Week Forty-Five: The End

This past week has been an emotional one. At the beginning, I said goodbye to Nick. Then, it was the last week of school. I stayed with my first host family this week, because my second host family left for Croatia. It was a weird experience staying with my first host family again. It was also very nice to see everyone, because I missed them so much. I hadn’t seen them for all of six months; it was nice to catch up. As soon as I arrived, my host brother asked me to play a card game with him and it was just like I was at the beginning of my exchange again. The rest of the week, I spent as much time as I could with my friends. Then, as the week came to an end, it was time to start saying goodbyes. I would be leaving Friday to join my second host family in Croatia, and when I returned I would only have about two days before departure. Friday, it was the final day of school. My class received the marks from the teacher, and everyone gave her flowers (except me because I didn’t know we needed to bring flowers….) Then, they all stood up and it was time to say goodbye to me. My class all stood in a line and gave me a hug and said something. It was the saddest thing ever. They also made me a book with some photos of all of us together and wrote me cards. It was so kind, and I am so thankful.

I am so beyond happy that I got to spend my year with this class. From the very beginning, they opened their arms and welcomed me. They helped me to understand when I was having difficulties and were always so kind to me. I will miss every single one of them, and know it won’t be the last time we will see each other.

Friday, I left for Croatia. It was a long journey, but I made it. I left for a sixteen hour bus ride (eleven hours on one bus then caught a second one for five hours) then a four hour boat ride. Finally I met my host family, and we went to the house. We are staying right by the sea on an island. We are about forty minutes away from Vela Luka. It is extremely beautiful here and I’m having such a good time! We have been at many beaches, relaxing, swimming, and snorkelling! Yesterday, we rented a boat for the day and went boating around the island. I love this country! It’s absolutely stunning. Tomorrow will be our last full day, then we will leave the morning of the fifth and arrive back the evening of the sixth. As I said before, I will then have two days free before having to leave on the ninth! I’m so glad that the last few days of my exchange have been so amazing and full of adventures!

 

That was a bit of an update on what I’ve been up to. But as you can tell by the title of this blog, this is the end. I’m sure I will write another blog about being home and other things, but this is the final blog of my exchange year. It’s incredible just how fast this year has gone. With only four days left on my exchange, I’m left reflecting on what this year has meant to me. It was far from easy, but I’m certain that it was the best year of my life. Doing an exchange was the best decision that I’ve made. I learned more than I have in my entire life. I grew up, I met amazing people, I experienced a different culture, learned a new language, and just emerged as a more enriched person with a different view on the world. I’m nervous to come home, but also excited to share my experiences as well as continue on with my life.

The question that I’ve received the most this year was “why did you choose the Czech Republic?” I’m sure exchange students all over the world receive this question about why they chose the country they are in…but Czech people genuinely don’t know why I would ever choose to come to their country. They always talk about how hard their language is or talk about their dark history or how they don’t find their country beautiful. Honestly, I don’t even know why I chose it in the beginning. Of course there were small reasons, but not one definite reason. I guess, I just didn’t know much about it. I had heard about the breathtaking castles and nature, and I just wanted to experience something completely different. I would choose the Czech Republic again and again if I could. I have completely fallen in love with every aspect of the Czech Republic. Czech people generally don’t see the beauty at all about their country, but it is a treasure.

Not only did the actual country amaze me, but the people here that I met completely changed my life. I got the opportunity to stay with amazing host families. They taught me so much about life and brought me on so many trips. They are all amazing individuals and I feel blessed to have been able to stay in their homes. Also, I’m so lucky to have met an amazing group of friends from the very beginning who opened their arms up to me. I can definitely say that I’ve learned a lot about friendship. Each person that I’ve met here has had such an impact on me. Although it breaks my heart to leave, I know that I will see everyone again.

The Rotary Youth Exchange Program has been more than amazing. From the very beginning of my adventure last year, meeting the inbounds, meeting the outbounds, I started to get so excited for my exchange. My District back home has offered me so much support and have checked up on me throughout the year. Also, my host Rotary club has helped me so much this year and I am so thankful for every individual. My club has given us so many opportunities to see the Czech Republic, and experience Czech culture. They also helped us pay for some of our trips, and always have our best interests in mind. They are amazing and kind individuals and I will miss the club meetings so much. Beyond my Rotary Club, the district does so many activities to get us inbounds together. We have had the opportunities to do so many things together and to even travel around Europe together. We also had the opportunity to travel a lot as we only have to fill out a simple form. Overall, I am beyond thankful for Rotary and everything that Rotary has done for me this year.

This blog post is kind of all over the place, but I am not so good at endings. I will see everyone in four short days!

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Week Forty-Four: Farewell Weekend and Other Farewells

Any exchange student knows that around this time of the year, we will have to say goodbye to everything. Some goodbyes are much harder than others, but we signed up for it. At the beginning of the year, I dreaded this time. Not only because I would be leaving this life behind, but also because I would be leaving the people that I became closest with. This past week was full of goodbyes. I went to my last meeting with my Rotary Club as well as the last Rotary event (Farewell Weekend).

Tuesday, Nick and I went with my host sister to Beroun. Our Rotary club organized a small grill at the camp in Beroun. We arrived and sat with our club. We ate and talked about our plans for the future. My YEO also got an update from my host sister about her exchange year in the USA. It was a very nice evening, and I am very thankful for everything that my Rotary Club has done for me this year.

Wednesday, we left for our Farewell Weekend in Valtice. Valtice is on the border between Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Austria. It was about four hours away from where we live by train. We arrived and ended up arriving at the same time as almost all of the other exchange students. We walked to our accommodation, which was a school for winemaking. We checked in, and waited while the rest of the students arrived. Then, we walked to a nearby gym. Here we were split into two groups and played some activities.

The next morning, the weather was around 31 degrees. We walked for the whole day. We walked around this “barefoot path” which walked us around the border area. At one point we didn’t know which country we were in…it was amazing. Throughout this path, there were a bunch of stops. At each stop, there was a small activity or something to read. For example, at one of the stops, there was a circle with a bunch of signs. At each sign there was a tree and based on when your birthday is, you could read about what kind of tree you are. It was a very long and hot walk, but it was great to spend time with everyone and walk. After this, we had more activities in the night.

