Saturday, September 29, 2007

To the Edge and Back

It turns out my body didn’t want to go to Ceske Budejovice today. Instead, I slept in till about one. Luckily, I have been to this small city before, but I wish I could have made it out again. I don’t know if the weather is making me tired, or if it is the long jogs. Either way, I felt great after my 11 hours of sleep and headed out to explore in the city.
Today I decided to walk towards the outskirts of the city. Tramvaj #22 goes by our dorm, and ends at a stop called Bilá Hora, or white hill, which was my destination today. After getting of the tram, I immediately noticed a difference in the amount of noise. Although I was still in the city, there wasn’t a huge amount of cars or, thank heavens, tourists. The area was incredibly Czech, and it felt like I was closer to what the city must have been like before the tourist invasion that has come with globalization. At the same time, the lack of tourist money could be seen in the establishments. Though they were livable and beautiful, they were not up to par with what you would see near the center. For example, there was a large church with the typical Czech red roof and towers with oxidized copper domes, but the years had seemed to take a toll on its upkeep. There was a bunch of graffiti on the walls surrounding the church, and part of the church ground had an auto-service company. The church probably does not have enough money to go through reconstruction; since it is so far from the typical tourist traps, and since Czechs historically have little taste for organized religion, I would have no idea where the money would come from.
There were some old looking clubs and restaurants here as well, and I would like to return with a couple of friends. It would be a great place to practice Czech and have an opportunity to mingle with another culture. The farther you get from the center, the more useful Czech becomes. The people also seem to be friendlier. I said “dobry den” and people responded in kind. It was great to see interaction between people rather than the typical Prague indifference.
There was a great hill overlooking some trails and I climbed to the crest hoping to find a spectacular view of Prague. However, I was greatly disappointed to find that the buildings that were most prominent were some of the least attractive the city had to offer. The TV Station kept catching my eye, as well as the industrial buildings. Prague isn’t much for a skyline; although the majority of its buildings are fascinating when two feet away, from a distance they all become a jumble only broken up by the giant modern eyesores.
There were some trails near the end of the line and, feeling adventurous, I decided to explore them. After a quick hike, I came upon a very unique part of the city. In Prague 6, in the far west, there is a section of town that was obviously influenced by communism. All the apartment buildings seemed to be carved out of a gigantic block of granite and then colored with pale pastels. These imposing buildings look so awkward when they are covered with these dainty colors. It is like coloring a pit-bull pink and pretending it will now be a polite dog. Walking through this section of Prague is like an Easter Sunday gone horrible wrong. What is really interesting is that these colors are used a lot through Prague. However, when you see these pale pinks and blues on Art Nouveau buildings, the architecture seems grander and more beautiful. On blocks of concrete, the effect isn’t inspiring, but nauseating.
After this unique hike, I decided to head back into the center. I got into the nearest tram, and headed back east. The length of the tram really made me realize how far I had ventured, and it took quite a while before I realized I was nearing the huge mall in Andel. Once I got back in the city, however, I quickly realized I wanted to get back home. Being so isolated and away from the noise and crowdedness of the city really made me dislike how many tourists are here on the weekends. It is hard to walk around when everyone is snapping photos and staring at every other building. I don’t want to sound like a snob, I can still be quite touristy at times, but now I understand why Praguers leave the city during the weekend.

