Monday, May 25, 2009

Prague Blog day two

(FYI: I had not yet heard about Gramma when this was written.)

Our second day in Prague began at 3:00 a.m. Not by choice. By demand. By little L and his ‘body rhythm adjustment,’ you know, jet lag. (By the way, I took those “No Jet Lag” homeopathic pills coming here and I must do an endorsement because they worked like a medieval charm!) But little L, completely out of sorts, was all ready to romp and roll in the wee hours – those hours that Ilia and I are clinging to like a life preserver.

Thankfully, about maybe an hour(?), two hours (?) later, I got fed up with trying to motherly ‘ease’ him back to sleep in our bed and stuck him in his playpen where he soon was back in dreamland. Yay!! And then, remarkably, WE had to wake HIM up at 9:30 am so we could make it to breakfast in time.

The creperie restaurant, where our free breakfast is served, is a lovely little Eastern European gem. It feels like a cellar garden. Many shops and restaurants here feel like caves. They are small, sunken in, dark, stony and full of mystery and magic. I love it. Last night Ilia and I were talking about the Prague we ‘hope’ to see…and I set my intentions on the ‘secret places’ of Prague – and today, that’s what we found!!

I like our laissez-faire way of traveling. We don’t get all caught up in maps and tours and schedules and “to-see” lists. We have some priorities: the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, the parks: Letna and Petrin, Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square…and of course, marionette shops, toy stores and black light theatre/puppet shows! The rest is up to Serendipity. And that’s where we went today: into the colourful hands of Serendipity!

We made it to the Old Town Square (Stare Mesto), walking, even though all the residents tell us “it’s too far to walk”, it was actually only about 20 minutes. I have a new theory about the residents. The trains or trams or streetcars…or as they will be known in Toronto – the “LRT”…are popular here. Seem to be more popular than cars or bikes or the good old feet. I think it is because it is so easy to hitch a free ride. You buy your tickets at the news/smoke shop. You get on any door of the train. You ride. It’s fast and efficient and separate from the street traffic. No one checks your ticket. I imagine they must have “ticket police” in some realm, but we have yet to meet them. Tonight we took the train with the same tickets we bought yesterday. Pretty good deal, huh? ;)

Anyway, we ended up back at the Municipal House, checked our minimalist map, veered into a new direction and VOILA! Slam dunk, we were in the Old Town. Man, is it ever a sight to see. We passed lots of fancy hotels. (Our hotel is 20 minutes from the “touristy” parts, which is awesome because the neighbourhood is cheaper, quieter and a super place to boot.) We sauntered over cobblestone streets. I began to feel like a mama ape with little L hanging off my front carrier, happier than a pearl in an oyster! We saw everything together.

I cannot tell you the JOY that fills me (and Ilia) to share the wondrousness of the world with our little Boosha. There is so much joy that I was hardly afraid of flying this time. I focused on positive imaginings, but even when my fearful thoughts started to creep in, I said to myself, “If I am with these 2 guys, how could I possibly worry? I am surrounded by love.” What a beautiful feeling. And I also do not want Elliott to feel my fear. I want him to be excited by experiences, by moments, by Life. To feel the thrill of flying and planes and weightlessness, the anticipation of new cultures, the rapture of adventure! And that makes me my happiness greater than my fear. Also, it was a blessing in disguise to have the C-section almost 1 year ago today. It was a HUGE lesson for me in letting go. To trust. To forget about control. To keep the faith.

Faith. In the Old Town. Surrounded by Gothic churches, medieval clocks, cobblestone squares of people hanging out, cafes, street markets (the same one from yesterday and this time we were able to enjoy it and buy toys!), ‘secret’ toy & puppet & book shops in the caverns of the neighbourhood, Starbucks, opulent architectural masterpieces, many Chinese ‘bistros,’ hidden courtyards, a few drunkards (the city has gone to great lengths to “protect” the tourists from these ‘delinquents’ and beggars), massive droves of tourist groups from every corner of the globe, labyrinthine streets, monuments, ornate and GIANT doorway entrances.

