovish (half Slovak, half English) just to get my point across though. You wouldn’t believe how long it’s taken me to write this much. A lot of the letters and functions on these keyboards are switched around, and I'm basically typing very slowly and with one finger at a time. I can’t decide whether it’s funny or annoying, but a bunch of the billboards here are in Slovish. The most common English words are REAL, EASY, FREE, and NONSTOP.

Well this is all I have to say for now about my exchange so far, but I would like to make a holler out to all my pals in Jacksonville; I miss DA so much and all you technicians out there, Todd I loved your cd (especially the Hokey-Pokey). I love you guys and will be thinking about yáll a lot.

Dovidenia (good-bye)

Anna

October 7 Journal

Okay, I know it's only been a few days since my first journal but I just had to tell you what happened to me at school. So me and another exchange student from Chicago both go use the computer during the hour of our class’s second foreign language (the first is English), and as we were sitting outside the room waiting for the teacher to come we just happened to start up a conversation in English. Then we both noticed this group of ten year olds standing by the staircase smiling and staring at us (there were about 15 of them). Well then they started talking amongst themselves and occasionally pointing at us. I guess I figured they were going to make first contact. Then the entire mob swarmed around the bench where we were sitting and this one brave little boy stepped forward and said to my friend Monica, “How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?”. Once she said that they all ran back laughing to where they had been standing, I think I saw one kid fall over with laughter. We were both smiling and all I could think was, ‘what was that?’

Well after they collected themselves, they shot a series of questions at us in Slovak (luckily I understood them enough to answer back without using that very confused look that I have recently mastered). They seemed to get a kick out of it when we told them where we were from. They got all excited when I said Florida and they were definitely in awe when Monica said Chicago. Then they went on to ask us how old we were, whether we had pets in America, if we like Slovakia, whether or not Monica and I were sisters. I guess we could be mistaken for sisters seeing as how we are practically the only slightly overweight people in the entire city who wear baggy clothes. They hadn’t quite finished their interview when one of the professors noticed the predicament that we were in, and shooed the crowd away. As they left they were smiling, laughing, waving, and saying ‘Bye’ to us. We officially felt like we were on display. I’ve never even seen these kids or really most of the people in my school or my town, but everyone seems to know who we were, or weren’t.

Except for this one lady on the bus this morning on the way to school. It was fairly packed, she was sitting, I was standing and holding on this pole so that I didn’t fall over. Well I think I might have been hitting her in the head with my backpack, when she turned to me and said about a paragraph in Slovak. All I caught was taška, bag, so I got the message, sort of muttered okay under my breath. I was about to go into this whole speech about how I’m sorry, but I only speak a little Slovak (Prepačte, hovorím len trocha Slovenský), when she smiled and turned back to her original position. Conversation closed I figured and squeezed my way to the back of the bus. I probably should have tried to continue the conversation, but it was too early in the morning for me to concentrate and didn’t feel like having this new batch of bus people know that I was a foreigner. It’s been one of my goals to just blend in, but I’m not quite there yet. Today was one of my days of weird experiences.

I joined the basketball team at my school and am once again surrounded by people younger than me. And once again I reminded myself that I stink when I tripped over my shoe and gave my knee one of those gym floor burns during a drill that I had never done before. But it was fun.

I’m sure that none of these stories sounded very interesting, but I guess you just had to be there.

Ahojte.

Anna

October 29 Journal

Ahojte,

Hurray!! I got my visa yesterday! Now they can’t deport me! For not having my visa that is. Hehe!

J

Ahojte

Anna

P. S. Yes, I realize that this was an exceptionally short journal.

November 20 Journal

Wow, I really can’t believe that it’s almost been three months since I first stepped off that plane, actually I sort of tripped off. It really feels so much like home here, I think I’m starting to fit in quite nicely. My language skills are coming along, slowly unfortunately but not for my lack of trying, it’s just a lot more difficult than I anticipated. But on the bright side, I’m always getting complimented on my pronunciation and progress by the dudes at school. I just hope all that stuff doesn’t blow up my head to the size of a watermelon. Ok so this journal is gonna be in a bit of an outline format, just so I a) don’t forget anything and b) don’t end up in endless rambling.

Weather. Let’s talk about the weather first, why not it’s always a good conversation starter, in any language. It started snowing yesterday, so needless to say, it’s rather cold. I’m just glad that my bed is conveniently situated next to a radiator. And it was either yesterday or the day before when the weather people predicted a strong wind to come, so when I got to school everyone was talking about the hurricane that’s coming. A hurricane? That’s like geographically nearly impossible for Slovakia. So I started to go about explaining what a real hurricane was like, and one of my best friends Soňa decided that she didn’t want to move to Florida. It actually turned out that this ‘hurricane’ was a wind of about 20 miles an hour. Not a hurricane.

