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I Left My Heart (And Laptop, And Wallet) In Cesky Republika

July 16, 2009

What a crazy time Europe has been so far.  And by crazy I mean tragic.  And by tragic I mean unexpectedly awful and then unexpectedly amazing.

Pro-tip: NEVER trust hostel “security” lockers, chaps.

Next pro-tip: ALWAYS follow up a catastrophe with totally irresponsible spending on an event certain to be a great time.

Because I followed tip the latter, and was hopelessly ignorant of tip the former, I am now in Belfast about to take a romp through the city center, dodging petrol bombs and avoiding wearing orange at all costs.

As promised, however, the product of my over-active powers of observation during my time in the Czech Republic.  Take all of this with salt to taste, depending on how much you value spending 9 (hopelessly bitter) days in a place rather than a full year or some madness.

  • Reverse stereotypes. This has little to do with Prague necessarily, and more with how my perception of Americans has changed based on my time in Korea.  After stepping off the plane at Prague International Airport, I noticed a morbidly obese family, all chomping away at some terrible junk food or other.  My immediate thought was, “Jesus, American tourists make our country look awful.  Why can’t healthy people from the states travel abroad?”  I did a double chin take when I inevitably passed them by (get it? fat people are slow!).  All es klar!  Ja, naturlich.  Ich bin ein Berliner!  So on and so forth! The fat family was German!  A wave of relief passed through my lower intestine, signalling that it was ok to indulge myself in 500 grams of fried pork knee when we finally arrived at the hostel. Then I realized what I had done: the image of the fat, indulgent American had seeped so insidiously into my subsconscious that I never even questioned the nationality of the obese people I ran into.  The moral of the story here is not that Americans aren’t fat — we are — but that the rest of the West is too.  I’m looking at you United Kingdom!
  • Honor system. Prague decided to take the Bugs Bunny approach with turnstile jumpers freeloading off its public transportation system.  Instead of beefing up security, they simply eliminated the turnstiles!  I couldn’t help wondering if this would ever work in the United States, or more specifically, Atlanta.  To use the subway, tram, or bus, a commuter doesn’t purchase a ticket for each mode, but rather buys time on a paper ticket that becomes activated when you punch the card into a little reader.  So for example, if I wanted to cross the river, I might take the subway for 6 minutes north then take a 20 minute tram ride back West.  I need to buy a 30 minute ticket and activate it as soon as I take the escalator down to the tube.  The rub is that all this is on the honor system.  There is nothing physically stopping, obstructing, or even inconveniencing me not to use the service without paying.  Would this work in the U.S.?  Virtually all of the Western travelers I met claimed to ride the tram for ‘free,’ going so far as to mock the system’s naivete.  But these were college students on a budget.  I wonder if the loss of revenue from dishonest folks could be made up for in gained time from less congestion at entry/exit points and the surplus from limited purchase times (I buy a 60 minute ticket because I need to ride 41 minutes and a slip for 45 is unavailable).
  • Mark-up. Simply, a pint of beer costs $1.20 in the grocery store, and $1.20 in most bars (away from tourist areas).  This is the best part of Prague, by far.
  • No longer special. Travelling through Asia is in some ways better because of the ease of meeting locals.  The language barrier is an issue, but those who know a bit of English will not hesitate to interrupt two dudes just hanging out and grabbing a meal and a pint.  This was not the case in Prague, where we look exactly like everyone else.  Even if people would be excited to try English, they wouldn’t know that I was a native English speaker unless they eavesdropped.  I had to scrap my more passive travelling strategy, adopted from trips to Japan and Malaysia, to meet folks in Prague, Pilzn, or Cesky Krumlov.  This was accomplished by consuming copious amounts of delicious, delicious Pilsner Urquell.
  • Preservation. Among all the places I’ve been, the Czechs understand best how to integrate its history into a modern city without losing functionality or aesthetic beauty.  Instead of destroying older buildings, the Czech Republic retrofits and makes do.  This makes for some odd juxtapositions at times, but lends the city an air of reverence and importance that keeps the rabble rousing indoors instead of on the streets.  I wish Korea could learn a lesson from this country, as it demolishes centuries old homes and markets for the sake of monstrous, concrete department stores and sore-thumb high rises.  If the choice is between history and central air, I think it’s obvious which side you want to be on when the dust settles.

That’s a wrap, folks!  Either tomorrow or Friday will see my extremely positive thoughts on Ireland, followed last by some tidbits on England.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2009 9:28 pm

    Did your Macbook really get stolen? Because that would really not be cool.

    • July 20, 2009 1:32 pm

      It was actually my netbook. My Macbook met its early demise in November in a tale that is too unseemly for the internet. This will be my 3rd computer in 1 year!

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