Sunday, July 29, 2007

All is NOT quiet on the Eastern Front.

So...overwhelming isn't the right word, but it's the first one that comes to mind. The journey here was surprisingly uneventful, other than meeting a couple of people in the houston concourse who kept me company on the plane. One was going to do mission work in Latvia...the other...well...suffice to say that her story was complicated. She was from Holland, and she said that I should officially be in Holland for at least a couple of hours. I didn't leave the airport, but it felt good to get another stamp in my passport. She bought me coffee (awww) and we went our separate ways. I felt substantially less beleaguered and sallied forth to wait on my plane to Prague. I learned rather quickly that I can read about 80% of Czech, can understand 50%, and can speak 0.005%. I learned this the hard way on the plane when I thought the flight attendant was collecting trash...when she was actually handing out chocolate. Being the conscientious passenger that I am, I got eager and handed her my sandwich wrapper. This gesture was met with a stern (decidedly slavic) frown and head-shaking of disapproval. Oops. I arrived in Prague only to discover that my hockey bag had remained in Amsterdam. As with the Greyhound incident, I thought "well, shit..." for about fifteen seconds, then decided that it could be for the best. It was. It took me two and a half hours to find my hostel after I followed their directions. I was wearing my dress shoes, and the blisters I recieved were nothing less than horrific. I'm still trying to imagine how much worse it would have been had I needed to pull two fifty-pound bags instead of one. As it was, I felt like a damn sled dog. I finally caved and went into a restaurant. When my fledgling (read: abominable) five words of Czech just got perplexed expressions from the waitstaff, I switched into Russian, which got expressions of simultaneous understanding and annoyance. Out of desparation I finally switched to English...they're not kidding when they say that EVERYONE here speaks it, though I try to speak English as little as possible as a matter of principle. I got some food (the first since the less-than-satisfactory airplane breakfast) and the correct directions. When I followed the directions, I realized that I could have just as easily been lost for another two and a half hours had I not asked someone. Yecch.

The hostel is tolerable, but loud as hell. I thought my mattress back home was uncomfortable...then I had to sleep on a bedroll placed over unevenly spaced 2x4s. With the exception of my first night there, my roommates(yes, all seven of them) have been loud and chronic snorers--and door-slammers in the morning. The bright side to this is that I might not get up at a reasonable hour if I slept soundly...but that's the bright side. The first night I was there, my roommate was cool. We went to a neighborhood bar owned by an older russian gentleman (more on that momentarily). Though my sleep has been less reliable since then, I fell asleep at 1:00 am and did not awaken until 18:00 the next day. At any rate, I struck up a conversation with the Russian bar owner and asked if he would help me with my Czech. He agreed, and I went back last night to get lesson number one (and beers number three and four.) I helped him close the bar, and his wife kept talking about what a nice young man I was. She pestered him into giving me my beer for half price (though I paid in full anyway). He said it was rare to meet an American who "feet een so goot" and invited me out to his Dacha today, so that'll be a cool opportunity, I hope. More on that as it happens.

I'm finding hockey rinks slowly but surely, and since I didn't get my equipment until yesterday, there wasn't much point in doing anything but getting oriented. And boy oh boy have I been getting oriented. There is no way I have walked fewer than twelve miles in the last two days. I save money and see the city by avoiding public transit. Now, if you have a map of Prague handy, czech (hurr hurr...I mades a funni) this out:

Full day one (the one that started at 18:00), I walked in a very roundabout manner from my hostel in the middle of Prague 2 (Vinohrady) over the Charles Bridge to Prague Castle and environs...and back.

Day two: I started at 8:00 and walked from the hostel to the National Theatre, then up the bank of the Vltava to the metronome (which is absolutely Soviet in its over-the-top tacky appeal), doubled back over the bridge and kept walking up the East Bank until I got to Stvanice Ostrov, where the winter stadium is located. When I found that the stadium was closed (either for the day or for longer...I'm not really sure), I walked all the way down the west bank, went to the Modrian, Kupka, and Warhol exhibit at the Kampa Museum, and then crossed Most Legii (the bridge in front of the National Theatre). Since I'd done just as much walking the day before, I caved and took the metro the remaining three stops back home. I'm glad I did. The soreness in my feet and the blisters...well...both are brutal. Hence I'm spending today just going grocery shopping, checking up on stateside life, finding rink addresses, and going out to the Dacha--only to continue at my previous pace tomorrow. It's too early in the year to drive myself into the ground. I would love comments. Let's have 'em.

With hugs for most, kisses for some ( ;-) ), and love for all,


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Alright kids, here goes.

Life is chaos. I'm packing and Packing. I'm packing for Eastern Europe, and Packing for my family's upcoming move from Spragins House--a move that I will be mercifully spared. Oops. As such, I have absolutely no time to write at the moment. Maybe soon.

Keep reading, and tell me what you think! I'll be hell of lonely sometimes.

Best to all,