We had a bike trip for the whole day on Friday. We biked around 50 km the whole day. This was actually one of the best days. We had a small group and we had to take photos at all the stops. We saw a lot of really cool and beautiful places on our trip and just had a lot of fun. The small group that I was in was full of wonderful people and we had a lot of laughs and good times. Although we were exhausted by the end, it was probably one of the best days of my exchange.

Saturday, we had “rafting”. We did use rafts, but we were on probably the most still river in the Czech Republic. Therefore, it required us to row. There were six of us in our boat. At the beginning, we were really lazy. We were not paddling that fast and were the second last group the whole time. We just talked and chilled out, but it took us a long time. We started around 9 am, then stopped for lunch at around 12. Then, after lunch we still weren’t going that quickly. We had another break then decided we would actually go a bit quicker so that we could catch the first boat to dinner. We arrived to the end then took our rafts to land. We then got onto a small ferry and were served dinner here. The ferry took us to another place where the busses waited for us. We arrived to this port, and I found a BC flag! It was so random and it was the only one. Then, when we walked into the café, there was a Canadian flag! Afterwards, we returned to the accommodation. In the night, it was time for the closing ceremony. We brought our flags and books to sign.

The closing ceremony was very nice. We all received certificates which showed that we completed our Rotary Youth Exchange in the Czech Republic. Afterwards, we had a lot of free time to sign each others flags and we could also dance if we wanted to. It was very overwhelming to sign everyones flags, but it was a very nice evening. Then, when it was near the end, we all stood in a circle and sang the songs that we sang at district conference. It was very emotional. We left at around 2 in the morning, heartbroken and tired. We left Sunday, after more hugs and goodbyes.

Following this, Nick had his last day yesterday. He left from Prague at 18:00 to take a bus to Luxembourg, then he will continue on to Bolivia. Nick was a huge part of my life this year. We spent time together every day, and I have never had a friend like him before. I think that my exchange year would have been extremely different without him in it, and I actually can’t even imagine it. He taught me so much this year, and I am so thankful that I got to share this experience with him. I know that he is going to do amazing things. I know for sure that our paths will cross again someday in the future!

Here are some photos from my week!

-Cass

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Weeks Forty-Two and Forty-Three: A New Sister and a Sport Trip!

In the past two weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of activities. I’ve been keeping pretty busy these days, and enjoying every second! I have so many blog ideas, but I just can’t seem to find the time to sit down and write a quality blog. I have noticed that my writing has gotten worse and worse as the weeks go on…but hopefully when I return to the English-speaking world, it will improve! I’ve been organizing everything back home for University, spending time with my friends and other exchange students, and got to go on a sport trip with my school. My host sister also returned from her Exchange in the USA, so I’ve been spending a lot of time with the family!

I will be attending McGill next year…and I can’t stress enough how grateful I am that I deferred for this year. I applied last year and did all my scholarship applications. It made it a lot easier for me because I didn’t have to spend time this year searching for Universities and doing all the applications from the Czech Republic. I would highly recommend to any exchange student (that has graduated) to do the same thing. Although I still had to do some work here and keep track of important deadlines, it was much easier for me. I organized a place to live, made sure that my deferral was complete and that I had been re-admitted, and registered for my courses. This week, I created a possible schedule for the Fall and successfully registered (with the help of my amazing Mom)! I am really looking forward to living in Montreal next year, as it has always been my dream to live there and attend McGill. It looks like I will be able to work for over a month before moving in August.

As for what’s happening here, I went on a trip to a town called Křížanov, which is in Moravia (far away). I went there and got to see the exchange students there and the town. It was truly one of the most beautiful Czech cities that I’d seen! There are beautiful gardens there as well as some very nice museums and historical buildings. We climbed a tower to see the town as well. It was a very nice experience, and I’m glad that I got to see this part of the Czech Republic. The host family brought me back to Prague because they were picking up their host daughter that had just returned from exchange in Chile!

After my trip, my host sister Mattie also came back from the USA two weeks ago. She was in Illinois and had a really amazing time. It’s been really great to spend time with her and get to know her. She is eighteen years old and we’ve spent a lot of time together with the family and doing other activities.

A few days after she returned, I went on a week-long sport trip with my class. It was all of the third year classes combined on this trip. It was also something that everyone had been looking forward to for the whole year! We left on Monday morning to go about 20km by bike to the camp. We arrived there and set up. Then, we had many activities. For the whole week, we biked, walked, boated, and played other sports. We also got to do campfires in the night, it was a lot of fun. My favourite activity that we did was Aikido. Two coaches came and they taught us a lot of technical moves. Since I was wrestling in high school, it was especially interesting. We also had some presentations about self-defence, first-aid, and about police. It was just really nice for me to get to spend a lot of quality time with my classmates and other friends. We didn’t bike too far, but almost every day we biked 10-15km. We biked to see Krakov castle and just around surrounding villages. This week I really appreciated just how beautiful the Czech country side is, with all of the rolling hills and small villages. It makes it even harder to leave!

After the trip, I returned home and had to rest for a bit, because it was a very active week! As for the next week, I will be going the Farewell Weekend in Valtice. This is the final time that I will see the other exchange students in this district. It will be a sad week, but a week full of many activities and experiences! We will go on a lot of bike trips and see a lot of beautiful places in this part of the CZ. Then, when I return, I will be moving back with my first host family so that I can finish the last week of school here. Then, I will travel to Croatia to join my current host family! Of course, after that, I will return home!

Enjoy some photos!

-Cass

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Week Forty-One: Final Orientation Meeting

As my time here becomes shorter and shorter, it seems that I have a different event or something else to do each week. There are so many things that I have left to do in my short time, and I am a bit overwhelmed with getting everything done. This past week, I’ve had two different events and had only been to school two days of the week! During the week, there was an English competition in Prague. Although I wasn’t participating in the English competition, one of my bestfriends Anna was. At our school, there is a British teacher (Nick). He takes her to this English competition each year. Part of this competition is the opportunity to go to the British embassy in Prague. He was very excited to bring me, because the British embassy is a very special place for him. He told me about the tea there and the beautiful carpets. I agreed to go along with them this year. We arrived to the building and got Anna registered. The plan was that after she finished her test, everyone would go to the British Embassy for the awards. When we arrived, there was a sign informing us that this year we wouldn’t be going to the Embassy. It was disappointing, but because of the new ambassador, we wouldn’t get the possibility to go. Although the plan changed, it was still a nice day, and Anna did well on the test!

