Day one in Prague

After going to Europe in early March and waiting till the last week in May to go to Prague you can imagine I was very excited and very nervous the day I woke up and it was finally time to go.  I had a reasonably timed flight in the early afternoon and with the one hour time difference I easily arrived in Prague International Airport with plenty of time to get to my 4:30 appointment with Neville.  I was supposed to meet him at the language school and give him the deposit for the apartment key (really security deposit but he called it a key deposit), then he was to give me the key and take me to the apartment.

Prague International Airport

He really should have given us a bit more information about where the airport was located and how easy it was to take mass transit to his location.  Also it would have helped if he had given directions to the school from the subway/tram station – but he didn’t.  In reality the airport was 3 tram stops from my apartment and a maximum of 15 minutes travel time, which I didn’t realize until I was headed home four weeks later and wound leaving for the airport 2 hours before I had to thinking I had to traipse with all my luggage back to the city center to take the bus which later passed right by my flat.  Not knowing this then it wound up taking me over 1 hour to get to the school and then 30 minutes from the school back towards the airport my flat.  Neville had suggested taking a cab from the airport and being that he was the local he made us all think this was the best option.  Even after he sent additional instructions to get the price first before getting in the cab because  they would try to rob you for the cost of this ride if you didn’t negotiate first each of still made this mistake.  The bus would have been 10 cz (yup 50 cents).  Very comforting information.

After we landed I walked through the airport to the boarder control guards to be “stamped into the country”.  It was a long walk through the terminal and there were tons of stores etc before I reached the desk for boarder control, which I found odd at the time because normally in most countries until you’ve gone through passport control you see nothing but the line of people in front of you.  But here there was nobody on line, there was just me.  There were two open windows and nobody called me to approach so after waiting a few seconds I just approached one of the agents figuring it would take all day if I didn’t as both agents were avoiding eye contact with me.  The man I approached looked pissed and took my passport and landing card grumbling something in Czech I couldn’t understand, but I was stamped in and sent on my way through a gate to collect my luggage.  Easy enough – I got some cash in the ATM while I wanted for my bags to arrive.  I needed a lot because of the deposit and was a bit annoyed when I received it all in 500 crown notes (that is only about $25 US but it’s kind of a large bill in the Czech Republic considering the prices of stuff).

AAA Taxi

Anyway my luggage arrived and I went to the cab stand that was recommended in my instructions (because they are the ones that speak English so it’s easiest to negotiate) and said I needed a cab and gave the address where I was going.  All the while I had kept calling Neville to be sure he was there and expecting me as he isn’t the most trust worthy of people and I didn’t want to be stuck in a business area on a Sunday not speaking a word of Czech and having no clue where I was with all that luggage.  He wasn’t answering and the phone wasn’t going to voice mail either.  There was a message coming on but it was from the operator and it was in Czech which was not really instilling confidence in me at this point.  Luckily, there was another guy waiting for a cab and he was British and, of course, spoke English.  He asked if we could share and split the cab into town assuming one or the other of us was on the way, and I said yes.  The cab driver confirmed it would be a good fit after looking at the addresses and we loaded the trunk with all my luggage (2 bags which really isn’t bad for a minimum of 4 weeks) and off we went.  I had a nice chat with the guy in the cab on the way and told him about Neville, my situation and that he wasn’t answering his phone.  Oddly in Prague when you call someone and it doesn’t connect (as it was doing) you get the message in first Czech and then English (yes the odd part is the message is in English at all).  Since I didn’t realize this the first few times I hung up before I had gotten to the English part cursing Neville under my breathe.  Now in the cab I heard the whole message and it said “I’m not sure if you have the right number or if the owner of this number is being cheeky, but this number is not available”.  Great!

ITTP International TESOL School

We got to the school and the British guy said he didn’t want to leave me alone in street with my bags if there was nobody here.  So I got out and rang the doorbell while the cab driver removed my luggage.  When I got out I shut the car door – not realizing the seat belt was in the way.  I ran the bell and low and behold Neville was there and waiting for me, or to be more accurate my money.  So I went back to the cab and the British guy told me the cab driver was mad about the seat belt and said I scratched the door.  He wanted me to clear it up with the driver so he wouldn’t be charged for the damage.  I looked at the fare and it was only 300 CZ.  I only had a $500 note.  I asked the guy if he had change – I tried to give him the whole note – finally he said just do what you need to about the scratch and don’t worry about the fare he would pay.  I thanked him and turned to face the driver, who looked mad as a hatter at this point.

