Tag Archives: Czech Republic

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Where Everybody (Maybe) Knows Your Name

I’ve written before about my love for traveling solo- meeting other solo travelers and making them your best friend for 24-48 hours, swapping life stories, making future plans to live together.

It’s been better in some cities than others. I had no friends in Vienna. Budapest was pretty solo. Krakow was redeemed by Charles, who had us sharing a pair of iPod headphones, bopping down a street listening to traditional Polish music before a smooth transition to Eminem.

I repeat, will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

With Erin gone for Germany already, I had to make a new friend. Luckily, my new friend moved in to the bottom bunk next to mine. Alana. She’s gorgeous. She has studied wine, journalism, acting… She’s been in commercials in Brazil.

I might as well be a baby-faced bum next to her.

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Actually, as telling life stories go, you always get to love, and man… To hear “I’ve been very unlucky, I think there may be no hope for me.”

Well then, you can find me in line for the nearest nunnery.

Last night, we went up to the hotel bar and watched a girl from our dorm room perform. She had, possibly, one of the best, rawest, most amazing voices I’ve ever heard. Just her and her guitar, and Champagne Supernova, Give Me One Reason To Stay Here, Use Somebody, and Everlong.

I’m just surrounded by super cool girls.

We met up with two other Brazilians, all who could speak way better Portuguese but spoke English for me, and we went out for an awesome dinner where I ate no overpriced stale pretzels.

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This morning I practiced being a tour guide, and got Alana, Rodrigo and I back to the Lennon wall. It had a lot of new graffiti on it, and in my opinion, Erin and I caught it on a better day.

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But oh, to do a photo shoot with a model.

Her jumping shot…

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Mine. Sweet scarf and socks, yeah?

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Natural.

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“Smile like you’re laughing” goober.

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Next to experiencing new things, my favorite part of this trip is watching other people experience other new things. Like Rodrigo, who had never seen a Mallard before. He’s also never seen snow. “Childhood dreams.”

Ah, perspective.

Goodbye, Prague, give me an address I can send you love letters to until I return. If I ever disappear on my readers, go ahead and check here first.

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“Do you ever dream, Forrest, about who you’re gonna be?”

Who I’m gonna be?
Yeah.
Aren’t – aren’t I gonna be me?

I ran across the center of Prague in the pouring rain today because I had a book idea.

I want this life forever.

The past few days have been spent with new friends in an amazing city. I’ve been up and down as many side streets as I can find, I’ve had beef goulash in three different restaurants, I know where the secondhand stores are and I can take new streets and still get home.

Erin has become a fantastic travel buddy. We’ve now spent three days together and are meeting up in Berlin, most likely tomorrow. The past two nights, we’ve gone out to dinner with her roommates, Wade and Reid, two Canadian guys who met only a week ago. We’ll find them in Berlin, as well. The week has been full of laughter, new experiences, shares stories, and a lot of goofiness.

Me: I bet you boys don’t even remember my name.
Boys: It’s Janae.
Erin: You want to know how they remember?
Me: Aw man, you’re going to say something about Forrest Gump, aren’t you.
Reid: Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.

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This city has been enlightening, invigorating, fun, serious… Educating. Yesterday, Erin and I went to the Jewish Museum in Prague – really a collection of synagogues and exhibits, mostly of the devastation of WWII. The Pinkas Synagogue is now a memorial to Holocaust victims. Every wall is hand-painted with names of victims, listed by surname, then head of family and the rest of the victims, with their dates of death, or, worse if it’s possible, just question marks. Upstairs is a permanent exhibit of children’s artwork done at Terezín, a prison a small amount of victims, of adults mostly educated thinkers who couldn’t simply disappear without a trace, were transferred to prior to concentration camps. There, a teacher encouraged some of the children to draw and write of happy thoughts, home, family. At one point, she hid away these pieces of art, numbering more than 4,000, in luggage, where they were found later. Most of the children who drew these pieces – of fairytales, families, homes and rainbows – did not survive.

It was emotional, intense, heartbreaking to see.

We walked the Old Jewish Cemetery established in the 15th century. The population had once been given only a small amount of land, in the Jewish ghetto, for a cemetery. When it filled, no more land was granted and more earth was brought in for burials. The cemetery, taking only five minutes to lap at a slow pace, is now elevated meters above the main road, as layers of buried bodies rest. Each time new earth was laid, the headstones were brought to the top. They overlap, crowd and tilt every direction. 12,000 headstones shove together.

I overheard a little girl talking to her dad in the cemetery. He responded to a question I didn’t hear with “well sweetie, everyone has to die at some point, you know that.”

“Yes, Daddy, but didn’t the Nazis kill some of these people?”

“No sweetheart… Not here. The victims of the Nazis didn’t get to have headstones.”

The little girl didn’t respond, but I started crying.

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Today, I wandered town again, solo this time, in the pouring rain. I spent two hours at Café Louvre, where thinkers such as Kafka and Einstein frequented. I had no brilliant ideas, so I wrote down thoughts I already had. Putting thoughts in ink always makes them seem more permanent, or certain, to me.

