A Different-sounding Vroom
While walking the streets of Europe, you notice that their cars are somewhat different from what we drive in the U.S. You may have never heard of some of these manufacturers, or never seen some of these car body-types. But you will notice that something is missing: hybrids. Instead you will notice an overwhelming number of clean diesel cars. These cars have replaced the old, sputtering diesel with a new breed, called TDI (turbocharged direct injection, made by VW group) or BLUETEC (a Mercedes-Benz product). Diesel engines are not just for trucks anymore. The TDI engine won the Le Mans 24hr endurance race 5 times between 2006-2011. Their success and growing popularity is due to their increased efficiency, power output, and torque compared to a conventional gas engine, as well as reduced emissions. But clean diesel rivals hybrids in the competition to be the most eco-friendly. The TDI engine was featured in the green car of the year 2009 & 2010. The VW 1.2 TDI 3liter engine won best fuel economy over the toyota prius. But you must consider something that the estimated mpg doesn't tell you: the environmental impact of manufacturing. The batteries in a prius come from a nickel mine in Ontario, where they are mined using a very abrasive process (so bad NASA tests lunar rovers in now-desolate area). Once removed from the earth, the nickel is loaded onto a massive cargo ship and taken to a refinery in europe, then to China, and to the toyota plant in Japan. Once the car is assembled, it is once again loaded onto a ship and brought back to the U.S. After all that, there is no way it can be better for the environment than the cars we are already driving. Instead of trying to use a technology that isn't fully developed, Americans should revert to our old friend, the diesel.
There is nothing quite like a European soccer game. Any sporting event in the USA jut does not compare. For my birthday, karolina, my host student, bought tickets with some of the other people on the trip to go see Sparta Praha vs plzen. We arrived at the stadium, and our seats were just four rows away from the field. It was great! Within 15 minutes of play, the plzen fans, standing and singing and cheering had lit their flares and already started a fight. The entire game, both teams fans were standing, singing, cheerig, yelling, and the Sparta fans lit a giant flag on fire. Could you even imagine that in the US? Needless to say, it was an awesome experience for a soccer fan such as myself. A great 18th birthday all around.
European soccer is often thought of as the golden standard for sport all over the world. The fans are insane, the players are cutthroat, and the glory associated with winning is unparalleled. Although I've missed much of the NCAA tournament this spring, I've gotten my fare share of march madness in Prague! The game we saw was a battle for first place in the league (as if euro matches needed more fuel on the fire). The ultras were going crazy; waving flares and literally lighting things on fire. The opposing teams fans were locked in a cage because if not for 15 ft of steel fencing the probably would've been killing each other. We ate sausage and bought awesome Sparta gear as if we were Czech ourselves. Leaving the game 5 minutes early to avoid getting caught in a fight didnt damper the evening. I may have missed the madness back home, but I certainly got it in Prague!
My time here in Prague has been nothing less than amazing. My host family has done everything in their power to make me feel comfortable. While there is a language barrier between me and my host parents they still make it possible for me to feel right at home. From the delicious home cooked meals to seeing the Magic Flute they do a fantastic job of showcasing why so many people fall in love with Prague. I've met multiple Americans who have built a life here and just from these last few days I get a glimpse on understanding why they made this decision. The main reason why I enjoyed my time on the exchange so much was because of my host. She is truly one of the kindest people I've met and through sharing our beautiful cities we love so much with each other we were able to build a great friendship.
One of the most exciting things that I've done so far during my trip to Praha has been traveling to Carlsbad known as Karlovy Vary. During my day trip on Monday, my host family and I walked around and had the opportunity of tasting different hot springs. The hot springs that we tasted were quite salty and some what carbonated, but they were refreshing overall. Mattoni, the drinking water company, gets majority of the water that they bottle from a nearby spring. After tasting some of the different spring waters we went hiking up a mountain to the 'Diana look out tower' which had a beautiful view of the nearby mountains and Carlsbad. Then we traveled down the mountain to Jeleni skok, known as goat jump, nearby was a memorial last renovated in 2011 but before that it was renovated in1797 for a Russian Emperor named Peter the great. At the memorial there was a few gazebos that were under construction but I couldn't give up the chance to take a few photos. Following the memorial we traveled down to mountain to ground level and went to tea house where we had tea and snacks. The day trip overall was supposed to be only three hours however it ended up being nearly six, later that evening we had to attend dinner at Mike's grandparents house and his grandmother prepared a traditional Czech meal. The meal consisted of chicken noodle soup, sweet cabbage, roasted duck and potato dumplings, which I had two servings of. My biggest concern that evening was trying to have a conversation with his grandparents who didn't speak English however the barrier was gone when I had the chance to play Mikes grandfather, Andrej, in chess. We had an intense series of three games, one which we had a stare down of who would requeen one of our pawns and another game where Andrej played one complete game without a queen. Either he's really good or I am really bad, let's just say he's really good. Besides getting my butt whooped, I had a great time getting over the language barrier just by being open to what his grandparents had to offer. Along with wisdom and humor there wasn't much different between our grandparents. Overall this has been one of the most memorable days of the trip.
I can't exaggerate the value of participating in an exchange like this rather than simply traveling to Prague. Since I obviously don't speak any Czech, I realized that if I were to go here on my own there is no way I'd have the same amazing experience that I'm having now. Having someone to explain the importance of every site, to help you buy things in stores, or even just to talk to and develop a relationship with has been invaluable. Unlike any trip I've ever taken, I feel like I'm actually learning a lot about the culture here. Every night I sit with my host family, all of whom fortunately speak English extremely well, and we compare American and Czech cultures. We've discussed familial roles, education, traditions, religion, history, etc. There are many different customs and a lot more courtesies here, such as eating french fries with a fork and taking your shoes off every time you enter the house (even if it's just for a second). The Czech culture is a mix of many others, from it's Polish-influenced foods (sausages and sauerkraut) to the visible remnants of communism throughout the city. The Czech value their culture very much and appreciate our attempts to participate; I have learned a few dozen words and phrases and they really enjoy hearing me use them at all. Overall, this trip has been great and I'm sad it's coming to a close. I'd like to thank all the host families for allowing us to all to have such a unique experience!
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