The first couple days in Prague I walked around in a dazed bliss. Between the physical and emotional exhaustion of traveling half way around the world with nearly 200 pounds of luggage and photo gear, packing up my life, wrapping up my business, and painful goodbyes, I was pretty spent.
But here I was in Prague. It was pretty surreal. It was everything, and more, than I remembered. For a major European city, it feels calm and safe. I was glad to see that the city has not become totally “gentrified.” I saw large empty apartment buildings yet to be renovated. However, there are signs that it’s slowly happening. I can’t wait to explore the edgy areas of Prague. Grit is always way more interesting and authentic than new and shiny. The people are really friendly. I’ll have no problem making friends. English is widely spoken, but I fully intend to learning Czech.
Before I arrived, I booked an Air B&B. The host was a lady named Lenka, with her boyfriend, Martin, and dog, Mila. It was in an old apartment building in a part of Prague called Vinohrady. It’s an elevated part of the city that was covered with vineyards centuries ago, hence “vino.” I didn’t pick the Air B&B because of the location - just that it was cheap and looked clean. As it turned out, after a couple days of walking around the city, I realized this Vinohrady area is exactly where I wanted to live. It's just outside of the most touristy areas. All the buildings are historic. It's convenient and there's an abundance of restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops. Staying at the Air B&B also gave me the chance to see what it’s like in one of these old apartment buildings. Lenka studies herbs so she was able to recommend some natural food and supplement stores.
Beer is everywhere. I think these people drink more beer than water. And it’s really good beer! Predominately Pilsner. Here, the Pilsner has a buttery taste. I also found a pub called "Beer Geek" which has a nice selection of IPA's.
After a couple days of recovering, I started to confront each important item of setting up my new life. First thing was to set up a meeting with my visa advisor. Not surprisingly, the visa process is complicated and a little backward. In order to apply for a visa you have to have an address you’re living at in the Czech Republic. So I couldn’t even start the process until I got here. Once you have all the paperwork together you then have to go in for an “interview” at a Czech embassy OUTSIDE of the country. So, I’ll be heading to Vienna or Berlin in 2 weeks for that. I hired someone to help me with this process - “The Visa Guru.” That’s the name of her business. Jitka Peterkova is a lifesaver and a real pro. I found her on an expat group on Facebook.
After meeting with Jitka I realized the urgency I was dealing with. As an American we automatically have 90 days to stay within the Schengen zone of Europe before needing a visa. The application process can take up to 60 days. I had to find a place to live before I could get the visa process going. The pressure was on. It seems a little precarious to sign a 1 year lease without having the visa in hand, but apparently, according to the visa guru and what I read, this is how it’s done. Jitka also helped me get my transportation pass. For around $150 I know have unlimited access to the Prague transportation system for a year. And an amazing transportation system it is! It’s the first time in my adult life I don’t own a car - and I don’t miss it.
Next step was to get a cell phone. I devised an efficient way to research important issues I’d be dealing with using Facebook. I joined a couple expat groups - there are a lot of expats in Prague. People are constantly posting questions in these groups. Completely random questions too: “How do I get my visa?”, “I spilled water on my Macbook-where can I get it repaired?”, “Does anyone know an English speaking gynecologist?” I started monitoring these groups 6 months ago, and anytime a question came up around important issues, I filed it in an e-mail folder. When it came time to get a cell phone, I simply went to my Prague cell phone file, and there was a treasure trove of people’s responses to questions about cell phones. The system here is you own your phone and they give you a SIM card. It’ s a much better system. I'm paying about 60% less than a similar plan in the states.
The next step was to start looking for an apartment. That will be a whole blog post on it’s own. I also found a crossfit gym. A really great gym with American and Czech coaches. Amazing how the crossfit culture is the same everywhere. I felt instantly at home the minute I walked in. The gym is great, it’s a grimy old communist era industrial building. It kind of has that early days of Rocky Balboa feel. It even has a little café with...Yep…A BEER TAP! I also attended a yoga class that was taught by a lady from Kazakhstan, and there were at least 5 different nationalities in the class.
Saturday I went to a pub that’s a popular hang for expats. I made two new musician friends. Jack is a baby boomer age British rocker dude full of stories and a smooth even voice that you could listen to all night. He dedicated a Glen Campbell song to me that mentioned Albuquerque. Maria is a Czech lady with a beautiful soulful voice and a huge repertoire of originals and covers. They are both a part of a band, and apparently the base player is an American whose mom lives somewhere near Santa Fe. Can’t wait to see them all play together! The bar has a cool basement and was packed with people from at least 5 or 6 countries as far as I could count. I even got invited by an Italian guy to play keys in his metal band.
Next big step will be to start learning the language. I’ll be taking classes for that. I tried a couple self-study courses, but it didn’t go so well - it doesn’t seem like an easy language to learn. I was sitting in a restaurant the other day and there was an elderly woman sitting by herself eating lunch at the table next to me. She didn’t speak English - most older people don’t. There was a moment when we looked at each other and smiled. I wanted more than anything to go over and sit with her and talk to her in her language, hear her stories, and I know she would have loved it.
All in due time…
"Each one of us who travels further than the obstacles will know a different kind of life from that time on."