In Czech (so much for English speaking drivers as per Neville’s instructions) he yelled at me for scratching his door.  I did the puppy dog face with the big sad eyes and said I was so sorry but it wasn’t my fault as the seat belt should have retracted.  He said something I didn’t understand about the damage (again in Czech) and I put on my even sadder deer caught in the headlights look and told him it was only a small scratch and not even noticeable.  He got sick of trying to explain (or of yelling) and I cried.  He huffed and puffed and gave up and got back in the cab and left.  Score one for me on the free cab ride!

I entered the building with my bags and went to the elevator that was barely big enough for my luggage and myself and got inside.  I remembered reading that I had to fully shut the door before the elevator would lift so I pulled the door shut and up we went – I could have walked faster even with the luggage.  Eventually I got to the right floor and Neville, who had buzzed me in and was eagerly awaiting his deposit, met me in the hall.  He showed me to the door (but left me carrying all the luggage myself) and brought me into a room to sit down.  He didn’t offer water, the bathroom or ask about my trip.  He got right to the point and asked for his money.  I gave him the money but he owed me changed (since I only had 500 notes).  Instead of giving me the notes (or saying pay me the rest tomorrow and taking a bit less) he said he’d get me my change of 495 CZ tomorrow. Then he told me the others in my flat would be arriving at 5:30 and I should leave my stuff and go for a walk.  There were maps on the table and I asked about taking one and he said he’d give them out tomorrow at the orientation.  He wasn’t giving up his free maps until then.  So he let me leave my luggage and then threw me out to get lost for an hour while he probably counted the money and rolled in it.

The neighborhood in Prague 6 near our school where I wandered around on my first day in Prague.

I wandered with my camera and took a few pictures.  I got lost.  I got found.  I returned at 5:40 (only 10 minutes late) and met my new flat mates.  Jacqui, Louis and I each had 2 suitcases to carry and Neville had nothing.  He led us to the tram in Dejvicka at warp speed and told us that we needed to purchase a 1 hour ticket which cost about 10 crown (I only had a 500 note).  He owed me money but didn’t say let me get your ticket, instead he said maybe Jacqui can front you the money and you can watch the luggage while she gets the tickets – REALLY??? This girl I just met 3 seconds ago who 1 hour before found out she was sharing a room with me when she thought she was getting her own and who was NOT at ALL happy about this was now supposed to lend me money?  I couldn’t figure out why she should lend me money when he actually OWED me money?

Jacqui and Neville went to buy the tickets but Louis, who had been in town for a few days already had one in his pocket so he stayed with me.  Eventually we all got on the tram and dragged our (getting heavier by the minute) luggage up there too and of course there were no seats.  Somewhere about 10 stops up Neville mentioned that the luggage technically needed it’s own tickets but since nobody checks don’t worry about it.  We still had 6 more stops to go.  He also let us know if they did check the 10 CZ it normally cost for a ticket (50 cents) would be added to with a fine and turn into about 1000 CZ ($50).  Apparently it was a chance he was willing to take with our money.

The street where I lived for 4 weeks in Prague 6 on “the other side of the tracks”.

