My first “smooth” airport experience¬†

As I glanced outside the tinted window of the 747 jetliner, it occurred to me how lucky I am. Not only was I headed across an ocean to a country people only dream of seeing, Air Canada was nice enough to upgrade me to first class. So there I sat, writing and casually sipping a bottomless glass of champaign while fergie’s song glamorous played over and over in my head. 

While on the first leg of the journey, from Denver to Vancouver, I had the pleasure of meeting a long time resident of Longmont, Colorado who moved from Singapore in her late 20s. Though her story was interesting, I’m thankful not to have been in her shoes at the time. She was traveling with her family to soul, South Korea but her husband didn’t make it on the flight due to an issue with his boarding pass. Frantically, she was trying to coordinate with flight attendants in broken English about her options of reconnecting with him. Evidently her cellphone wasn’t working and she looked like she was about to have a complete breakdown. I know from personal experience how nerve racking and anxiety inducing situations like that can become. 

When we finally landed in Narita, the first thing that occurred to me what’s how efficient and clean this city is. Getting off the fight, my family and I were greeted by customs guards who proceeded to check my passport and declarations form before taking my photo and fingerprints. Despite the extra security measures, their system was so well thought out that we managed to get off the plane, grab our luggage, go though customs, and get on a train headed toward our hotel all in a matter of 15 minutes. For a city with a population of around 18 billion, efficiency is key I suppose.  

The train we took to the hotel was clean and equipped with free wifi. Since the airport was the first stop on the metro line, there was a little old man who went into the cabin before us and cleaned before flipping all the chairs around by hand to face in the correct direction. It stuck me how much pride he took in his work.  Every movement he made was done with precision and grace. Later, I came to realize that this is a cultural norm.  Though I have always heard the people of Japan were respectful and dedicated to their jobs,  I didn’t understand that it was to such and extreme degree. Watching even garbage men perform their daily duties here is an oddly humbling experience. 

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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.