Musical Bees!

This past week has probably been the busiest in terms of activities other than class, so I’ve got a lot to write about.

Firstly, and probably least excitingly, was my visit to a local board game club held in one of the most hard to find cafes I have ever actually found.  Fortunately the professor who invited me to go was there to show me where it was–otherwise, I probably would not have been able to figure out that I needed to go through a large double door, to the left, into another door, down a long narrow hallway, then through a set of stairs.  I really have no idea how anyone ever found the place to begin with.

The club itself was pretty cool, though.  They had a massive collection of board games that was remarkably similar to those at the tabletop gaming club at NCSU.  We only had time to play a few games, but the crowd there seemed cool and–weirdly enough–all seemed to speak English as a default, even though most of them seemed to be Czech.  Not sure why that was, but I might go back at some point.

We also visited a bee farm this past week, which was an interesting experience.  After taking a train, a boat, and eating some goulash on the way, we got to see some of their active beehives and learn a lot about the process of beekeeping.  We also got to buy some very strong sweet honey-wine (also known as mead) and some regular honey and honey-chocolate.  I held a tray full of bees from one of the hives at one point, but have had no luck figuring out who took the picture of me on their phone.  Hopefully that will show up on facebook at some point.

Last night, we had our first big cultural event and went to see an opera.  I don’t recall what the Czech name was, but it was an adaptation of The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Anderson.  In keeping with the original, everyone makes terrible decisions and ends up dead, cursed, or just sad.  The performance itself was great, and there were English subtitles along with the Czech text of the lyrics on a screen so we could keep abreast of what was going on.  Also, we all got to dress up and buy fancy glasses of wine there, and just generally be classy.  So that was fun.

Progress on my Frankenstein screenplay continues.  I have settled on putting it in South Africa, and am working on doing some setting research and figuring out how to properly diverge from the book while still telling the right story.  This weekend we are going on an excursion to see a castle and go on a wine tasting in a village, so I doubt I will be able to get much work done, but I’ll be brainstorming.

Last random tidbit:  me and some screenwriting people randomly met Tom Burke, the guy who plays Athos (the main character) in the BBC series Musketeers that is currently being filmed in Prague.  He seemed like a really cool guy and let us use his table to talk about screenplay stuff.

Prague Spring

For the first time since arriving, the sun has actually been visible for more than two hours at a time and the temperature has been consistently above 60 F (still not European enough to know the appropriate Celsius conversion off the top of my head).  For the first time, it actually feels like spring here.

This seems like as good a time as any to talk about the city itself.  What I’ve been doing hasn’t changed much–still watching movies in class and talking about screenplays–but I haven’t given a very good description of what Prague itself is like.  That’s partially because there’s a whole lot of ground to cover.

The part of Prague containing our Pension is a bit older looking in style.  There is a lot of cobblestone, both on streets and sidewalks, and the buildings are tightly packed.  That being said, there’s a lot more character to the buildings than you would find in a lot of American cities–even with seemingly no barriers separating them, each has their own style.  There is also a truly staggering amount of graffiti, though this seems to be common to almost the entire city.  Some of it is standard stuff (slogans I cannot read) but some of it is actually fairly decorative.  I have no idea why graffiti is more common here, but it is everywhere.  It doesn’t really detract from the aesthetics of the architecture, though.

Prague also has a lot of parks, some of which we might actually be able to enjoy now that it is no longer raining.  Often they are near or surrounding an antique church (some of which are very impressive) but there are also some that are standalone.  As our tour guide said, Prague is a very green city–there are not many plants taller than shrubs lining the city streets, but it is hard to go for more than a couple of blocks without coming within sight of a park.

The Prague Institute itself is only a short subway ride away from the Pension.  The subway itself isn’t too exciting to talk about–the only notable thing is that it is quite deep underground, and the escalator is unusually fast, but I think I’ve mentioned that before.  Much more interesting is the area around the Institute.  You see, the Institute is much closer to the center of Prague, it’s ‘downtown’ area.  It is also a tourist hub.  The three blocks between the subway station and the Institute are packed with people.  The route takes us through a large square full of tour guides and the occasional street vendor.  Moving past that, we go through a marketplace where the center of the street is full of stalls selling things from fruit to candy bars to some of the creepiest marionettes I have ever seen in my life.  There are also several restaurants, two gelato shops that are literally adjoining each other (which must be awkward) and one store that appears to sell medieval arms and armor.

There is plenty to do near the Institute, but there is also the fear of getting caught up in the ‘touristy’ side of Prague, the pieces that get shown off and sold for people who are only here to sample Prague’s culture.  As study abroad students, we want to try and be a little more discerning than that–so a lot of us have been making an effort to get a little bit off the beaten path.  The area around the Pension is better for that–there are a lot more ‘hole in the wall’ type places, more traditional Czech food, and less tourists in general.