Six Days Later

It’s been six days since my last update, and I am sorry that I have been so negligent in my updates. I promise you that I will try to write more frequently, if not for your enjoyment, than for my memories sake. Plus, as my friend Tyler wittingly remarked, it is better to watch a couple of commercials than sit through an infomercial. It will be hard to try to boggle my mind and remember what has passed since the last entry, but I will try.
This week is my second week of classes, and on Monday I have Czech language and Czech/European Culture-Alternative Literature, Music, and Lifestyles. My language lessons are going along well, although they are a little too slow for my taste. I have decided to do some independent studying as well, and have been creating micro-lessons to help increase my vocabulary. (Don’t worry, I know that I am a huge geek) The culture class is also quite fascinating. Although at times the “alternative” part can be a little forced, it always reminds me of when Sarah used to see “I’ve always been alternative”, we have had some interesting new perspectives of the city and Czech underground life. We went to a fascinating art exhibit, which showed conspiracy theory connections between mind control in the US Army, MGM Studios, Mussorgsky, Fantasia, Witchcraft, and the USSR. Some of the connections are actually very surprising...
Once again, I had the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular performance at the Narodní Divadlo. On Monday, they played Bizet’s Carmen. This is my first time seeing a French opera, but everything I learned in my Introduction to Music course seemed to apply. While Italian operas focus almost entirely on the virtuosity of the singers, French opera plays up the importance of scenery and action; the Italian operas I have seen have had very basic sets, leaving the stage open for the soprano’s brilliance. However, Carmen had grand scenery and a gigantic cast that filled the entire stage. Furthermore, dance played a much larger role in the drama that was unfolding, and the main characters moved more than in the other operas I have seen. There may have been some sacrifice in voice quality as a result of this movement, but if so, it was quite slight. The voices were spectacular, especially Dana Buresova, who played Micaela. At the end of the show, it appeared as if she received an even larger applause than the title character.
Like last time, I was able to switch my seat during intermission and had a better view for the second act. I was surprised by what I saw; although the actors looked quite young from our seats in the first gallery, on the ground floor, you could see how much makeup was used to create this effect. In hind-sight, I was stupid to expect young actors in these challenging roles, but I was surprised at the age of many of the stars.
On Tuesday, I have history class at 8:15 in the morning. Our teacher is a fascinating man who survived World War II and teaches history from a personal perspective. He has told stories already about his escape from Nazi guards and the life of a Jew during Nazi occupation. He looks like a combination of Colonel Mustard and the Monopoly Man, but his personality is probably closer to the Colonel. He is very particular about punctuality. He gave us a ten-minute break, and I could have sworn I was only gone for nine minutes, but when I entered the class room, he reprimanded me harshly.
I also have a political science class on Tuesday. The lessons so far have been irregular, for some reason the University keeps closing during our class time, but our lesson was spectacular this week. We traveled to a small commuter village outside of Prague and had a wonderful dinner of potato soup and goulash while he lecture about the scope of the course: the political development in Central Europe during the past hundred years. After the dinner, my friend Angela and I played hide-and-go seek with an eight-year-old Czech boy. It was great to practice my Czech with a kid; they seem to have more patience and want to make sure you understand them. Afterward, Angela and I sat across from our professor on the train ride home; like most professors, he has a very unique life story, and it is great to study politics under someone who has lived through communism.
Wednesdays should be a very good day of the week, as I have no classes, but this week, it was quite boring. It was laundry day, and once again I made the mistake of doing it here at the dorms. There are three machines, but they are extremely slow, and the entire process of washing and drying my clothes took eight hours. Of course, I was able to read and surf the net while I waited, but laundry continues to be a frustrating process in Prague. During one of the wash cycles I went for an eight or nine mile jog. I have decided to run a half-marathon with my friend in Dresden and want to be in tip-top shape. Jogging around the city is also a great way to see streets and parts of town you have never seen before as well. I saw a section of town that seems to have a lot of the foreign embassies, and I can’t wait to live in a similar neighborhood.
Yesterday was a very lazy day as well. I went to class bright and early, but spent the rest of the day lazing around the dorm. The weather wasn’t the greatest, and I did not want to go out. My friends headed out to Munich to go to Oktoberfest, but I wasn’t able to go with them; unfortunately I have been having some trouble with my bank account and the time it takes for deposits to show up here in Prague. They rented a car and headed out, while I stayed in an watched the rain fall down. Finally, at about 10, I went out to a club with some of my friends who remained in Prague. It was called Cross Club and is perhaps the best club I have ever been to in Prague. It has some sort of robotic theme, and everything is very Matrixesque. It feels like you are in a different world ... I wish I would have discovered it sooner. I got a poster from the place with a gigantic brain wearing sunglasses with lips on the cerebellum. Pretty cool.
I woke up today very late, at about one, and then spent the majority of my day exploring Dejvice. This section of Prague 6 reminds me of Boston, except older and grander. I could imagine living in one of the flats that overlook the broad avenues. I really like that there are all sort of restaurants and shops in Dejvice that seem tailored for Czechs rather than tourists. There is also a surprisingly large Asian population if the number of Chinese restaurants reflects the diversity of Dejvice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry, and today was a holiday and so I wasn’t able to go into the stores. However, I’m glad I know this part of town better. After making dinner, I wrote this entry, and will go to bed soon. Tomorrow I have an excursion to Ceske Budejovice! Ahoj!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stumbling on Memories

