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!