The Past 6 Weeks! [A Beginning]

Trip Start Aug 02, 2013
1
Trip End Ongoing

Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Friday, August 2, 2013

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
 - Samuel Clemens
 


 
So I'm finally getting around to setting up a blog as I travel around the other side of the world. If you're reading this, I want you to know that I appreciate your time, and because of that I will try to make these entries as fresh and fascinating as I possibly can.

I wanted to start this blog earlier, but I've honestly been very busy, and when I find the time to do something more grounded, I just can't be bothered to write. But I'm writing now. And uploading a whole lot of pictures.

Let's get started.

 
August 1st, 2013
 
I hopped on a plane from Baltimore-Washington to Prague, connecting once in Frankfurt, Germany. This is the first time I've ever traveled overseas, and only the second time I've ever left the country (and the first time was over a decade ago to Canada on a cruise ship... yeah). So, with that context in mind, I was pretty *stoked* to be doing this. Hence some of the photos.

The flight from Baltimore to Frankfurt was pretty fascinating. Like I said, I'd never traveled overseas, not even on holiday (vacation), so all of my life experience when it comes to traveling is purely American-based. Sitting around people who don't necessarily know English, or at the most very little English, is pretty cool. Walking to my seat, I was greeted by a few very attractive, blonde, German flight attendants who spoke mostly in German. That was the first moment everything started to become real. 

 
August 2nd
 
The flight was about 8 hours, but boy did it feel like a lot longer than that. Despite most of the plane appearing to be foreigners, I wound up sitting next to an older lady from Tennessee who was moving to Germany for a good 5 years or so. She was a major talker. The good part was that she had a great sense of humor, so we laughed continuously. The bad part was that she never stopped talking, and I kinda wanted to stop after, I dunno, a few hours, so suddenly the flight both felt short and long at the same time. Likewise, due to the timezone difference (6 hours ahead), I couldn't fall asleep right away (despite it being a night flight), and I wound up pulling an all-nighter. I landed in Frankfurt and I basically slept-walked to my connecting flight to Prague.

Landing in Prague, I had arranged to be picked up by a native Czech gentleman who knew a decent amount of English, but he - unlike the lady on the plane ride over - was not a talker whatsoever. He drove me from the airport to my hotel, which took about 20 minutes, and the whole ride was pretty much in silence. It was a bit of a cold welcome to the country, but that changed quickly once I arrived at my hotel.

See, if there's one thing I absolutely missed upon getting to that hotel, it was a cooler temperature. An unusual heat wave had struck Prague throughout the first week of August, and I was right in the middle of it. That cold welcome quickly become a warm, comfy one as I soon passed out upon getting into my hotel room. I slept like a baby. However, for that entire first week I really, really, really missed having air conditioning. A/C is something I don't take for granted anymore. If you're in the States right now and you're reading this, you're most likely in air conditioning. Well, sad to say, A/C doesn't really exist much here. And for the most part, that's not actually a problem. But most places in Prague (and apparently Europe?) don't have A/C, so if it does happen to get hot, you will get sweaty... and you will deal with it. 

But after that first week in August, having no A/C wasn't an issue. It was just during that first week that hell was unleashed. Anywhere I walked (which was everywhere!) I was lined in sweat, and my clothes were damp. All-in-all it was a pretty dehydrating time.

After I left that hotel, I took the tram and found myself at the flat I had payed to stay in for 5 weeks during the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training course. There, I met my four awesome roommates for the duration of the course, each of them bringing a little bit of something different with them. To be completely candid, I gotta say that that flat, and those roommates, were basically my rock for that first month or so, and I'm really glad I got to stay with each of them for as long as we had together. I shared a flat with two American girls (Jill - from The OC, Jalaire - from Utah & Texas), Maria from Barcelona, Spain, and Helen from Bristol, England. A little bit of everywhere in some sense. All of them were really cool, calm, fun, and easy to be around, and those 5 weeks went by pretty fast, largely in part thanks to them. Seriously, if you guys are reading this, you're awesome.

During those 5 weeks, though, we attended the OxfordTEFL course day-in and day-out, and many of those days were fairly stressful. I personally slept terribly. Between the initial heat, to the timezone difference, to the sound of the streets outside my window, to the major makeover of my daily schedule in general, I just did not sleep soundly most nights. I actually went out and bought a nice pillow (my largest personal investment here yet) to try and remedy this, and I'm glad I did. I like my pillow. 

The course itself was a quick 4 weeks. We had several assignments to do, and at times we were pretty confused as to what exactly needed to get done, but overall we all passed it and were awarded our certificates. If you wanna ask me anything specific about the course feel free to message me here or on Facebook - I have no problem giving advice/being frank.

Most of my actual stress came from the notion of trying to settle down and A) Decide on if I truly wanted to live in Prague, or go elsewhere, B) Then find a flat to live in, C) Then acquire a Visa, and D) Find a job. It's one thing to look at some destination across the world and say "Yeah, I'll move there!" and it's another to be staring at a large sum of money, already in said country, realizing that you need to spend all of it to make that move a cemented reality. What I mean is: When you start to add the prices of A + B + C + D + other stuff together, actually deciding to let go of that sum takes some executive decision-making. Did I really want to fork over all that cash to live here for at least 9 months or so? I mean, I wanted to be here, but did I want to live here? Talking to many other TEFLer's, it seemed like this was the biggest roadblock toward actually staying here. So, basically, if you do choose to be in my shoes at some point, be prepared for that realization to hit you like a cobblestone wall.