Sports. So yeah, I’m officially a hockey fan now. I love going to hockey games, and not just to watch the match, for the atmosphere too. These are the things needed to make a good game: Two teams of equally aggressive players to batter each other in the attempt to hit a little black rubber cylinder into a partially blocked goal, enthusiastic half drunken fans to cheer on the home team and angrily whistle at the guests, and three referees who always seem to make really bad calls. Put those three things together and you’ve got yourself a very exciting next two hours. So I enjoy watching hockey, and I enjoy playing basketball just as much. All my teammates are really cool, and even though they’re all younger than me we always have a good time together, for the love of the game I guess.

School. School is an adventure and a half, I’m so glad that a understand a lot more that’s going on. But sometimes, when I’m attempting to keep up with a conversation, the teacher all of a sudden asks me what I think of what they were just talking about. Sometimes I don’t have too much of a problem answering their questions, but sometimes I have to give them that ‘what were you talking about?’ look. Then they just go back and explain it in simpler words and everything is okay. All my classmates are great, they’re always willing to give me any kind of help that I need, from shopping for school supplies to correcting my grammar. I’m really thankful that I have these people as my resources. As far as my participation in class goes, it’s obliviously not as good as it would be if I were speaking better Slovak, but its fair. I’m getting used to being put on the spot like that and I sort of appreciate it because it forces me to use my vocabulary off the top of my head. The other week my chemistry teacher gave me an assignment to study in my book about nuclear energy and then present what I learned to the class. Little did I know that what was going to be about a seven-minute lecture actually turned up as a lesson for the whole class period. The teacher would stop me periodically and elaborate on points that I guess she thought were important. But there was this one word that was necessary to use but I just couldn’t pronounce it for some reason. I got some polite chuckles at my performance by my classmates. P. E. class is always fun. It starts off with everyone lined up in military fashion while the coach gives us the scoop on what’s going to happen. Then a couple of laps around the gym, then the coach attempts to teach us clearly incompetent kids how to play volleyball. It's chaos, balls are flying everywhere, people are hitting balls backwards that were supposed to go forwards, some are making desperate dives to save the ball from hitting the ground, and sometimes if they can’t reach the ball in time they resort to soccer techniques. There’s never a boring day in gym class.

Family. Needless to say, my family here is great. I really feel at home here. I never in my entire life thought that I would actually enjoy doing chores around the house, but it makes me feel like a true member of the family. My host grandparents who live on the floor below us always make me feel welcome. And they’re always feeding me, I was hoping to lose some weight, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. They take me to church on Sundays, which is way different from the church I grew up with, but that’s mostly because it’s Evangelic and I’m Baptist. It basically consists of a lot of sitting and standing and singing hymns and reciting prayers (I’m still not sure if they are prayers or not). And then the pastor or whatever you would call her in English steps up to the pulpit and begins the lesson, and every time about ten minutes into her speech she sounds like she’s holding back tears. I guess it’s all just super emotional for her. Anyways last Sunday she gave me a Bible as a gift that I had originally intended on buying, so I was thrilled about that. My host mom makes great food, in fact all the food that I’ve had so far is really good, I feel those ten pounds coming on, = P. My host father is great, and my sister Lucka is in her own way sort of hilarious. I particularly find it funny when she gets mad at the computer and proceeds to curse it.

All in all, I’m having a great time here in my new home and am eager to see what else this year has in store for me.

Shouts to my family in the States. Matthew, I really miss arguing with you over insanely pointless things. Timothy, I really miss laughing with you over insanely pointless things (Mario Twins) = P. And Mom I really miss you just for you and I’m so happy that you were always there to put up with all the antics that we three brats always got into. Thanks so much for always sticking by me through all of my crazy adventures and desires. I love all you guys, and I’ll see y’all in about seven months, for some earlier.

Ahojte

Anna

December 29 Journal

Ahojte všetci.

Okay, so I really don’t know where the best place to start in my order of events and I don’t remember everything chronologically, so it looks like outline format for me again.

School: So I’m reading this book for my Slovak Literature class called Mamka Pôstková. And just to my luck it’s in an older version of the language. So I go around class from one student to another asking what all these words mean, and they sure didn’t know. Then my friend who was sitting next to me said, “I don’t see why you have to read this if most of us don’t even understand it.” “Me neither”. So I just sort of sat back in my chair and thought ‘Thanks’. I’m not sure who it was directed to, but made me feel better in my moment of annoyance at this text. So I just kept on reading, and it didn’t turn out that bad, but it was pretty boring. I still don’t do anything in my math class, which is a little annoying because I went out and bought all these supplies and have still yet to use them. All my other classes I usually take notes like everyone else, unless the teacher has some special assignment for me.

But gym class has definitely changed from fun to fun, but slightly embarrassing. We started gymnastics the other day. I have to admit I felt a little apprehensive when I saw these other girls nearly perfectly executing twists and tumbles. But I gave it my best shot and didn’t do so bad, but my neck definitely hurt afterwards.

