September 1 – September 6, 2015
Kyra: September 1st we traveled from Paris to Prague and I got scolded a number of times. This first incident occurred on the plane when I sniped a picture of the flight attendant during the safety presentation. She looked strikingly similar to “Flight Attendant Barbie” and I was mesmerized. As they did their final walk through before take off, she stopped and asked, “Did you watch the safety presentation? You must cancel it.” My laptop wasn’t stowed so I thought perhaps she was asking about that. It was only after she left and I had some time to process that I realized she was asking if I recorded her. Later she came back and asked if she could see my phone to make sure it was deleted. Of course, that lead me to do some research on the topic. The icing on the cake is that Apple recently added a feature in Photos that I was previously not a fan of, “Recently Deleted,” but have a new-found appreciation for. Know that I nearly jeopardized my life to get this picture:
Where we stayed
Ben: Bert was the first Czech we officially met and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To say he was an accommodating host would almost be an insult. He welcomed us to our Airbnb at 10pm, showed us around the place, gave us fresh fruit his girlfriend brought in, and then invited us to the bar downstairs for a beer.
Kyra: The two had been waiting for us with three others who had only just met that evening.
Ben: Kyra and I chatted with Bert, his girlfriend, and their newfound friends for over an hour, discussing Czech real estate, their job situation, and travel. In my mind, it was exactly what we were looking for on this trip.
Ben: After staying in Prague at Bert’s for the night, we took a Student Agency bus to Český Krumlov.
Kyra: A brief aside about deciding to visit Český Krumlov. In London we wanted to have a next step after Paris and heeded a suggestion from a dear friend, Ali, who had visited the year prior, during a month-long euro trip with her sister.
Kyra: Before we got to the Czech Republic, I mentioned to my mom where we were going and she wrote me this email:
Hi sweetheart,Don’t you remember that we went to Český Krumlov on your Bar Mitavah trip? You were so young, so probably not, but I bet that you will recognize it when you see it. It is a darling town, which is a funny thing to say, but it was 13 years ago when we were there anyway! The vegetarian restaurant looks cozy. Do you remember that I was trying to use my Polish in the Czech Republic, and beside the fact that my Polish wasn’t up to snuff anymore, it must not have translated very well because people all over this little café we were in were snickering so much. Seth and you were very embarrassed!
Ben: We decided to extend our stay for 3 days to enjoy what Český had to offer a bit more (and hike up a nearby mountain), so we switched to a different apartment. This last place seemed to be in a neighborhood outside of Český and apart from the abandoned hotel nearby, it was very comfortable. Kyra was not too excited when I read the Wikipedia page, noting that Český was the location for the film Hostel (and less excited when I repeated this fact walking home in the dark).
Ben: As food is one of my favorite things, I’m going to spend a bit more time on this section than most:
- Liabon – a vegetarian restaurant on the river in Český. This is where we met Marek (more below). We ordered hummus and pita as well as dal with curried vegetables. Both dishes were excellently prepared and were obviously fresh. The curry seemed like it had just been made. Highly recommended.
- Pizzeria Nonna Gina – sadly Kyra and I tried this place on our last night in Český. We ordered the Salame pizza and played mini-foosball while waiting for it. The pizza was so good, we went back for the same thing 12 hours later. Same restaurant, same server, same order (which she skillfully recalled).
- Homemade Breakfast – another benefit of the Czech Republic is that it is quite cheap compared to America. Kyra and I bought eggs, bacon, peppers, yogurts, and an onion for breakfast. Total cost, $4.25. We didn’t opt for the breakfast beer, but a half-liter would’ve added about 40 cents to the bill.
- Cinnamon Silo – One of my biggest regrets was not convincing Kyra to get a “Cinnamon wheel”. I’m not actually sure what they’re called, but we saw them every time we walked through the city. They were like a small silo of sweet baked dough with sugar and cinnamon. Kyra denied my pleas because she claimed that she watched the chef roll a fly into one of the dough wheels, but I’ll never forget their smell.
- Strudel – at Café Štrúdl Kyra and I split one Chicken strudel (Savory) and one Apple Strudel (Sweet). They were very tasty and we were very hungry.
Kyra: I have always loved grocery shopping. Growing up, the way to play it was to go with my mom, who was indulgent in the amount of time she’d allow for at the store. In contrast, my dad would spend a hurried 3 minutes muttering to himself, walking briskly down aisles. Ben shares my dad’s philosophy of efficiency in grocery shopping, so he was pleased that most of the stores in town were mini marts. At our second apartment in Český, we trekked up to a Walmart-sized-store just outside of town…and so began my ethnography of shopping in the Czech Republic. The grocery carts worked in much the same fashion as baggage carts at the airport. All produce required printed labels from the scale at the end of the aisle. A great number of aisles were filled with some combination of canned pickles/sausages/peppers/onions/undecided. The alcohol section consumed no less than one eighth of the store and was filled with six packs of two-liter Kozel beers. A beer in the Czech Republic is expensive if it is more than .50 USD.