Of course, wanting ‘traditional’ Czech stuff doesn’t mean we’re looking for antique villages.  Prague is a modern city, and the native Czech parts of it include a shopping mall and movie theatre like you’d find at home–though with a few different stores and restaurants, obviously.  The mall even has a KFC, though the portions are smaller and the chicken a little less deeply fried (which is honestly probably a good thing.  And they still have barbecue sauce!)

I’ve been making an effort to get away from the more touristy food and Italian restaurants (which are seriously everywhere) and was today rewarded by the best meal I have had since arriving–a turkey steak topped with fried pear, bacon, and cheese, with potato pancakes on the side.  It was delicious, and I intend to return for other Czech meals there.

A few other tidbits about the city to conclude this entry:

  • Dogs.  There are many, many dogs here, many of whom are leashless.  That said, they seemed well behave.
  • The drivers are extremely aggressive, bordering on erratic.  You might think this would combine poorly with the whole ‘unleashed dogs’ thing, but the dogs all seem to know their place on the sidewalk.
  • It can be very hard to tell from the outside what places serve actual food, and what places are just cafes–or bars.  This is partially because all the buildings are connected in the city block structure, so you don’t have standalone buildings that look like restaurants.  Mostly, unless they happen to have a lot of window space, they just look like doors with a Czech name on top and (usually) a Czech menu written on a chalkboard outside.  I’ve gotten pretty good at using the prices on these menus to figure out which places serve actual meals and which just serve alcohol/coffee.
  • I’m not sure what time of day Czech schools get out, or when their school year is over, but I have seen quite a few large groups of children wandering around at various times in the day.  Not sure if these are field trips, or if elementary schools take kids to the park, or what.
  • The beer here is literally cheaper than water bottles are at home sometimes.  Beer can literally be cheaper than water.

Tonight I am joining one of the professors here at a board game club in a local cafe, and tomorrow I go to a bee farm and then karaoke!  Hope you are all doing well, and hopefully more blog entries will be forthcoming in the future!

PS:  Apparently a friend of mine named Jimmy Feely is also doing study abroad.  However, he is in Thailand and has already had to dodge two or three protests, and two days ago was in a serious bus accident.  He is doing fine, but his Facebook feed is serving to me as a reminder of how much more ridiculous this trip could be.  I’m glad that everything here so far has been safe and stable!

Week One

This post is going to go up almost exactly one week after I arrived in Prague.  It has been an eventful seven days, and the adjustment has been both fun and difficult.

Firstly, let me say that I truly have tried to get onto a normal, healthy sleep schedule here in Prague to overcome my jetlag.  However, when none of my classes start before 1:00 in the afternoon (or 13:00 as it is more commonly referred to here) it is very difficult to find motivation to get up at any decent hour.  The only real incentive, other than not wanting to feel lazy, is that breakfast stops being served at 10.  There are few forces stronger than the temptation of a free meal for any college student.

By now I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating the city, thanks largely in part to the beautiful CityMaps2Go app.  It is free, and most importantly does not use any data.  You can download up to five city maps for free, and it comes complete with an extremely thorough amount of landmarks and map information.  I seriously cannot recommend it enough for anyone going to a strange city for any length of time–even one in America, if you have reason to believe you won’t have internet access while you are there.

The other students here and I have gone on many adventures–several of them to bars by accident, because you quite literally cannot throw a rock in this city without it landing within spitting distance of some alcohol-serving establishment (many of which look like restaurants but are, in fact, not).  The highlight of these may be the “Puerto Rico”, a bar that appears to have no connection to the said territory other than some wall decorations, and serves only sushi as food.  Very strange.  In the spirit of film study, I have also been to see two movies here, at least one of which I will have to write about for class.  The first was Pulp Fiction, which (to my eternal shame) I had not seen to completion until now.  It was presented in an art house cinema, and was a very interesting experience.  The Czech audience laughed a lot more than I would have expected, even during scenes that were not meant to be completely funny–I think it was because the dialogue as written was humorous, but the deliveries by the actors made it more poignant.  When you are reading rather than listening to know what’s happening, you will miss out on some of the nuance.  This really makes me wonder how much I have missed in anime and other foreign films that I have watched with subtitles.

The second film was Godzilla.  It was a decent enough movie, if not amazing ,and we saw it in a fairly ordinary movie theater inside a mall.  The only real difference, other than having Czech subtitles and one or two Czech commercials, was that there were assigned seats for your tickets.  You had to choose where you would sit when you bought them.  I guess that’s a useful feature–never really considered it for a movie theater before.  Also their popcorn bags were slightly more rigid.  That is probably not as important though.

I am picking up some basic Czech words as I stay here longer, mostly along the lines of “I’m so sorry that I’m making you speak my language in your own country,” or “Please excuse me as I try not to get hit by this bus.”  Interactions with waiters continue to be slightly stressful, as it is hard to get them to bring you the bill sometimes and tipping is an adventure in balance.  Also, you typically have to wait for them to give you the change, then put it back in their hands, which makes you put a whole extra level of thought into whether the amount you have tipped is appropriate.  It is very strange to me that the process of interacting with a waiter–one of the most automatic routines I can think of in American culture–is so different here.  Not knowing the language really does have an impact.