Snowboarding: So yeah, I went snowboarding a while back, definitely harder than it looks. And more painful. It all started with a polite invitation by my friends to go snowboarding for the day. I eagerly accepted. So I rented a board and some boots for 220 crowns, and a pass for 50, and confidently marched my way up the kiddy hill. My first two runs weren’t that bad, I didn’t fall, but this was all because it was early in the morning, we were the only people there and it really wasn’t necessary for me to steer. But then the kids came, about fifteen years and under and perfect skiers. I immediately found that it was necessary to dodge them in order not to crash into them. And in doing so I made some pretty gruesome crashes. I did a double summersault 900 degree fall. Which actually would have looked really good on TV if I’d have landed it right, but I didn’t, and it hurt. My next adventure came with the challenge of the vlek. I’m not sure what it’s called in English, but it’s basically a stick attached to a cable that you’re supposed to hold onto to pull you up the hill. It became immediately that I wasn’t from around there after my fifth failure on the vlek. Even after the vlekar’s (middle-aged, grim-faced dude who works at the vlek) guidance, I still brutally failed. After about my tenth attempt the vlekar asked me, “Why can’t you ride this thing like every other person?” So I gave him a rotary smile, shrugged and said, “I don’t know”. I made about thirty-five more attempts, and every time around after I had fallen and made my way back to the starting point, I was greeted with a very intimidating ‘go back to your country’ look by the vlekar. Finally I made it up to the top without falling, a personal accomplishment for me. It ended up that I had spent most of my time on the vlek and not the hill, but all in all it was a great day. I think I’ll try skiing next time, they say it’s harder than snowboarding. It should be fun. J J

Christmas: It all started with everyone dressed up nice and sitting around a table which was the beginnings of our večierok (Christmas dinner). But first my grandfather went through some Christmas speech, which to be honest with you I didn’t catch everything he said because I was partially eyeballing the labels of all the different drinks that were on the table. I was a little thirsty. After that speech, grandfather individually poured out little shot-sized glasses of sausage juice to everyone, which really wouldn’t have been that bad if there wasn’t so much alcohol in it. Luckily for me I didn’t have to drink it all. After that we had Lokša, Kapusnica, Kapor and Zemiakový šalat. After we were all officially full from eating, we sang a few carols. We being me and my two grandparents, and of course I was sight reading everything, so I either didn’t pronounce something right, or missed a few notes. Then after that we all got to open our presents. I got a pair of pajamas, with a fitting cow design, a really big book about Slovakia, and two little figures made out of corn husk. Pretty cool stuff. Then we stayed up talking till about 2:30 in the morning. Afterwards for the next to days we didn’t do anything but watch fairy tales and whatever movies that were on TV. Christmas is three days long in Slovakia J !! I’m still on holiday, so I’ve basically been sitting on the coach and watching TV all day.

Baking: I’m not going to say much, because I’m getting tired of writing, but I officially learned how to bake cookies for Christmas. At one point, me and my host mom were talking so much that we ended up burning a batch. We made a lot, hundreds and all different kinds. I’m still pleasantly living off of them.

Well that’s really all I have to say for now. I’ll be moving to my next host family on the 6th of January, so I’ll let y’all know how that all turns out. Majte sa!!

Ahojte

P. S. Happy Holidays!!

January 19 Journal

Okay, so starting from the beginning. It was about five minutes before the start of gym class, and we were going to keep working with our gymnastics. I knew from the start that gymnastics was going to be a problem for me. Not only is it difficult, but it’s just down-right dangerous. So in the gymnasium was set up this thing called the koza (with literally means goat in English, but I don’t think that’s really what it’s called in English) which was basically a four foot high, uhh, something, that has a spring board in front of it that you’re supposed to jump over. So some of the girls in my class were going to have a go at it before class started. And I had already tried it before, so I wasn’t afraid of it. So I step back a bit to get a good running start, but I think what my problem was that I accidentally jumped with one foot instead of both. So I trip over the top of the koza and make a devastating landing right on my left elbow, fracturing my arm into two pieces.

At first I didn’t know it was broken until my friends came running up to me yelling don’t move, it’s broken. And of course even then I didn’t quite know how bad it was until I saw my friend pick up my upper arm, and then all I could think was, ‘why do I still feel my hand on the floor if my arm’s way up there?’ And then the pain came. Then an ambulance came within about three minutes. My arm was crudely braced to my body and I was taken to the hospital. I got placed in a wheel chair, when the doctor saw my face go from ghost-white to a slightly healthier hospital-sheet-white. Then I was wheeled off to get an X-Ray. A very painful experience. I saw the X-Rays and immediately knew that I was going to have to have surgery. Which of course was a fear of mine, not only because of the cost, but also if anything went wrong, the last thing I needed was an international malpractice lawsuit on my hands.

So I had surgery on the next day, Thursday. Which I assume went fine, because I was still alive when I woke up, and they didn’t say that anything went wrong. Actually, the doctors never gave me any information face to face, I had to listen to what the nurses and other people were saying. And then I was glad that I had paid enough attention in biology class to actually understand what they were saying. I ended up getting an iron rod through my humerus up from the elbow. And even through all the painful nights, really boring days and cold meals that I was served, one of my secret dreams has just come true. I can actually set off a metal detector now! That’s so cool! And I thought that I was going to get my chance when they said that I would have to keep the rods in for a year, but now they’re saying four months. I can only hope that we’ll pass through security when we go on our Euro tour in April.