Thursday, Nick and I left for our final Orientation meeting in Krizanov. This place was about three hours away from where we live. The meeting was in a camp in a very remote location. We arrived by train. There was a fairly large group of us that had traveled from Prague. To get to the camp, we had to walk about three kilometres…but we were carrying our bags, blazers, and sleeping bags! Because of this, we had an amazing idea to cut through a field. With muddy feet and a few bug bites later, we arrived to the camp. It was actually in a very nice location with beautiful (small) lakes surrounding the camp, forests, and fields. We checked into our rooms and we ate. Then, we had to start making our team t-shirts. This meeting would be with the outbounds (that would arrive Friday). We had been divided into groups of students with outbounds going to our country. I was actually with a group of Americans because there are too many Canadian inbounds to make one big group. We had decided to name our group “Hříbečci” which means something like mushroom hunters I believe. I’m still not too sure why we decided on this. Our team logo was a mushroom with our team number on it and the district number. We really struggle to create our t-shirts but it was very fun! Also, Lukas was a Rotex at this meeting, so it was very nice to see him again!

Friday, we had an early morning. We went to the same cave that I went to with my counsellor. Afterwards, we went to a really neat castle. We had a very long tour of the castle. Then, we returned to the camp to meet the outbounds. The girls changed rooms, and I was roomed with two girls going to Canada. One to BC and the other to Quebec. It was really great talking to them and hearing how excited they are to go on exchange! They were really sweet, and I remember when I was in their position! After dinner, the outbounds had their presentations. Each group of outbounds from different Rotary clubs introduced themselves and their club, their interests, something about their city, and where they are going. It was all in Czech and after awhile, we all started to get very sleepy. Unfortunately, no one from the Czech Republic is going to District 5060 next year. After these presentations, we all went to bed.

Saturday was a day that felt like an entire month! We divided into our teams in the morning. We had five outbounds in our group all going to America. They were all fairly shy, but very kind. We put on our (very interesting) team shirts, and began on a scavenger hunt. We started at about 9 in the morning, and we had until 17:30 to finish it. We went from different stations to complete activities and to collect questions. In the different stations, we had various ice breakers and challenges. It was a lot of fun and very well organized. We spent about 30 minutes at each station to complete a task. We ended up finishing around 4, and then we had some free time to relax after our long adventure. After this, we ate dinner, then we went to something like an award ceremony. Our group won the best photo award (which was one of our team mates getting an egg cracked on her head) and we also won an award for collecting the most strawberries. Then, we had some more free time while the outbounds had a short presentation. We all had a bonfire in the night. We sang songs and we roasted sausages and had marshmallows. It was such an amazing night, and I never wanted it to end! We went to bed around 12:30, then woke up in the morning to leave.

The whole event was so much fun, and I really enjoyed every activity that we did. It was also nice to make new friends and to meet some of the people going on exchange. We had to say goodbye to some of the exchange students that won’t be attending our Farewell weekend. This was very difficult, but I am living a life full of goodbyes.

Week Forty: A Colombian, Wood Cutting, and Mummies!

As most of you know, within my Rotary District here, there are many possibilities to travel. As long as you complete an online travel form and receive all the permission, you can travel. I have written a post about the different possibilities to travel as well as the rules in the past. There is also an option to travel and visit another exchange student. Before Eurotour, I never really took advantage of this. I went to visit one of my friends one time, but I know that a lot of Exchange students had been visiting each other for the whole year. This past week, my friend Daniel from Colombia came to visit Nick and I. He lives in Poprad, Slovakia; therefore, it was definitely a long journey. We hosted him for five days and we had many fun adventures!

During the week, Nick and I showed him the area. We went around Rakovník and around Rynholec. We walked a lot and we showed him a lot of our favourite places in our town. On Saturday, we had a very active day. It was wood cutting weekend! This meant that there were a lot of big guys at my house ready to cut A LOT of wood to dry over the summer. My host sister had two of her friends at the house as well and our job was to collect the chopped wood and stack it in the shelter. For me, this was not something too fun…because this is something that I’ve done a lot before. But for Daniel and Nick, it was extremely fun! After lunch, and one shelter full of wood, we decided to go on a walk. We walked to a nearby village: Lany. It’s 4km away, but the walk was very beautiful. Lany has beautiful gardens and is known for its beauty! We walked around and met up with one of Nick’s classmate that lives in Lany. Afterwards, we went back and chopped more wood until dinner. The next day, we went to Křivoklat castle. This is somewhere that I had been at the beginning of my exchange. We walked around the castle then went and walked through the forest and nature park. Monday, I had a school trip to Prague with my class. So I brought Daniel to the train station and said goodbye before the trip started. It was a very nice visit!

My class often goes on trips to Prague. I wasn’t sure what this trip was, but it turns out that it was the blind exhibition, which I’d already been to. It was interesting to do it again! Then, some of the students left and the others (including myself) went to the Faculty of Biology. Here, there was a small museum about evolution as well as bones and mummies! There was a lady that presented a lot of information about the exhibitions. I was very happy because I could understand the majority of what she said. Although she spoke in very academic and scientific terms, I could understand the idea of what she was talking about. It was a very interesting because they had skeletons of different primates. They also had the skeletons of different types of people. There were (for example) the skeletons of “giants”, very short people, and different male and female skeletons. We also saw some bones that had deformities as well as different skulls that had been broken or injured in some way. It was very interesting!

During this week, I will just go to school. Some of my classes and classmates are going on a school trip to Budapest and Bratislava. I’m disappointed that I can’t go, but on Thursday I will leave for my third Orientation meeting with Rotary. This is the only meeting that has Inbounds and Outbounds mixed. We will be doing a lot of team building activities as well as talking to the outbounds going to our countries! I am really looking forward to this meeting!

Recently I’ve been feeling really detached from Salmon Arm…not really sure what’s going on! But I’ve seen a lot of photos of flooding. I’m thinking about you all and hoping that everything will be alright. I wish that I could be there to help!

Until next time,

-Cass

Weeks Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine (I think…?): Could Time Please Slow Down?

I only have fifty days left on my exchange! Since Eurotour, time has really been flying. Right when I returned from my Eurotour, I’ve been extremely busy with school, school activities, and Rotary.