Prague is a gigantic little city, and I have yet to explore all of its wonders. On Wednesday, however, I discovered a world that occupied a small part of my memory. When we lived in Prague for two months, I had wanted to do some of the things that a kid does during the summer in the United States. I remember wanting to go to the swimming pool, to go on picnics, and especially to go to an amusement park. Our family kind of had a tradition that we would go to Valleyfair once during the summer. During my summer in Prague, I also wanted to have a typical American past-time (I was still young and didn’t have the ability to understand the value of experiencing new traditions and life styles; even today I have troubles shaking off the desire to live the life I’m comfortable in.)
Luckily, our family friend Milena knew of a amusement park in Prague. The children, especially Anna and me, were extremely excited. We thought of how cool Valleyfair was, and we expected an even bigger and better park since we were in a bigger and better city. We were quite mistaken. The amusement park was actually just a collection of dusty old rides, and we seemed to be the only people visiting. The highlight was a single roller coaster that was fast, but quite short. I am not sure if I could recall this memory so well, if it hadn’t been for my stumbling upon the park again on Wednesday. It was exactly how I remembered it; in fact, the rides were entirely the same. In all this time, it still has not been renovated, and I do not understand how it makes enough money to stay open. I didn’t go on any rides, but I my return to the park was incredibly more satisfying the second time around.
The amusement park is right next to the grand Prumyslový palác, which is a grand palace in, I think, Art Nouveau style. When I was younger, this entrance fascinated me because I thought a spectacular theme park lay ahead. However, the building drew me forward in a different manner in 2007. The architecture is fascinating, and many of the neighboring buildings are also in the same style. They all are somewhat neglected, but I discovered that there is a marine life aquarium and a museum located in the buildings.
After studying the palace, I walked around to the back where I knew there were giant fountains. These fountains had originally brought me to Praha 7; I knew that there was a spectacular view of a beautiful building somewhere north of the center. I found the fountains, but unfortunately they were not running. I think I have to return at night to view a show...
However, this was not the end of my adventures. The entire region around the Prumyslový palác is, architecturally, very interesting. Surrounding the fountains is a massive structure that must have been built during the communist era. It is an ugly white concrete structure that sprawls out like a spider across an area the size of a football stadium. I was there quite early, I had just finished my 8:30 class, and no one seemed to be around. Out of nowhere, I had this urge to climb, and I tried to climb up the stairs to the top of the structure. However, I could not reach the top, it was locked, so I decided to explore the edifice. It is so abandoned and isolated. Everything that you see from the communist period has this feeling of despair. I could not stand it for too long, and eventually continued with my exploration.
Next to the white spider, there is a huge black cube. I walked all around it, but could not figure out what its function was. It is some sort of building, but covered in a very strange stringy material. It looked like it could be a interesting modern concert hall, but there was no way to be certain.
There was also a great pyramid shaped building. At first, I thought that it was abandoned as well. There were a bunch of signs around it advertising musicals, like Les Mis and Miss Saigon, but looking through the windows, it looked quite deserted. However, as I was about to head out after failing to open the doors, a man ran out of the pyramid and started yelling at me in Czech. I was quite worried that I had done something wrong, so I said the first thing that came to my mind: chci koupit listeky (I want to buy tickets). His mood changed immediately, and he invited me into the theater. It was not abandoned after all, but seemed to be in the middle of changing shows. The guy led me through the theater, past dressing rooms, past the costume shop, and into the back, where another employee helped me. I don’t know if it was my excitement at finding this theater in the middle of nowhere, but I was able to talk with them about when the shows were playing, where I could buy tickets, and when they are playing Les Mis, all in Czech. I am thinking of buying some tickets in December, as it would be interesting to see this musical performed in a foreign language.
