Saturday, February 25, 2012

Prague with Serdar


Prague is as beautiful as everyone says it is. Definitely worth visiting, if old European cities is your passion. We stayed in a large hostel right in the center of the city, only a half block from the famous Astrological Clock, which has an elaborate display when it chimes the hour (with crowds of tourists in front of it taking pictures). We had a 4-bed room in the hostel, and for the first two nights, we had the room to ourselves. On our third and last night, we shared it with two young women from South America. All four floors of the hostel were filled that night, and I think maybe there were 200 people staying there—all forty years younger than me (or so it seemed). But I didn’t really care—I enjoyed some quiet time in the room after walking around all day in the intense cold. Serdar joined the nightly pub crawls, but didn’t find them as much fun as in Krakow—too many people. One night we went to a classical musical performance in a beautiful old building with wonderful acoustics. Though it was clearly a bit of a tourist trap—there were only eight musicians and just a handful of tourists in the audience—I still loved listening to the famous classical pieces being played in such an exquisite environment.

We spent our time walking around the four old quarters of Prague, exploring the castle located on a hill high above the city, strolling across the famous Charles Bridge, going to museums, checking out the incredible cathedrals, the old Jewish section, a lovely park. It really is a wonderful city to explore and just wander the winding, cobblestone streets. Unfortunately, the bone chilling cold made that not as much fun as it might have been in better weather, but it did keep the tourists crowds down. Though I was surprised at how many tourists there were, given it was the dead of winter and not a holiday. I can only imagine what it must be like in the summer, and I don’t think I would like the experience. I realized on this trip that something I had thought was true about myself is indeed true—I really am not much of a tourist in the traditional sense. I like seeing all the old historic buildings, museums, etc. but given a choice between a city and nature, I would choose nature every time. And one of the most gratifying things about the trip for me was that by the end of it, Serdar said the same thing, that he too missed spending time in nature. We tried to figure out how to do a day trip to the mountains, but it was just too far away. Though next time… that will be our first priority.

One of the things I did really love about the city aspect of this trip was the chance to eat some of the foods I miss living in Ukraine—real bagels, great coffee everywhere, Vietnamese and Chinese food, and vegetarian restaurants, one of which was across from our hostel in Prague and had kind of an all-you-could-eat happy hour. And the Czech beer wasn’t so bad either.

We reversed our transportation back—train from Prague to Poland and then plane from Poland to Kyiv. I put Serdar on an afternoon train back to Simferopol and then I went and crashed at the hostel. I spent the next three days in Kyiv at the Peace Corps office doing all the medical checkup stuff necessary for approval for extension—all okay—and then I too got on the train back to Simferopol. It was such a treat to get back home on Thursday morning and to be with the rest of the family once again.

It’s a couple of weeks later now as I write this. Despite the stresses of the cold, the visa hassles, the unknowns of traveling with Serdar, I think ultimately it served the purpose that I wanted for the trip—to give Serdar the opportunity to see life outside of his country, to meet other young people from different countries and continents, to open up his mind to worlds beyond his own. Tall order for such a short trip, I know, but it did, I think, give him a taste of different ways of living. But of course, like that old song “how do you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen gay Paree” (which my dad used to sing about World War II), Serdar came back longing to live elsewhere and hating even more the difficulties of life in Ukraine. But, who knows, it could also have the effect of increasing his determination to make change in Ukraine. Only time will tell.
As for me, though at times in the course of the trip I wondered what the hell I was doing, in the end it brought me closer to Serdar and to my life here in Crimea.

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