The day after I returned from Eurotour, Nick and I went to Beroun to do another presentation about Rotary Youth Exchange to Gymnazium students. We did two before we left for a different school. Our YEO started the presentation, then Nick and I talked about our experiences (in Czech) then took questions. After speaking English for fifteen days, my Czech was a bit shaky at the beginning, but then it all came back. I’m very proud of myself and of Nick for being able to do an entire presentation in Czech without anything written down. We’ve definitely improved A LOT.

The next activity we had was a trip to Brno with our counsellor. Our counsellor has family by Brno, and she planned to bring Nick and I to come and meet her family and see some nature. We left on Friday night and drove about two or three hours to Brno. We spent the night in a hotel. The next day, we went to visit our counsellor’s grandmother. She lived in a very small house that was built in World War One! It was in a very remote area and had a small stream running in the front as well as great biking/walking trails around. Our counsellor’s other family arrived, and we all went on a walk. We arrived to some rocks and a small cave. We then returned and ate lunch. Afterwards, we went into Brno. Here, we had some time with the other exchange students in Brno. We walked around the city center and went to some markets. It was a very fun day with beautiful weather. Sunday, we went to the coolest cave I’ve ever been to. Inside this cave, it was only about eight degrees. We got to see a lot of interesting rock structures, but the best part was definitely a boat ride inside the cave! Once we finished the tour, we took a gondola up to the top of a mountain and saw a beautiful view of an entrance of the cave. It was really nice seeing the nature in the Brno (Moravia) area!

After returning from Brno, we went to school like normal. Tuesday, we had a Rotary meeting, and planned the rest of the year…including our last meeting. Then, we departed Thursday morning to our District Conference in Brezno, Slovakia. It was about ten and a half hours in total of travelling. The purpose of this meeting was mainly to practice our performances for the conference which would take place on Saturday. We had prepared two English songs, one Czech song (only for the Czech inbounds to sing), and one Slovak song (for the Slovak inbounds). There would also be individual performances as well as country performances. We rehearsed every night and during the day. The Canadian group decided that we would sing “I Believe” which was the Vancouver 2010 Olympics official song. We had never practiced it before this meeting, so it took a lot of work. Other country groups were doing traditional dances. Some individual performances were playing instruments, singing, and reading poetry. Everyone is so talented, and it was a pleasure to watch every time! We stayed up very late each night practicing, and were all very tired by the end.

One of the activities on the program was a hike up Dumbier mountain on Friday. It was a very steep hike and it was raining and windy. The nature was absolutely beautiful though. It was so green and lush, and the views were absolutely stunning! We made it up to the top and had a very small lunch. On the way down, I fell so many times because it was extremely muddy. After this, we got to go to the hotel where we would actually perform the performance. We only rehearsed the group songs, then went back to our hotel to practice again. Saturday would be the actual performance. Everyone did so well, and it was a very emotional day. Afterwards, we had lunch, then went back to our hotel to prepare for the Gala night. We got to dress up in formal wear. We got put at separate tables with Rotarians. We got the opportunity to talk to them all night! We spoke Czech with our Rotarians and they were all very friendly. The night was very long, but it was still a very fun experience. We then left, and departed Sunday morning.

During my entire exchange, I had never really been close with any of the other inbounds. This was because the Czech and Slovak meetings were separate. At our inbound meetings, we wouldn’t have much time to spend with each other, and we would always be writing a test or listening to presentations. Therefore, I never got the opportunity to talk to many of the other inbounds. Then, I didn’t go to ski week, so once again, I didn’t see any of them. Then, on Eurotour, I got to know everyone a lot better. I have to say, that saying goodbye to everyone will be extremely hard. Especially knowing that I will probably never see any of them again. This weekend, we had to say goodbye to some of the Slovak inbounds that we’ll never see again because some aren’t going to Farewell weekend. These types of goodbyes are always very difficult. I know for sure that I will see my Czech friends again, because I know that I will return. But saying goodbye to other exchange students is significantly tough.

I have a lot more activities planned for the remaining days of my exchange. I will be returning home July 9th! In the next week, I will have a little bit more free time to recover from the Eurotour and everything. Tomorrow, my grandparents are going to be in Prague. I will meet with them and I am very excited! Then, another exchange student is coming to visit Nick and I on Thursday until Monday.

I hope to write more regularly to keep everyone updated!

 

EUROTOUR

Okay Cassie… all you have to do is write about the past two weeks of your exchange, it shouldn’t be this hard! After procrastinating writing my blog for maybe the past three weeks, here I am, back again! I’ve been on my Eurotour, a great adventure, which I still, can’t believe really happened. It went by so quickly, and was yet another thing coming to an end. Since the beginning of my exchange, Eurotour has been something that I had been really looking forward to and have seen as something at the end of my exchange. It was such an amazing experience, and I made many memories and made so many friends! Since our days were very long, I won’t go into too many details about our day… only the most important parts!

 

Day 1: Our first stop of the entire Eurotour was Paris. There would be two busses taking about 80 of us from Slovakia and the Czech Republic. One bus went to Bratislava, and the other went from Brno to Prague. Nick and I got picked up in Prague in the afternoon along with many other students. We then embarked on one of the longest bus rides that I had ever been on! Both busses travelled together and made several stops. We went through Germany and arrived to Paris in the early morning.

 
Day 2: This would be our first official day. We arrived to Paris to a gas station at about 5:30 in the morning. We all got changed into different clothing in the gas station bathrooms then continued on the way to the hotel to drop off our luggage. We were going to be staying just outside of Paris in a hotel that was still accessible by metro. We dropped off our luggage in a very small room then started on our way to the city. We started with a walking guided tour of Paris and learned a lot about the history and different parts of Paris. We walked through some very beautiful parks and got to see the Notre Dame. We then went to the Louvre. This was an amazing experience for me, because I have a very large appreciation for art. I went with a group of girls and we saw a lot of exhibits. We saw a lot of “must-see” pieces, then went to see Islam, Greek, African and American art.