After this self-guided tour of one of my new favorite places in Prague, I decided I should start back home. First, however, I wanted to explore the park that I saw nearby on my map. It is adjacent to the palace, and probably one of the biggest in the city. It stretches on for what seems a mile, and there is a beautiful lake in the center filled with wildlife. There are also huge lawns, and it seems the perfect place for a picnic and some European football. I just wish it was closer to my kolej (dormitory), as it would be the best place to go for a jog in the city.
On Thursday, I had a job interview after my classes. I was really nervous, I had to explain to my interviewer, who was pretending to be an intermediate English speaker, when one has to use past tense versus the past perfect tense, but it actually went quite well. I was offered a second interview, in which I would have to give a 45 minute lesson to Czech banker with an English speaking boss, but I have decided that the job would be too much work. I need to keep up my studies, and teaching English would not be the best for my greatest goal in Prague: learning Czech. However, it looks like this could be an excellent job after I finish my undergraduate work and need a job before I can start grad school. She had offered me 17 dollars and hour, and if I would have had a TEFL certificate I think I could have fared much better. I will keep in touch and maybe return one day to James Cook Languages.
Yesterday was another day full of cultural events. Well, full is not the right word. Actually, I was quite lazy for the first part of the day. I am lucky enough to not have classes on Friday, and slept in and cleaned the kitchen. However, at 7 pm, I went with a group of my friends to the Czech Ballet Symphony at the National Theater. I have never been to the ballet before, and it is an experience I doubt I will forget anytime soon. The pieces were all original works, and we were experiencing the second premier of these pieces. The first piece began with a Dvorak orchestral work, which slowly turned into modern music. The story was beautiful; it described the love between a man and a woman, and the pain that they felt when this love could not be survive. The choreography was spectacular, and the first piece was my favorite of the night.
I spotted some empty seats from our view in the first gallery, and after the first intermission we went to the ground floor and asked if we could take the empty seats. After some confusing Czech inquiries, we sat down in the fourth row. The second piece began, which was extremely emotional and beautiful. I have never seen someone move their body in a way that can produce an image of such inner turmoil and pain. Once again, it seemed to focus on the search and inability to find love. (Of course, that was just my interpretation, but it was nevertheless a touching work.) Right after the piece finished, the guys in front of us sprinted out of the theater. I thought they were being quite rude until I saw them up on the stage. The man in front of us had been the choreographer! As soon as he returned to his seat, I told him the dance was excellent.
The next dance was in an entirely different style. It was to one of Smetana’s orchestral pieces, and it was very upbeat and positive. It starred six men, who all had very distinct characters. It was a nice break from the earlier sorrow. After the second intermission, the fourth and final piece began. Although it was quite beautiful, it was my least favorite of the four pieces. The others had all seemed quite original, and not anything that I expected to see. The last was very Nutcrackerish, and, though beautiful, a little boring.
If you managed to get through this, I congratulate you. Next time, I will try to write more frequently, so I do not have to compose a novel.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Two Operas and Job Searching

