forget the map

I’m at something of a loss as to where to start with my Czech posts, to identify some theme that ties my experiences together, that might provide an underlying structure upon which I might build my posts. so I guess I’ll just dive into it as I dove into Prague; drop my bags at the door and head out to explore the city, see where my feet (or fingers) take me.

despite the interminably sluggish, dragging day of travel it took for me to get to Prague (arrived at ORD at 4:00 a.m., six hour lay-over at JFK, three hour delay on the tarmac waiting out a thunderstorm), the overnight flight had its benefits. for many years, I wasn’t able to sleep on planes, even ones traveling overnight to Europe. (on my first trip to France, I slept less than an hour over a 36 hour period and while I crashed hard around 9:00 p.m. after an afternoon of sightseeing and slept straight through to the morning, I’m sure I wasn’t much of a pleasant travel companion.) while not great, the four or five hours of sleep I got on the flight to Prague, however, was sufficient to keep me going through a full day of wandering the streets of the city — from Old Town to Wenceslas Square to Charles Square to the castle to New Town and back.

I set out without any particular destination in mind and, over the course of several days in Prague, came to understand that it’s much better to head off without the intention of getting anywhere in particular. streets curve in such perplexing ways that you won’t end up where you think you will end up, you won’t get to where you mean to get to, but you will still see some incredible things along the way. and after a full day of wandering around the city and staying out till well past dark, I slept through to the next morning with only the normal challenges associated with hostel dorm accommodation.

View First Day in Prague in a larger map

two weeks + forty-three hours

in short, the Czech Republic was fantastic and much, much more on my adventures later. they are not so heavily history-oriented as my trip from last year, which is due in large part to my own limited knowledge of Czech history. I hope to remedy that to some extent now that I’m back and blogging; dust off the research skills and learn more about the places I’ve visited, the sites I’ve seen, the detours I inadvertently took …

but before I get to all that, I need some rest. why, yes, I did take it much easier this year and stretched my time out in several places over several days (namely, Cesky Krumlov, Olomouc, and Prague), and felt remarkably well-rested every morning in spite of occasionally-uncomfortable beds and a more or less constant nocturnal soundtrack of snores in various keys.

you see, it was the return that did me in. you might have heard of this “weather” that the East Coast experienced over the last several days. this weather that flooded the Carolinas and affected “millions” (according to a CNN estimate that I blearily registered sometime about 8:00 a.m. EST today) saw me stranded at J.F.K. International in Jamaica, New York. right now, let me just wish a great big frak you to: the uglier side of mother nature; the JFK Airport; crying, poopy babies; mis-directed luggage; the most pointless re-routes in the history of the airline industry; and traveling for forty-three hours to get home to your bed. (the home to which your luggage has still not been returned, despite statements to the contrary from local gate agents.) on the Prague-NYC flight, a guy ahead of me regaled his seat companion of his arduous 29-hour journey from Detroit to Amsterdam and I thought, “yesh, that sounds like it would suck.” if only I’d known how in time I would come to long for such a measly, short-lived travel nightmare.

but, as I said, I had a fabulous time in Czech and in spite of the nightmare at JFK, there were a few helpful gate agents (one of whom just worked through my options on the computer as I struggled to keep from sobbing unrestrainedly at the counter over a cup of hot water and honey I’d procured from the Starbucks to stave off my developing cold-throat). am I ever going to fly through JFK again in my life? HELL NO. double hell no. I recognize it’s impossible to avoid Delta now that they’ve eaten up Northwest, but I don’t anticipate flying them internationally again. as a rule, I’ve had much better luck with United and American (even going through O’Hare in the dead of winter) and it seems smart to stick with what I can rely on. one day I might be able to look back on the experience and laugh about getting stuck in New York during the “storm of the century”, but that day certainly isn’t today and the next hundred days don’t look so good, either.