We arrived in the Czech Republic eight days ago. Here are some reflections on what’s happened so far. Once again, the detail is for the diehards. Feel free to skip.
I fell in love with it when we walked through the door as it was so light and airy and pretty. Large, too. It only has one bedroom, alas, so visitors will have to sleep on the blow-up mattress I bought yesterday. It’s queen-size! The apartment does have an Ektorp fold-out bed, but the covers are too worn to be usable, and Ikea no longer makes covers. Ikea, you’re killing me. Back in Hong Kong a month or so ago I had to throw out a perfectly good bed frame because you changed your mattress sizes and none would fit the old frame. That means that a lot of old Ikea bed frames are going to add to Hong Kong’s landfill. Sofa beds, too, now, since it costs over $200 USD to get the covers custom-made. Meanwhile in Prague… I admit to feeling just a tinge of renter’s remorse the day we moved in. I was a little nervous about it all, I guess.
It’s lovely, but it’s old. The owners are an architect and a builder, and they’ve tried to preserve as many of the old fittings as possible. The place has many double windows—not sure of the real term. There are two sets of windows, one ten inches behind the other. Apparently this was what they used to do to insulate the apartment. They’re pretty, but they don’t always stay open. Buttons are set in the frames, and when the window passes the button, it pops up and keeps the window open. Some of them don’t work though, and I’m terrified of the windows slamming and showering some passerby below with glass. The owners don’t want to replace them because they’re original… I get it, but given that temperatures have been 35 and over in the last couple of days, the windows must stay open! The owner popped by today and showed me a clever Czech trick for keeping them open, in which you kind of trap the windows between each other.
I’ve developed a working relationship with the balcony doors, and they mostly open for me now. Those are the only issues, except for the kitchen. I should have looked closer. The benches and cupboards are so tall that I’m trying to find a step. Looking on the bright side, though, it’s one long bench, and it’s large for Prague apartments. A few feet from the bench is a lovely long table with two antique overhanging lights on pulleys. (See the pic of Hugo below.) They’re beautiful, and there are lots of windows. I’ll try and make the bench side prettier. I think it just needs some stuff on it. Thinking about looking for a secondhand island.
We moved in on Thursday, and I must say I’m feeling much better now. It really is lovely, just old. The 10 foot ceilings are heavenly, and I bought new curtains for the bedroom which have really improved the room. Off the main bedroom is a ‘wet room’—a shower room. There is a separate toilet off the main entry, which has the prettiest old wood, and another bathroom with just a free-standing tub. There’s also a utility room, and there are tons of cupboards in the bedroom, entry way, and utility room. They’re white chipboard, but I’m not focusing on that. The overall appearance of the apartment is pretty and light.
The washing machine is wonderful, and there is a five-line hanging apparatus that lowers and raises on a pulley, to hang the washing. I love it! It feels like some crazy magic that nature will DRY YOUR WASHING FOR YOU!
The owners have agreed to take away the old Ikea sofa bed, and yesterday I bought an Ektorp three-seater at the Prague Thrift Store. A little oxygen-wash whitened it. I’ll probably buy two new matching armchairs. At the Thrift Store I also bought some cute shoes, and Hugo bought a Gumby toy, as you do. I also found a bedside lamp and a lovely wooden stand on wheels that is perfect for the wet room (the shower room/ensuite). Ruby would be proud.
Getting stuff done
Months ago, I subscribed to a facebook group for people living in Prague—mostly expats. It can be a negative space at times, and I feared the worst when it was time to get my transport pass and a phone plan, but I had excellent experiences. Prague people use Opencard. You can load transport passes and parking credit (as far as I can tell) on it. Normally you have to apply for the card, and then when you receive it a couple of weeks later, you can load transport and parking passes. On one website, I read that if you go to the main office near Wenceslas Square, you can get the card on the spot. Off we went. Internet, I love you. Thanks to google, I knew that I would have to complete two forms when I got there, for each of us. In the full waiting room, a screen announced people’s numbers. I couldn’t see a ticket machine anywhere, so we decided to fill out the forms (which were in English too!) and go to the lady at the desk inside the door. Others had lined up to see her. When we got to her, she said we needed a numbered ticket. A kind Czech woman next to me said we were supposed to get a ticket from the information booth guy outside (He could have said something! Or waved a ticket at us!). One lady ducked outside and brought us back a ticket, and the lady who spoke to me gave us her ticket because she said she didn’t need it any more. So friendly and helpful! I was a little disappointed though, that I didn’t get to slap the counter and yell out, ‘C’est du Kafka ici!’ as I saw in a French movie at uni. I’ve always wanted to say that.
