Monthly Archives: September 2008

prague.

so a lot has happened in the past month in which i’ve shamefully neglected to post…well, partly from neglect and partly from a never-ending lack of steady internet. trips to tallinn (estonia), helsinki, amsterdam, brugge (belgium), and prague along with moving to london – kind of the whole reason i’m here in the first place. but in the fashion of my life right now, i’m going to go a little out of order and write on prague as my re-entry into blogging.

the trip to prague was perhaps the most spontaneous i’ve ever taken. emily, kim and i arrived in london on friday,  the 15th of august, and a week later we all had jobs (a celebratory moment i will discuss later). the next friday, the 22nd, we all arrived back at our flat after a day full of getting things done in the city. emily and i were due to leave the next day for a BUNAC-sponsored weekend trip to amsterdam and brugge. all of our jobs, however, weren’t starting until at least the first of september. earlier in the week, i had suggested going to paris before we started work. apparently last-minute eurostar tickets are not a good idea (i’m talking in the hundreds…of pounds.) on a whim i said, “emily, have you ever been to prague?” three hours later, we were in mcdonald’s using free wi-fi and booking tickets and a hostel. 
we went to amsterdam (post coming soon, i promise…), came back late monday night, i went to work for one day that tuesday, and wednesday morning we boarded a plane for prague. the utter spontaneity of the whole affair would become a theme on the trip. we got to our hostel around 7pm wednesday night and from that moment, until the moment we boarded a plane for london saturday afternoon, i was in love with the city. why? let me break it down for you…
beauty.
after dropping our bags off at the hostel wednesday night, we started off for old town – always the first place i like to go in a new city – but an hour later, we realized we were horribly lost. we were the kind of lost that in complete loss of hope, you begin to make the streets you’re actually on look like the streets you think you’re on from your map. “well, if you look at the road that way, it could curve to the left…” yes, if you were in prague that wednesday evening, you might have seen us standing in the middle of the sidewalk, turning our map to all sides and angles, desperate for direction. i have to say, it stung my pride. a lot. i take great pride in my navigational skills and my ability to read a map. thankfully, a kind english-speaking couple were able to re-direct us and walked with us to a metro station. after we were finally set back on course, we saw just how lost we were – we had wandered so far we weren’t even on our map of the city. starving and a little weary from almost two hours of walking, we stumbled along the cobblestone streets in search of old town square. with every match between our map and the streets we turned onto, our hearts leapt a little higher. and then…

talk about a welcome sight. this breath-taking building was the first thing we saw as we turned into the square. emily and i couldn’t even walk, we just stood, almost reverently, in complete and utter awe of a) finally reaching our destination and b) the unbelievable beauty of the place. within ten minutes, i was in love with prague – the churches, the architecture, the alleyways – everything was beyond all expectation. we dined outside at an italian pizzeria, followed by gelato from a street vendor. it was perfect.
friendship.
thursday night, after an exhausting day of walking tours and rambles about the city, we picked up dinner at tesco – our new favorite european grocery store! – and brought it back to our hostel to eat in their kitchen. we ate with our roommate, damien, an argentinian traveling europe alone. he spoke hardly any english and we spoke barely enough spanish to pass a spanish 1 high school exam. needless to say, it was a pretty awkward dinner filled with your standard questions and uncomplicated answers – no real “conversation,” if you will. after dinner, emily went to take a shower and i got online to try and reply to weeks-old facebook messages and wall posts. a little while later, the hostel receptionist brought four more people to our room – two guys and two girls. i looked up from my laptop with dismay – besides damien, who kept to himself, emily and i had the eight-bed dorm room to ourselves. not for long! our new roommates came in – again, speaking only spanish. they were from spain, as we later learned. i didn’t say much, except for answering one of the guys when he asked if a bed was “libre.” (“si, si, es libre…” was my feeble response five minutes after i finally understood what he was asking.) damien talked with them for a while and i sat quietly on my laptop. emily came in later, obviously taken back with a towel wrapped around her head! she started to speak with them in the little spanish she knew and i tried to do the same.  they were very friendly, though, and very patient with our piece-meal spanish. then they asked us if we wanted to go out with them for a “quick drink.” i should’ve known there is no such thing as a “quick” drink when it comes to the spanish!  
we walked down the street to a little bar and sat around a battered wooden table together – emily and myself, the four spanish travelers, damien, and a czech man who happened to be fluent in spanish. now i have a hard enough time talking in english in those kinds of situations – what with the blaring music and all – let alone a language i haven’t really spoken for almost three years. thankfully i have a good basic knowledge of spanish that i think will always stick with me, even if it is on the spanish 1 level, but it came in handy. 
the night was amazing. totally unexpected. who knew emily and i would connect so well with four people from spain? to me, it’s a huge testament to the power of human connection, despite language barriers. we talked about traveling, about music, about football – european, of course – and about our bad spanish and their poor english. it was definitely tricky at times – i’m afraid i gave them many a blank stare – which they even joked me for! but it only augmented the times when i did understand them and especially when i got one of their jokes! we then left and went to a second bar, very similar, sitting around another wooden table and just talking. i especially connected with one of the guys, victor, who called me “la jefa” (“the chief”) when we left the bar and i pulled out my map to find our way home. we played fusball in the bar – i lost, sadly – and victor taught emily how to flamenco dance! i’ve never enjoyed myself more. as i write this, it’s hard to describe what was so magical about the night. maybe i’m just so amazed that people who barely spoke the same language could have so much fun together. emily and i couldn’t stop smiling about it the next day, thinking – “did we really do that??” yet again, it was so spontaneous and unplanned on our part, but so incredible. 