On Tuesday night we went to La Traviata at the National Theater. The price of theater in Prague continues to astound me. We bought second balcony tickets, with a great view of the opera, for 5 US Dollars. I don’t know how they can continue to put on such cheap shows, but they are comparable to the level of talent found in Boston or the Twin Cities (I cannot compare it to Broadway since I have not yet been). La traviata is a Italian Opera by Verdi, and, like most Italian opera, focuses on vocal abilities. The lead soprano was fantastic, and the story made Rachel cry; I had goose bumps, but was not brought to tears. The night was very classy, and we all dressed up formally and drank champagne during the intermission. It seemed like an entirely different world; it was one of aristocracy, and I have never experienced anything similar. Best of all, you do not have to actually to be loaded to enjoy good theater here in Prague.

Throughout the week I have been searching for a job. I would love to be able to work, my favorite day is a busy day, but I have not been entirely successful. I have been able to get a job subbing as a conversational English teacher. The job pays well, but I don’t know how often they will need a sub, and have not been contacted yet. I also have a tutoring job (tutelage?) set up with a Czech friend of my professor. I am going to start giving one hour lessons next week, but it isn’t a very time consuming, or money producing, job. I really want to get a job at a restaurant, because I feel it would be a good way to support myself as well as get practice with my Czech. I have started an English-Czech tandem with my friend Jiri, and I hope that it continues, as it is a great way to learn more.
I was forced to buy a phone so if I do secure a job, I can be notified. I kind of miss the sense of freedom I had when I didn’t have a cell phone. I never worried that someone was going to call, and could always do my own thing. With a cell phone, I feel like I have more responsibility, which can be good and bad. Not having a cell phone has also made me more reliable. If I say that I am going to meet someone in front of Tesco at nine, for example, there is no way to back out at the last minute, and I have to be there at nine. It is a good thing to learn, because at home I am always running late (which I blame on my mom).
Last night, we went to another Opera. This one was a little more expensive, a whole seven dollars, but was worth it. Don Giovanni is one of Mozart’s most famous works, and was first conducted, by Mozart himself, at the Estates Theater in Prague, which may be even more beautiful than the National Theater. The theater exemplified the beauty of Prague. It was robin’s egg blue with gold decorations, a grand chandelier lit the building, and ornamental pictures were everywhere. I cannot really describe it in words, but it was brilliant. The opera itself was spectacular, but I think it was less of the actor’s talent than Mozart’s genius. Don’t get me wrong, the actors were great, especially the actress who played Donna Anna. However, the best actors are at the national theater. Interestingly, even the actors at the National Theater do not get paid terribly well. Czechs have told me that it is in commercial acting where the real money lies. I guess it is similar in the states, but at the same time actors on Broadway, especially leads, must make tons...

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Substantial Update

It’s been a week since my last update, and what a long week it has been! Class for 5 hours a day, we only focus on Czech language right now, and then walking around the city for a while, and studying every night. My teacher thinks we should study at least two hours a night, which makes a total of 7 hours a day of Czech and then trying to use this Czech for the other nine waking hours. I really enjoy the language, and it I have been able to act as an interpreter for my group at times.
This weekend, I went to the Pilsner Brewery with my friends, and we learned more about the beer culture here in the Czech Republic. I was the only student in the higher level Czech class, so at points I was able to act as a translator. Even though I know such a small vocabulary, I’ve been able to get my point across with the words I do know, and the Czechs really like it when you speak their language. I was able to get a student rate for our group, and, after a giant-sized game of chess with big beer bottles as pawns, we toured the brewery. It started with a video that spoke of the history of the brewery, and the manner in which this was portrayed was hilarious. They had filmed the story in a style similar to the history channel. It was so serious, and made the beer look like it occupied a significant part of European history. The story of the master brewer and discovering the recipe was portrayed like the drafting of the constitution. I have never seen such hyperbole used in advertising a beer.
Afterward, we toured the rest of the brewery and saw how beer was made and tasted unique beers that only visitors of the brewery can try. They were created in the same fashion as the first beers, and were more authentic and delicious. After buying a couple of souvenirs and a game of beer chess we headed into the city.