Because of my research, I knew we’d need photos and passports, so when we were called up (the desk lady was just a checker, I think), it took all of fifteen minutes, and we had our personalised cards in hand. The Opencard lady spoke a little English, and she told me (a kind of a wave to indicate ‘turn the corner’) we could load the cards somewhere in the building. I asked the information counter guy (who spoke no English, but understood what I needed), and he walked us around to another part of the building and gave me the wave. We headed down a corridor, and I held up my card to a lady at an Exchange counter, and she pointed us to a tiny office next door. Bingo. The Transport Dept person spoke enough English to understand that I wanted an annual pass, and Hugo needed a monthly pass.
And here is the craziest, most amazing thing of all. My annual pass, which will allow me on the metro, buses, and trams (which cover all of Prague, and I live two blocks from a main line) cost … $145 USD. AND you don’t have to pull your card out every time you use the transport. You just get on. Probably on every 7th or 8th trip, a Transport person has asked to see our card. It’s the easiest system in the world. I am inclined to think, however, that the metro train carriages are rather thin and, I suspect, easily crushable, but Hugo says I’m imagining it.
The same day we got the Opencards, I got phone plans from Vodaphone. I listened to the facebook group on that one. It costs about $28 USD and I have 4GB which should be okay. I don’t have a signal on the metro, but I read online somewhere that it’s considered rude to use your phone in public transport. How extraordinary. I’ve been looking around, and hardly anyone actually does use their phone. So strange after Hong Kong.
Our rental lease was straightforward. I think it’s the same as anywhere else, except that Czech law requires that either party can opt out with three months notice. I like this.
I’m very happy with the shopping here. There are several Target-type stores that sell everything, which
I’ve missed in Hong Kong. Yesterday at the Tesco hypermarket in Andel (means ‘angel’) I almost got teary. An area about as large as Target at Runaway Bay has food on the first floor, and the same-sized second floor is just like a Target. YOU CAN BUY EVERYTHING!!!! I missed that so much in Hong Kong. I bought a ton of stuff, including an inflatable queen-sized air mattress.
I’ve done a little shopping at Marks and Spencers. The Florida orange curd was incredibly delicious, and I know they have a banquet of gastronomical delights. I decided to do the ‘big’ shop—spices, cleaning things, cupboard staples—as Tesco, because I figured I might be able to read the labels, given that it’s an English store. Not so. It was fun shopping though. When I got to the spices and herbs, and I happy to see what looked like freeze-dried herbs in much larger bags than I’m used to. I’d heard that it’s hard to get cumin here, but I was able to buy three kinds. When I got them home I realized they were finely ground, ground, and whole seed. They don’t quite taste the same as cumin in Australia or Hong Kong. On my second trip I bought a container of Mexican mole. I’ve always wanted to taste that delicious-sounding sauce with cocoa in it. At church I invited two sets of missionaries to dinner this Thursday, and when I got home I realized I only had one small pot and no bowls. I think Mexican might be the way to go! There’s a shop here run by a Texan, and it only sells Mexican foods. Might have to go have a look.
At the supermarket, I bought Hugo some Czech sausage – so cheap here, and he said it was delicious! Fruit and vegetables are cheaper here than in Hong Kong or Australia. Yay! And Tesco is one of the more expensive stores. I’m looking forward to getting to the markets. One of my favorite purchases was spicy corn chips. The ones at Tesco are not like Dorritos – they’re like plain corn chips, the Tortilla kind, but they taste like jalapeños. They actually have flavor, not just heat and a layer of orange seasoning.. Looking forward to trying all the yummy local things. When I know what they are. It’s a little harder, being vegetarian, but there are quite a few vegetarian supermarkets around, too.
What most surprised me about shopping at Tesco what the home delivery. I shopped on Friday. It was delivered this morning (Tuesday). Admittedly Sunday and Monday were public holidays, but I did expect it would be delivered within 24 hours. Spoiled in Hong Kong, I guess!
On the next block there’s a little salon that does pedicures for $13USD. This morning in the park, I ran into the Real Estate agent who helped me find my apartment, and he told me about a place he goes for a haircut that costs about the same. His female friend gets a cut and color for about double that. Loving the prices here.