Speaking of cobblestones, I need to bring this up at some point while writing this, so let's do it right now. Some of the bigger differences between where I'm from (Northeast USA) and Eastern Europe. Whether good or bad, these things stand out to me.

1. Cobblestones. They are everywhere. Everywhere! It's charming and not much like what I can remember from back home. I know we have cobblestones, but it doesn't make up 90% of the ground. Fun games to try and play are "Cobblestones are lava" and "High-Heels". You cannot win either game, but they can give you something to do while aimlessly walking the streets! High-Heels are great because everyone becomes a baby giraffe, and dangit those creatures are adorable.

2. Dogs. Czech people love their dogs. Especially little dogs. The other night I was riding the tram home, and I stood next to a woman who was sitting in one of the seats. For a good 10 minutes I stood there waiting for my stop to come, completely unaware that in her purse was a tiny little dog poking its head out staring at me. The moment I noticed the little guy I was pretty shocked but had a good chuckle. Every fourth creature I see on the streets is a little dog.

3. The tipping percentage is a lot lower and not nearly as demanded as it is back in the States. This is a great thing.

4. Beer is quite literally cheaper than water. You will save money ordering a beer over a water at many establishments. Likewise, speaking of beverages, orange juice is twice the cost of iced tea. I don't know why, but regardless, I love iced tea. This is another small victory.

5. My view on entering a McDonald's is way better than it was back home. Here in Prague, the prices are a tad bit higher, but the atmosphere is so much better than anything back in the States. I wandered into one looking for free WiFi, and ultimately enjoyed my time just sitting there. They serve you your food! They have outlets everywhere! They even have mood lighting. And glass walls.

6. Prague is a gorgeous, friendly, safe city. If at any point you ever said to me "Billy, I'll definitely come visit you at some point!" - yeah, you need to get on that. It's also a fairly cheap city, so you have little to lose, and so much to gain. Especially compared to DC.


Anyway, moving on.
 
Beyond some of the doubt I brought up before, my experience here has been really good. I did choose to stay here (signed a lease for 8 months in a pretty snazzy flat), but before I did that I traveled to a lot of really cool places in and around Prague. And seeing a lot of these places, and meeting a lot of its people, is really what being here is about. 

First off, by the end of the first week, I went and visited Karlstejn Castle, a location about 45 minutes outside of the city. I went with my friend Helen, hopping aboard my first ever train ride (yep, I've never been on a train before). We came across a small tavern right outside the town leading to the castle, and as we sat down to eat a small brunch, it began pouring all around us. Thankfully we were stooped under a canopy so we didn't get wet, but the sight of watching the mountains and hilltops around us while sitting in this little foreign pub was really, really cool. The town right below the castle was something out of a Disney movie, only it felt like the real deal instead of a mockup. And the castle itself was pretty fascinating as well. The tour guide got a laugh out of me bringing up the fact that this was the first time I'd ever been in an actual castle. So much history in the making!

Week 2 and 3 and 4 came and went as we visited a tower near the center of Prague ("The Powder Tower"). I walk by this tower nearly every day now, but at the time I had no idea where we were within the city. And this is another great thing about Prague that a city like DC just doesn't give: you get amazing views of the areas in so many different parts of the city. I'm constantly wow'd by the sights I've seen. Prague is not a flat location, which is a great feature that I wish DC had going for it. I can't recall ever really being wow'd by the panoramic views of DC. 

On top of being on top of Prague, we also visited the Old Town Square (another location I now frequent often), the Astronomical Clock, several pubs and [somewhat sketch] night clubs ("discotheques"), numerous parks, several elaborate churches, monasteries, and graveyards, a senate palace, a Vietnamese Sapa, and ultimately just tons and tons of new sites, sounds, and events, always meeting new people with every next venture. Day in and day out.


By the end of the course I had decided to stick around town largely in part to my two new flatmates - Page and Shawna - both of whom agreed to split expenses with me. We're all 'Merican, and we're all kinda in the same boat, so having each other around is kind of a blessing. At least someone understands my love of watching American football every Sunday. That's another thing that I find fascinating: foreign cultures and accents. I've spent countless hours comparing American culture, as well as my lexicon and pronunciation of words, to those of others. I imagine everyone does this everywhere when you mix cultures, but hey. I can see why. Between one of many English accents, to Czech, to New Zealand, Spain, Irish, and even Welsh, it's all pretty fun. I've met a lot of good people from a lot of different places in the world over the past 6 weeks, and I'm grateful for that.

At some point I intend to travel to nearby countries, though I don't know which yet. I will have to travel to Austria for my Visa, and I will probably visit Munich for Oktoberfest in a few weeks. Otherwise, though, I dunno! Maybe Switzerland? Romania? The UK?! Cardiff.

Until then, enjoy browsing through all the lovely pictures and videos below!

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Comments

Katie Bauman on

Thanks for sharing all of this Billy. I'm so jealous of everything you are doing. Have the best time ever.

Jerry on

Thanx for sharing. I hope it's all you wish for and more.

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