Pilzen is not the most interesting city. Some of the building’s facades are interesting, but there is not much to see there besides the brewery. We couldn’t even find a restaurant that looked good, but we were lucky enough to stumble into an exhibition, which portrayed the earth from above through photography. The pictures were gorgeous, and showed the world from various countries under various conditions. Many of the photos showed pictures of calamities and described the differences in life-style between the third world and developed states. It was kind of sickening to see how much better off I am than people around the world. The fact that I can have fresh water, a clean home, and food everyday is such a gift, and looking at these pictures really accentuated how lucky I am. The pictures also showed many different geographical wonders around the world, and the negative impact of the human race. There are so many places in the world I still want to see, and I hope we can continue conserving what is left, and stop the destruction of the beautiful world we live on.
When we finished looking at these interesting photos, we had to head back to the bus. We were kind of lost, but I was able to ask everyone we passed where the bus station was, and we slowly made it back to the station. I could understand snippets of the directions, but never enough to fully understand where to go. Fortunately, we made it back to Prague safely.
Sunday was a day of rest. I was pleased to discover that we have a piano in our dormitory, and I spent the morning practicing piano for the first time in three months. It was spectacular. Well, my playing was far from spectacular, but the feeling of being able to sit down and play again was great. Of course, I am a little rusty, but I am very excited that I can practice again. I just wish I had some of my music books... I’ve also gotten back into cooking. After languages, and international relations, I would have to say cooking is my greatest passion. It is so fun to cook, and I have been able to cook for my roommates and it’s great to get feedback. I really enjoy trying to copy Czech and Bulgarian dishes that I have tried; I only wish I had an oven. It is hard to make impressive meals when you only have two hot plates.
I have met a lot of great people in Prague from around the US, and it is great to be living in a dorm again. Of course, it is weird that all my friends back in the states are heading to their colleges, and that people are taking classes at BC again, but it is nice to be doing something completely different. Next week, I start regular classes. I am really excited, since my classes focus on cultural studies and political science. I also have the opportunity to engage in a lot of cultural activities; tonight we are going to the opera! This program fits me like a glove, and I am really glad I chose it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

On the Other Side of the Vltava

Life is great in Mala Strana. I really like my dorm, I somehow lucked out and have a pretty big living space and a common room, and the location is beautiful. I also am quite glad I am further from the old town center. It forces me to explore more and more of the city and what I have seen so far is fascinating. I am also slowly falling in love with public transportation. For my first six weeks in Prague, I did not have a PT pass. I would walk everywhere, and, unsurprisingly, this resulted in a limited knowledge of the city. However, I can now travel anywhere at anytime for free. Just today, I was in Prague 1, 2, 3, and 6. I want to visit all the lines of the metro, and many of the different trams.
Czech class is a little different than what I was used to. Right now, I am taking an intensive two-week course. Everyday we have class scheduled for four and half hours. My teacher, however, takes this time limit lightly. She wants us to all meet her a half an hour early so we can explore the city with her while she teaches us new words. She also doesn’t mind holding us late after class. While she can be frustrating at times, I think that I will probably be able to learn Czech more quickly with her because of her style. I feel it strengthening throughout the day...
One of my favorite parts about being in the CR is that I look like I could be Czech. Very often, I am spoken to in Czech and can pass by as Czech as long as I don’t say much. (Like at the fruit market, where I can manage with just saying hello and how much I want to buy). Of course, this can be frustrating when they learn that I am not a native speaker. At the metro today, I was buying some goat cheese (how many times in my life am I going to be able to say that?) and the vendor chatted away in Czech. When she realized I wasn’t really following her, she changed into German. Of course, this was much worse. She didn’t speak English, though, so we ended up saying some niceties in Spanish. I’m not sure why she wouldn’t stick with my broken Czech, but it was an interesting interaction.
My location is also a lot better for my physical health. Very close to our dorms is Petrin Hill which is surrounded by a park. Jogging there is amazingly tiring, there are tons of hills, but it completely rewarding. The hill affords the best views of Prague, and it is so magical to do such a simple thing as exercise in this beautiful capital. I’m also quite happy to be reunited with a kitchen, and I hope to bring some Czech cuisine back to the States!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Mule