We finally got off the tram dragging our bags and were led by Neville to the flat, he was still moving fast and we were still trying our best to keep up.  He went across a road (not at the cross walk) and noted that was a 500 CZ fine if caught (but again not until after we had crossed illegally).  He took us around a construction site to another hill (the luggage was REALLY getting heavy and the wheels were not doing much stuck in all the loose gravel from the construction) and as we went up the hill he noted a trail through a small wooded area that he “normally” would take which went straight up a dirt path and across the open train tracks. He told us we would go the long way up the hill today because of the luggage.  When we got to the top of the hill we stopped at a railroad crossing because the signal was sounding and the barriers had come down.  Again Neville said he would normally just cross the tracks as trains take a long time to come and he didn’t like to wait.  But being a considerate guy (insert sarcasm here)  he knew we were moving slowly because of the all the luggage so this time he’d wait.  He seemed a bit impatient about this but since Jacqui and I refused to budge and Louis said nothing he did indeed wait (about 3-4 full minutes) for the train to come and go and the barrier to rise.  And then we continued on.  He noted aloud that the gas station at the tram stop was open 24 hours and was a great place to go for a midnight snack.  I know, call me a snob and all, but I am not all that keen on gas station food and thought this guy was a total ass and dressed like he would like a meal straight from a garbage dumpster (which at some point while we were there he said was an option – more to come on that later).  Needless to say his advise meant absolutely nothing to me.  He also pointed out a bar on the corner by the train station.

Bedroom and all purpose room of our flat – Jacqui sitting on her bed still in shock.

We continued to the flat on a loose gravel road pulling our luggage and most of the loose gravel along with us.  Then up another hill on a torn up sidewalk across from another construction site to our apartment house door.  Never once did he mention the street name, area or any real landmarks except for the gas station and the pub by the train station.  He pointed out the dumpster at the end of the block and the multiple recycle containers (for glass, plastic, paper, etc.) at the top of the block.

Our bathroom and the all important once a day (with very small hot water heater) “Shath”.

He opened our front door and had us haul the luggage inside before locking us into the hallway. He said this was the procedure and part of the house rules – you must lock the door downstairs and in the door to the flat when you came and went – so even if you were home the door was to be locked (both locks).  We left one bag downstairs and carried the other up as Neville was now in a rush to get somewhere and we had slowed him down trying to obey those pesky traffic laws.  We walked up the 3 flights to our flat and he opened the door like  he was taking us to a five star hotel; you could tell he was so proud of it!  He showed us the kitchen (see picture – enough said).  He should us the bathroom (I’ll explain the Shath later on).  He showed us the bedroom for Louis (nice a full bed, a desk and chair, another chair which was wicker and a window).  Then the piece de la resistance – our combo bedroom, dining room, living room and dressing room.

In other words a room with 2 twin beds, a wardrobe (for all three of us to share), a couch with a coffee table and a kitchen table with 3 chairs.  He was very proud of this space.  He thought he had given us the keys to the single best rental in Prague.  We had a large picture window and it looked over the constructions site.  Lovely! (Please note the it had no shades and the sun rises VERY early in Prague in the summer).  Well Neville ran off leaving us each a key to the front door and the flat itself and with the promise of wifi tomorrow, an email with the rest of the house rules and inventory of the apartment and some rather sketchy walking directions back to the school for our 10 am class in the morning all while we were following him back down stairs to get our other bags from the hall.

Our too small for it’s own good kitchen. You couldn’t open the dishwasher or oven without it hitting the wall. The washer machine didn’t complete the wash without assistance and basically the ants were EVERYWHERE.

Then we went back to the flat, sat on our respective beds and basically stared into space all deep in our respective thoughts.  No internet, no tv, no food, no entertainment of any kind and no clue where we actually were on the map so no idea where to go.  At this point it was about 7:00 pm and we were tired and hungry. So where did we go?  The only place we knew that was nearby and had food of course, we went to the gas station by the tram stop.  We got sandwiches, drinks and toilet paper (because there wasn’t any of that in the flat at all).  It wasn’t as bad as expected but then again it wasn’t exactly good either.  After we ate and even thought it was 9:00pm we went to sleep.

Welcome to Prague and our “castle area accommodations”

And this was only the beginning of our journey.  I couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring.  Oh, I forgot to mention and it’s important to know – Neville isn’t much of a dresser.  This was a Sunday but he was meeting clients that were paying for his school (us) and he was wearing a t-shirt, some very short cut off jean shorts and a three day old beard with wild bed hair.  He made a strange comment to us that we were overdressed for Prague and would stand out like the tourists we were if we didn’t learn to dress down.  For the record EVEN I was only wearing jeans and a polo shirt with some Doc Martins.  So I’m not sure where he got the idea we were dressed up but we were clearly not.  He, on the other hand, might actually have been based on outfits we got to see over the next few weeks.

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