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Czech Me Out!

April 17, 2011   It has been nearly two weeks since I have updated my journal entries, a fact for which there should be no excuse. But, considering these two weeks have been filled with everything from international train rides to staying in hostels on boats, witnessing a saxophonist have a heart attack while serenading us, and meeting members of the Czech royal family, I will first assure you that I have been sufficiently occupied, and then promise that the resulting stories will make up for the wait! 

Let me go back a few steps to clarify. I am halfway through our spring break, which began last weekend and lasts until Easter Monday. As I write, I am sitting on an orange couch in my friend Lucie’s apartment in Prague, with a view out of her balcony, across a splendidly bright sky, to the spires of Prague Castle. I began this adventure with a 6 am bus ride to Orly airport, where I bought coffee (now a vacation luxury for me, as I am trying to minimize the number of caffeine-insanity days spent in my host mom’s tiny apartment!) and sunglasses, and then boarded a plane for Berlin. After some brief but panicked hostel confusion, I met up with Kylie and Emilia at City Hostel in central Berlin, where we stayed for the next two nights and toured the main sights of the city. 

As is the case with at least half of the things I do in Paris, I had chosen to visit Berlin because Michael had recommended it, having visited last winter during his own time abroad, and gushing about it ever since we met. Now, having been there myself, I understand the source of his enthusiasm. Berlin is unlike any city I have ever visited—funky and hip in a way homogenous Paris could never attempt, modern, but completely in touch with its history, young and very much alive. We climbed to the top of the Berliner Dome (the big cathedral on Museum Island), explored different neighborhoods (the city is much more neighborhood-based than centralized), and went to the East-Side Gallery (the ratified version of what is left of the Wall). It was all incredible. Then, on Sunday afternoon, we boarded the U-Bahn (the Berlin metro) for the southeast part of the city, where Kylie had found a hostel on a boat, and (in a moment of blind impulse we were sure we would not regret!), booked us there for two nights. We arrived to meet the rather bleary-eyed cook, who was Turkish and in his mid fifties. He showed us around the boat, with its adorable kitchen, bunk-bedded rooms, and four dogs, told us we would all be cooking dinner together that night, and then regaled us with stories of his youth, spent going up and down the river, playing music at different bars and restaurants with the ship’s captain. Bemused but excited by this rather alternative hostel, we took the tram back into the city to sightsee until that evening. 

When we returned that afternoon, I went down to our room to drop off my things while Kylie and Emilia stayed up on deck with the cook. From a window down below, I heard a saxophone blast out the first few chords of “Summertime” and rolled my eyes skyward at how very wonderfully bizarre my life is. After a few minutes, however, the music stopped, and I came up on deck to find everyone in a state of panic, the cook bent over on a stool, head in his hands. The captain’s girlfriend, a woman who also worked on the boat, ran up to the deck, phone in hand, while Kylie tried to tell her we needed to call the paramedics. After a few tense minutes (where we were put in charge of keeping the cook awake, and asked him random questions about the lineage of the boat’s many, related dogs!), an ambulance arrived, and he was taken to the hospital. We later learned that he has a pacemaker, or something similar, that shocked his heart back into its proper rhythm, as he was playing the saxaphone. But to Emilia and Kylie, who had seen him jump up in surprise, declare something was wrong, and then shout in German, it had been a completely baffling experience. He did not return until the day after we left, but is apparently doing fine now. We never had those communal dinners, however, and the rest of our stay was pretty much music-free! 

Despite this rather harrowing first day, we absolutely adored staying on the boat hostel. The captain took us across the river in his dinghy, we met an absolutely adorable French family, with whose children I practiced my best French small talk, and we all celebrated the captain’s birthday, on our last day there. Tuesday, we left Berlin on a Prague-bound train with heavy eyelids, suitcases crammed full of German chocolate (at least in my case!), and stories we were sure no one would believe when we returned home! The train ride across Germany and into the Czech republic was utterly breathtaking, and the five hours passed in what seemed like moments of contented repose. We met Lucie (a Czech friend who was Emily’s exchange student in high school, and with whom I have remained good friends for the past few years) at the train station, got to her wonderful and spacious apartment, and, after a traditional Czech meal and a starlit walk across the Charles Bridge, fell fast asleep.
We spent the next few days touring Prague, despite the freezing, wet weather, met up with Han and Ding, friends from my program one afternoon, and spent another with Emilia’s cousin, who is working at the Lobkowicz museum, a renovated palace which was only recently returned to former members of the Czech nobility! We had coffee on a terrace overlooking the city, and met two of the Lobkowicz grandchildren, who are currently interning at the museum. On Friday morning, Emilia and Kylie got on a train for Vienna, and I stayed in Prague with Lucie. I was originally supposed to go with them, but really needed to catch up on work and life in general. I am always running around in a state of excited, have-to-do-everything mania in Paris, and needed to slow down for a bit, before going back to the rest of my trip. I also learned this week that I got a job as a part time freelance journalist for a site that previews arts events in New York! This, along with another internship at a historical review, means that I will be spending next summer in the city, two hours away from my family and only blocks away from some of my best friends. As much as I am loving my time here, I could not be more delighted at this prospect. 

So what next? I am going to a walk against anti-semitism in the Jewish Quarter of Prague with Lucie this afternoon, enjoying now sunny and perfect Prague for two more days, and then getting on a flight to Athens on Tuesday, where I will meet Emilia and Han for the end of our adventure. The weekend after next, Kylie and I are meeting Hamilton friends in London for the Royal Wedding (an event for which I bought the most fabulous hat the world has ever seen, in Prague this week), so I promise I will have many more adventures to share. Until then, as the Czechs say, Ahoj!