Weekend in Milevsko
My friend Eva has worked at camp for the past two years. We had a series of pleasant surprises this past summer after I told her that I would be studying in Prague. Throughout the seven weeks of camp, we found out that we would be going to be attending the same university, that we would be in the same town and less than a mile away from each other for two weeks after camp, and that once we got to Prague, our dorms would be less than a mile apart again. Quite the series of surprises.
For the first month that I was here, Eva was at home. The Czech students start class at the beginning of October, which left Prague in September devoid of Czech university students. Last weekend though, all the students moved in and this town feels a bit more friendly.
For students that are from anywhere near Prague, it is typical for the weekends to be spent at home. Eva is from a Milevsko, a town about 50 miles to the south of Prague, which translates to about 3 hours by train. This means that Eva is included in the throngs of weekend student commuters. Lucky for me, she invited me with her for her first weekend home so that I could see her hometown, meet her family, and help her carry stuff back to Prague.
Travelling outside of Prague
Eva came and picked me up at my dorm and we made our way to Hlavní Nadráží, which is the main train station of Prague (literally). We were fortunate to get to the station a half-hour early, as the train filled up to the point that the hall was crowded with people standing. Luckily, Eva and I were almost comfortably sitting in a small little cabin with 6 other people. We switched trains in Tabor, and the train from Tabor to Milevsko was a much different setup. It was much more like the trains on the LIRR, with no cabins but lots of seats. As we did this final leg of the journey, the landscape opened up just as the sun was setting and I got to watch the beauty of the Czech countryside as we rolled into it.
Eva’s mother was waiting at the train station to pick us up. After the initial warm reception that her mother offered, Eva turned and introduced me. At this point, I should mention that the entire weekend, I was one of three people who spoke any English. Eva’s mother was not one of them. She said hello to me, and I said Dobre Den (Good Day, a generic greeting) in return. She gave a laugh at the American speaking Czech. Not laughing at me, just a happy laugh that I knew some Czech.
From the train station, we went straight to Eva’s grandmother’s home. Her grandmother was incredibly sweet, just as a grandmother should be. Sitting on the couch was Martina, Eva’s sister. Martina had worked at a summer camp in New York for a couple years and as such, knew quite a bit of English. So I had my second ally in the quest for lingual understanding. Both Eva and Martina played dutiful translators for me all weekend, which was especially helpful because their mother was incredibly friendly and wanted to know all about me.
After taking in some Czech television and eating what I thought was to be dinner, we went back to Eva’s apartment after a short tour through Milevsko. Shortly after getting inside, we ate what actually turned out to be dinner. It was at this point that I learned that I would be eating a lot this weekend. Of course, no amount of forewarning could have prepared me for the actual amount that I would be eating. Not that I am complaining in the least.
As an aside, in addition to some of the best food, I had two of the best nights sleep that I have had since I got here. The beds in the dorms are more like uncomfortable couches than beds. They are very firm, and the pillows provided for us are useless as they are. I have mine folded in half under a small pillow I had brought from home. All in all, the beds are functional, but not in any way comfortable. Especially compared to the beds that I slept in my two nights in Milevsko. Much more like home. From what I hear from people that have gone travelling and stayed in hostels around Eastern Europe, the uncomfortable beds are just a plague of the Charles University housing system. Regardless, for those reading this that are planning on coming over, I would advise you to bring at least a pillow of some sorts. If you have room in your suitcase, I might also advise an egg-crate, mattress pad, and maybe a comforter. Not to say that the beds are unbearable, but they could definitely use some cozying up.
After a great night’s sleep, we had breakfast and drove south to Eva’s other grandparent’s house. When we got to the house, Eva’s grandfather was working in his shop. When he was younger, he was a fully functional blacksmith, making anything that needed to be made. However, now that the demand for metalworks has diminished, not to mention his increased age, Eva’s grandfather generally only makes horseshoes, nails and hooks. While it’s a small selection of products, it was incredibly interesting to watch him go about his work. I had seen blacksmiths work before but it has always been more of a novelty presentation, as if it was just a historical recreation used for educational purposes. Here was a man doing his honest day’s work in the small shop which he has maintained for decades. Tour groups didn’t come by to take pictures. It was wonderful to watch him work.
After watching him work for a while, we went back to the house, passing a chicken coop and lots of rabbits along the way. After the rest of the family showed up and I had met Eva’s father and brother, we had lunch, which consisted of dumplings, sauce, and our choice of chicken or rabbit. I had never had rabbit before, but I was glad to have the opportunity. The entire meal was delicious, as were all the other meals that I had throughout the weekend. It seemed like every time I turned around, I was being offered more food. It was delightful.
After lunch, Eva’s five year old brother, Adam, asked me to play a game with him (at least, that’s what Eva told me he said). We played a soccer boardgame that I had not seen before. The board is over 40 years old and all the players are on little springs and the field is indented around the players so that the ball will always wind up next to one player. Very cool game.
My entire experience with Adam was sort of a humbling one. It’s one thing to walk around the city and hear all manners of people speaking Czech, but it is always a different matter entirely when a child is speaking more fluidly than you are. Thinking about it logically, it isn’t all that impressive, since he is five years old, and I wouldn’t think a five year old speaking English would be anything remarkable, but just hanging out with a five year old who communicates with the people around him better than I do… it’s humbling. But we played and had fun without the use of complex phrases or even full sentances. Well, he may have said some full sentances, but I was definitely keeping to the simple things. It was nice playing with him, since I felt like a little kid, communicating through gestures and exaggerated actions. It was fun.
From there, it was off to the weekend house. I’ve no clue if this is a typical thing in the Czech Republic, but Eva’s family has their apartment in Milevsko, and what they refer to as a weekend house outside of town. It’s nothing fancy, but it is cute and situated in a beautiful area. They typically spend their weekends there during the summer and close it up once the weather turns colder and things pick up back in town as far as school and work go. This was the last weekend they would spend there, and I was glad to be part of it.
Next to the house was nothing. Well, nothing in a Long Island sense. Just a big open field, with a forest off to one side and mountains off in the distance. If this had been Long Island, there would surely be several hundred large houses squeezed into that space. But instead, I was treated to a beautiful view of the western sky through pure, unadulterated nature. We sat at the kitchen table as the sun started to set and we watched the sky transform through the kitchen window. I couldn’t stay inside long though, and had to go out and take pictures. The panorama at the top of this post is made up of some of those. That was the view from the house.
When the last bit of light was gone from the sky, I could see more stars than I have ever seen. Light pollution from everything seems to invade the sky from all sides back homee. But it’s funny how even in Prague I can look out over the city and see stars. This is no small feat, since most of the historical buildings are illuminated at night. They’re doing something right that we are just missing.
Sunday was spent finishing things up and heading back. We headed back to Milevsko and I helped Eva pack her things and we got on a train out of town around 6:30. We got back into Prague at about 10:00 after some minor delays where I fully appreciated Eva’s company, since all the announcements about the delays were only in Czech or German. I would have been lost without her.
It was wonderful to spend the weekend with a Czech family and see a part of the Czech Republic that I would not have seen otherwise. I had only been to the touristy places, and will probably only really see the big cities and tourist destinations of the rest of Europe, so I greatly appreciated the opportunity to go somewhere normal and just relax and have fun.