So yeah, keeping high hopes as always. But unfortunately, I don’t get a cast, I have to wear this freaky strap thing, that’s really uncomfortable. This isn’t the whole story of my incident, but it’s basically the gist.

Oh and a week before I was supposed to go to a Rotary meeting in another city called Žilina, because there was a guy who just came back from the Himalayas and apparently he had a pretty interesting slide show. So I thought, cool, I go, I’m not doing anything else on Monday. So I take the train form Sucany to Zilina, but for some unknown reason, I got off at the wrong stop in a small town called Strecno. So I make my way to the nearest bar to use a phone and call my counselor. He said that I was just going to have to wait there until the next train back to Sucany arrived. So I waited in the bar for about an hour and fifteen minutes, with only the company of completely happy drunken Slovaks, who were so drunk by this time that I couldn’t make out what most of them were saying. I had to get a slightly less drunken man to tell me what they were saying. Then I was finally on a train back to Sucany and everything was fine.

I know when they were talking about comfort zones at the orientation meetings, that this was probably not what they meant. But at least I can’t say that they didn’t warn me.

March 11 Journal

I just came back from a weekend in Prague that all started with a road trip on the bus down to Bratislava to pick up the new Australians who got here in January. Australian accents are so cool, but I have to admit that there were quite a few times in our conversations that I had absolutely no clue what these kids were saying. It was so weird, it was like we were all speaking Englakish, because we couldn’t remember how to call something in English, so we just said it in Slovak and everyone understood. Except for the Australians, they’re still in that clueless stage. So anyhow, we finally got to Prague after an insanely long and uncomfortable bus ride, and I found that it’s actually warmer there than in Martin, only 10 degrees below. So needless to say, I was happy to get a little relief from the cold. And what made me even more happy was when I discovered that most of the sidewalks weren’t coated with ice. I don’t understand, these people are running and dancing in the streets (not literally), and I’m walking as slowly as possible, and it’s like a winter slip-and-slide for me, except I’m not enjoying myself when I fall. I think these people have some sort of nerve in their brains sending them subliminal messages saying ‘You can walk on ice!’, and I just don’t get that. So yeah, the tour around the city was pretty cool. And then we met up against the palace guards who just stood there and you could do just about whatever you wanted to get them to move. I didn’t really do anything that great, I just stood there and started talking to him, and he just stood there. Then my friend went up and kissed him, and he just stood there. We all tried to do something to make him move, but he just stood there. I sort of admire him for putting up with all that junk.

They’ve got awesome buildings from just about every art period. And when we finally had the chance to do some private shopping, I found this great store with a lot of cool stuff in it and I bought some chopsticks, because they were cool and cheap. Everything is cheap!!! Hurray! To the point, Prague is super awesome and I can’t wait to go back.

The day after we all got back from our tour in Prague, I got invited to a Rotary sponsored bowling. Boy is that interesting! The first astonishment was that all the pins are attached to strings. So when you knock them down they’re not just swept away as a new set comes in, they rise up, straighten out, and are ready for the next play. But that’s not the only cool thing, because they’re all attached to strings, if you hit a pin correctly it will swing around and knock the rest of them down giving you a strike. And then after about four and a half hours of playing I went up against my bud, Pablo from Brazil. Needless to say, I was brutally defeated, and shamed off the lanes. Just kidding, what was really shameful was the way some of the Rotarians were yelling at the pins when they didn't go down. So anyhow, five hours of bowling and I woke up the next day with a really sore arm.

And then back at school I had to make a presentation about social groups, but I got a little nervous so I started talking really fast and no one understood me so I had to slow down and repeat myself. And conveniently my topic was on the social groups of my class back in the states. So I happened to mention that I used to sing. Then everyone started asking me to sing, I really didn’t want to, but my teacher asked me, so I agreed. And I sang the first song that came to my head, American Pie. The Madonna version that is. And when I finished, everyone was convinced that I could win SuperStar, which is Slovakia’s version of American Idol. So that was exciting! And then I had to take a test in chemistry on organic chemistry. Which was basically naming different equations using numbers and crazy Latin terms that don’t make any sense. But I think I did okay, because when my teacher took it up and looked at it, she just nodded and said okay. And then I have to make another presentation in biology, so I’m currently working on that. It consists of a lot of memorizing and a lot of painting.

I’m going this weekend to a village called Liptovsky Osada with my host family to go look at differently sculptured snowmen.

So this is all basically the gist of what I’ve been doing, nothing too exciting, just normal life. Sorry I still don’t have any pictures, they’ll come soon.

Zatiaľ ahojte, a majte sa krásne. Všetci ktorý sú na exchange, prajem Vám úžasny pobyt vo svojej krajiny.

