Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Very Zizkov Night

After arriving home incredibly late, I decided to use my one free pass and take the morning to myself. It was great to sleep in, head to the gym, and be well rested as I made my way back to my favorite modern art museum for class! This was probably my most enjoyable class, as I felt I learned the most about things I actually cared about. I would say my art knowledge is a little past surface level, maybe ankle deep. I enjoy the art I enjoy, knowing tidbits about the pieces I like.  However, during my time here I am realizing how interested I am in modern art, and this 3 hour overview was just what I needed to make my favorite museum even better. After class, starved, I ran to Loving Hut, an awesome vegan buffet, and one of the only options in Prague that is on the go. I have a theory that the reason Europeans are so skinny is that in order to eat you have to make an event out of it. “To go” isn’t really a thing here, but thankfully, when you really need it, Loving Hut saves the day. Enjoying a delicious lunch, I planned my route around Prague 7, determined to fully conquer this part of town by the end of the day. Today was the first time I realized how little time I had left in Prague, and I wanted to feel successful in crossing off parts of town as “completed” in my mind. Spending quality time at Ouky Doky and then glimpsing into the River Market, I crossed my last Prague 7 activity off of my list, and felt damn good about it. Now, on to the other districts..up next: Prague 3.

Coming home, Julie and I decided to go for a walk around Zizkov to get some “exercise” on a rainy day. The other day at Secret of Raw I had picked up a map of our neighborhood. The map itself is worth describing. The front is packed with different odd stick figure drawings, and the back holds a phonetic dictionary with important phrases such as “We eat vegetables in my country.” or “In Zizkov, they party hard.” This is the information you receive before even OPENING the map. It is so classic of the area we live, and I think it is so cool that the neighborhood has its own giant map of things to do. So, we started to walk around, trying to find different places that were listed. For example, heading down Borivojova street, which hosts tons of options, we peered into Bukowski’s bar, which is listed in the map as follows:
pop relaxed  MECCA for the internats/expats/local Czechster crowd..Sunday opens w/ a keg @ 7 KC(35 cents) beer. Tuesday FREE sangria for them LADIES come early!! Flash some muscle, spend a bit of cash lads.. Cocktail time!! Snazzy toilets, music you dig played at chat volume. Its social intercourse”
…just one of the many creative ways this guide explains its landmarks…. I entertained myself walking up the giant hills of Zizkov by reading these out loud. I made the comment to Julie “this is freaking awesome I would 100% go on a date with WHOEVER created this hilarious and magical thing”.  We walked a few steps further and then saw dozens upon dozens of these maps laid in a store window. Julie exclaimed “ITS YOUR MAP!” and we realized there were similar designs for all sorts of European countries. I kept exclaiming my affinity for the map creator and then we heard someone shout to us from inside. Awkward…the door was open…. We found ourselves inside a pretty vacant room, Lorde blasted over the speakers(Julie and my shared favorite artist) and behind a desk sat a tall, thin, blonde guy in a flowered cowboy hat and jorts, drinking peanut butter liquor. Welcome to Zizkov y’all. We made friends with Chrissy, and Idaho native who had first moved to Prague in 1999. Learning that he was not the creator of my map, but a dear friend of the guy, I was a bit disappointed, but Chrissy was a really cool dude and we enjoyed talking to him about the neighborhood. I also found it so cool that the maps listed included, Florence, Vienna, Budapest, Istanbul, and then OUR NEIGHBORHOOD. Finally, I had found other Zizkov fans! Chrissy encouraged us to head to Bukowskis early to grab our free sangria, and we told him we would see him later. On our way down, we passed a French wine shop. Thank god for my bilingual friend, as the shop owner did not speak a word of English but was incredibly helpful once Julie rolled out the French. The bottle of white wine
we bought was by far the best wine I had ever tasted. (So much for our exercise!) I cannot wait to break that open at Riegrovy Sady soon! Making a quick dinner, we did as recommended and headed back to Bukowski’s. We definitely should have taken Chrissy’s advice, given by 9 pm the liters of Sangria were longgggg gone. However, we tried some great, cheap, cocktails and soon our new friend found his way there as well. It was great to be able to talk to someone who knew Prague so well, had many interesting stories and was generally a person far from those I would typically meet in Northern Virginia or at Vanderbilt. As he left for a work shift, we made two other friends who were locals nearby. Although one had to leave soon after, Julie and I spent a long time talking to Vlatislav, a Czech, Zizkov local in his 20s who works in the roofing business and also is very involved in the couchsurfing community. While I had heard of this a few summers before when roadtripping through Spain, I did not know much about it before talking to him! While I am sure Marj and Steve would kill me..that is definitely something I will try in my lifetime. I love the idea of opening one’s home to strangers without a monetary benefit. Here lies an entire community of people who are just hospitable and adventurous and want to meet more like-minded individuals. There is an unspoken social code of empathy and paying it forward. In the scenario where it would be easiest for scam or abuse, respect is actually of the most importance, as the whole system relies on it. And thus, the people involved are inherently good. Talking to Vlatik brought this idea to life. You could see how excited he was to talk about past guests and his adventures showing them around Prague. His love for his neighborhood and city came through so clearly, bringing Julie and I to become excited about getting to know Zizkov more before we left. He showed us to a small, less well known bar down the street where we enjoyed a glass of wine in a quieter, more Czech setting, and in my opinion, we enjoyed one of the best conversations in Prague so far.
Lessons abroad: The world is safer than you would think. I keep finding myself in scenarios with strangers that are always more positive than negative. News coverage and Taken  make everyone seem like a predator. While I would never dare to belittle these horrible situations, sometimes, I think the fear is misplaced in the sense that those who are different than you are more of a concern than others. Everyone is a concern, and you should always be aware and cautious. However, with a combination of this attentiveness and an open mind + positive attitude,  you can find experiences and relationships that the sheltered and nervous miss.
One would think that two young girls spending time in grungy Prague 3 on a rainy night would be more dangerous than the international, tourist scene in Old Town, but it was actually just the opposite. There was no inappropriate British stag party, no annoying 15 year old Americans talking about the CRAZYYY night they had at Karlovy Lazne, no creepy backpackers, and generally no unwelcomed conversations. Instead, I found myself talking to the people who actually know whats up with Prague. I had decent and interesting conversation with no further intentions and it was such an incredibly nice change to the going out scene we had experienced thus far. While I have had pieces of this here and there over this trip, this night took the cake. There are so many benefits to moving away from the familiar and taking the time and care to step outside of your comfort zone in the right way. Although more difficult when traveling for short bursts of time, Im excited to see what similar experiences come my way for the second half of my time in Europe!

By far, this was one of the best days of my trip. A lazy morning, my favorite museum, delicious lunch, the best wine of my life, an evening exploring Zizkov, and great night meeting those who reside within it…today was good :)

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