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Maria & Brett's HUGE Trip 06-07-08-09-? ok, so the Socceroos lost in 'that' penalty against Italy; Adriatic summers aren't long enough (bliss!); and we found that you should never use the term "Eastern Bloc" when talking to a Czech (Central Europe, please).

Czech Republic - Return from the Ghetto!

CZECH REPUBLIC | Monday, 25 September 2006 | Views [3209] | Comments [9]

Brett and Maria going underground at Staromestska metro station - loving it in Prague!

Brett and Maria going underground at Staromestska metro station - loving it in Prague!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to pack up all your worldly possessions and head off to an unknown little country town in the middle of Central Europe for nine months? We did, but our wondering lasted all of 24 hours. Here’s our story……

Arriving in Prague on 1 September 2006 after a short flight from Stuttgart, we felt an instant connection with the place as soon as we hopped on the bus from the airport – it already felt like a second home. After a brief but wonderful weekend doing the touristy thing in Prague we headed off to become locals in the place we will now always remember as ‘The Ghetto’.

With lumps in our throats and arms ladled with all our worldly possessions we left on a rickety train to a place called Nymburk, passing through towns built around factories, timberyards and smokestacks. (Maria: At this point I was getting a little worried – how could I possibly live in a town full of hicks where the only culinary delight they had were potatoes served 57 different ways?! Meanwhile I could see the joy in Brett’s face as I knew he wanted to experience the true Czech lifestyle: The things a girl does for love. Brett would soon find out he got more than he bargained for). Nymburk appeared after all of 50 minutes’ travelling time. We hopped off with our heavy luggage in tow and made our way to the deserted parking lot.

Travel tip #1 – Beware that Central and Eastern European train stations are highly unlikely to have escalators, so the luggage you take with you will be the luggage you carry up and down many stairs. Oh and the trains are NEVER level with the platform so you will also need to lug your luggage on and off the trains. Needless to say our biceps and traps have become extremely toned.

Arriving at the time we had agreed with the school a few weeks earlier, no-one was there at the station to meet us. When we rang the school director from the station we obviously surprised her that we were in town, and she made it clear that this was an interruption to her Sunday afternoon. “We thought you decided to go to a different school because we haven’t heard from you for some time” (It was about a week and all plans had been set and reconfirmed). It was at this moment we had one of those thoughts where you know things are just not right but you tend to ignore it and think everything is fine. Come to think of it, this was the second such thought we’d had in as many minutes! The first time was arriving to a deserted parking lot with no one to greet us. Was it wrong for us to secretly expect a red carpet arrival!?

She reluctantly came and picked us up from the station and drove us across town (which took all of 3.257 minutes!), to the other side of the tracks and pulled into a carpark with the tracks on two sides and a graffiti-riddled Soviet-style apartment on another – obviously our new home for the next nine months. Luckily we already knew we were going to be living in one of these so-called ‘panelak’ buildings – very common in the Czech Republic, and they can be really quite nice and homely inside – so we were somewhat prepared for the concrete jungle lifestyle.

Reality Check #1 Maria: Ok, at this point I was scared but Brett was continuing to be optimistic about the situation and thought that the graffiti and the crack smoking 13 year old out the front added character and grit to the situation. I looked at Brett and my expression said it all…what had we gotten ourselves into?! We had reduced ourselves to white-trash living :(

But inside…. first we saw walls covered in all sorts of stains where the wallpaper wasn’t crumbling away, then our gaze moved to the floor where layers of dust and pubic hairs littered the floor which was stained with every fluid imaginable, then through to the main bedroom of this ‘furnished’ flat which consisted of a couch-like mattress thing that was more something that you’d let your dog sleep on – well it looked like a dog had slept there because of all the brown marks in the middle! We asked if this really was the bedroom (“where is the bed?”) and she pointed to it and said “there it is” and we said “but we’re a couple – this is obviously for one person only.” She then took us through to the living room (our eyes were closed by now!) and showed us the other “bed” which apparently we could just join together with the other bed thing to make a double. We’re still puzzled.

By this stage Maria’s tears were welling up like Warragamba Dam holding back a raging flood… and the director was on her hands and knees cleaning the floor or the sink or something (Maria: I could’ve killed her at this point), and that’s when we saw the tins of pineapple propping up each leg of a rickety old school desk that was supposedly the dining table. Maria came out of the bathroom and her face was white as a ghost. The bath was stained beyond human usage, and all the cornices in the bathroom and toilet room were lacquered with about 50 years of moisture and human… stuff, interlaced with pubic hairs and crumbs. As for the washing machine, it was filled with vile brown water which I refused to let Maria near, considering she was about to commit homicide.

