1st week of class

This week was the start of the manditory Czech language intensive class.  Fortunately for me, I require language courses to graduate this semester so, the 5 hours is not so grueling as would be for those who don’t.  The language is a little more difficult than I thought it would be, with 7 conjugations….for each sex, for a total of 14 in some cases!  Actually being able to use what you learned is a good source of motivation as well.  I remember when I was taking German last semester, I had little incentive to study / practice what I was learning.

When I wasn’t dragging knuckles in class this week, I was trying to explore the city more and find some things that I researched from home, one of them being a climbing gym.  This is still a mission yet to be accomplished, it is either hidden in gaggle of courtyards that are in every city block, it has shut down recently, or even moved.  Whatever, there are others and I will find one…..eventually.

Exploring Prague

The week got off to a good start with a couple mandatory trips in the surrounding area of Prague unfortunately, both were a little depressing.  The first was to a Nazi concentration camp in Terezin (about 40 minutes out of Prauge), and the second was a Communist labor camp, which was almost the same set up as the first.  The rest of the week consisted of exploring at least one local pub / restaurant every day with new friends.

The Getting Settled Hustle

Beside ridiculous baggage checks (don’t fly Cimber Air), the plane rides went smoothly with no delays as I landed Saturday. The journey to Prague took about 14 hours in total. Unfortunately, none of those hours included any sleep. It is now Monday and I’m still suffering a bit of jet-lag.

The weekend included a couple runs into town to get last minute things, and of course to have food and beverages as we all got acquainted with one another. One of the first ( and one of my favorite) cultural differences was the fact that you shot the queer eye if you order a glass of water instead of a beer with your lunch or dinner.  Did I mention it was cheaper than water?

Over 4,000 miles and more than a month later

It’s been over a month since I returned home from the Czech Republic. It’s been a rather drastic change for me and I have to say that I miss Prague a lot.

One of the first major differences I was confronted with coming home was volume. I first encountered this in Frankfurt, when I was waiting for the flight to JFK to board. The waiting area was packed and loud. Not just loud, but noisy. The majority of people on the flight were Americans returning home after a short visit to Europe. It’s a marked difference between Americans and (what I can only assume) the rest of the world. Americans are loud. Even now, I am amazed at how loud some people can be when there is no call for it.

I had gotten to the airport in Prague with entirely too much time to spare. Better safe than sorry I guess. I took pictures of the airport while I was waiting. Just bored pictures, nothing special. Something to occupy my mind while I waited for the counter for my flight to open up. I took all sorts of pictures throughout my Prague airport experience. Nothing of interest, really, and I didn’t think anything of it. Nobody cared. When the plane arrived in JFK and we all queued up in the massive customs lines, I saw a sign that made me think of my flight over to the Czech Republic as well as my flight down to Rome. The sign had to do with the added security measures that non-residents had to endure. Fingerprinting and mugshotting or something. I can’t recall exactly, and I lack a photo of it because right above the sign, but below one of the TVs showing a Giants game, was a sign yelling “No Photography” and a big picture of a camera with a big red X through it. When I flew down to Rome, I walked from the plane, straight out to the waiting area. The first person I talked to was Mike. I didn’t need to have my fingerprints or mugshot taken, and, if I wanted to, I could have taken a whole bunch of photos of Mike waiting for me. It got me thinking about what we, as a nation, are so afraid of. Here I was, returning from a former Soviet bloc country, and right away, I couldn’t take pictures. If I were Czech, I’d be booked before I could enter the country. I realize that there are justifications for these measures, and I don’t want to turn this into a political post. I’ve made it an entire semester without being political. But comparing my experiences flying into the Prague and flying into New York, I really wonder what sort of impression people get when they come in to America.

I miss smazeny syr. That fried cheese delight that (in my opinion) is best served on a bun, on a little rectangle of paper, in the middle of the night.

I’ve definitely grown from my experiences abroad, and plan on returning to Prague for some extended period of time. It’s not just that I miss the fried cheese, but I miss the city itself. All of the decent guidebooks will tell you that while Prague has a couple of big interest sights (Old Town Square, Prague Castle, Charles Bridge) the true magic and beauty of the city is found just by wandering. Prague isn’t about a single attraction. You can’t have a single photograph and say that it defines Prague. The attraction is the city itself. The experience is what makes Prague worthwhile. The tourist attractions are nice for a short visit, but I miss the side streets, the alleys, the basement bars and crowded trams. I even miss waiting for the night tram at five in the morning as the wind off of the river makes it feel like it’s only a few degrees above absolute zero. That is what makes Prague for me.

I never got to Prague Castle.

Freebird

Earlier this week, it hit me that I leave Europe on the 17th. Which is next week.

Kind of scary.

I still need to get over to Prague Castle. I’m a bad tourist. But in my defense, I knew I’d be here for four months, so I spaced out my tourism.

This past week has been filled with school work. Of the End of the Semester variety. I still have a few more papers to do and then an actual exam in Czech Music.

