Embarking on the East: Prague I.
Since October 1, 2011 I have been living Senlis, France, which is about 40 km north of Paris (or about 20 minutes by train), as an English assistant in a public middle school. One of the many perks of my job, not only that it allows me to live in such close proximity to the Eiffel tower, is frequent two-week school vacations. Long live short work days and school holidays.
After two and a half weeks in the classroom, introducing and establishing myself in France, I’m on my first vacation east: Prague, Czech Republic; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary; and Nuremburg, Germany.
Until I leave Vienna, I’m sharing this trip with a young Indonesian girl, Mita, who is doing a semester abroad in Paris with her university (a school in Connecticut, USA). She was the true pilot of the journey, who planned the destinations, and I came on board about a week before take-off, adding my in-put and organizing the end from Budapest back through Germany to Paris.
She and I met through the couchsurfing network, couchsurfing.com, that I use extensively to stay in people’s homes for free or to ask locals for advice when I travel. The network connects travelers with locals willing to host them or advice them on things to do and how to get around a city, and it maintains credibility and safety through references. After every experience with a couchsurfing member one leaves a public reference on her profile.
Mita posted a message on a CS forum saying that she was doing this trip with the proposed dates and places, and she was looking for a travel buddy. I responded one week before the first day of school break.
Thursday night, two nights before we scheduled to leave Paris, we met face to face and I slept in a sleeping bag on her apartment floor in the 5th arrondissement (neighborhood) in Paris, with a view of the Notre Dame from her bedroom window.
Friday I hung out in Paris and was later joined by a few friends, with whom I stayed out all night. Mita joined our group by midnight, and she and I crawled up her eight flights of stairs to sleep two hours before leaving Paris at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.
Through a long series of very fortunate events we made it to Prague by about 9 p.m. that night.
“Cold and foggy, exactly how I imagined Eastern Europe to be,” Mita said as we looked around a deserted tramway station looking for a map of the city.
Tired and cold we did find our couchsurfing host’s apartment by 10 p.m. after hopping a metro without figuring out how to buy a ticket, and showing people the name of the street we wanted. I don’t speak a word of Czech, so paper, pen and gests work well.
We met Lucy, our host, a young architect who mainly works in building restoration ( there’s a lot of that in old cities like Prague) and competes on a local gymnastics team (finding time to do three hour practices between work and a social life). We had a cup of hot tea and then sleep on two mattresses on her bedroom floor, rejuvenating for the next day’s start in Prague.