May 29 Journal

Right now I’m really annoyed that I have to write this little report all over again, because the computer lab teacher at my school deleted my first draft.

First of all, I’d just like to start off with the fact that I won third place at our school singing competition on 21 of April. I probably might have gotten more votes from the student body if I had been more of a ‘crowd-pleaser’, but I wasn’t. On the bright side I was awarded with a T-shirt, a recorder, and, of all things, an English Language workbook. I even got interviewed on TV afterwards.

Two days later my mom and aunt came to visit. And of course, they arrive with no luggage. All that came about three days later. It was fun, but very tiring for me to show them around and translate stuff for them. I now have a new appreciation for interpreters. They were here for a week, and we went and checked out the museum, some schools, we saw a few castles, most from the distant view of a train or car, and we visited host families. I’m just glad I didn’t have to go to school that week.

On the very day that mom and them had to go home, I had to start my EuroTour. Conveniently we all had to be in Bratislava at the time so it all worked out. At about seven thirty on the 30th a taxi dropped me off at the main bus/train station in Bratislava, that taxi then taking mom and aunt to the airport so they could await their flight. So we wait at the station until all the other Slovak students arrive, then we all pilled onto a bus and make our way to the Czech Republic, where we stopped in Brno to pick up some of the Czech kids, then we made our way to the eastern part of Czech to pick up even more Czech kids. In all we had 42 students and three adults, not including the bus-driver, I’ll get to him. So we’re all on the bus heading for Austria, when the tour guide lady starts talking in English. All I could think is, What is this? Everyone of us understands Slovak or Czech (except for that Hungarian kid who came along), and they’re practically the same language, there’s not that big of a difference, why aren’t we listening to that? I just didn’t understand, we’re supposed to be learning a language here, I would have much rather listened to Czech (because there was only one Slovak lady, and she didn’t talk at all) than English. But then I realized, those Czech students don’t understand Slovak. I understand them, but they haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, so I started using Czech a bit too. I think the reason for all this is that in Slovakia we get a lot of programs in Slovak and Czech, but they only have Czech. Anyway, I sort of gave up on the whole Slovak thing, English was much faster, but I always spoken in Slovak to the Mexicans and Brazilians.

So anyways, we’re in Austria at a gas station for supper, and I was extremely surprised by the insane prices for food. Not only was it the Euro that frightened me, but the general cost of things. I immediately began silently cursing the Euro and all the trouble it has and will cost me. Evil! We made it to Salzburg that night and did some individual tours of the town for a few hours. I saw Mozart’s house, but was very disturbed when I found it was painted in a very unsettling throw-up yellow color. Then I went to check out some of the shops, but they were all closed, so I and my Australian friend went on back to the bus to await a very long and uncomfortable overnight bus ride to Italy.

Day 1 of Italy consisted of thirty minute walk to that really famous square in Venice, Piazza San Marco. And we basically stayed there for the morning just privately touring the area and the shops, I personally spent at least an hour feeding pigeons, that was real fun! I even got some of them to sit on my shoulder. Unforunately, I got really bad sun-burn that day, but it didn’t turn out that bad in the end. Then at around two in the afternoon, we all got on a taxi boat and headed for the bus. Afternoon and evening spent on bus toward Verona. We finally got to our hotel just outside of the city and had dinner. THE BEST LASAGNA EVER!!!! First night spent in hotel, bed good. Day 2 of Italy was a drive to the French border at Vertimiglia and then further to Monaco.

Monaco, small, but really rich. These people have got to be loaded, there is no other reason for their perfect buildings being as perfect as they are. Then as we started to walk through the city of Monte Carlo I stood with my mouth wide open in awe of their perfect cars, perfect yachts, perfect water, perfect houses, perfect grass, perfectly paved streets, and perfectly tanned inhabitants. And then I said to myself, “this is a perfect country, that consists of about two mile shore line (give or take), surrounded by a mountain range and the ocean, Why don’t we all live like this?” After my shock subsided, we went to the Ocean Aquarium Musée Océanographic, the Palace of the Prince to see the guards change, and then to the Casino, admittance 18 years or older. Darn! =P

From there we went to Eze in France to visit a perfume factory. Very cool, but very expensive, I bought some anyway. That afternoon we made it to Nice and got settled into our first of a long line of Premiere Classe hotels. Now, on the schedule it’s written that we would have ‘an evening visit of the city centre’. That actually means, ‘an evening of running around town at all hours of the night making complete fools out of ourselves and meeting back in the morning with just enough time to get back on the bus’. Some of us had the pleasure of walking across the acclaimed French Riviera, which was actually a beach of rocks. Now I’m not talking about little pieces of gravel, each rock was about the size of my fist which made walking barefoot or even in sandals a completely unpleasant experience. We all made it back alive in the morning, but some with really bad headaches.

Avignon was our next stop, where we spent most of the day touring the Pope’s Palace ‘Palais de Papes’, and the historical sites of the town. That was actually a highly informational, but so uneventful day. That is until we made it to Orange for our evening accommodation. Another Premiere Classe hotel, but this time with a pretty decent parking lot, which gave us all the opportunity to stand in a circle, throw at least six frisbees at each other and discuss the meaning of life as an exchange student.