On Wednesday, Jeff and I made the executive decision to make it an evening of differences. Mainly, the difference between TGI Fridays and the National Theatre’s Opera. (Note: My rationale for going to TGI Fridays, McDonalds, Subway, KFC, etc is that they are Czech businesses… I see them as part of the offerings of Prague, even though they are American companies. I do not frequent them often, but see no reason to avoid them like some might be tempted to do)

Tickets for Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” at the National Theatre: 40 Kč (approx $1.60)
My Drink at TGIFridays (Long Island Iced Tea, just for kicks since I am from LI): 170 Kč (approx $6.90)

There is something delightfully wonderful about a city/country where tickets to the National Theatre’s production of a national opera costs less than a drink in some schmoozy restaurant. If, somehow, the production was magically transported to NYC, it would cost me more to get there ($2.00 for a Metrocard) than it would to see the show. And this is not some community theatre, this is the National Theatre. Just as basis for comparison, to see Les Miserables at the National Theatre in Washington DC, tickets comparable to ours would have cost $36.25. You have to love federal subsidization of the arts.

The visit to TGI Fridays was a nice little visit into “Americana” but I wouldn’t want to stay there. It was by and far the most expensive meal I have had in Prague, and though I enjoyed the food, it wasn’t that great. But the experience was worth it.

No big plans for my last week… just do some last minute Christmas shopping in the Christmas Villages that have popped up, and hit up Prague Castle. Beyond that, no objectives beyond making the most out of the next seven days.

Random Things

  • The outlets here look like this. Which means that if you have a power transformer, chances are you will need an extension, which is easily bought at Tesco
  • Google is your friend.
    • Google Earth
      I hope to be posting my Google Earth Prague file when I get back, which will let you see where everything that I have talked about is located. It’s a great tool for becoming familiar with the city, or anywhere else.
    • Google Currency Conversion Even if it may seem a bit awkward, searching for 100 czech money in american money can help out a lot.
  • Beer here is cheap. Anything more than 30 Kč is too much. Due to government regulations, prices for beer were capped for a while. Apparently these have been lifted but prices are still ridiculously cheap. A half-liter of beer (a velke, or large beer) is anywhere from 17 to 27 Kč. And it is the best beer I have ever tasted. Enjoy your beer responsibly. The Czechs are serious about their beer, so don’t make a fool of yourself by drinking too much. Don’t get ripped off in a tourist pub that charges too much for Czech beer. Imported beer will be more than 30 Kč, but you don’t want imports, do you?
  • Be Quiet. I don’t mean to belittle you, but chances are, you talk louder than most Czechs. It’s an American thing. If you want to blend in, speak quietly. It’s one of my favorite parts of being in Prague: anywhere I go is much more peaceful than an American equivalent.
  • Try to at least learn Czech pronunciation as soon as possible. Jeff got some very odd looks his first week, when he would go into a business and ask if they speak English (“Mluvite Anglicky?“). He pronounced it “Mloov-it ang-licky-ee.” The actual pronunciation is “Mloov-it-ay ang-lits-key.” The letters of the Czech alphabet are pronounced differently, and one of the best things you can do for yourself is to pick that up as quickly as possible, to save yourself some weird looks. It also helps when you are trying to find a location and you have to ask someone where a certain street or metro stop is. They might speak English fluently, but the name of the place is going to be in Czech, so it’s better not to butcher the name.
  • Familiarize yourself with public transport. The trams and metro are your best friends. You can get a map of Prague from Lenka your first couple of days here, and you would be wise to familiarize yourself with the metro lines and (at least) the 22/23 tram lines. While you can walk anywhere in Prague (just like you can walk anywhere in the states) sometimes it is just smarter and safer to hop on the tram.
  • Keep your tram/metro pass on you at all times. Going along with the above, always keep this on you. You should get one of these as soon as you come over from Lenka and never leave home without it. Even if you are just planning on walking around, you never know when you might want to just hop on the tram to get home. Better to be safe than sorry. Also, be aware of the fact that the pass that you get in the beginning of the semester is a 90 day pass. So you will need to get another, or start paying for per-trip passes when that pass runs out. I recently went and got a new 30 day pass to last me through December, so that I don’t have to worry about being nabbed on the tram without a ticket.
  • If you bring a laptop, invest in a lock. While I don’t mean to instill fear in any of you, and I honestly do feel safe here, petty theft is a problem. Wallets, iPods and (unfortunately) laptops have a habit of finding legs. Within the first couple of weeks, several people had laptops and iPods nicked from their rooms. Whether that is due to leaving their doors unlocked, or a crack team of expert thieves repelling off the roof and swinging in through open windows, I don’t know, but one way or another, they’re gone. So I advise any sort of security you can muster for your valuables. And always lock your doors.

This is just a short, short list of helpful hints. There is obviously loads more to share, but there are also some things that you should discover for yourself. But if there are any other Prague-ers reading this, please leave any advice you have in the comments and I will add them to the list.

Big Plans make for Busy Days

The trip to Croatia was amazing. Drove down to Zagreb, then to Plitvice Lakes National Park and then a drive down the coast of the Adriatic (including about 5 miles through Bosnia) to Dubrovnik. Fifteen and a half hour drive from Dubrovnik to Prague on Sunday. But more to come on that at a later date and time.

Last night was my friend Pavel’s concert. Met up with quite a few people that i have worked with through the years, and had a great time. Made plans to drive down to Brno with Ivan and Sarka to visit Pavel and Renata in two weeks. I knew this would be an exciting couple of weeks.

I leave for Italy tomorrow at 1:30 and I haven’t packed or prepared for it at all. Wee. I have been struggling with a paper for my 20th Century European history class, and that has occupied my time since I got back from Croatia. I’m hoping to get this paper done before I leave, so that I can enjoy my time in Italy, and then on the train ride back I will write about my Croatia and Italy trips, as well as rock out with some pictures.

But for right now, school work beckons, and I suppose I should heed the call.