And then there are the unexpected treats awaiting in those moments of changing Elliott’s diapers. There are the dilemmas: where to change him in the middle of stone and cobblestone? A public bench will do. A covered fountain will do. No change table at the Starbucks? A cushioned bench amongst the customers will do! And the friends who await: the 3 lovely, older Japanese ladies in their sun-shielding summer hats; the little Italian boy playing hide-and-seek with Elliott at the fountain; the numerous strangers he enchants with his flirtatious waving; the Czechs whose hearts he melts with his smile.

And now, our little international Peacemaker is snoozing like a little lamb and we are sipping wine, nibbling on cheese, making some din-din, hanging out our large windows (without screens), watching the barhoppers – that other side of Prague that us young parents will not participate in but rather ‘eavesdrop’ on like the local seniors – and just soaking in every relaxing, invigorating, gorgeous evening moment.

Speaking of barhoppers, there was another fun moment I overheard earlier, downstairs in the lobby. I was (finally!) figuring out how to access the free wireless as guests were checking in, mainly English-speaking ones. I have found the desk clerk to be one of those ‘standoffish’ Czech-types and now I see why. There is a little bit of nationalism going on with him, not necessarily in a bad way. He is proud of his ‘freedoms.’ A young American girl was asking him about the bars. This was the icing on the verbal cake for me:

U.S. chick: Will I need my passport to get into the bars?
Smoking, Czech clerk: (A little confused) What?
U.S. chick: You know, for I.D.?
Smoking, Czech clerk: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Are you kidding? This isn’t the U.S. We can drink all we want. We can drink on the street. We even smoke weed in the bars! Man, it must be terrible in the U.S.!

And there you have it. We Czech in; we Czech out. We Czech our blood pressure and our assumptions. We Czech things out. We sit back. We en-JOY.

Prague Blog day one

Ilia, Elliott and I checked in to Czech yesterday! :) If you would like to follow our adventure, then grab a moment, a beverage and a breath and join us below:

We are surrounded by a myriad of people, glitz, rubble, glittering gold spires in the sunshine, a cornucopia of languages and tourists, fresh produce, partying punks, flocks of senior tour group stereotypes, fashionistas, masterpiece marionettes, swanky coffee shops and even swankier McDonalds’!, cavern-like booze & tobacco shops, serpentine bridges, rowboats, cobblestones, and luscious greenery....

Our flight was absolutely serene, just as I prayed for. And when we landed – to my heart’s delight – the passengers actually clapped! I have been a sad, solo clapper for years, and this was the first flight in a long time where other people were moved to gratitude as I was. J

And this is actually a little surprising to me now because I have found half the Czech people – SO FAR – to generally be a little standoffish, remote, chilly (kind of like their preferred state of beer.) I am not closing my books on them; we are still tickled by those who are challenging this perception for us (mainly the younger generation.) But for us, so far, it started with the lady who ‘Czeched’ us in at the airport (made us feel like criminals cause we didn’t know to tag the stroller!), then continued with the flight attendants – military-like service without a big helping of hospitality - then a passenger who wanted me out of her way (but oooooh, I oozed the charm and, I think, won her over a little bit!) Then there are the people on the street. They do not fawn over babies. They do not take much interest in you. When you ask for instructions, they do try to help, in a very brief sort of way. They seem to be rather serious, actually. Perhaps it all goes back to the communism, I don’t know, but a big dose of clowns here would be a welcome change! J Funny, for people who are famous for building toys and puppets!

Anyway, I also must give a shout-out to the European airlines. If you are ever flying to Europe, DO NOT fly on a North American airline unless you want to pay for everything by the tooth and nail. On our Czech airline, we got FREE water bottles, FREE blankets, earphones and pillows, FREE baby food & supplies, a FREE alcoholic drink with our FREE dinner, FREE breakfast! And sitting in the bulkhead seats with our bassinet was like living in first-class! Woo-wee!

And the VIEW. Oh my gAWEd, the view! We flew for hours into a lovely sunset, we zoomed into a time warp where night time lasted for an hour, and then flew again for hours into a spectacular sunrise. Damn, I was more tired than a gypsy's donkey, but I forced myself to witness that gorgeous work of art before me.

And how did Elliott handle the flight? Most admirably. He slept for maybe 1 ½ hours, thankfully during dinner time. The rest of the time he played, watched the baby across from us, flirted MADLY with the elderly couple behind us, fought sleep like a champion of insomnia, ate, drank and was merry (for the most part.) Of course, he fell asleep again in the last hour of the flight and woke up in a WHOLE NEW WORLD! We were picked up by a very sweet Czechian man named John, and in his beat-up van I held on tight to little L whose car seat was (of course) broken! Welcome to Europe, baby.