WARNING: There’s a moral to this story. I did encounter a couple of rude salespeople yesterday. The woman in the glasses shop (an arm came off my glasses!) was very dismissive, and I kind of took it to heart. I realized pretty quickly that it was my fault. I let her make me feel bad. I resolved not to let that happen again. I wondered what the missionaries did when they encountered rudeness, and I’m sure they do. I decided that they probably smile, so I resolved that that’s what I would do. I didn’t exactly smile when the cashier shrugged her shoulders as I pointed out the chewing gum stuck to my mop bucket, but I didn’t let it get to me. Likewise when the almost blind man yelled at me long and loudly after he drove his shopping trolley into my shopping bags which I’d placed on the ground while I tried to work out how to carry several heavy bags (I love my Trader Joe’s bags!), a mop bucket, and the queen-sized inflatable bed all at once. I said, “Prominte. I have no idea what you’re saying, but I’m sorry.” I’m going to look carefully next time. It’s possible he was following a raised line on the floor for the visually impaired. I was right next to the shopping trolley bay though, so there’s usually a lot of movement there. At any rate, I didn’t crumble. Yay!
I should point out that there was a very helpful saleslady on the upper floor, and when I showed her a google image of a dish rack, she smiled and took me to the right place. Additionally, after trudging a couple of hundred meters to the metro, a man ACTUALLY STOOD UP FOR ME on the train, and a lady gave me a sweet smile. Yes, there are some kind of grumpy-appearing people here. I’m going to keep reminding myself that their exterior is not necessarily an indication of their heart, and I’m going to try and smile and not be grumpy back, which is kind of my defence mechanism. This is a good lesson for me.
It was a relief to get it all home! I could have taken a taxi, but I ALREADY PAID FOR A YEAR OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT!!!!
We live on a corner 100 meters from a huge Park: Riegrovy Sady. The pic on the right shows a view of Prague Castle from one of the paths. Lola loves going there. The dogs she’s met have mostly been very friendly. We encountered something new yesterday. Lola urinated, and another dog licked it up. Not judging. Just different. Prague streets are a smorgasbord of dog pee (I can’t smell it, but she adores it), and each time we go out we walk in a different direction. She’s very friendly and very happy! She occasionally does this funny low growl when she hears a dog barking on the street, as if to say, ‘Yeah, I could take you, if I was down there,’ but we all know that is a blatant lie, and she is only ever tough from a safe distance. She had her first Prague bath this morning, which she enjoyed as much as she did her Hong Kong baths, which is to say, not at all.
The days have been rather hot lately – 36 over the weekend. Today’s high was 34, and tomorrow’s predicted high is 24. That’s a change! We’ve decided that the best thing to do in the heat is sit in our apartment and do nothing. Hugo has introduced me to the narrative of Gundam, a Japanese anime, and I’m really hoping Miss Hoshino wins the Gunpla championship. It has nothing to do with guns, by the way. Well, sort of.
We get quite a lovely breeze up here on the third floor, and this is a good opportunity to do absolutely nothing. Today was such a day. Tomorrow I’m going to go look at some furniture bazaars in the neighborhood, and meet a stranger in a park and buy her microwave oven for $22 USD.
Some people have suggested that it takes bravery to move to a foreign country, but it’s not quite the same when you know that there is a ready-made community waiting with open arms even if you don’t speak their language. The women’s organization in our church is called the Relief Society, and the local president gave me a long, tight hug. I nearly cried. Okay, I did a little bit. It was such a relief! I communicated with her by introducing myself via google translate, on my iPad. The Mission President, whom I’d emailed, was very welcoming, and his wife gave me another hug and was genuinely so happy to see us! I can’t wait to get to know them and other people better.
In the first meeting on Sundays, English-speakers need to wear headphones, and a missionary translates from Czech. The second class was in English, and then I wore headphones again for the women’s meeting. It was lovely:) It was an unusual day, too, because the BYU Contemporary Dance Team were at church. The men wore hipster-looking blazers and wooden bow ties. So interesting. That evening they did a music and speaking fireside, and it was wonderful. What a great welcome!
Hugo went off to a Young Adult activity on Monday night, which included dinner cooked by some of the senior missionaries. They do that every Monday, and have other activities each week that he’ll go to. The missionaries are coming over on Thursday night, as I said.
Next weekend Lindsey Sterling will be in town, performing. Hugo saw the posters in the metro. I wonder if she’ll come to church in Prague on Sunday. I looked up the tickets, and only the most expensive are still available. Hugo and I decided we’d rather go to the communism/nuclear bunker tour instead.
That’s week one! The apartment is rather empty but feeling more like home. We’ve been to some of the sights but are waiting for cooler days to traipse around.
Here is a poorly arranged collection of some interesting things I saw this week: