Unexplored territory and a twist on unfamiliarity

Our last day in Prague was definitely among one of my favorites. Despite having a last nostalgic walk around the city, I discovered many unknown gems of the area and had a few unreplicable experiences. 

We woke up early on Sunday in an attempt to attend Palm Sunday mass at one of the city’s historical cathedrals. The morning air was extremely chilly and misty rain fell from the sky from grey clouds above. The entire hillside was foggy so it was hard to see Prague  which usually adorns the hillside. 

The cathedral itself, although plain on the outside, it’s brilliantly decorated with vivid frescos which can be seen 300 feet above on the carefully hand painted ceiling. Gold statues of saints, apostles, and martyrs keep careful watch over the (very uncomfortable) antique wooden pews. 

Right as we sat down, a priest said something in Czech and the entire congregation followed him to a court yard. Here, the air was warmer and thick with inscents. We gathered here with a group of probably around thirty other locals. Since it was Palm Sunday, everyone brought branches as tradition dictates. But instead of using dried palm leaves, a group of locals had gone a few before and cut fresh pussywillow branches from a nearby town. Since it is early spring, the large fuzzy white blossoms were absolutely beautiful on the green branches. 

One thing which caught me off guard was not the fact the mass was in Czech, or the fact it was about twelve degrees in the gothic church, but how we received communion. 

Back in the states, we usually cup our hands right under left before the priest places it in our palm. Then after, it is optional to partake in the wine or “blood.”  Back in the Czech Republic, the priest dips the bread or “body” into the wine before literally feeding it to you. All the locals just opened their mouth and allowed him to place it in. Being the ignorant American, I studdered awkwardly as the entire congregation of Czech Catholics watched me attempt to partake In communion. At first I presented my palm as is typically the norm. But instead of just handing it to me, the priest just stood there and waited for me to catch on. His eyes were full amused judgment. 

After mass, we found ourselves just off a small courtyard in an adorable little bakery and coffee shop. One thing I love about Prague is their delicious food and drinks. On multiple occasions I had their version of a thin but rich chocolate pudding, which they refer to as “hot coco.” I knew this is typical in Spain, but didn’t know it was similar in Eastern Europe too. 

On the menu they had a short snipit of history about the courtyard. To my surprise, a nobleman beheaded his wife there in the early 16th century.  It did not specify why, but I figure she probably cheated on him or something to that effect. 

After the cafe, we decided to go visit a moneststy at the top of the hill we had heard lots about. We debated on taking a taxi, but I’m so glad we braved the hill and hiked up ourselves. Once you passed the main city center and neared the crest of the hill, cobble stones turned into fresh green grass and you had the opportunity to take a stroll among the vineyard where the local monks produce  wine and fresh grapes.  By that point you are high enough on the hill to have a beautiful view of the entire city. Much like Vienna, turquoise domes provide a contract against the red rooves of houses in Prague. 

An education in international relations 

As I sit here writing this, an episode of the Simpsons in Czech plays in the background. It’s slightly amusing even though I don’t understand the language the plot line is pretty simple to follow. Emotions and tone of voice is identical and gestures say all you need to know. Yet, this phenomenon proves ture for more then just tevevision shows. 

I walk into a nightclub last night called the “Harley”  accomplished by my cousin and a friend. We sit at a table near a bar and it takes a little less then five minuets before we are already being offered drinks by a groups of guys.  People from all over the world come to Prague to dance, mingle, drink, and enjoy the nightlife.  Three pretty girls was more then the guys were able to handle evidently because before we knew it we were being invited to bottle service tables, offered shots of Tennessee Honey, and pulled from around the waist into a twirl on the dance floor. We were especially careful about the drinks because of the growin popularity in date rape drugs. It made me feel much better about the situation to know I had a friend and and my cousin (who is pretty much my big sister) keeping an eye out for me. 

When eyes meet, winks are exchanged, and a hand is offered in a gesture towards the dance floor, the signals are clear. Would an offer for a dance actually hurt anyone? Probably not. By the end of the night I had met a cute guy from Transylvania, four flirtatious Dutchmen, several Germans, loud and slightly older gentlemen from Scotland, some pushy hipster with a man bun (I never got his nationality), and a very sweet local from the  Czech Republic. 

