My second day in Prague was not nearly as bad as the first.
For one thing, I waited to go out until the sun was mostly down. It was actually a hotter day than my first day in the city, but I had a lot of writing and catching up to do anyway, so I just sat down in the hostel bar and relaxed for most of the day, cleaning up my Internet feeds and making plans for heading back home. I finally booked my last hotel night in London, wrote a few posts and put up some pictures.
I had a late lunch in the bar as well, just some chicken fingers and fries. I get a 10% discount on food and drink here, because I’m staying up in a room, but I haven’t really made much use of that, obviously — there’s better and more local food elsewhere in the city. Maybe I should mention the room, just for posterity’s sake: This is one of the only times during this trip that I’ve had to stay in a shared room, because the private rooms at the hostel were already booked up for the weekend. The first night I was in Prague, I actually had a four bed room to myself, but I still wasn’t able to sleep well: I wasn’t sure, minute to minute, if a group of frat dudes would kick in the door and settle in to the room with me. So as a result, it wasn’t very restful anyway, unfortunately.
Yesterday, when I was clumping around the city angry at tourists, it occurred to me that maybe my lack of sleep had something to do with my mood, so I decided when I got back to the hostel that I would probably have to lay down and grab a nap. But as soon as I got back to the room, I discovered my roommates: Three girls, all speaking something that I would eventually figure out was Hungarian. They were in the room and unpacking, but when I entered, they all sort of clammed up and sat there awkwardly, waiting for me to leave, I guess. I obviously couldn’t nap in a situation like that, so I just dropped my things off, and headed back down to the lobby to read. So yes, maybe some of my crabbiness yesterday can be attributed to exhaustion.
Then, when I finally went up to the room to sleep later that evening, it was still pretty early, so I expected the girls to be out, partying or enjoying the city. Instead, they were fast asleep in their beds already, so I quietly undressed, said sorry a few times (but still didn’t get any English out of them), and jumped into bed. About an hour after I did that, I woke back up again: The girls, all three of them, got up one at a time, showered and dressed, and headed out of the room. This was about 1:30 in the morning. After they left, I sat there confused for a while, wondering what was going on — they hadn’t spoken a single word of English, just chatted and laughed quietly in Hungarian.
At 5am that night, they returned to the room, and I assume they went straight to bed — that’s where I left them when I woke and showered at about 8. When I returned to the room in the afternoon, after I was done writing at about 2, they were gone, so I finally got a nap in, and rested up a bit. I have no idea what happened that night with those women.
I didn’t want to spend the whole day inside, though, so late in the afternoon on Sunday, I headed back out into the city, but this time went south, away from the main crowd of tourists. I walked down and saw Frank Gehry’s Dancing House (it is gorgeous, sitting right on the main Vitava river through town), stopped by the Emauzy Monastery, an old monastery which I believe has now been turned into a school.
Finally, I arrived at another old castle, this one called Vysehrad. This was a serious castle — there were walls maybe 50 feet high around it, and I had to hike up a hill (in the heat again) to reach a get and get inside. Once inside, I found a little fortress of a village, with thankfully only a few tourists and locals sprinkling the grounds.
There was an old cemetery there, with graves dating back a few centuries or so. And there was a church, an old Gothic cathedral that I’d seen coming up the hill. I went inside and paid 30 crowns (maybe a $1.50 or so) to go check it out.
The tourists weren’t swarming in here, but the few inside didn’t help their reputation with me anyway — the poor woman at the door told everyone “No flash” as clearly as she could, and there was a sign at the door that clearly asked for silence, but no one listened. These idiots were all running around the little sanctuary flashing away and chatting with full voices. I didn’t get any pictures of the chumps who took pictures of themselves flexing in front of the altar, but I did get a picture of the guy who ignored all of the art around him to take a picture of his wife in the pew. I also didn’t get a picture of the guy who was carrying a full iPad around, and taking pictures with that. Ugh again.
A few people told me I was harsh yesterday, and like I said, I was going on probably too little sleep. But I do really detest this kind of hit-and-run tourism, where nothing matters but the pictures and the checkbox on whatever list they’re using. There’s so much history in these places — in the back of this church, in a little room full of heritage objects from the church’s history (which people routinely stepped inside, looked around, and stepped right back out again in the 20 minutes or so that I spent in there), there were paintings that dated back to the 1700s, and one bone comb that dated to the 1300s. That’s nearly eight centuries of history, and people were giving it a glance, and then going back out to the gold-leafed paintings. Maybe is wrong for me to judge these people based on a few seconds of our lives, but man, have a little respect, especially for someplace that you yourself have paid to come and visit.
I did take a few pictures, but I never once used a flash in that church, and I did try to sit for a few minutes, thinking about how long that church had been there, and what it must have been like hanging all of those beautiful paintings by candlelight. The priest probably stood there with the artist himself at some point, thanked him again for painting this beautiful work to hang in God’s house, and the artist nervously left it there, left it for God and history to see. That’s the kind of stuff that fascinates me about this places, and if nothing else, those idiots who take a flash picture and then move on sure don’t seem like they’re thinking about things like that. Maybe it’s none of my business, but that’s what I think.
Afterwards, I walked across the fortress walls and back down through the gate down into the city again.
