Four hours down. Three to six hours to go. Yes, that’s right, we have a three-hour range of time for our arrival to my program’s first destination in our week-long traveling seminar and it’s slowly killing me. Call me crazy but there is quite a difference between a seven-hour bus ride and a 10-hour one. I’m praying for the former. However, now I can get in some much needed blogging.
We have embarked on our program’s week-long traveling seminar which will take us from Krakow, to Brno, Czech Republic, and then on to Vienna, Austria. But the details from this trip will have to be left to my next blog. For now, I must document my past week of bliss (which explains my rather lengthy absence from blogging). Last weekend half of the Anderson family was reunited when my mom and sister, Kristina, traversed from opposite ends of the globe- my mother from Wisconsin, Kristina from China- to meet at the center (me) for a wonderful week of delicious food, wine, sight-seeing, and all-in-all some much needed family time.
I essentially took a little “sabbatical” from my program while they visited, staying at their hotel with them and returning to my flat periodically for clean clothes. Their visit was just what I needed, especially after a crazy few weeks of midterms and presentations. During the last few weeks I was not only preparing for multiple midterms and presentations before their visit, but I was also working ahead, getting all of my schoolwork that was due the week of their visit done ahead of time. I was determined to be entirely focused on them when they arrived- none of this school “stuff” getting in the way. Apparently the promise of seeing your mom and sister, staying in a nice hotel with a pool that also happens to have a plethora of free food and drinks, shopping, and finally being able to try out all of those restaurants that are too expensive on your own, is a great incentive- who knew?! Although I was a borderline hermit for a few weeks, it was so worth it.
Having had a few glorious weeks of premature spring weather, I couldn’t wait for my mom and Kristina to see Prague greening-up under the beautiful sunshine. But after a month of lacking any sort of precipitation as well as a week of consistent 60-degree temps, what did I wake up to on the Friday of my mother’s arrival? Snow, rain, and cold, of course. Welcome to beautiful Praha! — but not really. Then to make matters worse, as we approached my metro stop with all of my mom’s luggage after I picked her up at the airport, an announcement came on the PA system announcing that my stop was closed (this was all in Czech of course, but considering we zoomed right on by the stop, I think we can safely assume it was closed). We then walked 5 blocks in the snowy-rainy weather, lugging my mom’s luggage over uneven cobblestones until we finally made it to my flat acutely resembling drowned rats. Some would maybe say my mom had a rather rough start to her Prague experience, I however, kept pointing out how now the trip could really only improve. No one wants to start a trip with too high of expectations, right?
I’m happy to say the trip did eventually improve and rather quickly- beginning with Kristina’s arrival on Saturday. Although the weather was still cold and the sun continued to hide, there was no snow or rain in the air- one step at a time, as the saying goes. By Sunday the sun was shining and come Wednesday we were blessed with blue skies and 50-degree weather.
What sights did we see, you may ask? ALL OF THEM. We did it all. Jet-lagged and exhausted, they still managed to fit in all of the major sights. We even managed to do quite a few things that I had yet to do on my own in Prague. Here are a few pics from our time together- unfortunately, I’m lacking in pictures from their visit because my sister is a photo-taking fiend- why bother going through the hassle of getting my camera out when my sister is snapping away already? She took more than 400 pictures half way through the week, so I think documentation of the week is fully covered.
Although this week was primarily a much needed visit from family, it was also a very interesting look into another side of Prague for me, specifically the “touristy” side. Staying in Old Town, near Old Town Square, and consequently in walking distance to all of the major sights, we were in the heart of touristic Prague. Despite still being March, tourist season has taken off and Prague will soon become increasingly densely packed (or so I’m told) with tourists of every shape, size, and color.
As my mom, sister, and I would pass over Charles Bridge in the afternoon or walk through the winding alleys of Old Town to dinner, my sister kept commenting, “If it’s like this in March, I can’t even imagine what Prague is like in the summer.” It was unbelievable, the sheer numbers of tour groups was astounding in the cooler weather.
Considering I arrived in Prague in the dead of winter in temperatures near below zero, it is strange for me to see the growing number of tourists. Prague no longer feels like my hidden treasure in Central Europe. Not that I’m criticizing Prague or like it any less, I just see it in a little different light now. Before I arrived in Prague I often heard it described as the next “up and coming” city of Europe and up until last week I still adhered to that statement, but I no longer think “up and coming” applies to Prague. I would say Prague is more accurately described as “here and now.” No longer “coming,” Prague is a popular and trendy travel destination with a neighborhood (Old Town) which specifically caters to the tourism industry.
The thing that most stood out to me this past week was the amount of English I heard. Living outside the city center, I typically run up against the language barrier quite frequently- I usually get spoken to in rapid Czech and then I have to awkwardly explain that I don’t understand what they are saying. But while staying in Old Town, I was amazed at how often we were automatically spoken to in English, how many menus were multi-lingual, and how most all prices were also given in Euros. I felt like I was in a whole other Prague. Another contrast to “my” Prague was that there was customer service- as in smiles- in Old Town! While the service was not up to the brown-nosing standards of tip-earning American servers, the occasional smiles and attentiveness threw me a good curve ball.
It was hard to say goodbye to my family (especially since they make it extremely difficult when they hug me six times each and then watch me as I go down the escalator to catch the metro) but I’m so thankful they were able (and willing) to come for a visit. With a week of traveling Central Europe directly ahead of me as well as two more weekend trips to Barcelona and Budapest in the future, my time abroad seems to be vanishing into thin air with less than seven weeks left- ahhhhh! But now having fully rejuvenated with some family time, I’m ready to take the second half of my adventure at full storm. Hopefully partially on rollerblades.