I searched for a place for a cheap haircut – to trim the ends, not to style – but I couldn’t find one for less than $25. I can’t wait to cut my hair tonight. Scissors were much cheaper for a haircut where style doesn’t matter. The search for a cheap salon got me across town, where the rain poured down. I considered seeking shelter at the post office I was next to, but you don’t want to hang out at a Prague post office really anymore than you would one at home, so I walked in the rain.

I got to Bohemian Bagel, which is exactly as non-Prague, every bit New York, as it sounds. I sat with my whole wheat, buttered and honeyed, bagel and thought I’d read Catch-22. I stopped at the desk in front, where the free tour company has a hub, to ask where most of the tour guides are from – you just have to be a native English speaker. She said they’re always looking for guides.

Don’t be surprised, friends. Again, you’re welcome to come, too.

And then, just halfway through my second mug of bottomless coffee, which I intended to milk for all $2 it was worth, I had an idea, and I sprinted home, as fast as I could, minus the part where I made sure to not go down any streets I’d been down before.

So, that’s all for now, off to write my book.

With love, peace and rainbows in Prague…

JCD

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“And then while I’m away, I’ll write home everyday…”

And I’ll send all my lovin’ to you.

That’s the only Beatles song I can play with chords… I think it’s a good pick, if there’s only going to be one.

Erin and I left the hostel/hotel at 9:30a.m. It’s 6:40p.m. and we’ve just returned from an amazing day. A warning to all loves, I’m pretty set on saving up and spending my 25th year in Prague. You’re welcome to join. Erin said make sure there’s a couch to share, and then said “hell, just get a big enough apartment, I’ll buy you the couch.” Even on a cold, rainy day… It’s just perfect.

I’ve never had a reaction to a city like I have had in Prague. It was instant and it hasn’t faded. Three days in, three to go, I love it here. Every direction you look, every alley you go down, there’s something to see. I really, really would stay.

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I don’t know which purchase today I was more excited about – the fact that I bought a jar of peanut butter (mmm) or that I found a scarf covered in ducks (HECK YES!).

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Erin says Paris doesn’t have anything on Prague. While I know I’ll love Paris… I can’t imagine feeling this way about it. I mean, just look at the statues! Robots, and “Pissing Boys” outside the Kafka Museum and upside down horses! And (awesome) terribly named museums.

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But as if Prague hadn’t been wonderful enough, nothing, nothing this entire trip has been as mind-blowing as the Lennon wall. Had you ever told me I’d spend an hour looking at 50m of wall, I’d have said you were crazy.

Erin: “I want to be proposed to here.”

It’d be pretty perfect.

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Pretzel Woes

I took my new shoes out for a walk around the city tonight. They’re just as good as I’d hoped they would be. My uncle told me the best souvenirs would be the ones I need. Well, I’m in love with my super-flared secondhand jeans from Hungary. My faded black winter coat with the pockets that zip down instead of up, constantly confusing me, will be my jacket when I’m home for as long as it lasts. These shoes… Just adding to the list of best purchases ever. Pretty soon I’m ditching both pairs of unattractive cargo capris and finding pair of jeans number two. I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens, because I know that is what we all look for in a travel blog.

Day two in Prague. Booked, and paid, for two more nights here, for five total in hostel heaven. Traveling is making me appreciate the smallest, silliest things. This morning I talked about finding the supermarket down the street. Well, Alberts is indeed a supermarket, but it’s like the slightly dirtier, not so pretty supermarket you’ll buy your water bottles and candy at, but not where you’d prefer to buy your produce.

I wandered 400m further to the right today and spotted the Billa market. Breakfast is going to be beautiful tomorrow.

Tonight, Erin, from Australia, and I went out for dinner at a local pub. I had fantastic beef goulash. But how cute is this set-up… Giant pretzels!!!

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Ugh. Turns out those bleeping pretzels were not free. They were priced individually.

I’m a snacker. I accidentally spent more money on giant pretzels than my beer. In fact, they cost me half as much as my plate of beef goulash.

But beyond overpriced stale pretzels, I had a fantastic night with Erin. Lots of travel talk, lots of girl talk… Tons of fun. Tomorrow we’ll meet up to find the rest of the secondhand stores and officially be dressed for winter.

Then, when it rains, I’ll spend my afternoon at Cafe Louvre, the cafe famous for being where great thinkers such as Kafka and Einstein have gone. On the tables are pencils and little note papers for these great thoughts.

I think I’ll start writing my book tomorrow.

Finally, an oft-quoted (and nearly cliché to quote now, but I will) thought from Steve Jobs that stuck with me on my walk around town today.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.

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Prague Posing

Like every other city, day two is free walking tour day. I usually end up in the exact same places as day one, but this time learning why I should be there. Today, the guide wasn’t a local, but a girl from Austin, Texas. She and her husband had visited Prague in 2009, fell in love with it and decided to move here for 1-2 years.

I want that.

She went to school at Northwestern for journalism and previously worked freelance broadcast journalism assignments. She said we’re akin, “but people that go from journalism to public relations join the dark side… Just kidding. You’ll work normal hours, better pay, and probably don’t work on Christmas.”