 

Day 3: On this day, we got to see how the Sun King lived. We arrived to the Versailles palace. We spent an hour or two in the gardens. It was amazing how much space there was. The garden was so green and so clean cut. We got to enter into the palace and it was crazy to see how the palace was decorated. I was in awe in almost every room. I also tried my first ever macaroon. After this, we went to Pigalle and saw the Moulin Rouge. We then had another walking tour of this area. We learned about the Moulin Rouge then continued up the streets. We saw where Vincent Van Gogh used to live. We saw some street art and learned more about the history of this area. Finally, at the top of the hill, we saw the Saint-Pierre de Montmartre church. Here, we had such a beautiful view of Paris. Also, it was interesting to learn how the church is made out of a specific type of stone that cleans itself when it rains. Where the rain doesn’t hit, there were black patches.

Day 4: We got to see the Eiffel Tower! This was a place that we had all been very excited to see. We took the metro to the Eiffel Tower and we all cheered when we turned around the corner which revealed the Tower. It was probably frightening for the other people to see a group of 80 students screaming after turning around the corner. After seeing it, we took a group photo, and then we went to go wait in line to go to the top. We waited in a long time in a line to take the stairs up to the second floor. It was amazing to be on top of the Eiffel Tower and see all of Paris. Afterwards, we had some free time to buy food and to relax before heading on the bus overnight to Barcelona. In my free time, me and a group of my friends went to go buy some ice cream. Then, we sat in front of the Eiffel tower on the grass. It felt almost surreal, like I was in a movie. Then, we got onto the bus and departed for Barcelona. During this bus ride, I actually got a bit of sleep so it didn’t feel as long. Then, I woke up and it was my birthday!

Day 5: We arrived to Barcelona in the early morning and once again had to get ready in a gas station. It was my birthday and Nick made everyone sing happy birthday to me in the gas station. It was a good start to my day! We arrived to the city and put our bags into the hotel. The weather was supposed to be bad for our days in Barcelona except for this day, so we prepared for a day at the beach. We went on a very short sightseeing tour of the center, then walked a long way to the beach. We walked past a park and saw an extremely beautiful fountain. We didn’t get much information on what exactly it was, but it was one of the most beautiful fountains I had ever seen! We then arrived to the beach and had some free time. It was nice weather and we got to just relax. I loved being near the water. So far, I was loving Barcelona!

 

Day 6: At this point, I was convinced that I was meant to live in Barcelona! Everyone that we encountered were so happy and kind. In the morning, we were split into three groups. We had free time in the morning, so we sat in a café for a bit, then walked to the beach. The weather was pretty rainy, so we ended up having a bus tour. We had the funniest tour guide that I ever had. She was an older woman, but had a lot of interesting things to say. I would say that she was pretty loopy. She even put on different shoes in the morning! We went on the bus tour up to this palace and the Jardins de Joan Maragall. We had a very nice view of Barcelona from here. Afterwards, we went to lunch, then to the Sagrada Familia. This was such an amazing experience. It was so open and colourful. I was just in awe! Afterwards, we had some free time on La Rambla. I walked with one of my friends and we went back to the beach.

Day 7: This day was a bit interesting and definitely the longest day of the entire trip. In the morning, I woke up and was feeling a bit off. I went to the bathroom to do my makeup. There were a few other girls in the bathroom, but only one that standing beside me. I was doing my makeup when I started to have some really bad pain in my abdomen. I ended up fainting and luckily the girl standing beside me caught me before I fell and hit my head on the bathroom stalls. I was having the worst pain in my lower stomach and I wasn’t sure what was going on. They brought me to the hospital and they did a lot of tests. They also gave me a few bottles of painkillers as well as sugars through an IV. It was a terrifying experience. I’m so thankful for the Rotarian that stayed with me, and for the care of the hospital. They were very good and very efficient. They found out that I had an infection and they prescribed me some antibiotics and painkillers. I would take two painkillers together three times a day and one antibiotic for seven days. I started to feel a lot better and luckily didn’t miss much in the morning. We then went to the Park Güell and spent some time here. This was our last day in Barcelona, so we then got some free time in the center to get some food. It was a crazy coincidence because when we arrived by the center there were a lot of people holding the Football Club Barcelona flags. I’m pretty sure the entire city was lining the streets. We were confused what was happening, and it turns out that the FCB was going to come through the town on a bus to celebrate a victory. (I think). There was a lot of music and a lot of people waiting to see the team. We waited and got to see the bus go by. Even though I am not a big football (soccer) fan, it was a crazy experience. When the bus passed, all the fans walked beside the bus. After this, we escaped the crowd and went to get food. We then met, and loaded the ferry. We were going to take a ferry from Barcelona to Rome. We arrived and this ferry was huge and very luxurious. In the previous years, there had been various different group that had been on the ferry with the exchange students. Last year, half the boat was empty. This year, there was a HUGE group (maybe 4-5 busloads) of 20-30 year old Serbian men and women. They were ready to party during the night that we would sleep. In fact, they started their partying right away when we got onto the boat. We just had to be a bit more careful, because there were a lot of really loud and rowdy people on our boat. We were allowed to have a lot of free time, then go to a “club” at 12:30 and stay until about 2. The Rotarians were all supervising us, and luckily the Serbians were partying on the roof, so we got the club to ourselves. It was a very fun night, but I had to go to bed earlier because I was very tired from my day at the hospital. It was a very long day, but everything turned out to be okay!

Day 8: This was such a relaxing day, and just the day that I needed after the day before. We got to just relax because the boat would arrive about 19:00 to Rome. We just hung out, ate, then left the boat. We arrived to Rome, and just checked into our hotel.

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Day 9: Today we got to see the coliseum and learned a lot about the history. It was again, surreal being there. We then got to go on a four hour walking tour of the area. We saw a lot of famous places then got some free time in the center. In the center, we arrived to a group of men singing very loudly in two pubs. They were the Liverpool football team fans. Travelling through Europe during football season was very interesting. It was around lunchtime and in the pub the men were just singing a lot of songs and being very loud. They were singing for HOURS. We then finished the day by going to the Spanish stairs.

Day 10: We travelled to Vatican city. We had a lot of free time here to see whatever we wanted. I went with a group of friends and we went straight to the Sicilian Chapel. On our way there, we stopped in a lot different museums and buildings. Everything was so breathtaking and I was just freaking out because of all of the beauty around me. I believe we had almost five hours to explore whatever we wanted. When we were actually there, to see the Michelangelo ceiling, it was very modest. We weren’t aloud to take any photos and we had to be very silent. I think out of all the rooms, my favourite was the room of maps. It was hard to imagine all the artist creating these huge pieces of art and even more so the art on the ceiling! After this, we went to get some lunch. We then went to the meeting point, which was in the square by the basilica. When we were there, we had a “dance battle” with a group of German students. Just exchange student things haha. Then we got on a bus ride to our next destination: Naples. We arrived to our hostel which was actually just outside of Naples center. We got to have a dance party in the evening and it was probably the best hostel we stayed in!

