Long Study Tour Part 2 – Prague

Yes, I know I am a little late. The problem with having a week of from school every two weeks is that during those two weeks there has to be a lot of school jammed in. It wasn’t really that bad but I also had some other things that I wanted to do. And I probably just got lazy. Anyway. Here we are now, ready to dive into Prague.
Admittedly, I have never been to the Czech Republic any time other than the Fall, but I would suggest that if you go, you go then. Because it is hard to imagine it being any more beautiful than at that time. The road from Dresden, Germany, to Prague, Czech Republic, used to be called the worlds longest brothel. A highway lined with worn down women in front of dilapidated houses. I don’t know if this is true anymore (we were told it wasn’t) because instead we took more of a country route – and I am glad we did. The hills, occassionally interrupted by flat, reminded me of home, but compared to the shades of brown found in Central Washington the Czech Republic looked like a rainbow. A rainbow made of different greens, reds, yellows, and oranges. It would be possible to drive up a hill surrounded by green and yellow, forcing you to believe that those colors along with the light blue above are the only colors on earth, and then suddenly find yourself at the top overlooking a valley so full of red and orange that it looks like the forest is up in flames. It was a beautiful drive.

Coming into Prague was not as promising. It looked like any other European city, though maybe a little dirtier than some. However, we kept driving, right by an overpass, and turned onto a street and things changed. Shops and restaurants filled with people contrasted with the industrial look we had just passed. This street was close to the old town and also where our hotel was. After a few days in Berlin and a 45-ish minute commute to the center of the city this was a welcome change.

We had about an hour and a half before we left for dinner so I quickly dropped off my suitcase and ran out to see what I could of the city. We were close to everything. A short walk down our street led to a large square. From here I could see spires in the distance, their main buildings hidden by the intricate architecture of the buildings between me and them. I decided to head for those spires. The winding streets seemed to be pure Europe as I had always imagined it’s cities. The small shops hidden in courtyards separated by the tiny passageways off the main walking streets were ideal. The constant flow of statues  seemed right in place, maybe this was helped by the fact that posters for classical musical concerts outnumbered “popular” music at least 3 to 1. Where there weren’t any concerts advertised there were just jazz clubs. There was at least the hint of music everywhere. Finally I made it past the shops filled with beautiful watercolor painting, matryoshka dolls, gaudily colorful scarves, and Bohemian Crystal into a beautiful square. At this moment Prague was perfect. Nevermind that I had just been followed by two different people trying to exchange money with me and passed by three more. That was just part of the experience. And besides, if it ended in this square then who cared.

That night we walked a different direction street full of expensive American and Western European brands housed in modern buildings on our way to dinner at U Fleku Brewery and Restaurant. That was a contrast, though a designed one. The building itself felt like an old castle or countryhome and we were serenaded by an old man on accordion accompanied by a husky man on tuba while we enjoyed our goulash and heavy dumplings. the meal was great and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. On the way out we had to wait for the line of people stopping at the gift shop.

The next day began with our one trip outside of the older city area and into the business (read less toursity) area as we visited T-Mobile Czech Republic. It went well but I did much more exciting things that need to be talked about instead so I will move on. After an incredibly cheap and delicious doner kebab lunch (finally cheap food in Europe) we were on our way to a meeting with a representative of the Czech Brewer’s Association at Staropramen Brewery. This meeting was more interesting if just for the fact that the presenter was the president of the Czech Brewers Association and had previously had the equivalent role prior to the Velvet Revolution and separation from the Soviet Union. Think of that. You would essentially have to learn the ideas of Western Economics as the the state was simultaneously moving in that direction. Something else we learned, and one student learned very directly, is that the Czech Republic does not like to consider themselves part of the Soviet Union. Instead they prefer to think of themselves as being occupied by it. I already knew that people from this area considered themselves Central European despite what Westerners thought, but I had no idea about the Soviet Union part. That is, I had no idea until one of us asked a question about the differences between business in the Soviet Union and now and the presenter slowly moved towards him repeating the words “Soviet Times” before answering the question. There was nothing menacing in his answer, it was just a simple correction, though a correction that I had never thought about before.

