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.

Big plans

The next couple of weeks should be really fun.

I’m leaving tomorrow morning for a road trip to Croatia. I’m not entirely sure what the travel plans are, but I am putting my trust in my traveling companions. I’m just glad to have the opportunity to drive along the sea. I miss the open water so any way that I get down to the Adriatic is good for me. Off to adventure!

We’ll be back Sunday, then that Wednesday is my friend Pavel’s concert. We’ve worked together for years, and heard about his band, who have been on the Top 10 on radio down in Brno, their hometown. His website is http://pavelhelan.cz/ though it’s all in Czech. The concert should bring together a lot of my Czech friends from camp, as well as a couple of folks from my dorm. We’ll have a fun evening of music and merriment and be up until all hours of the morning since the following day is Students Day, a national holiday commemorating the student demonstrations against Nazi occupation and also the demonstration that sparked the Velvet Revolution.

The next day, Friday the 18th, sends me down to Italy for five days. Mike has managed to get the entire week off from work, so we’ll be able to travel around and see the sights of Italy. Get in some trouble too. (Trouble in sense of adventure…no legal troubles, of course)

That’s the month of November for the most part. Excitement galore.


Equally exciting to all of this is that the Astronomical Clock, which has been closed for repairs since I got here, will finally be reopened. Two weeks ahead of schedule even. Another item off of the checklist of Typical Tourist Things to Do/See in Prague. It’s a short list, as far as Typical Tourism is concerned, but I’ve been going through it slowly so that I can fully enjoy all of it.

Speaking of which, I crossed off another item on the list last night. My suitemate Marc and I were supposed to go see an opera for our Czech Music class, but unfortunately, there was some confusion and we got to the box office shortly after it closed. Which is funny because we had meant to go to a classical music concert the day before but found out too late that the schedule had changed November 1st so the concerts start an hour and a half earlier. Which meant that he had no other choice but to go get a drink. Had a good time with him though…quite the guy. During the week break, he went to Romania by himself. To hike. In the woods. The kid is getting some good stories out of life, and I have to admire that. Always enjoy hearing his stories.

Without opera tickets, I suggested we go check out one of the Black Light Theatre shows that are relatively famous in Prague. We found a theatre off of Wenceslas Square and saw Faust. In black light. Definitely an experience. I had been curious (or maybe concerned) as to the language of the play, since it is very much a tourist destination, it could be in any number of languages and be perfectly expected. Little did I think that their answer to that problem would be to minimize the actual speech, and what speech there was would be in several languages. It was really impressive in how well it meshed into the story telling. But even without many words, it was a fun performance full of classical pantomime. I really wish I could have seen it when I was a child to enhance the magic of black light theatre.

In other news, I’ve been identified as a regular at Kava Kava Kava. They asked me to join their Kava Club since I am here all the time. I haven’t been called out like this since the folks at Convenient Deli in New Paltz started knowing what I would order before I said it. Always nice to feel welcomed.

That’s all for now. I need to get packing. Next post will have me outside the Czech Republic in a nation I never thought I would visit but am excited about more than I thought I ever could be.

Always check your tickets

Hypothetical Situation:
I am on my way down to Italy. Having enjoyed the first leg of my journey from Prague to Vienna, I am looking forward to some well deserved rest from Vienna to Rome in my reserved bed in the sleeper car. I get inside the car and find my reserved bed occupied by some strange Albanian man who is just settling down. I think that I must have the wrong bed..I look on my ticket to find that I have the right bed, but the wrong month. Oh yes…my tickets that I bought a month ago were for October 15th instead of November 15th.

This could have been me. It could be you too if you don’t check your tickets ahead of time.

Lucky for me, I made the executive decision last week to alter my travel plans. I thought that all I would need to do would be to go down to the train station and have my tickets changed to the new dates.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the train station scares me. It’s big and it’s confusing and I would much rather prefer to just do all of it online. Unfortunately I couldn’t do that and had to go down in person. Of course, with experience on my side, I went straight to the correct window. In broken english, the woman at the counter told me that I couldn’t change my reservation after the reservation date. I informed her that it was before the reservation, and she held up her side of the story. There was a bit of back and forth until she took the tickets that I had handed her and put her finger underneath the date.

I had purchased the tickets on October 13th. At some time during that mess of a day, my travel plans had somehow gone from being communicated as November 15 to October 15. Being so overjoyed to actually get the tickets on that day, I never bothered to double check the tickets.

As soon as I realized that she was, in fact, correct about the dates, I humbly apologized and took my tickets and sat down in the middle of the train station. I sat and stared. I could not believe I had never thought to double check the tickets.

The Resolution

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