Day 11: On this day, we experienced the worst luck! We had a hike up the Vesuvius volcano planned, but the weather was terrible. We arrived and were in a cloud. It was very rainy and windy. We still got to walk up and learn about the history, but unfortunately we couldn’t see the volcano. After going back to the hotel to dry off, we went to Pompeii. We learned a lot about how life was. It was interesting to think about how people lived and how it would have felt. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel.

Day 12: We went into the Naples center to have a short walking tour. We didn’t get to see too much of Naples, and I wish that we could have stayed longer. We were in the center then got a bit of free time to buy some food and to explore before a bus ride to Florence. I went with one of my friends and we walked down some of the streets and of course, bought gelato! Naples is the best place to get pizza, so of course I had to try some as well! After our free time, we boarded a bus to Florence! We arrived to our hostel. This hostel was actually very beautiful. We could climb up to the top and see a very nice view of the city. There were also a lot of plants, it was very cute. We had free time in the evening for a few hours. We decided to go into the city and explore a bit. We ended up in the center and saw the Dóm Santa Maria del Fiore!

Day 13: We had some options today. We got to either go to the Galleria Dell Academia (home of the original David statue and other Michael Angelo originals) or start with a walking tour. I decided to start at the Museum, then go on the walking tour. The gallery was actually quite small, but I was of course freaking out about all the pieces inside. Afterwards, we had a short walking tour of the center of Florence. We then had some free time. We then left for Venice. In the evening, we arrived to our last hotel which was right beside the beach. After dinner, we had some free time, so you can imagine how fast we ran to the beach. Of course, I also got thrown into the ocean…with all my clothes on. It was such an amazing last night on the tour.

Day 14: This was our last day, but also one of the best days! We went to Venice by boat in the morning. We had a “scavenger hunt”. We had to take photos in front of places as well as learn some facts about the places we saw. My group and I decided that we would just start by exploring on our own, then doing a few of the activities. We walked through a lot of the streets and the canals. We then got some food then we started to complete some of the scavenger hunt. We didn’t get close to finishing it, but we got to see every place we wanted to! We then got to go on a boat ride. It was very beautiful and something that I’ve always wanted to do. Afterwards, I believe we had some more free time, then we had to leave. We got onto our bus and headed to a supermarket. We had time to change, get food, and say goodbye. We would then go on a bus ride overnight. It was terribly long and we were all exhausted when we arrived to Brno in the morning.

Overall, the Eurotour was so fun. I got to travel with some of my best friends and see places that I’ve always wanted to see. I got to see a lot of art and learn a lot.

I hope you will enjoy some of these photos. Also, please watch the video that I posted on my Youtube channel about my trip.

Thanks for reading!

-Cass

Weeks Thirty Three and Thirty Four: Wizard of Oz, a Garden, Art Galleries, and a Trip to Brno!

These past two weeks haven’t been all that interesting, but of course, they passed by very quickly. I didn’t write two weeks ago because I didn’t think that an entire blog about the drastic weather change here would be all that interesting. Anyways, the weather here went from snow one week to 25 degrees the next. I’m glad that the weather got a lot nicer because it seemed like it would never warm up here! Last week I had a few more activities. I am helping to direct a play, I went to Prague on a short school trip, and I went with my host family (and Nick) to Brno!

As you may remember from my previous posts, I was participating in a theatre club run by the Fulbright teacher Maeve. At the beginning of the year, it was mainly just games and working on skills. As someone with absolutely no acting experience, it was fun because we were just playing around. Then, during the winter, not many people were showing up anymore. She decided that for the last two months, she would actually try to make a production. She received a budget to make an English play, and got more people to participate. Now, we are doing the Wizard of Oz and hopefully will have a show in the first week of June. Since I wanted to give the Czech students the opportunity to do a play in English, I decided that I would not act in the play. Instead, I am an “assistant director” with another friend. We’ve been working on organizing everything and working on the play.

Last week, I was invited by the English teacher Nick to go with him and his younger class to go to Prague. Since I live in a town that is pretty close to Prague (less than an hour), the school will often go on trips to Prague. This was a trip to go visit the Valdštějnská Zahrada–which is a garden. This garden is right underneath the castle. The entrance is right beside the metro station, and when we went there I was surprised that there weren’t actually many tourists. Sure, the weather was kinda gloomy, but it was pretty empty. There was a beautiful pond that had a lot of big fish. There was a statue in the middle of the pond of a man killing a big fish. There were also a few peacocks roaming around the pond. We then got to walk around the garden and it looked like something out of movie! I expected to see a princess or a prince walking around. It was like I was taking a step back in time. There were these hedges that were like a maze, but they didn’t have leaves yet. I will add some photos. At the opposite side of the garden, there was a photo gallery. It was outside, and beside a very spooky looking wall. The photos were all the most important photos from the Czech Republic. Underneath each of the photos, there was a description and a bit of history. I think that this garden is one of my favourite places in Prague!

After we went to the garden, we went to an art gallery. This art gallery was very small and it was a bit confusing. There were many light exhibitions and photos projected on screens. There was also a room full of photos of crushed butterflies. The best part of the exhibition was in the last room. Someone made something like a merry-go-round out of clay. There were people on a balcony and underneath the balcony. It was men trying to steal babies from women. They were holding whips and the people on the balcony were throwing the babies from the balcony. Each person (going around the merry-go-round) had a slightly different movement from the one beside it. I’m not sure how to explain it. The structure started to spin faster and faster. All of a sudden the lights changed and it was like watching a movie! It was very cool.

At the end of the week, I had another adventure! My host family regularly attends a Catholic camp (I also went at the beginning of February). My host dad helped to organize the first ball for the camp. The camp was in Brno (right outside the city center). We left on Saturday and would return Sunday morning. I was very excited because I could see some of the people that I met at the camp again. We arrived and everything ran very smoothly for the first ball. There were probably just over 100 people. A lot of the people were young as well. There was a band playing music, and they were amazing! Nick and I danced whenever they played an English song ;). There was also Tambola (raffle table) and I won a scarf! It was a beautiful evening and a lot of fun! In the morning, Nick and I went to McDonalds and I had my first “American” breakfast in over seven months!!