The next day was spent in the bus through Lyon and Vierzon until we got to Blois (which is really hard to pronounce, by the way) to sleep in a, yes once again, Premiere Classe hotel. Now most of us this whole time are living off of bread and cheese, because it’s the cheapest food to find out there, so once we dropped our stuff off at the hotel, we all set off in search of the local grocery store. Well needless to say, of course I was with the group of kids who ended up doing a full circle until we found the right direction to the city’s center, but only to arrive fifteen minutes after the store had closed, but with the rest of our friends standing at the cash registers buying all their food and pointing and laughing at us outside. We, the needy and poor exchange students with only about five Euros each. We, the desperate children of the journey. We, the ones that found the McDonald’s across the street. Yes, our empty bellies were quickly filled with very pricey small servings of unhealthy French/American fast food. This was also my first experience with McDonalds outside of the US. Sure we have McDonalds in Slovakia too, but no one really eats at them. As we were walking back to our hotel, we found that the travel was really about five blocks away, and not that mile circle we did. Needless to say, we all felt like dummies.

Paris, the city of love. Really the city of a foul wind that only dropped the temperature from low to lower. It was about 30 degrees (Celsius) the day before in Nice, but here it was about 10 with an evil wind furiously blowing constantly in my general direction. And of course I caught a cold, a really bad cold that lasted the whole rest of the trip and the week after. So of course our first stop is the Eiffel Tower, which means about 600 or so steps. I only made it to the first floor, I settled with that because the second was another three hundred stairs and I already felt like I was going to collapse. So I spent my time taking pictures from the first floor and exploring the gift shops and little museum and the other things that there was to do at the meager first floor. Afterwards, we all sat out in the park below waiting for everyone to finally make their way down those insane stairs. Then we hopped on the bus and went to the Louvre. AWESOME!!! We were only allowed to stay for three hours, so I did a quick tour with my Australian mate Stef. We cruised through Egyptian antiquities, in about thirty minutes at a speedy pace. Then to Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities. We saw ‘Winged Victory’ and the ‘Mona Lisa’, which I thought was really small. Then we basically saw a lot of other paintings from well-known artists, and some really big rooms. Then we had free time which was spent, for me, shopping but not buying at some of the best clothing stores, and some really crazy gift shops. And we did all that until 9:00 p.m., then we took the bus outside of the city to our accommodation at, you guessed it, another Premiere Classe hotel. By this time every single one of us was fully aware of the contents and parking lot that surrounded Premiere Classe.

Wake up at six, breakfast at seven. By this time every one of us has started swiping the breakfast rolls and saving them for lunch, because we’re all running out of money, that desperately needed money used on completely useless, but oh so unoriginal and cheap gifts to give to your loved ones with the assurance that they’ll be contented with the whole two dollars you spent on them. Yes, we were broke. That day transportation via subway got us to Notre Dame Cathedral. I was very disappointed when I saw how small it is. I just stared thinking ‘I thought it would be bigger’. But once I actually got inside I found just how huge it really was. I practically heard Quasimodo ringing the bells. I immediately had an uncontrollable desire to see the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I left Disney behind in the US. Afterwards, when we were waiting for all the kids to gather back together, one of my friends exchanged in the Czech Republic took out this things called Devil sticks and started doing a street performance in front of Notre Dame. He got a pretty big crowd. A lot of tourists were taking pictures, probably because they thought that he was French, trying to present his art. He got those sticks juggling, doing turns and flips, and mid-air tricks and all that stuff. So we all started throwing coins in his hat that he had in front of him trying to coax the tourists into doing the same thing, but it didn’t work. So when he finished we all took our money back and said ‘sorry kid’. Then we saw Palais Justice, Quartier Latin, Saint Germain, Sorbonna, and Luxembourg Garden. From the garden we split up into small groups and did some more exploring/shopping. We were all supposed to meet back at Notre Dame at six to make the boat tour down the river Seina, and my group was lost. So we made it to this little square with a fountain in the middle and saw a group of teenage boys kicking a soccer ball around so we’re all like, ‘okay, we’ll just ask them. Maybe they’ll understand a little English’. So we walk up and ask if they know where Notre Dame is. It appeared that they didn’t understand English that well, so we started ‘Notre Dame. Where?’ and pointing in different directions trying to show that we’re lost. They started speaking in a language that clearly wasn’t French then one of the boys pulled a map out of his back pocket. This made everything clear that they definitely weren’t French, so they eventually showed us where we need to be going. And when we made it to Notre Dame with about five minutes to spare we set off down the river in search of a tour boat. When we found it we all pilled in, most of us going to the top deck to get the best view. The tour guide spoke in French and English, and it was pretty clear that she had done this tour at least five times already that day by the bored tone in her voice. Unfortunately for me her French accent was so strong, I only understood half of what she had said. But what really matters is that I saw what I thought she was talking about, and that I got some cool pictures. Then back to the hotel to sleep in a nice warm bed with a stomach full of bread, cheese and canned Mexican food. Yes, this was the life.