heritage.
when emily and i decided we were going to prague, i mentioned to her that i have always wanted to travel to uhersky brod – where my czech ancestors immigrated from in the early 1900s (weirdly enough, i am 25% czech.) she immediately took to the idea – i couldn’t believe it. when we reached the prague airport, a lady at the info centre explained the right bus and train routes that we might take to reach the town – situated four hours from the capital! despite the distance, emily was very much in favor of the plan, so friday morning, we woke early and walked to the main train station in prague. even though there were a few issues with getting the ticket (which even led to emily asking one station attendant, “habla espanol?” after our attempts to speak with them in english had failed…), we caught the train just in time and were soon headed towards uhersky brod. once we had delved deep enough into the czech countryside, we could see many of the train stations were nothing to speak of – located far from town, small gray buildings covered in graffiti – certainly nothing to travel four hours for. i won’t lie and say i wasn’t worried – i had no idea what to expect.
what would uhersky brod be like? how would we get to the town – surely they couldn’t have taxis? my anticipation – as well as my nerves – were great. as it turned out, i had absolutely nothing to worry about. the station itself in uhersky brod was charming – two stories, painted brown with white decorative elements and patterns. before we left the station, we bought our return ticket – this time, i communicated with the attendant by writing “uhersky brod –> praha, 18:00?” on a piece of paper. whatever works, right? she got the picture and with our tickets in hand, we had about five hours to explore the town. the entire day, i kept repeating “thank you, God!”
thank you that the town was only 100 metres away from the train station, up a short flight of stairs…

thank you for the information centre, where i found lots of brochures about the town and region – in english! – and bought adorable souvenirs for myself and my grandmother whose parents immigrated from  czechoslovakia…
thank you for the beautiful catholic churches my ancestors probably attended and the j.a.comenius museum  and the random japanese garden and the gorgeous vistas and hidden spaces and paths…
the entire day was such an unexpected blessing – a worthy end to a daring adventure. i was just so grateful there was something “there” – as emily said, it could have easily been one of the many run-down towns we passed, where we would have spent the day sitting on a bench saying, “okay, my turn to watch our stuff while you go to the bathroom.” but it wasn’t, by any means! it was beautiful – full of history, both nationally and to me personally – quiet, small, understated, yet so epic. i couldn’t believe i was there. ever since sixth grade, when i poured over the family genealogy my great-great uncle george wrote, i knew i had to visit uhersky brod. and now…i have. it was such a momentous, meaningful visit and emily’s excitement as she took in the town with me meant all the more. we wandered through back streets, bought dinner from a grocery store and ate in the town hall square, walked along the old wall of the city and basked in the richness of history and heritage…
…a beautiful end to a beautiful adventure…
here’s what you have to look forward to:
posts on tallinn
helsinki
amsterdam & brugge
and…
LIFE IN LONDON.

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