I have a lot to look forward to in the next few weeks. This week, my Rotary is having my birthday celebration on Tuesday. On Thursday, Nick and I will attend a presentation about exchange with our club. Then, I will celebrate my birthday with my friends on Friday then leave for Eurotour on Monday! Stay tuned for my Eurotour adventures in the next few weeks!

-Cass

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Week Thirty-Two: Travelling nightmare, Banská Bystrica, and Easter!

This past week has been very busy. The holidays for Easter started Thursday and ended on Tuesday. I had planned a trip to go visit my friend Ashley (another inbound) in Slovakia. She lives around the center of Slovakia in a town called Banská Bystrica. As my exchange year is coming to an end, I am getting to be busier and busier as the months go on. In fact, I only have about four free weekends left this year. I have many Rotary events and events organized by my club. Therefore, I thought that it would be a good idea to go see my friend and to go to Slovakia. I would return in time for my family’s Easter plans.

I left Wednesday and embarked on what would be the WORST travelling experience that I have ever had! Before going to Banská Bystrica, I had bought bus tickets ahead of time for my way there. This was because I would have to travel first from Prague to Bratislava and the seats would be full because it is a very popular route. I bought the first ticket from Prague to Bratislava, then the second I bought from Bratislava to Banska. I would arrive at approximately 2:20 and would then have a lot of time in the afternoon. The total amount of time to travel should have been about 8 hours…and ended up taking about 12!

First, I had to travel from Nové Strašecí (a town beside my village) to Prague. At first, I was going to travel to Zličín which is a bus station that is on the edge of Prague. My bus to Bratislava left from a bus station called Florenc. To get from Zličín to Florenc, I would be about 25 minutes in the metro. So we decided that I would go to Hradčánska. This is all the way through Prague, but only about 5 minutes by metro. The Hradčánska bus and the Zličín bus were supposed to get to Prague at the same time…the only difference was the metro. I left at about 6:50 and was supposed to arrive to Prague at around 7:23. I got on the bus and it was completely full so I had to stand all the way to Prague. Unfortunately, I forgot that in Prague there would be traffic at that time in the morning. A LOT of traffic. I started to get stressed because of how long the bus was taking to get to the station. My bus to Bratislava would leave at 8:00 and we were still in traffic at 7:45. I figured that it would be fine as long as I ran. I ended up running all across the metro. It was 7:55 and I was STILL inside the metro. I was so stressed and I ran to Florenc. At this particular station it is extremely difficult to cross the road to get from the metro opening to the bus station, so I had to run across the road and hope for the best. When I got to the bus station at 8 I thought that I saw my bus leaving and I was starting to freak out. But luckily the bus was still there and the people were just starting to close it. I’m so lucky I got onto the bus, and I was definitely out of breath. Once on the bus, we started to go and I started to calm down. Everything would be fine from here right? Nope. On the way, the bus pulled over. I thought that it was just a stop or a break, but they announced, “We will be here for a while because of technical problems”. Great. I had a bus to catch at 12:30 from Bratislava and we were supposed to arrive in Bratislava at 12:15. The bus was stopped for about 20 minutes. We arrived in Brno and we were notified that we had to change busses. That meant putting all the bags into the other bus and getting everyone organized and checking in the new people from Brno. Then, we had another announcement that we would be 50 minutes late to Bratislava. That means that I wouldn’t have a bus to catch and I just bought that ticket and wouldn’t be able to use it. I asked the man working on the bus and he told me that the next bus would be at 14:30… but it was full. The only way for me not to pay for another ticket would be just to wait and see if someone wouldn’t get on the bus. When I got to Bratislava I figured the best thing would just be to get on a train that would come in an hour. Well, I had to find the way to the train station. I started to freak out because the train station was super far away and I couldn’t seem to navigate myself with google maps. After talking to my host dad, I decided to find a taxi. Luckily there was one right there. I told him to take me to the train station. He was very nice, but at the end, he totally scammed me! He drove me about ten minutes and charged me over 15 euros. I had only brought 50 bills and he was saying that he “didn’t have change”. I had no time or language skills to argue with him. I was frustrated because I paid too much and now I had to figure out how to get onto a train. I bought the train ticket and somehow found my way to the train. Little did I know, but you have to buy train seats in Slovakia. In the Czech Republic you can just sit where you want. So, I sat on the ground on my bag for three hours. It was terrible. Then my train was late to Banksa so Ashley’s host dad was waiting for an extra half hour! Eventually I did arrive, but it was the worst luck I’d ever had!

Being in Slovakia was amazing. It reminded me of how much I love the mountains and nature. The first night, I tried some typical Slovak food (I forget the name). We made it too. It was some smaller dumplings (they looked like Cheetos) covered in sheep cheese then with smoked bacon on top. It was so good. Then the next day in the morning we went to a cave. It was the coolest thing. I’ll put some photos to show you what it looked like. There were amazing rock structures. It was amazing and it was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve seen on exchange. Then, we went into the city. We met up with another exchange student from the USA that lives there. They showed me the square and told me about the town. We got some food and just got to look around. Afterwards, we went back to the house. I left the next day and it was a smoother ride home. Even though it was only for a short time, it was a very amazing experience.

After my return, it was Easter time! As many of you may have heard (or haven’t) the Czech Republic has very unique Easter traditions. One of the most common ones was very shocking to me. On the morning of Easter Monday, men and boys will go to the square with these branches with colourful pieces of ribbon on the end. They will “whip” (more like lightly tap) the butts of women and girls. This isn’t meant to cause harm or suffering. They will say a traditional verse just wishing good luck, health, beauty, and fertility for the rest of the year. The girls then will give them something in return like chocolate, another ribbon, or maybe some alcohol. I didn’t go to the square, but my host parents went to Prague. Of course there are hand-painted or decorated eggs. Easter in the Czech Republic is one of the happiest times!

I hope you will enjoy these photos. Until next time!