Next day with accommodations still in Paris, the bus took us to Versailles Castle and lush gardens. We ended up waiting about an hour to get into the castle to do the tour, and some people paid an insane about of money. Not me, I was lucky under 18 at the time. I wasn’t that impressed with the castle’s design seeing as how everything was in gold and they carpeted the walls. I’m sorry, but it seemed to me like every room in the castle was the same. Which went basically for the garden too, except that was a nice walk outside in the freezing cold. That place was huge. They even went as far as hiding random ice-cream shops behind the walls of grass. It was pretty nice, but I easily got lost. As we were making our way towards the buses, I couldn’t figure out which bus was ours, so I settled for looking for MulletMan (the bus-driver). Then this salesman practically jumped at me offering all these watches, key-chains, cigarette lighters, little models of the Eiffel Tower, and wouldn’t go away. So I did the dumb thing and played the ‘I don’t speak English’ trick. Don’t do that, it just makes thing worse. Then I was like, ‘No, I don’t want it. Go away!’ But he didn’t, so finally one of my friends pulled me away and onto the bus, which I had already passed but didn’t know it. Beware of the salesmen who hang around popular tourist sites, they’re like cockroaches! So that afternoon we went back to Paris and did some more unbothered shopping.

Morning departure from Paris to Normandy. But before all this happens, I get on the bus to get ready to leave and I expected to see the boots that I had been wearing for all the walking. I had left them on the bus and exchanged them for my flip-flops, because they were much more convenient for just walking to the hotel and back. I had done this every day before and expected to see my shoes under the seat in front of me like they always were, but this day was different. When I got to my seat and noticed that my shoes were missing, I asked the bus driver about them. He was waiting for that question, you could tell. So he leads me to another row of seats and points to an assorted collection of shoes and asks, ‘Are those your boots?’ I sort of just stared in shock of the pile of shoes, then finally responded with a quiet ‘yes’. ‘I washed them for you.’ He washed my shoes?! ‘You washed my shoes?!’ Now if this were any other person, I would have said thank you or something, but coming from a man who had always reacted with anger to anything we did, for him to wash my shoes– I just found that really weird. None of the other kids could believe it when I told them he had washed my shoes, every reaction was ‘He washed your shoes?!’ That was a very strange moment in my life.

First stop, Mont Saint Michel. I really enjoyed this place and the monastery at the top, I just didn’t like getting to the top. Once more, way too many stairs to count. But the monastery was so quite and peaceful, I just wanted to stay there. That was a truly beautiful day. Then we got to Omaha Beach to see the docks and port, or what’s left of them. It was a great relief to finally to walk on a real beach, not the rocky beaches of Nice. Then we drove over to the local docking house and took an overnight ferry to Portsmouth, ENGLAND!

ENGLAND! ENGLISH! Weird English, but English all the same. Our first stop, not including customs, was a little grocery store to buy some necessary food products, such as salsa. So my bud from Ohio, who is convinced that I have a southern accent, asks me to go up to one of the workers in a suit and ask him, in my most southern accent, “Do you know where I can find some salsa?” He smiled warmly and led me in the direction of my most definitely needed spicy salsa. Then as I started to look around, I saw the unbelievable; Real Florida Orange Juice. That‘s what it said on the box, Real Florida Orange Juice, so I bought it. As I got on the bus and began to taste it, I found that it actually is Real Florida Orange Juice, and not the stuff I‘d been drinking for the last nine months. This was officially my favorite grocery store in all of England, I have no idea what its name is. I was in heaven, I finally got my spicy salsa and could down it with Real Florida Orange Juice. And then I got a stomach ache. Then we went to Chichester, Brighton, and Hastings for potty breaks. When we got to Greenwich, we went to see the Old Royal Observatory. It wasn’t all that interesting, I mean I’ve seen stars and stuff before. But afterwards we all went to the park that was next to the Observatory and played Red Rover. That game was brutal, people were bleeding, that was the most fun, vicious and probably the most embarrassing game of red rover ever. When we finally got to London, our first stop was at the London Wax Museum, where all the movie stars and TV personalities were recreated into life-size versions of their real selves. Then we drove over to see parliament, and then had free time to explore the city. London. Wow. So we all decided as a group that since we’re in a city that speaks English, that it is our duty to talk behind their backs in a foreign language, just for the heck of it. That was soooo cool. Do you know how great it is to be able to make fun of someone right in their face and they not have a clue what you’re talking about? Bohovske! Anyways we found it a lot harder to get lost in this city than all the others, mostly because we could read all the signs. And you guys wouldn’t believe this. As I was obnoxiously singing one of my favorite Slovak songs as we were walking down the sidewalk, two Slovaks stopped and asked us if we knew where Parliament is. Me and my friends were all really surprised to find other people speaking Slovak in London, so we decided it’s probably a good idea to watch what you’re saying, because there’s still a chance that someone can understand you. When we got to the hotel that night we weren’t at all surprised to see that it was yet another Premiere Classe hotel. Apparently, London is the main city of operation for this hotel chain. How convenient.

