The bittersweet countdown to departure

Trip Start Jul 03, 2006
Trip End Aug 20, 2006

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Flag of Czech Republic  ,
Monday, August 14, 2006

Alright, since I have experienced more than I can adequately summarize, I will attempt to share some of my fondest memories and perceptions. Okay well I took the Friday train direct from here to Ostrava, and slept for most of the hour-and-fifteen minute ride. On board something rather unusual happened: someone made an attempt to have a conversation with me! The instigator was a slightly dilapidated gray haired man of about sixty five, without a train ticket. He told the train operator that he was only riding from one side of the city to the other, and he was too tired to walk. So we only had a few minutes but we talked about how the EU is becoming like the US, with all the countries turning into states and becoming the same. I did what I always do when I meet a Czech person, I pulled out my Old Settler's Club membership card (it's written in English and Czech) and he liked that. We arrived at about 7pm, and he invited me to go have a beer with him. *Side note: in the Czech Republic, there is no time of day when it is not acceptable to drink a beer. No exceptions.* Anyway, I thanked him and declined.

Much to my pleasure, Ross and Katka were waiting for me at the top of the escalator. So we took Ross' Czech-made skoda to their flat in Hlucin. Ross and Katka live in a "panel-lock" (a pre-made, enormous box of apartments) with Katka's parents (who were out of town). I loved pretty much everything about their flat, the antique Bohemian crystal, the old clocks, her father's collection of old belt buckles and daggers from WWII, and the cozy atmosphere. I was surprised at how spacious the rooms in the apartment were. They made me feel right at home.

So after we dropped off my bag, we went to dinner and had an enormous pizza as big as a man-hole cover. If it hadn't been thin-crust, we would have never been able to eat it all. But, being the manly men we are, Ross and I successfully finished the behemoth. I'll put a picture up. I'm glad I ate a lot of food, because the way the night went, I would need all the energy I could get. There is a street in Ostrava called "the street of 100 bars" (think of Czech Bourbon Street). Yea, enough said. Out of the 100 bars, I estimate we went to about 25. It was a fun time and we stayed out of trouble. That last part wasn't so easy at times like when I encountered some anti-American sentiment from a foul-mouthed Czech guy about an inch from my face. Or when Ross had to regulate some gentlemen's unbecoming comments directed towards Katka. But all in all, there were no problems and a general sense of warm regard for one another in the air.

We watched the sun come up as we waited for the trams and buses began their daily service, but to our dismay, the first bus shut the door on us when we tried to enter the bus. We still don't know why but it was very unusual. Don't worry, we called and complained to the dispatcher.

Okay so when we finally woke up the next day, we went to the store and looked for a charger, in vain. Then we went to dinner and afterwards to Katka's friend's house to spend the evening there. Around the table on the sheltered porch sat about eight guys and girls, in their late twenties and early thirties. On the table sat the dishes and evidence of a cookout, along with beer, wine and other spirits. These people turned out to be some of the nicest people I have ever met. They all stood up and shook my hand and smiled, and most of them knew my name before I got there. Buchta- the never ending joke. (In a good way.) Since we had just ate, our attempt to decline food worked, at first. My attempt to pass on the shots had much less success, unfortunately. And, ultimately, they brought us all plates of grilled meat, potato salad and home made pickles. The people all spoke English very well. They facilitated a wonderful time, and then thanked me for it. Perfect.

Anyway, so the next day we spent mostly at the apartment, hanging out and looking at a story on Czechoslovakia in a National Geographic from February, 1968, just months before Russia invaded Czechoslovakia. It was very interesting. Other very interesting things I did in Ostrava/Hlucin included: going to the town hall/observational tower in Ostrava and looking at the city from an aerial perspective while Ross enlightened me about all the factories and what they do, as well as the economic situation, both past and current, in Ostrava, and going to the bunkers (a defense system surrounding the Czech Republic, built between WWI and WWII). The bunkers are fortresses of varying sizes, built about every 250 yards apart with gun turrets and the works. It was an excellent real-life look at an aspect of the famous war which really wasn't that long ago. I wish the museum was open and we could have spent more time there and took more pictures. It was a valuable experience, regardless.

Well, I am sad to say that I didn't get to visit Joseph and Sebastian Nemecek in Slovakia this time. I couldn't reach them on Sunday. But there's always next time...

On the bright side, I did get to meet my friend from the bus, Jaromir last night for dinner. We had a very interesting conversation (in English) on everything from technology and religion to cultural differences and girls. We shared photos, mine from Ostrava, Prague and Terezin last weekend, and his from the Netherlands. I think he is the only person I have met here who calls himself a Catholic and actually goes to church. I learned a lot about the Church's role throughout history with the people of Europe and how it was perceived. That's not really something a textbook can reveal as well. Anyway, we are going to meet again on Wednesday and I might go see his house on Svaty Kopacek. That would be great. Yesterday finished with one of the classic parties in the kitchen. Haha. (Every floor has a small communal kitchen, and we all cram in there and party)

Today in class, my fellow classmate from England, 61 year-old John, gave a most inappropriate presentation. The topic was skinheads. Now, he wasn't out to give an overview or even support them, but rather to bash "educated liberals" for being hypocrites, and therefore worse than skinheads. Now, obviously these are his opinions and can surely be discussed in the proper place, but he just completely offended the class and didn't really make a point. He even threw in some comments about "the only thing young people from 18-30 do is mate." Haha. It was so completely absurd I had to try not to laugh. It seemed kind of desperate on his part if he was trying to either convince or influence us, but more likely is that he wanted to stir us up for his own enjoyment. Either way, it was bad news.

Well, while I'm talking about class, I might as well say that the initial feeling of being overwhelmed has remained strong, and actually given way to a sad acceptance of defeat. Not a complete defeat-I know my Czech is stronger than before, but I just kind of hoped to be better than I am. But at least now I have a lot more resources and a better understanding of how the language is constructed so I can study back home. Perhaps in preparation for a future trip next summer for Ross and Katka's wedding, or to teach English here after I graduate, or a trip with my cousins or perhaps I can convince my older brother to come someday. You never know.

Lastly, the airports I am flying out of are bound to be a mess since the recent thwarted attacks. I am flying from Prague to Frankfurt to London-Heathrow to Chicago-O'Hare, them Omaha. So I'll see you all in November I guess. Thanks for reading.
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