-Cass

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Week Thirty and Thirty-One: Pancakes, a Broomstick, and Transportation

As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, writing every week is getting harder and harder! Luckily my Mom came to the rescue with some good ideas, so hopefully now I will be good for the next few weeks 😉 … (thanks Mom). I haven’t written in two weeks, and surprisingly not a lot has happened. It is just normal life, except, you know, I’m in the CZECH REPUBLIC. Right now, my entire family is in Europe. Doug and Brennan are on a little tour of Europe right now… but unfortunately nowhere near me.

In this post, I will hopefully just give you a little update on the past two weeks. Also, I would like to write about transportation in the Czech Republic compared to Canada!

Two weekends ago I got the idea to cook pancakes for my classmates. I had noticed that pancakes here in the Czech Republic are very different from those that we eat in Canada. They are very thin and usually they put something sweet in them. They’re crêpes. I’m sure that people here have eaten the “normal” pancakes before, but they definitely hadn’t with Canadian Maple Syrup! Sunday night I cooked pancakes with my host dad and my host family got to eat some as well! The next day, everyone got to try them and really enjoyed them (to my relief!).

The rest of the week was just normal. Two of my classmates had their birthday celebration on Friday. Then on Sunday, my host Dad’s sister also had a birthday celebration. We went to a nearby village to meet with my host Dad’s side of the family. I had never met them before. They live in a city right on the German border (Děčín). We all met up in a steak house restaurant and had lunch. I got to speak to his family and they were all very kind. One of his sisters studied English and she plays music in Prague. His other sister (the one with the birthday) has an adorable daughter. His sister is very active, in fact her husband does cross-country cycling and biked about 60 km in the slush/snow/mud to the celebration!

Last week, it was a fairly normal week. My “grade” is split up into three classes: C3A (my class) C3B, and 07. (If you want to know the difference you could visit my previous post on the school system). C3B was away on a trip to Germany, but some of the students didn’t participate so we had some new people in our class. During English class, we watched a film. We watched it for three classes in the week. Also, the French teacher was gone, so during every French class I had, it was German instead. So I didn’t have much to do during those classes.

Here is something completely random: During the beginning of the week, I kept opening up my locker to find a broom in it. I don’t know why, but my classmates have this broom that is just going from locker to locker. Almost everyone has had it, but me more than most!!! I’ve had it about three weeks ago and it returned. (One time I opened my locker to find a bird in a glass case from the Biology class in my locker…no one really locks their lockers in the school, but I think I will start locking mine!) Of course, I put it into someone else’s locker. Then the next day I would open my locker and get hit in the face with the broom again!!! This week I am happy to see that the broom has finally disappeared. I know this is totally random, but it’s just something small that I want to remember.

As you might know, in our school there is an American (Maeve) who is a Fulbright. She is a “teaching assistant” but pretty much works as a full time teacher in our school. There are many of these Fulbrights around the world. In fact, Fulbright also sends professors over seas. Thursday, a professor Fulbright working at an Art school in Prague gave a presentation. He is a very famous photographer named Francois. He is from New York and has done a lot of amazing work in Africa, South America, rural parts of the States, as well as in Poland and now in the Czech Republic. His work is truly incredible. I will link his website down below. He is working on a project that he calls “Photo Rapide”. He has a twist on how he does photography. He does portraits of people, but he has a conversation with the person before, then lets them choose which photo they would like. He carries around a portable printer and prints off the original. Then, he lets the person choose their frame (which are made by him and specific to the culture) then finally takes another photograph of the person holding their portrait in the frame. It is truly unique because you can even get a sense of the way a person lives from their hands. I probably didn’t do him justice in explaining his work, but I hope you will visit his website and see his work. He is doing Photo Rapide in the Czech Republic and continued it in our school! The presentation was truly fascinating. To get the photos taken, you had to have filled out a form with your parents/guardians permission. I didn’t get the form, but he will return Tuesday, so hopefully I can be a part of his project!

Last week, I also started to plan a trip to Slovakia. I would like to visit another exchange student from the USA (Ashley). We met at the beginning of the year, but haven’t had the chance to meet again. This week is short because there is a break from Thursday-Monday for Easter. I’m still waiting for the District approval to go, and I hope that it comes soon! I hope when I go there I can see the town she lives in and hopefully go on a hike or see the surrounding area.

Speaking about travel, I thought it would be a good opportunity to tell you a little bit about what travel and transportation is like here. Before I came here, a lot of people would say that since I’m in central Europe, I could travel to whichever country I’d like to! Unfortunately, because of the travel rules that just isn’t really possible. Also, since I’ve been here, I’d like to spend as much time exploring the Czech Republic or being with my Czech friends. Of course, if the opportunity to go to one of the surrounding countries comes up, I’d say yes. Travelling with my host family is definitely alright with the District, but I’d never go alone (except to Slovakia which is part of the D2240). Nothing is as far away as it is in Canada for sure! You could drive for ten hours in BC and still be in the province. Here, if you drive for ten hours you’d make it across the country and even further. Also, there is amazing public transportation. As I’ve mentioned before, I can go for weeks without getting in a car. But in Canada (where we live) you couldn’t go a day without driving. Of course there is the greyhound, but it definitely isn’t as good as the transportation here. Here, there is IDOS. It is a website/application that tells you every bus/train/tram/metro that you need. It can show which transportation you would need to take to get to another country. You can also buy tickets on it and everything. Busses and trains run very regularly. They’re very clean, fast, and always on time. They also don’t cost a lot of money. For example, since I live in a village now, I must take a bus in the morning and in the afternoon. The bus ticket costs 25 crowns one way. If you have a student card it is even cheaper. 25 crowns is approximately $1.40. Train tickets are usually a little bit more expensive, but you need to take the train if you live in a very small village or a town that doesn’t have many bus connections. For example, our Rotary club is Rotary club Beroun. So for each meeting we attend, we must take a train. There are busses that go there but they aren’t very frequent. Therefore, you put the time that you want to arrive into IDOS and choose the method of transportation that will get you to your destination on time.

In Prague, there is the only metro and tram system in the Czech Republic. The metro is very easy to use. There are only three lines and the ticket is cheap. You choose how much time you will be underground and pay for the ticket. There is the green, yellow, and red line. The metro is very regular and very clean. I haven’t used a tram, but it is also very simple.

In general, I am very happy with the transportation system. It is very simple. I think when I return to Canada I will really see how far away everything is, and how big the country is!

 

Until next time

-Cass