Day 11 of our adventure sent us to the Tower of London and the dudes that work there in their crazy looking outfits. That was a very interesting museum, because of all the historical artifacts it had there. Horse armor, stone carvings, period swords. Yes, all stuff I’ve seen before, but still very interesting. Then at one of the towers they showed this really old reenactment from a really old film about English princes who were supposedly murdered by their jealous uncle, but no one knows if he really did it or not. Then we got back on the bus and waited for a tour guide lady who was going to show us around. As it turns out, this lady spoke English, Czech, Slovak, and Chinese. Interesting combination. So we saw Leicester Square, Soho, Piccadilly Circus, the Queen, her palace and her jewels. And a few other famous buildings, whose names I have currently forgotten. Then at around four, they let us run around again until nine, then back to our Premiere Classe hotel.

The last day of London. On our schedule it’s written that we were supposed to go to Museum Madame Tussaud’s, British Museum, National Gallery, and free time, but all I remember was the free time. I have no remembrance of what happened the first half of that day. But I think that our free time was just spent going to the book store and watching friends buying random books just because they were in English. Maybe they were desperate. It was mostly the Czech kids who were going crazy over English books, but I think that might have been because they didn’t care that much for Czech. Who knows? For me anyways, that day was really just pleasant window shopping, which works for me. Again, at about nine we headed back to the hotel, lights out at ten. But no one really cared.

Okay, so technically this is the last day in London, because we were still accommodated by morning the next day, so sorry for the mistake. That morning we said good-bye to London and hello Dover and a boat departing for France. So when we get there, we have to go through customs, and they held us so long that we missed the boat we were supposed to take at ten thirty. So we waited till noon for the next one. I have never hated riding on boats as much as right now. My head was turning, my stomach was churning, and the worst part is that the doors were locked to the outside deck. There, at least would be fresh air and an ocean to barf into, but I was never given such the luxury of throwing up. No, that would have ended my suffering way too soon, I had to wait another hour and a half until we docked. This all quickly subsided when we hit dry land, and then came back when I decided that reading on the bus was okay. So enough of that. When we got to France, we quickly made our way through Belgium (consisting of only a gas station), and straight into the Netherlands. There we had a sightseeing stop at Antwerp’s city center, but I don’t recall any of that. I don’t think that actually happened. Oh, I remember why I don’t remember that. It’s because we had taken a late boat, we didn’t have time to stop. There. That has to be it. So that night we made it to Alkmaar where we ate at this hotel that only had two rooms. So the forty of us that couldn’t sleep at the hotel, had to go to someone else’s house for the night. Me and two other girls went to stay with this elderly couple, who were so sweet and in the morning they even gave us soft-boiled eggs with sweaters on them to keep them warm. But it was so cool. It was like the beginning of my exchange, I had no idea what they were talking about, but I’m almost sure that the Dutch word for shower starts with a D.

Next day we got to Zansche Schans to see a village museum where they had traditional windmills, cheese production and wooden shoes. I sat in a wooden shoe. I and about six other people all at the same time. It was just like one of those competitions where you try and see how many people you can fit into a Volkswagen beetle. Our seven won. Wooden shoes are so cool. When I saw this guy making them and wearing them, I just thought ‘Wow. This guy is wearing wooden shoes.... Wow.’ They even had a wooden shoes museum where they went so far as making wooden shoes for their horses. Then we went to Amsterdam where we went on a boat ride down some canals. After that we basically had free time until seven. So I decided the perfect place to visit would be the Vincent van Gogh Museum. That was amazing, but unfortunately we could only spend an hour there so that we could have time to do other things. From what I saw, it seemed to me that the whole of Amsterdam is nothing but a huge collection of tourist shops and restaurants. But that wasn’t a problem, I finally got some Chinese food. Cold Chinese food, but I didn’t care. The part that wasn’t tourist shops and restaurants was various drugs, wooden shoes and sex products. I tried to ignore, but other than that it wasn’t that bad. Except for when it turned out that it was already seven o’clock and me and my Mexican friend were on the opposite side of Amsterdam from where the bus was. We ran the distance in fifteen minutes, looking like complete idiots, and getting rightly told off by one of the adults who claimed he feared for us like we were his own children. Oh please!

From Amsterdam we took an overnight bus ride through Holland and Germany. Germany being a side of the road rest stop so we could use the restrooms, with a really annoying German man there, insisting that we wouldn’t go until we paid half a euro each. It was like that everywhere in Europe and it made me sick. Once while we were still in France I had to pay two euros. Do you know how much that is? That’s like four US dollars. That’s insane, that’s gross. Then when we got to the Czech Republic we dropped the Czech kids of in České Budějovice and went to Brno. Then took a train to Slovakia and finally home to Martin. So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.