I’m currently working on pitches for my potential screenplays in Screenwriting, at least one of which is almost certainly a terrible idea–it is a musical.  I might post more specifics about the classwork later.  I’ve been very bad about taking pictures (and have in fact forgotten to charge my camera) but I plan to spend one of my days off walking around the city like a proper tourist and photographing everything.  Almost all of the other students here are planning at least one trip out of the country, so I might see if any of these trips sound appealing to me–just need to make sure how much it’s going to cost first.  So far the most promising (and expensive, of course) is a weekend trip to Germany for a rock festival with a truly ridiculous playlist.  You can definitely expect an update on that if I end up going.

Hope you are all doing well, readers!  I’m one sixth of the way done here, but there is a lot more of Prague to see.

Initial Report

I write this entry near the end of my first full day in Prague.  Apologies that it has been so long, but it’s been an eventful couple of days–and the internet access here is not very good.

The flights went fairly well, for my first international trip.  I did not sleep much on the Atlanta-Paris flight, due to a combination of flight anxiety and one of the most turbulent flights I have ever experienced.  On the positive side, I managed to finally see Argo, which I have been meaning to do for quite some time now (nothing better to prepare for Study Abroad than a move about Americans living under siege in a hostile foreign country!)

I also happened to sit behind two girls who, coincidentally, were also traveling to Prague via Paris for Study Abroad (though they were in a different program).  They also had the same flight as me, so we swiftly became airport-buddies–a decision that would very quickly reap its rewards.

You see, my layover in Paris was originally scheduled to be only an hour.  Fortunately, we arrived about twenty minutes early–this is the only reason that I made it to Prague on time.  Our daring trio found three different customs lines that we had to cross, two of which had more than a forty minute wait each.  It would have been physically impossible to make it through in time.  However, our group was able to find airport staff, and our begging and pleading (and reasonable explanation of the issue, mostly) was able to get us through the lines quickly.  We may have cut ahead of people.  No regrets.

The last leg of my flight, from Paris to Prague, left on time and was relatively uneventful.  It was smooth, and I was even able to sleep most of the way.

This should have been a sign that something was wrong.

The other shoe dropped when I was unable to find my luggage at baggage claim.  I searched for it (along with the rest of my Power Trio) but it did not show up.  Eventually I had to go make a complaint with the baggage claim people and leave without my suitcase before the ride had arranged left me at the airport.

I arrived at the Pension alone, a man with nothing but a carry-on bag and a bad case of oncoming jetlag.  In order to combat the latter, I unpacked the former and headed out with one of my roommates to get dinner (and one of the best beers I have ever had.)  After a pretty satisfying meal (albeit one that would have been better if I knew Czech for “medium-well”) we headed back, just in time for the rest of our roommates to arrive.  We promptly headed out for a few drinks at a local sports bar.  Having our fill, we headed back to the Pension–to run into other newly arrived students heading out for more drinks, at an allegedly better bar.  Not wanting to turn down such an invitation, we went out once again.

This was, of course, all part of a clever plan to combat jet-lag…by drinking enough beer to make myself sleepy, I would force myself to go to sleep around 10 or 11 pm, which would normally have felt like early afternoon to me.  Sadly, this plan did not succeed, and I have had a blistering tiredness-induced headache most of today.  However, my luggage did indeed arrive the next day, so things are going pretty well.

Later, I will go into more detail about ordering food in a restaurant where I don’t speak the language, our first day of classes, exploring Prague, and dealing with an internet connection that can only be described as “combatative.”

Ahoj, readers, and děkuji.

Prague-a-log Prologue

And so it begins.

This is the first entry in my tale of adventure, intrigue, and trying not to embarrass myself as an ignorant American in the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic.  Misadventures will be had, shenanigans will ensue, and I will hopefully return with both a greater understanding of myself, screenwriting, the human spirit, and also a somewhat salvageable GPA.

This blog will chronicle my trip to Prague, as well as the classes that I am taking and my eventual (hopeful) return.  I am taking classes in Film History and Screenwriting, so you can probably expect at least one movie review and some rambling about the creative process of actually writing a screenplay.

Those who follow me on facebook may remember that I wrote another journal not so long ago, the Snowpocalypse Journal of February 2014.  As fun as it was to write, I will presumably not be forced to battle the elements in the relatively blizzard-free environment of Prague (though I may be besieged by high quality beer and high-starch Czech dishes, apparently), so there will not be a survival element to this blog unless things go very, very awry.  That being said, I hope to come up with a few fun stories along the way, and hope you all enjoy reading them.

My next post will most likely be about getting ready for the trip, packing, and reading up on the Czech Republic itself to keep my American ignorance to a minimum.  Finally, I’d like to extend my thanks to NCSU’s CHASS department for providing me with the very scholarship that has both made my trip possible and prompted this blog.

More posts to follow soon–thank you for reading.