Because it was my last day on this trip (tomorrow, I board a flight to London, and from there it’s back to LA and my usual life again), I tried to think a little bit as I walked about why I did it, and what I got out of it. I’ve always said I wanted to visit London and Paris, so if nothing else, that goal’s been accomplished. But of course there was more to this trip than that. I wanted to go outside of my usual boundaries, try going to a place where I didn’t know the language, and see if I could find my feet and figure things out. I wanted to see what was different in the rest of the world, what I took for granted every day that people in other countries didn’t even know about, or maybe had even come up with something better.
And I did learn some of those things: The English, for example, have red, yellow, and green traffic lights just like we do in America, but while ours go directly from red to green when it’s time to go, in England, they go from red, to red and yellow, and then to green. That way, you get a little heads-up when it’s about time to move again. I don’t know — that probably wouldn’t work in America, as we’d have people revving their engines to go as soon as that yellow light came on. But it’s different things like that I was looking for and found. Things like how bathrooms are called WC here, and how there’s a different word for “Exit” in every country.
And how Prague’s currency actually helps bring tourist money in: 99.- here means 99 crowns, which to us Americans sounds like 99 cents. If you see a hot dog for 99 cents, you’re like yes indeed, that’s a good deal. But 99 crowns is actually almost $5, and it occurred to me that while Prague probably could just scale their money down and make it more even with euros and dollars, that “99.-” is actually a powerful selling tool. And since most of their money is now from tourism, it probably all works out for them just fine.
I would never have known that story, or had that thought, if I’d never left LA. I’m sure there’s lots more thinking I’ll do about this trip — I almost feel like I need to be back in my old life for a day or two just to realize how different things really are.
But I’ve also learned that lots of things are the same. Here, almost buried by loneliness while in Berlin (I haven’t actually had a conversation with anyone I know for a good two weeks now, unfortunately), I just sat myself at the bar and started talking to anyone I could. And while yes, some people just smiled and nodded at the crazy American, most people talked back — they were nice, they chatted, we talked about where we were from and what we thought of Berlin, and what our lives were like and what we wanted to do. It was in a hostel, so people were there from all over: From Germany, Spain, Italy, America, Canada, Australia, and a host of other countries. A couple of other times too, on this trip, I’ve just been bored and started chatting with people around me, which is something I don’t do very much in America at all. And without exception, everyone’s been very nice, been talkative, and we’ve found something in common, something to talk about.
I am looking forward to seeing how that affects me back in America — if I can share this much halfway around the world, how much will I share with people who already have a common language with me, and a common city, and probably common thoughts and goals and ideas? We’ve all got to push to be better people, and hopefully that will help me do just that.
It was about 7 when I finally got back to the hostel, but I didn’t just want to sit in that bar for my last night in town, so I headed out once more into the cool evening to do a little more walking. I went back up to the tourist part of town, and thankfully it was not quite as crowded on a Sunday evening as on a Saturday afternoon. I didn’t concern myself with local cuisine for dinner — I just figured I’d sit down in a place that looked good, and that happened to be an Italian place, which I’ve seen a lot of in all of the countries I’ve stayed in, but hadn’t eaten at just yet.
I sat down, ordered a Kozel, and a plate of gnocchi with chicken and some foccacia bread. My window looked out on to Wenceslas Square, and I watched the tourists going by, people from all over the world, looking up at me with wonder and awe (well, they were looking at the architecture around me, but I was there too). I sat there, read a little bit, ate my pasta and drank my beer.
Eight months ago, last October, I was driving home from my improv theater in LA (Improv! I just realized I haven’t done any improv in a month now), and I decided my life needed a shakeup, that I needed to do something a little crazy. And before I got home, I knew: I would finally take the Europe trip. In fact, I would take a full month, and not only would I see London and Paris, finally, but I’d head off into the continent, see all of the art, the old churches, the historical sites and monuments that I’d always read about but had never seen in person. And now, eight months and way too much money later, I sat, finished my dinner, and sipped the rest of my local Czech beer, looking out onto a busy public square as the sun set over Prague.
Oh, that was such an elegant ending, but I forgot to explain the mystery of the girls Or at least as much (or as little) of it as I uncovered.
Later that night, after a few more beers in the bar, I went back up to my room, and discovered them all asleep in their beds. At least, I thought they were asleep — after I fumbled around in the dark a little bit, one of them spoke out to me, in plain English, “It’s ok — you can turn on the light. We’re all awake anyway.” Another one laughed.
So apparently they did speak English. I said sorry again, and I asked them where they were from. “Hungary,” they said (not all together, but given how dark it was, they might well have just been one person). Are you just visiting? I asked. They glanced at each other. “Yes,” they said, “visiting.”
“And you?” they asked. I said I was from Los Angeles, that I was heading home the next day.
“And you,” they asked, “visiting?” I thought for a second. Yes, I said. Just visiting, too.
I asked them if they were going out again that night, and they didn’t understand my English. Going out, I said more clearly and slowly, tonight, again? “No,” one of them said. “Sorry about last night.” It’s fine, I replied. I just didn’t know what was going on. I don’t know if they understood that last part.
Well, I said, I am going to sleep. Good to meet you, hope you have a good trip. Good night, I said.
“Good night,” one of them said back to me. And with that, I went to bed. They were still sleeping when I woke up at 8 the next morning, showered, and headed out to the Prague airport to fly to London.
Posted on Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 at 10:30 pm. Filed under general.