“If you think of anything extra you’d like, write it down and we can see if we can get it here” was the director’s not-so-sincere response to Maria’s tears and my random switching on and opening up of things like doors and windows. I said “can you give us a double bed, a couch, maybe a proper table, something to clean this place with – like a broom or something?” “Oh, I meant things like some cups, or plates or cutlery because we have these extra things at our place”.

So, in a bit of a daze Maria and I agreed to take a walk through town, have a meal, get some fresh air, and see if our minds cooled down enough to make a rational decision. Our minds couldn’t cool so the rational decision was to leave – confirmed by checking out the local fair that happened to be on that day. We felt like we’d time-warped back onto the set of Deliverance, alongside Jon Voight. As some critics might have observed, we were “lost in a place where few are seen or ever seen again, only brutal inhabitants in an unforgiving and intimidating rural locale…”. Picture a Hicksville town fair, people wearing denim tracksuits, with men women and kids sporting the latest in mullet hairstyles. We were officially in fashion crime hell. We didn’t want to be part of this movie anymore so we decided to leave the next day.

Travel Tip #2 – If you find yourself in a place where time is stuck perpetually in the 80s, GET OUT! Trust your instincts because before long you to will end up sporting the latest mullet and double-denim tracksuit, and singing along to any song by Foreigner.

To get us through the night in the ghetto we set up a little camp on the floor of the living room and have a meal of crackers, cheese and ham that we’d bought from the supermarket, and of course a bottle of red wine – after sweeping all the pubic hairs into the other room and locking the door, just in case a breeze whipped through the place. It was late and we hadn’t even heard from the director to see if we were ok (she’d even seen Maria’s tears that afternoon). So we were excited to be leaving the next day, even if we didn’t have any jobs to go to.

Excited but clouded with a foreboding sense of apprehension we arrived back in Prague at about 4pm the next day, and still needed to find some accommodation for the night. We finally googled a site called Aussie Apartments in Prague (http://www.foxapartmentsprague.com/) and we called the number straight away. (Maria: I never thought I’d say this, but Thank God for expats!). Michael, who owns and runs about 9 apartments in Prague answered and asked if we had anywhere to stay for the night. He told us to make our way to a particular metro station where he’d meet us and take care of the rest.

Michael has been our saviour and we owe so much to him. He’s 52, a builder, and has been in Prague for 15 years, married to a Czech woman. He describes himself as a Basil Fawlty and the likeness in character couldn’t be more identical – except they don’t look anything alike. He’ll sit and chat with us in his reception area and after a few minutes he’ll remember something and say “oh shit, what time is it? …. Oh shit, I’ve gotta go, here are the keys to the office. Just hang out on the computer and use the internet as long as you like.” Very erratic but so funny to talk with – and genuinely interested in making sure things work out for us.

So we stayed there for a few nights, while searching high and low for English jobs and researching the work/residency visa situation. On the last day of our stay with Mike we still hadn’t found anywhere to go to after checking out and we also had lined up an interview for that afternoon. Mike could see we were in a bit of a panic so being the aussie saviour that he jacked his already furiously spinning brain cogs into top gear and found the perfect temporary accommodation for us. We are now living with Mike’s housekeeper Jaka (‘yar-ka’), who is just the sweetest of old ladies. Jaka is in her mid 60s with osteoarthritis.

Our fondest memory of Jaka will be the night we found her sitting in her dressing gown and fluffy slippers, rollers in hair, laughing hysterically at the TV. Between fits of hyperventilation she was gasping in Czech “Look! Look!”. We turned around to see what it was. She was pointing at the tv “Miss XXL Czech Republic! Miss XXL…!” It’s good to see that reality tv really is for everyone, and that Big is Beautiful in the Czech Republic – especially after the winner was able to skull 2 pints of beer in 1 sitting.

We will stay with Jaka for the next couple of weeks until we finalise details on a rental apartment we found yesterday. I think she is really enjoying the company (Maria: and Brett’s dinners) as are we, so we are happy to hang out with her for a little while longer. She only speaks Czech and a little German and Croatian, so conversing with her has mainly been all in my high school German and tidbits of Maria’s Croatian that she understands. Language barriers aside, we’ve had some great laughs and fascinating conversations about life and history in the Czech Republic.

In the last three weeks we have had some very memorable and wonderful experiences and have formed some amazing friendships already. Without these people we most definitely wouldn’t have stayed in Prague. We are two very blessed souls who cherish every moment, even the testing ones, and the people that cross our paths.

Prague is a WONDERFUL place!

Maria and Brett

24 September 2006

Look out for our next updates coming soon:

Navigating the minefield of foreign cuisine using a foreign menu – how to digest meals that really should belong only in hotdogs

More Travel Tips and Reality Checks (no’s 3 to 597)

Surviving the compounding effects of a tram full of deodorant-less passengers – how to rank the BO factor from 1 to 10 (with 11 being reserved for extreme cases)

How to successfully get your hair cut in the Czech Republic – don’t!