But now, she’s a tour guide working just for tips, walking the city she loves.

I could work on my storytelling. I could learn history. I definitely would tell jokes and smile for tips.

I could do that… In fact… I want to!

I have so many places to be in 2012, and the to-do list gets longer everyday.

It’s my afternoon break. After the walking tour, I wandered down every side street I saw looking for secondhand stores and shoe stores. My feet are cold and the shoes I brought hurt the second day I wore them. That was a drag. I’ve been considering Greek sandals and socks. The fun thing about wandering for thrift shops, not known for their signage, is stumbling on every other little side-street store, like the vinyl record shop where I resisted buying the 3-album Stevie Wonder collection for the player I don’t own.

I got some terrific shoes though. On sale. Leather. Ugly. So comfortable.

And I’m back at my hostel, which is tremendous. 80% of it is actually a four star hotel- the lobby, the ($$) restaurant, the bar with live music every night. On the basement level are a series of group rooms. I’m in a room that has room for 26 women, but partitioned off just so you’re only really with three other women in any nook. It’s bunk beds… With the same heavenly white comforters and big fluffy pillows as the hotel upstairs. For $18 a night.

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That said, pluses and minuses- being more hotel-y than homey, there’s no kitchen, so I eat out every meal. Luckily, there’s a grocery store around the corner, so breakfast was a banana, yogurt, water and a croissant, all for under $2.

I love it here.

20111007-041850.jpg Not any of the sci-fi characters you’re thinking. A tribute to Mozart outside the Opera where he had the grand opening of Don Giovanni.

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Franz Kafka had a dream someone was wandering the town aimlessly, without direction, head or arms. Kafka climbed on to help point the way.

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I don’t know this guy’s story. I just like him.

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Freud.

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I’m moving to Prague.

I considered working that into this post better, but it didn’t happen. Just stating, I’ve been here fifteen hours, and I’m twenty minutes into researching job opportunities and master’s programs. You say “you’re kidding,” I say have you heard about the Prague Film School? Screenwriting is a course requirement.

Backing up. I’ve gotten into a routine. The first day in any city, I drop off my stuff, settle if I can, and walk. On days after night trains, when I’ve checked out of the hostel the previous day at ten and can’t check in on the current day until three, I throw my hair in a messy pony, wear sweatpants, carry a giant water bottle and walk with purpose. Then I pretend it just looks like I’m going to yoga class.

I take out my new map to determine if I should go left, right or straight from the hostel, then I put it away and it doesn’t come out again. What I lack in fashion sense I make up for in sense of direction. It usually involves walking across bridges and “stumbling” on castles.

I’ve been to some pretty neat places.

I’ve seen nothing as perfect as Prague. It’s beautiful. It’s whimsical. It was a Thursday, and I still saw them.

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I walked, jaw-dropped, for hours today, considering how many nights I could stay here this time (probably five), when and could I come back, and why. Work? School? I have strong reasons to be home. That said, all you strong reasons can come with me. Anyone at home, just start packing. New life experience time. Ready, set… In 6-9 months, for 6-9 months?

I went out tonight, without my camera. I did the same loop around the city. Beautiful buildings, beautiful lights… And music? I followed the music. I thought about work and school, and wouldn’t it be fun to be in class again… And what did I stumble on, but Studentski Jarmark 2011.

The 2011 Student Fair.

Hundreds of university students holding cheap beers and wine were crowded up to a huge stage brightly lit in the courtyard of a massive cathedral. A ten-piece cover band entertained- saxophones, trumpets, harmonica, singers. I squeezed my way up fifteen feet from the stage, and spent the next hour there, listening and dancing with everyone. No one heard me talk, no one knew I wasn’t a student.

Prague is perfect.

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Caffeinated in Prague

Reading this through email? Click through to the site today… New domain, new look, new pages… Let me know what you think, please offer any suggestions!

Phase One: Spain with Dad.
Barcelona -> Madrid -> Barcelona.
Phase Two: Eastern Europe with Andrea.
Barcelona -> Istanbul -> Cappadocia -> Ankara -> Sofia -> Belgrade -> Sofia.
Phase Three: Backpacking Honeymoon for One
Sofia -> Plovdiv -> Veliko Tarnovo -> Bucharest -> Brasov -> Budapest -> Vienna -> Warsaw -> Krakow -> Prague

Man, I really struggle with currency. I’d taken out enough to pay for my hostel stay in cash, which meant it came out in two big, rather useless bills. I know enough to walk into the bank to break them up and got them down to the equivalent of $10 bills.

My big purchase of the day, the one big meal I’d be having: A $3 tuna melt.

That’s really all I wanted.

I’m a little tired though… Espresso? That’d be a nice little splurge. I don’t see instant coffee on the menu.

“You have to give me a twenty.”

But I don’t have that coin.

“A twenty or nothing.”

But, I don’t have that… I have a fifty? (Fifty = $2.50)

“No.”

Okay… Scratching head… Maybe if I up my espresso splurge, I get myself into the next coin bracket.

“Ok… Can I get a latte then?”

“Fine.”

Okay, not what I intended. Folks, I am wide awake.

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