I am in Prague.
Finally, after a somewhat harrowing day yesterday in transit. My hotel-roommate had to get on a bus to the airport at 4:15, and even though my shuttle didn’t leave until 6:15, I didn’t go back to sleep after she left. I got on the bus at 6:15, but we didn’t get all the luggage loaded until about 7:00, so more sitting. We got to Heathrow quickly, though, and drove past the brewery that makes London’s Pride.
I was quite amazed at how easy it is to fly when you are not in America. As we were walking up to security, I untied my boots so I could take them off quickly — the security lady looked at me like I was crazy and told me to keep them on. They set the alarms off in Pittsburgh a few days ago, so I looked at her skeptically, but I walked through with no problem. I didn’t have to take my laptop out of my backpack, and they didn’t look at my passport, ever, until right before I boarded the plane. They also don’t assign gates to flights there until right before they leave, so everyone sits in this big waiting area with tons of shops and restaurants and kiosks and watches these little TVs to check gate assignments. Much different than flying in the States, for sure.
We sat in the plane for a good hour before we actually took off, but the flight to Munich was fast, I dozed off, and the landing was one of the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. (I have been impressed as all get-out by British Airways, all around.) The Munich airport is really cool — lots of neat, clean lines, tons of open space and glass, very German. I think I’d like to go back to Germany at some point in the semester; Berlin is close by train and would be cool to see. There was a big yellow Mercedes bus there to pick us up, so we piled in and hit the Autobon — the first highway; it still has no speed limit. We sat at the border of Germany and the CZ for about an hour while the officials checked all our papers. That was a pain.
But the first stop we made once we got into the CZ was in Pilsen, at the Pilsner Urquell brewery, of course!! They served us tall mugs of fantastic Pilsner with about 3 inches of head, and we had our choice of authentic Czech dinners — I had beef sirloin in a vegetable cream sauce with Bohemian dumplings (which are actually like slices of rich, heavy white bread.) It was delicious. We got back into the bus and were finally headed to Praha.
We got to our dorm, the Kolej Komenskeho, around 9:30. Waited in a big line to check in, and got to my room on the second floor of this old dorm building. My roommate is a girl named Kathryn, from Long Island, who is studying elementary/special education at the University of Rhode Island. I was a bit overwhelmed when I got here, after a long day of traveling, and coming into a barren dorm/apartment that definitely made me feel like I was in post-communist Eastern Europe. I called Mom and Dad with one minute left on my phone card after connection fees and pretty much just spent it crying. But Kathryn and I put up pictures on the walls, moved our stuff in, and it felt a bit more homey.
A door to our suite opens from the hallway, there is a toilet to the left in a little cubby (it flushes by pulling a string above your head), and there is a hallway that leads to our room. We have a room with two beds (they look like beds, but they just have these long church-pew-like cushions on them). We have two cabinets stacked on top of each other that we use as dressers, two desks with drawers, two chairs, and three big windows. Outside our door is a little kitchen-type area with lots of cabinets, a mini-fridge, a hot-plate, and a sink. Also in that hallway are four floor-to-ceiling (the ceiling is probably 12 feet high) wardrobes, for us and our 2 suitemates. To the left is their bedroom, and to the right is a tiled room with the shower and sink. The shower is interesting — it is just a free-swinging hose with a nozzle at the end, so you have to hold it the whole time you’re in there so it doesn’t fly all over and spray everything, and you have to turn it off every few minutes so the drain can drain. But the water is hot. So, it is an interesting setup, to say the least. I’m calling it home for the next 3 months.
I was feeling pretty disheveled when I got here, kind of didn’t know what to do with myself. I used a phone card they gave us to call out, but Mom and Dad and Jut weren’t there. So Zac and I decided to go for a walk; he wanted to go to an ATM to get some crowns and by cigarettes, so we found the nearest one, and I walked off some of my nervous energy. We ran into some other people from the program, and a kid named Dylan, from Illinois, joined us to find cigarettes. We finally stumbled upon a little cafe that sold Marlboros — Zac got a pack of Lights and a lighter for 77kc, less than $3. After that we just kept walking, and stumbled upon Prague Castle, which turns out to be about 10 minutes from our dorm. It is really amazing — it makes me think of communist Russia; a mass of people gathered on the flat stone floor, their cheers echoing off the tall walls (come on, it’s almost poetic — I’m trying for that irony. . .). Within its walls is an incredible gothic cathedral with endless turrets and creepy gargoyles of screaming ghost-women. It was so cool that everything was still open at 10:30 at night, and it was really great to walk around at that time not only because it was really eerie, but because there weren’t many tourists around. We sat there for quite a while, just enjoying the solitude, the amazing cathedral, the night sky, the lights of the city across the river. I needed that, just to feel a bit more calm here, like this will be a bit more manageable; I needed to see pretty-Prague, not crazy or ghetto-Prague. It was a nice welcome.
We walked aimlessly for a while, down cobblestone streets with high walls and houses on them, winding around and up hills, until we got our bearings again and found our way back to the dorm. I finished unpacking and felt better about being here. It’s culture shock, for sure. It will be better when I learn some of the language — people say a lot of English is spoken in Prague, but all the street signs/names, signs at stores, billboards, signs on Trams, etc are in Czech. I haven’t seen or heard much English, so far; I will be much more comfortable when I can understand some of the Czech.
And there’s a strange kind of loneliness — a twinge of that loneliness that persists even when you’re surrounded by people, because you feel like you don’t know/trust/like any of them; but there’s something more, something related to being an outsider, probably, something having to do with gaining perspective on the country you come from, knowing how other people think about you because that’s where you’re from. Probably also something about not understanding the words the letters you see make, sometimes not being able to identify the letters themselves. It will take some getting used to. But it is beautiful here; I’m sure there will be moments like seeing the Castle last night, which will be what keeps me going.
Slept well last night, on my church-pew-bed. Got up and took a shower, as described earlier. Went down to breakfast, which is served every morning for us, in a cute little room in the dorm basement. Little Czech ladies put the food out for us and bustled about. There were doughnuts, bread, rolls, jam, lots of different lunch meats and cheeses, cut up tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers, yogurt (that tasted more like cream cheese), fruit, watered-down Tang, water, coffee and tea. Not bad.
So, we are meeting in the hotel lobby soon and are going to a brewery for lunch. Then we are getting a tour of downtown Prague, places we need to know about like the post office and AIFS office and the nearest Tesco’s, which is supposed to be the “best” place to get groceries in Prague — oh, British Empire. I’m hoping to change some of my American dollars into crowns, and hopefully go out tonight, get some beer or wine, get more acclimated. It will be nice to see the city in the daylight, since it was difficult last night to get my bearings. Viva, Praha.