Monday, September 14, 2015

Prague, or, Things Were Stolen and Things Were Found

I’m on a bus, leaving Prague, heading to Munich, where I will wrap up my north to south Eastern Germany tour (that makes more sense in my head/geographically than it does typed out like that). I thought I would spend five nights in Prague, but really I should have learned by now that I always end up wanting more time in a city, and in the end I stayed for a solid week.

I'll take door number one.

Prague was damned near perfect for me in terms of what I like in a destination. For starters, it’s gorgeous, with effortlessly stunning buildings serving mundane purposes like being banks or exchange offices or shopping centers. You can pretty much stop anywhere, look around, and be impressed. Statues that are beautiful and detailed enough to be in a museum are just hanging out on the tops of these buildings, and underneath your feet are endless cobblestones (I tripped, a lot). 

All of this can be enjoyed for very, very cheap prices, from food to metro to hostels. Speaking of hostels, Prague gave me one of the best in which I have ever stayed, and that’s related to another travel bonus- the hostel was recommended by a friend I met in Berlin, with whom I met up in Prague. And since this is me, and y’all know what I like, yes, the nightlife was fantastic. The music, the venues, the bar hopping, staying open until sunrise- it was all there.

A sculpture suspended above the entrance to my hostel

I hate to be the one to say it, but clearly they were sleeping on the guardian job that night...

My first day in town I stayed out all night dancing with my friend and the girls I met in my hostel, my phone and a good chunk of money plus all my keys were stolen, and I ended the night the next morning catching the sunrise on Charles Bridge. I came home and slept about 45 minutes before joining the morning walking tour, where I powered through three deliriously informative sleep deprived hours. The guide grabbed some tea with me afterwards and filled me in on Czech politics and culture and anything else that came up, from Russian and American relations to freedom of speech to good clubs to check out in the area. We parted ways and I spent some time wandering the streets until I came back to my hostel the wrong way and in so doing found what would end up being my daily coffeeshop.

60 euro poorer, phoneless, lockless, freezing, tired, and super happy to see that sunrise.

Portraits of Exhaustion: Reflections on Prague

I ended up back at my hostel for much needed sleep, which I didn’t get. Eight Welsh guys joined the group and they may have embodied the most concentrated versions of asshatted drunken male traveler behavior I have ever encountered in any hostel anywhere in the world. The good thing is they were so outrageously inconsiderate they gave us all lots of good stories which were recounted a few times and worked into shorthand inside jokes mocking them relentlessly, so for that, thanks Welsh 8, you were great. I am still haunted by the sad fact that they ordered themselves into a Lord of the Flies-esque hierarchy that included a leader called Golden Boy and a bottom called number seven, but the peculiarities of hyper-masculine backpacker groups are not something I care to get all Jane Goodall about, so I’m going to let it go. I saw them the last morning, backpacks akimbo, hair devoid of Pretty Boy Grease, bleary eyes all ‘round, and asked if they were leaving. To their “Yes” I simply said “GREAT!” with over the top enthusiasm and a tight smile that communicated I just could not anymore with this. They looked at each other, confused that I was immune to what their mothers had probably always assured them was their boundless charm, went silent (a rarity for them, since they generally preferred drunken singing and loud banter at all hours of the morning), and left. Dear reader, I promise you this- after sunrise on Charles Bridge their departure was definitely my favorite morning in Prague.

Other than the Welsh Invasion of 2015, the hostel was a constant stream of interesting, social people who were down to explore and party together, with many of us staying 4 to 5 days together. We had a kitchen that became the hub of the house for comings and goings and cake sharings and whiskey drinking, as well as salsa dancing and party planning. On the other end of the spectrum I spent almost a full day wandering the streets alone, and I had a couple of lazy late breakfast mornings to catch up on writing and e-mails and job searching. It’s nice to just be alone in a new place, without always having to do something.

Blurry late nights, working hard on the club circuit

Cross cultural sharing- the joy of breakfast burritos has been spread to two more people.

It was also shockingly cold, so I broke down and finally purchased some Winter Clothes. I capitalized that because, for the amount of space they take up and the amount of money they required, I feel it’s necessary to communicate their importance. I haven’t had clothes this thick in over two years, and I already resent them for not being flimsy little things I can buy for $3 on a riverbank in Laos and roll up into something about the size of a deck of cards. Of course, after shivering through five days in Prague, the day after I bought my Winter Clothes the sun popped out, perhaps just to reinforce my trepidation that maybe I was jumping the gun on buying them at all. Thanks, weather, for making me doubt myself and my life decisions…

Probably time to work on winterizing the lower half, but the Converse will serve for now.

When I hit Munich I’ll be there for three days (and I mean it this time, because I have a train to catch and a date to make) before returning to Zurich to regroup, repack, hopefully get rid of half of my things again (whittle whittle whittle) and then hop that train to head to Italy for 10 days. This will be my third reunion of the summer so far, and I have two more planned for certain and a few others I am trying my best to work in. It’s been nice to balance out new places and faces and hostels with catching up at friends’ houses and seeing where they live and work. Having a reunion tour of the people I met while living in SE Asia brings a bit of my Laos life back into the mix periodically, and it feels like a little piece of home is here in Europe.

I still have good daily doses of fear about what I’m doing (I’ve been turning down jobs left and right, medical bills are something I’m just telling myself I’ll pay off when I do get a job, and I need to figure out where the hell I’ll be come Christmas) but I’m still happy to be doing exactly what I am doing. I posted this on my FB right before I headed to Prague, and it still sums up best exactly where I am at the moment:

I've never been one for image crafting, so just to be crystal clear: there truly has not been since I left Laos where I did not have at least one all consuming and fairly terrifying moment of "WHAT THE F**K AM I DOING?" I am 32, with no home, no job, no health insurance, fairly laughable savings, and I am gallivanting around Europe for no other reason than I saved up and planned on doing it this summer and I refused to let medical curveballs get in my way. I absolutely know that plowing ahead was not the most *responsible* decision, especially financially in light of my medical bills, but I am also sure that it was the best decision for me, given the circumstances. I wanted to give up and go home, and I am so glad I did not.
I'm definitely not sure where I'll end up, but right now I know that I need to be walking through the terror moments of "Oh, man, am I really screwing up by doing this?" because I am trying to move into a place where I am radically opposed to making any decisions based on fear. Even before the medical complications, I wanted to do this as an exercise in breaking my super type A, planning obsessed, security blanket ways.
So yeah, real talk, I absolutely have anxiety, fear, and stress about what I am doing and how I am living now (it's been almost 3 months of being on the road with no place of my own), but that is only about 15% of the time. The rest of the time I am having profoundly happy and satisfying experiences and thinking of how unbelievably grateful I am that I refused to let anxiety, fear and stress make my decisions for me.
So with that, I will say Czech Republic, you're up next.”

There is no shame in fear- fear is normal- it’s what you do with the fear that matters. 

Train station walls are pretty philosophical in Prague, as it turns out.

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