Local View and Lessons Learned
Kyra: Very quickly in Prague, we learned that at small pubs, beer orders were taken on a slip of paper. At our pub, a Jesus fish identified every small beer and a tally represented a big beer. We also learned that the bus from the airport to metro is not free and that if the transportation police catch you, you will have to pay a small fine. They will wear typical commuter clothes and the only reason you will trust handing your passport over to them is because you’ve seen them scan multiple other patrons’ tickets.
Kyra: Our first day in Český, we walked into town to visit the vegetarian restaurant Ben referenced above. Per usual, we split our food and discussed things that didn’t have to do with what happens after our trip – prior to leaving, my former boss, Justin, told me that one of the rules that his wife and he enforced on their adventure was no talking about what happens next in their careers for the first month. As we finished our meal, our words were slowly drowned out by the sound of coughing from the woman sitting next to us. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and when I returned, Ben was standing next to the woman accompanied by two other restaurant employees. Finally the medics arrived via the cobblestone pathways, which snake through the old town. As we waited, Ben and I traded regret for not speaking up sooner. We attempted to reassure one another that her coughing didn’t seem abnormal, until it did, at which point Ben sought help. It wasn’t until we returned home that evening that we both openly discussed similar sentiments around the brevity of life.
- As the medics left, we asked our server about the woman’s condition. Marek, our server told us that for a bit her heart stopped and they thought she wasn’t going to make it, but now she was stable. For three hours, we chatted with Marek and the restaurant owner. Marek has a soon-to-be-ex-wife from Excelsior, MN and a life that will soon be made into a Spielberg movie:
- He met his wife in North Carolina. While there, he worked without a proper visa. His boss let him use his address on paperwork to cover up.
- One week, while taking care of his boss’ mother at his boss’ house. Marek saw people poking around outside the house and went to investigate. They held up a picture of him and asked if he’d seen the man in the picture.
- The North Carolina police told him that the handcuffs were only a formality and that he would be home in no time. They even treated him to Dunkin Donuts on the way to jail.
- From there Marek was shipped to an end-of-the-road prison in “beautiful George (sarcasm).” Despite identifying as a vegetarian, he was given non-vegetarian meals until his Indian friend told him to plead hindu. The guards (“they were so dumb”), skeptical of his skin color, finally allowed the dietary restriction. He spent 70 days in prison and when I asked what his parents thought he said, “they were happy when I got home.”
- Last month, Marek went on a pilgrimage trek from Český Krumlov – to Rome. He ate his last meal near the table we were sitting at, then got up to start walking the 1000km (621mi).
Ben: Marek had something we didn’t – an insider’s view of a process that few of us ever see albeit its proximity to us. He spoke of how expensive immigration lawyers are, how those costs guaranteed nothing, and how it seemed that you could funnel an endless stream of money to lawyers or the government and never make any headway.
One of his friends from prison tried to buy a more expensive ticket to freedom; literally. The government told them they could buy their own plane ticket back home for thousands of dollars and this would reduce the normal 10 year ban from entering the US down to 3 years. Marek’s friend had the means, but when he received the papers for his release, he couldn’t read them. After signing and getting back home, they compared their papers via Skype: both were 10 year bans.
This was something I very much hoped to gain from the trip – outside perspectives of events and customs within my own world that I rarely need to deal with. To open them up with other’s views is a great way to analyze, critique, and learn.
Ben: Bucking the trend again and doing worst child. At the gorgeous castle in Český (the castle thousands of people go through and is credited as one of the best in the Czech Republic) two annoying kids were infuriated with their parents for making them walk up a hill to get a better view. Kyra and I thought this was somewhat amusing and it made us reflect on the times we had acted like that on the trip (it’s happened).
Ben: Apotheka – I guess this one falls under the Food category, but deserves to be mentioned here. For those who live in Minneapolis, think Marvel Bar, but then take the bill and divide by 3. It’s an old chemist’s shop transformed into a newer, more hipster chemist shop, where they mix drinks instead of potions. Well, maybe some of them were still potions. My favorite beverage was the Celery cocktail. When I first saw it on the menu I didn’t really know what to think, but after they mashed the celery into the glass along with a few other fruits and vodka, I was sold. We also went here twice and had the same waiter, but switched up our orders. The bartender liked us so much that when I tried to order my drink the second time he started speaking to me in Czech like I was one of the boys. Sidenote: This is always one of the best things to happen in a new country, to feel included and not “different.” Actually, I guess that’s just one of the best things period.
Kyra: No less than 97% of my time currently is spent with Ben. I think I was expecting myself to want more time apart from him, but, occasionally, during the 3%, I catch myself missing him (a bit begrudgingly, I may add, as independence is something I pride myself on). My point in saying this is that with all the time together, it can be difficult to distinguish between day-to-day and a date. Our last night in Český unintentionally went on a phenomenal date.
Ben: Although we’ve been walking most places, Kyra and I haven’t really had a chance to exercise much, so climbing a Kelt seemed like a decent way to get back into the whole exercising thing.
Ben: Camo everything (we saw pants, capris, manpris, shorts, bags, etc). Realizing it may be a Euro thing.
Ben: The murse
Ben: Having a beer…anytime, anywhere. We saw a hiker chugging a pounder at 11am, 12 year old boys drinking on the bar patio, and I guess they have the following equation: mom + stroller + pounder = happy kid?