Oh, to see him looking from his forward-facing car seat out the window was my 'raison d’etre.' He was exactly as I pictured in my imaginings…like me on a North American FPP bus tour…eyes WIDE open, glued to the visions passing by. We even discussed his wonderings, as he felt compelled to babble to me about all he was seeing. That kid is our divine little adventurer. J

Oh yes, and I forgot to mention we landed earlier than schedule. So we were already at our accommodation by 6:45 a.m.!! Yes, we got to see the Prague NO ONE else sees because all the sane people are still in their beds, snoozing. Of course, it was too early for our room to be ready, so we just got Elliott all set up with a diaper and some food, and then off we went, galavanting by 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday in the streets of Prague…which is to say, as if we suddenly morphed into a European ghost town. Everything was closed! Even when we returned to our hotel at 10:00 a.m., a lot of places were STILL closed and many don’t even open on Saturdays…not even some of the theatres do shows on Saturdays! Such a shocker. But we got our bearings, and made a detour through the park of the big train station, where the only awake people all seemed to be parading through, and a very interesting assortment of characters were hanging out on the benches.

We walked around parts of the Old Town, no idea what was what or where we were, dazed and dopey, but nevertheless enjoyed the glorious architecture, marveled at the early morning sun, learned some important Czech words like “cigarety” and “alkoholski” – a funny little note about that: the booze and tobacco shops were open before any cafes or bakerys or restaurants that we saw! And we wandered into a cafĂ© WAY TOO swanky for us and at 9:00 a.m. in the morning I saw a guy there drinking beer!! Ew. And I thought Ilia was bad.

Anyway, at the peak of our morning jaunt, we stood humbled before a magestic place of artistic prowess and like 2 people obsessed with crosswords, tried to figure out what its place of prominence is in the Prague elite…turns out it was the (Art Nouveau) Municipal House (home of the Prague Orchestra) and 'Powder Tower' (where they used to house the gunpowder back in the 15th century.) And we passed some black light theatres and a (closed) marionette shop, and a super cool street market that we sadly had to turn away from because Ilia’s ‘flight indigestion’ was hitting him in a hammerhead sort of way.

So we returned ‘home’ for a 4-hour nap. I think that makes it 8 hours of sleep for me in the last 2 nights. But I’m OKAY!!!!! (That’s just my head about to explode.)

Then, later in the afternoon we went on a train ‘adventure.’ Our goal was to get to the grocery store: Tesco, the great big chain of Europe. And Ilia, who I think is obsessed with asking for directions, has a terrible instinct and lack of discretion with whom he chooses to ask for those directions…and then after they give him the information he has requested, he doubts their knowledge about the subject!

So there we were, with clear directions that our destination was “4 or 5” stops away. We ride along, enjoy the view. One, two. Oh, the shops are open! Three, four. Man, the streets are packed. Five, six. Hmmm, the neighbourhood is getting a little shady. Seven. “Um, Ilia, don’t you think we should get off the train now?” Our train rides over the bridge, to the OTHER part of Prague – not the part where the grocery store is supposed to be. I get out the map. I point at the circle where the Tesco is supposed to be. I point out that the bridge and water are several BLOCKS past that little circle. We get off the train…and walk back. Elliott has peed his pants. He is fed up with being in the stroller. We change him, we carry him; we walk and walk. We ask multiple volunteers for more directions, but this time I get involved and become more choosy with my 'helpers.' We find Tesco. We get L’s milk, and food, and all is good.

But there is much to see yet, and much to do. Our apartment – at Amadeus Aparthotel – is a DREAM. We got a great deal on a 1-bedroom apartment with a kitchenette and a little balcony and tons of windows, in a quiet neighbourhood, with free breakfast. I think we are loving it more than our condo back home. J And yes, we brought a crapload of stuff, but it’s funny how the smallest person traveling with us has somehow manipulated me into packing the largest amount of stuff. Oh well, he has his little walker and his playpen and his books and toys and he is a happy camper. And so are we. Now hopefully we can just get some sleep.