I woke up early on the 31st of August without an alarm clock; my body has become great at waking up when it needs to, but I’m not sure if it is just from anxiety and a fear of being late or a true skill... maybe a mixture of both. After I made sure all my bags were packed, I took a taxi to the bus stop, managed to get all my baggage on the bus, and set of for the 22 hour bus-ride back to Prague. Only after leaving the city limits did I remember that I hadn’t written down the place of my residence in Prague or how to get there, but no matter. I was on the way back to the most beautiful city I have ever visited.
I’m really surprised at how I have not lost anything during my month of travel. I have traveled through six countries, stayed in four hostels, and still have all my important electronic appliances (iPod, computer, and camera). The only thing that I left behind was a book and a towel in Veliko Tarnovo. The towel was on purpose, but the book was my one companion at the time, and I was quite upset when I realized it was missing. Luckily, it is a popular book and I was able to secure another copy of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in Sofia. I am now near the finish, and, although I like the book, and especially its progressive stance on female rights during the early 19th century, its focus on the aristocracy bugs me. The characters all have these huge dilemmas and drama, but the life of the servants who have to live under them is barely mentioned. The protagonist constantly lounges about all day, and complains about not having anything to do. Where the money comes from is not explicitly stated, but it seems preposterous that they have the leisure time to gamble and drink, go hunting, throw massive parties, when their servants are the only people actually doing any work. I think that is my major problem with 19th century literature; although the stories can be fascinating, and you can read into a perspective of life in the period, it is a very small sliver of the population.
Anyways, as I was delving into the novel at the border between Bulgaria and Serbia, the woman in charge of the bus was walking around handing out cartons of cigarettes to passengers. I wanted to refuse because I absolutely abhor smoking (too much Bronte, huh?), but I didn’t know how to say abhor in Bulgarian, so when she came up to me, I figured that I would just follow the mold. I had heard of this happening before; passengers smuggling in items bought at duty-free zones and then giving them back to the person who had bought it. It was being performed at a massive scale, and the operation seemed to go quite smoothly. The carton stayed in my backpack until we crossed the Slovakia-Czech Republic border when the woman collected all the cigarettes. The whole time, I was joking with my neighbor, in broken Bulgarian, about us carrying contraband across the continent. It was my first experience as a mule, albeit not nearly as dangerous as those who smuggle cocaine to the States from Colombia. It was a rather exciting experience, and one I couldn’t see happening in the United States. We would ask questions like why am I doing this for you, and what do I get out of this deal. Perhaps illegal trading of cigarettes acts as a way to finance these expeditions across the continent, and people let it happen so their bus rides can continue to be cheap.
My neighbors were very kind and talkative. On my leftt there was a Bulgarian and on my right two Czechs. My Bulgarian has exceeded my Czech, however, so Bulgarian was the language of choice. I’m going to miss Bulgarian, but hopefully I can continue to take classes at the University...
I was perusing (another Bronte word of the day) my book when I suddenly looked up and realized that we were well into Prague. It was shocking to suddenly see the National Museum. It wasn’t long before I picked up my extra luggage and took a cab to the student dorms. My location is idyllic; right behind Prague castle, our dorms are spacious and include a mini-kitchen. The walk to classes is somewhat long, but public transportation is easily accessible. After settling in, three of my suite mates and two girls in another suite went out to explore the city. I hope I was helpful with my prior knowledge, and I brought them to Tesco to pick up some appliances as well as showed them a few sights. It is great to be back in a city with which I am becoming quite familiar.