Once we left this presentation it was back to one of my favorite things about Prague – the escalators. That might sound incredibly seen these escalators. The metro in Prague seems very deep, but instead of splitting the escalator into two separate pieces which you have to get off of and switch they just kept it going all the way down to the bottom. When I say they are long I don’t think you understand. When I say deep I mean the possible equivalent of 6, 7, or 8 stories below ground. You must be thinking “wow, Riley, that must have taken forever!” No. The escalators also moved incredibly fast. Fast like you had to simultaneously put two feet on the stairs as you entered or else half of your body might be carried down while have of you remained at the top. The whole process took two minutes from top to bottom. I am sure there are some safety regulations in the US, but we were certainly not in the US here. And that was great.

That night was another reminder that we were no in the US, though it was unnoticed by almost everyone but me. At the bar that some of us found that night I discovered that my soda water, coke, or even water was more expensive than beer. No wonder this country consumes more beer than almost any other European country – the soda prices could drive you to drink (Ha!).

The next morning we started off our day with a visit to the Danish Export Council. The most interesting thing here, at least for me, was hearing about someones experience moving from Denmark to the Czech Republic for work. I don’t know if I would be able to do that, but this meeting forced me to think about that question. After that we wandered around. We went to the Lennon wall (I heard Lenin so I was a little disappointed  and along my favorite part of the city – St. Charles Bridge. The view from here is beautiful. Since we were all in our business attire someone had the bright idea of a Linkedin profile picture photoshoot. So that’s what we did. I’m not embarrassed.

Our final academic visit was with LEGO. Just so you know, most LEGOs are produced in the Czech Republic. That is why we met up there.

That night we had dinner at a French restaurant and while the food wasn’t amazing and the service was terrible, this is the one meal that I am going to remember. We sat down and were immediately asked what we wanted. I assumed it was an enthusiastic waiter, which was a good thing  but we did not have any drink menus so we asked for some and got one. One for all 30 of us. He was back in about two minutes and we repeated our request for some menus which was me with a heavy sigh and two more menus. 3 for the 30 of us. Eventually this was repeated enough times that everyone was able to look. We now had a waiter and a waitress. The water was taking orders asking “beer, white, red” while the waitresses was waiting for the student to choose which beer, which white, or which red. About halfway down the table someone realized the discrepancy and asked for clarification. The waiter stopped for a moment before throwing up his arms and storming off. From my seat I could see him tear up the orders that he had taken and throw them at the waitresses and thump up the stairs yelling something that I interpreted as “!@#&*# – I go for beer now!” Whether that beer was for those who ordered them or himself I am not sure but based on his smile as he returned and the length of time that he was gone I have my guess. I don’t know about everyone else but I thought it was hilarious.

This was our last night in Prague. It was a fun night and I like to think that everyone made the most of it. I know that I had fun. And everyone survived, so that was good. I learned that one of my favorite things about Prague is the St. Charles Bridge at night. Seeing the other bridges lit along the river, the Prague Castle on the hill lit up, even the white ghost-like birds illuminated as the swooped in and out of the lights illuminating the buildings from below. Prague does do a great job of highlighting their city with light. Of course they have to since there is little there that isn’t tourist related.

Everything was aimed at tourists. The signs were all in English. English was spoken by everyone. There were more postcards than anywhere I had ever seen. Those concerts I mentioned earlier were not for the people who lived there. The people of Prague could not afford the smallest item in many of the shops. I even learned to hate the the pretty prints that could be found in every shop precisely because they could be found in every shop. They were not paintings but computer images designed to look like watercolors and mass produced. They were artificial, like much of Prague.

Don’t get me wrong, Prague is probably the most beautiful city that I have seen in my life. But it was beautiful because it was made to be beautiful. the lighting directed you hat to see at night and therefore directed you away from certain areas. It was beautiful but by the end of our time I was ready to move on to something less artificial. ready to move on back to the countryside that we drove through to get here.

at Staropramen brewery

Lennon Wall

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