Off to the homeland...

Trip Start Oct 15, 2007
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Trip End Dec 20, 2007


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Flag of Czech Republic  ,
Thursday, November 15, 2007

One of the things that has been most interesting in my travels in Eastern Europe so far is hearing about the experience of people during the communist time.  Romanians seem very willing to talk about it.  And I'm not certain but I think Romanians may have had a particularly rough time with Ceaucesceu as their leader.  And for me it's interesting to hear first-hand from people near to my age who lived during the 70s and 80s under communist control.   I'm visiting museums and reading about life during that time --- when I was growing up in the US we heard about life behind the "iron curtain" but the reality was always so distant and I must say, I was doubtful that things were as hard as portrayed in the media within the US.  But hearing people talk about being hungry, the tickets needed to buy limited amounts of food, waiting in long lines for gas and food (sometimes up to 20hrs), the limited availability of electricity (in some cases, it was only available for 2 hrs in the evening), the lack of options in material goods and in life choices, the suppression of the arts,  the monotony of industrialization and housing, and most strikingly, the fear felt in daily life.... the practical inability and inherent risk in being politically outspoken, the "disappearance" of loved ones, or at least, the disappearance of a familiar way of life.   Hearing other peoples stories is always a reality check.

Right now I'm on a bus headed for Prague.  It took a 6AM flight to Budapest followed by a 7 hr bus ride to get here...there's this perfectly nice guy sitting next to me chatting away but I can't hear a word he's saying.  Not because he's speaking another language...he's from England...but he's speaking soooo softly that I can't make out his words...at first I tell him to please speak up...that I can't hear him...I tell him a number of times...but on he goes...rattling about something and I still can't make heads or tails of it...so I say yeah...uh.hm..once in a while...he seems satisfied with a solo conversation anyway...it is a little irritating, got to admit...I'm putting on my headphones to put an end to all this...I'd rather daydream and look out the window...which is quite striking I might add.  Apparently Czech Republic is where the trees are.   All along the highway, enormous conifers...snow laden...it's so nice to see healthy thick trees...even though it appears to be a monoculture.. . industrialization and the overuse of wood has resulted in some pretty barren landscapes in Eastern Europe...but not here....it's very refreshing...
 
I've got a lovely couchsurfing host who has agreed to pick me up at the bus station.  I'm going there to meet Corey who will be spending about 10 days with me.  I only wish we had longer to be together.  Now from everything I've heard, Prague is supposed to be a beautiful historic city and I'm looking forward to checking it out.  Part of our time will be spent in Slovakia....the other half of what was once Czechoslovakia.  My father was Czechoslovakian, immigrating to the US when he was 13 yrs old I think.  So Corey and I are on our way to find some old relatives....to make connections with people I haven't seen since the 60s, when I was a teenager...who now have a child Corey's age.  We've been in email contact with them and we're both really excited....this is such a cool opportunity for us both.  But the best part will be seeing Corey get off that airplane in Prague....the flight has 3 legs and it's a long one and I just hope it works out perfectly.
 
We just passed thru Bratislava, Slovakia on our bus...I tried to use the bathroom but don't have the right currency so I'll have to wait till I change some money in Prague...As much as I think the concept of the European Union has some challenging issues in the attempt to unify countries that have such vast differences,  and as much as the Euro seems to be raising the cost of everything in those countries that have taken it on....I do appreciate the idea of unified money because it makes it so much easier on the traveler.  With the right money, I could've gone to the bathroom in Slovakia.  But Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, and Slovakia all use different money...and none of them are particularly into accepting that of their neighbor. 
 
Just went over the border to Czech....I know I have this valid passport but somehow those border police always give me a rush....like maybe something won't be exactly as they want it...but he passes through the bus, checking everyone's passport and only one guy gets pulled off.  The signs are changing...I'm back in a land where I don't understand the language at all.  It was pretty cool in Romania because their language is similar to Italian...  At least it sounds similar, rolling along the same way...it's a romance language because the Romans settled it, clearly.  So at least I had some idea what people are saying....but now here in Czech, I don't have a clue.  I don't like the feeling of not understanding...looking forward to my language experience of South America where I stand a good chance with my Spanish.
 
Just got back from wandering the city of Prague.  I think this might be the most breathtaking city I've ever seen.  Yes there are too many tourists but it's clear why.  During the day, the city is easy to negotiate...it's got great, cheap public transportation...but the real thrill happens at night when I can hardly believe the magnificence of the castle-like buildings and churches all lit up with plazas for gathering and, even in the cold, the streets vibrate with energy...there's no way I can do this city justice by writing about it...or even by photographing it.  I'd recommend you all come visit here for at least a long weekend.  It's spectacular.  And on a more practical note, the food is good and affordable...actually cheaper than either Hungary or Romania.  It's cool to look around and hear everybody speaking this language I used to hear my father and grandfather speak...I swear I can even see the genetic similarity in the faces...I'm so excited to be here...I only wish I had gone with my father while he was alive...he would've added another whole dimension to the place.
 
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