It’s an interesting game…. Meeting people in a bar with hundreds of nationalities. At first you aren’t even sure if you speak the same language. Ironically, this is the only time I have actually used my high school Spanish. But after you concour the language barrier, the conversation turns into the game of “guess where I’m from.” It’s very much like the American teenage boy version of “twenty questions.”  Strangely enough, no one ever guesses I’m form the United States. Everyone always guesses Russia, the Ukraine, or once in a while France or Italy.  

The guy from Transylvania was more intriguing then anything else and slightly creepy. He had gotten there about an hour after we did. The whole time I could feel his eyes constantly on our group. At first I thought his attention was on my cousin, until she pointed out it was really on me. He barely did anything else except stare in my direction and smile sweetly. His move was actually quite brilliant, because I eventually got curious and made my way over to say hi. He was obviously taken aback but we managed to exchange a few worlds he explained that he had not come over sooner but, ” he was too shy and I was  so I pretty.” I almost snorted at the cliche, but was able to resist and only smile in response.” 

Now, I should probably explain the bottle service reference. As we were on the dance floor, a guy approached us and started whispering in my cousins ear. He then lead her by a hand to a nearby private table, one by one he returned and did the same with both my friend and I. I know this sounds like a major judgement lapse on my part, but technically we really only talked…. Until he hailed the waitress and she soon returned with a bottle of vodka and cans of red bull. The three if us shot each other a glance and took on amused smirks.  

I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was given some very strange compliments last  night.  While I was dancing, the same guy who wanted us to come party with him leaned over and whispered in my ear “You have a beauftil from. I’ve ne’er seen anything like it. Your legs are so long. I’ve fallen in love.”  At this point, I could no longer contain my laughter. European men have this type of well spoken and smooth nature to them. It’s like a type of classy elegance which is reserved for such occasions. But, this was simply over the top. 

The variety of mucus was amusing because one moment they were plaing hardcore metal  and the next alternative artists like Train. 

By the end if the night, I was thoughtly enjoying myself. If anything, the atmosphere was fun to observe and the flirtatious comments bounced around the room.  

I was taken aback when the hippy guy with a man bun randomly put his hand around my waste and pulled me onto the dance floor. It did not take long too notice he was entirely too drunk and too much of an ass to even deal with. We were dancing with our palms together when all of a sudden he pulled my hands down and placed them directly on his own ass cheeks. The look on my face was probably priceless.  He was clearly a European, probably Bulgarian from the look of him. But he was so proud to show off his own body he wasn’t too interested in touching home. Thank goodness, or he would likely be sitting in en emergency room now, praying he might one day be able to walk again. I would have made sure of that. 

It was then when I noticed the guy I would soon find out was a local from Prague. He seemed to be very perceptive to others’ emotions and caught on quickly that I must have been feeling awkward in my current situation.  As soon as I was able to ditch the show off, the cute Czech quickly cut in for his turn.  He was probably about 6′ 4″ and very blonde with a slender build. It is innocent fun like that which I actually enjoy. He simply seemed to have no other motives then to get to know me and enjoy an evening out.  We danced for a while, content to enjoy each other’s company without any other strings attached. By the end of the night he finally asked I if I wished to go get dinner with him in an evening or two… Unfortunately, I had to politely refuse. In his cute little accent his sadly said “Then is suppose we will never see each other again. Goodbye!” It was one of those lingering statements, one that echos in your mind. 

By that time it was about 3:30 am and we decided it was time to head back so we could get about three hours of sleep before our busy day that morning.  Crazy as it might sound, this wasn’t even half the stories which I could share from the night. My first nightclub experience was legendary to say the least. I realize that I’ll be getting a hard time from my cousin for years to come after this! 

Peace and love in Prague 

Today has been yet another inspirational day. I’ve realized something about travel. When you originally explore a city, you may feel tired, thirsty, and miserable. Yet after you sit down for a good meal and a rest your subconscious somehow sorts all the new things you have been experiencing and turns them into a condensed version of adventreous exploration. Yousomehow  forget how tired you felt hiking up a hill but remember the amazing view at the top for example.  After the day ends and you reflect upon your expericnes, you finally begin to realize the depth and importantce of them. This was certainly the case for me today. 

