Prague: Here I am…

Well, it was a long and arduous journey, but I’m finally sitting at the desk of the place that I can call home for the next four weeks.

On Sunday, July 24th, Jeff and I made our way from our home in Hamamatsu, Japan, to Tokyo. After throwing away more bags full of our belongings than I care to recall (clothes, random items, things that nobody wanted), we dragged the remaining things from apartment to bus stop, from bus stop to train, from train to subway and from there to the hostel where we would stay the night. It was painful at best – Jeff wore a backpack heavier than himself (well, it felt like it) on his back, I pulled my small but densely packed suitcase and we dragged a further three pieces of shoulder-breaking hand luggage with us. The hostel was comfortable and the last night a great one, as we were able to meet up with a few friends and get in some good food and karaoke – more about that in my Japan blog!

The next morning, we took a taxi to Asakusa subway station to save ourselves ten minutes of walking and took the 70 minute train ride to Narita airport. We were to board a 7-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur and wait for four hours before boarding the 13-hour stretch to London. Oh, the things we do to save a few coins. On the plus side, Malaysia Air are a wonderful company to fly with – the food was good, the stewards and stewardesses lovely (and wearing some beautiful traditional dress) and the in-flight entertainment good. We watched a few episodes of random comedies, and on the second stretch mercifully managed to fall asleep for five or six hours. By the way – Kuala Lumpur’s airport has a jungle in the middle of it. Quite interesting! We explored that, used the massage chairs and gorged ourself on food during the layover – after being used to Japan’s portions, we got more than we were expecting… only to be given another in-flight meal a couple of hours later. Oh well!

We got into London at 5.40am GMT on Tuesday, by which time I had lost all concept of time anyway, meaning that jet lag was at a minimum. We found our hotel, which wouldn’t let us check in until 2pm, and so had to tramp around London with hair that had not been washed for far too long. Still, my best friend came to meet us, and later in the evening a few more friends came out (after we had passed out for an hour or so after check-in) so we powered through and spent a lovely day in London. The next day it was up to Wales to stay with my parents, although I had but a day and a half to relax before taking a hired car for a four-hour drive down to Merthyr Tydfil to see an old friend get married. I hadn’t seen her for over five years, so it was amazing – and surreal – to see her in a wedding dress, marrying a man I’d never met, but the entire day was perfect and fabulous. I saw old friends, sang karaoke and saw my first yellow and black wedding cake! Well, if truth be told, my first wedding cake… I’d never been to a wedding before!

The next day, I drove back up to north Wales to spend a further lovely two days with friends and family, whereupon I was able to let Jeff experience his first British Sunday roast dinner, complete with Yorkshire puddings and roasties, and to show him the amazingly clear view of the night sky that can be seen from my parents’ back garden. We saw a massive, bright shooting star crossing the entire sky at one point, which was breathtaking. On Wednesday we were driven to Manchester by my kind and patient father, where we spent two amazing days with my old university friends/housemates. Two of them came all the way to the airport with us, which was a mercy when it came to carrying the bags.

It turned out that my suitcase was nearly 10kg over the baggage limit, of course. I explained that I was moving, and managed to swap a few things over with the hand luggage to reduce it a little, but still ended up paying a fair bit on top. Ah well, the flight was cheap enough. At the exact same departure gate where I had tearfully hugged my best friend before leaving for Japan for a year, I said goodbye again, only reminding her that we will be a lot closer to each other now. The flight took little over two hours, in the end, and we got into Prague at 10.40pm local time.

Now, here’s where the fun started. We couldn’t quite remember where we were meant to meet the taxi that was to take us from the airport, and so we ended up walking from terminal 1 to 2 looking for taxi booths. In the end, we decided that we had to try connecting to the internet, although it was no easy task when the airport’s wi-fi had its own ideas about which websites we could and couldn’t view. In the end, Jeff found an email telling us to wait outside at the transport post – although when we got there, it was dark, and a sign said that the last bus/taxi had been at 19.05 or so. We floundered around the email folders trying to find a contact number, only to go straight to voicemail. We were panicked, with me envisioning a reenactment of The Terminal or a hefty Holiday Inn bill. We then realised that the email we had been reading was the default one for people arriving at a sane time… ours had different instructions. Apparently, somebody was meant to have greeted us with a sign in the Arrivals lounge. Well, we hadn’t seen a sign, and nearly an hour later – they definitely had given up and gone home, despite the school having paid them already. In the midst of my panic, I spotted a Flower Vending Machine in the corner of the lounge – selling freshly made bouquets, perhaps to lovers who are too excited to remember to stop at Tesco and pick up a batch of roses.

Eventually, we managed to get through to one of the school directors, who had been trying to call us back since we had left a message. She told us to take a regular taxi to the address provided, and to make sure to get a receipt for later reimbursement. I’m glad that we did, because the taxi cost around 700Kc (about 25GBP). We were greeted at the hotel by a student, who took our payment for the apartment and then helped us take another taxi to our new home. We got in and were pleased to see that the flat is very decently sized, nice and clean and comes with all kitchen utensils provided. For the next four weeks, here we’ll be.

Still, we decided that we were hungry and could do with something for the morning, and it was a small culture shock to me that I couldn’t just walk five minutes to the nearest 24-hour combini. Nope, the nearest places that would be open by now (it was 1am) were in the city centre, which fortunately were accessible by night tram. Our new flat is up a steep hill, so we walked down to the tram stop and waited a good 20 minutes, surrounded by what I can only describe as Vikings tripping on mushrooms. It was a little scary after Japan’s well-mannered, calm people, who do change a lot after a shot of sake but are still more like playful children when intoxicated than some of the more intimidating folk I see elsewhere. The tram finally arrived, and Jeff was delighted to hear Czeck being spoken again. I think that, at this point, I was too tired to take much in.

We got off the tram 25 minutes later at Wenceslas Square, and suddenly there were lights and people and things happening. I felt a little like I was in a part of Manchester, with all the buildings so old and beautiful. On every corner there were little stands selling hot-dogs, burgers, sausage and drinks – including “tea with rum”, which I’m sure I’ll be tempted to try sooner or later. We walked up to a KFC, where I devoured some much-needed sustenance. It’s been a while since I last went, so I don’t know how international the Texas Grander and the colonel’s non-alcoholic Mojitos are, but they were good. I was slightly upset when I found it was 10Kc to use the toilet, though, and had to find change before I could go.

On our walk back I discovered that there is one 24-hour convenience store, even if it is far from where we’re staying. They sold drinks, sandwiches, snacks, alcohol, even some soap and other such items, although nowhere near a Japanese 7-11 (of course). Still, I found a wonderfully massive carton of iced coffee for just 20Kc (72p) and a turkey and beef wrap for the “morning”. As we walked back towards the tram stop, we saw the last tram for another 30 minutes departing seconds before us and made a futile attempt at running. Not a good idea in my tired, dizzy state. We missed it and had to hang out by the stop for another 30 minutes before it arrived. Another 25 minutes on the tram, the walk up that big hill (I’m going to get fit, at least) and then the trauma of trying to unlock the front door. It took us hundreds of attempts and about ten painful minutes to finally get the thing open. It was 5am when we finally got to bed.

So, now it’s nearly 2pm and I’m ready to venture outside once more and see Prague in the daylight…

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