How to master the art of walking on cobble stones wearing high-heeled shoes/boots.

How to test your repertoire of 80’s music. (Walk into any shop in Prague and you will be tested, trust me).

Sticky Situations #1 – How to ring a landlord for an iron when you’ve rented a flat, it’s 10pm, you’ve got a job interview the next morning and you don’t know how to speak Czech.

Tags: Misadventures

Comments

1

Hey!!!!

If bed was as bad as you say it was my puppy would probably refuse to sleep on it too, she's a bit spoilt ;)

Keep on trucking you big red fire engines....will be there soon to party hard!!

M
xo

  Matt Sep 26, 2006 8:14 AM

2

hi brett - sorry to post this on your website - i've lost your email address - could you pls send to me? thanks. lee :)

  Lee Oct 2, 2006 11:00 PM

3

You guys never cease to amaze me. Proud of u for sticking it out even after the shituation in the skidmarked village of Nymburk. After reading ur manifesto I think you might have to add a chapter to Dante's Inferno. Anyways, think about u guys everyday, keep on keeping on, and Brett send me a pic whenever u succumb to the 80's and decide to rock a mullet. Keep smiling- Joel

  Joel Oct 7, 2006 6:03 PM

4

Hey guys,
loved the last post, I laughed (with you) all the way through, esp enjoyed the pic of the left overs from previous hairy tennant. Testing times I am sure, but you have managed to pull through and have a great story to tell. Brett so proud of you for jumping at the chance to play AFL, am sure you both will settle and have loads of mates before you know it. Keep smiling and enjoying every day.
gav xxx

  Gavin Oct 10, 2006 3:46 PM

5

You guys are gunna have some stories to tell when you return home and fantastic that you have stuck to it see good things do happen for those who deserve it.

Take care.

Rob

  Rob Oct 16, 2006 10:00 AM

6

I love it guys! You have one of the most optimistic outlooks on life I have ever come across!! One of the best!

Looking forward to the next installment of your adventures!

Take guys.

  Plow Oct 17, 2006 9:08 AM

7

Gee. This is extroidinary. The first time I have looked at this and I'm feeling like I'm there. You guy's are definately doing it 'real' - my life seems so boring now that I'll have to make an effort, at least go to Chinatown or something. So proud of what you're doing.

  Dave Oct 27, 2006 8:36 PM

8

Nice work guys,

After our short visit in Malovanka (read: Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka...) We have seen that you guys are enjoying europe at the most. We're now back in the office, and ordinary life continues, what a drag..
Thanks For having- and taking good care of us.

Good Luck and see you soon.

  Elke and Vik Mar 2, 2007 3:33 AM

9

Hello Maria and Brett. I read your dissatisfaction with teacher accommodation in Nymburk, Czech.
Your story is a wakeup call for me as I had plans to go to Nymburk, Kolin or Kutna Hora in Czech to teach English- mainly because of the big auto engineering support factories, glass, plastics and international refrigeration companies established in the area since 2000, seeing my English specialty as ESP with engineering flavour !

In 2002 I was in Kutna Hora staying at a hotel called U HRNCIRE in Barborska 24 Kutna Hora close to the mining museum and St Barbara's Cathedral. The rooms were cramped and quaint but were otherwise clean. The food was superb. I know there was worker accommodation near the cathedral that was primitive. So I thank you for alerting me to possible problems in this industrial zone.

Other ESL jobs I have considered in Czech provincial towns have been unsuitable due specifically to accommodation-or at least because I asked too many questions.

I has a similar experience to your Nymburk troubles in Suva Fiji in the 1990's. A colleague retuned to Australia from Suva with a glowing report of his time. The litany of uncooperative school officials you describe is the same, just that when I refused 2 government houses my expatriate teacher colleagues told me these houses were in better shape than most Fijians lived in: concrete, bomb-proof, cyclone-proof; and please do not make a fuss. The 3rd house was marginally better, and after arranging my own electric utilities connection and bottle gas supply I found most of the stock inventory furniture had been stolen by the locals. I had to fend off Fijian "housemaids" and their female village cousins expecting free accommodation in the maid's quarter attached to the main dwelling. The wild life was incredible; Cane toads at the front door and immense cockroaches throughout the house making a evening toilet visit a crunching experience. I sorted all this out in one week but refused to sign the teaching contract and returned to Australia after 8 days away. No-one I spoke to in Australia wanted to believe this.
I thank you for exposing the Czech situation; I will be cautious.

  Ian Morrison in Melbourne Australia May 29, 2007 8:56 PM

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