We left our hotel later then would have been ideal this morning. But we decided to hike over to new town Prague by the Charles bridge (a historic bridge lines with famous statues and epic views). There, we explored artists selling water colors on the street and finally found our way into a local Starbucks. I know what you’re thinking…. Why go to a European city just to drink Starbucks? Normally we would not have, but it was really cold outside and the location happened to be very convinent. 

Anyway after our coffee break we decided to venture onto a tiny side street as we followed directions to something called the “Lennon wall.” This wall is a famous street art project inspired by the Beatles to stand for peace and hope after the Vietnam war. All along the wall people have added messages of their own in spray paint. They usually represent a wish for change of current human rights violations. Today in blue paint was a message that read “happiness is a warm gun.” I will let you intepret that how you may. 

 My local friend and guide Hanka was telling me that only a few weeks before someone had completely white washed the wall, leaving it blank and desolate. People were so mad that a group of locals used an old picture reference to completely restore the wall to its original condition. 

Down the street from the wall was one of those famous love lock bridges. After reading about them for many years and seeing pictures of them in Europe it was amazing to stumble across one in person. For coupes visiting Europe together, it’s tradition to find a bridge and put a combination or key lock on it,  symbolic of an eternity together. Locks entirely took up the railings over the bridge and looked like thick vines of a metal plant. 

When we finally got back to the hotel, ready to meet colleagues of my fathers, I inwas very suppressed by who I  saw. My cousin flew across the world to surprise me on my my eighteenth birthday. I knew my aunt and uncle were also supposed to join us, but her presence was also a very pleasant surprise. 

adventures in the red light district

There are several words and phases to describe what I am feeling. It is something which is experienced around the world and has been since the beginning of humanity. For a few months now it has been creeping up in the back of my mind. It is something which slowly overtakes your consciousnesses and becomes your sole ambition in life. Although some may call it a disease, I prefer to consider it a blessing.

I have officially caught the travel bug. Ever since my early years of childhood when I first went to Mexico with my family, the feeling of discovery and exhilaration when exploring foreign places has become a central part of my personality. Barely a few months go by between trips before I start to become grumpy and unsettled. I could go on for years about my experiences across Europe and various parts of South America. But, I will save most of the details  for later posts.

One thing I will mention though is a thought which occurred to me while reading the Novel “The Goldfinch.” A few years back, my cousins and I found ourselves in a very precarious situation. After spending New Years Eve in Paris, we attempted to book a flight back to the US. Unfortunately all the seats were sold out and our chances were slim for about another week. We decided to take a train to Frankfurt, Germany.  Little did we know that Frankfurt happens to be one of the most dangerous cities in Europe. I’m not kidding when I say this city makes ghetto parts of New York look like Disneyland.

As we walked down the street, I recall hearing gunshots and seeing drug deals take place. In the windows red hearts glowed in the chilly late night air. (I later learned that the red hearts symbolized certified brothel) Turns out that prostitution is legal in parts of Germany…. We were literally in the heart of the red light district with no hotel reservations an no plan. To make things worse, I had developed a fever and had started to throw up. If it was not for the heart doctor from California we met on the train, I don’t now where we would have ended up. He caught us as we were lost and wandering down the street and offered to help us. He happened to have family in the city and was able to get us a safe place to sleep for the night.

I know it sounds funny, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience in Germany if given the chance. Because of a few full flights, I was able gain a new perspective on travel.  Because of a few full flights, I was able to experience a whole new country.

In “The Goldfinch” the main character describes the complexity of European train stations and the policies of international travel. He describes the customs and requirements of passports, even on a train.This part of the book would likely have been nothing more then a passing transition if I had not been able to relate to it.  After an international trip, there are so many more things you can relate to and so many more stories you have to tell. It broadens your perspective and raises many questions about the unknown. Although travel can be uncomfortable (as proven above) the overall experience is totally worth it. Even thinking about it makes me giddy to consider my next big adventure. Can we all take a second to consider the beauty of wanderlust?