Halfway done?! (see: Moms, “girl talk,” this magical life)

Today I’m thankful for: moms, “girl talk,” this magical life

Today marks halfway through my study abroad experience! How is this happening?! I’ve been here five minutes and I never want to go home!!

My biggest question (besides how many tredelniks can I eat in a day? and why does that woman on the metro have a mustache tattooed on her face?) is: how did I go 21 years without knowing the people I’ve met here?!

Although the modern inventions of FaceTime and WhatsApp are amazing, my abroad friends and my host family have become the two biggest support systems and sources of love in my life. This feeling continues to be solidified by my many visitors whilst residing in Prague. My wonderful mom Jane visited me last week, and then my best friend (and fellow Whittie) Amelia and her mom Trina visited me soon after that! Amelia even stayed in my homestay for a night, too, which means she got to meet Biggie, a main player in my study abroad experience (more on him in a sec).

It was 7 back-to-back days of female empowerment, and the fact that so many moms were colliding in my world—my host mom Lenka, my mom, Amelia’s mom—made my heart sing. Below is a picture of my mom, my host mom, her boyfriend Tomáš, and my homestay-sister-from-New-York Sam when my mom took us out to dinner during her visit.

Moving on to girl talk: what’s the deal with this phrase having such a vapid connotation? Females talking can change the dang world!!

Some of the most significant and meaningful instances of cultural exchange I’ve experienced here have come in the form of long, meandering conversations with my host mom Lenka and my fellow homestay-er Sam at the kitchen table—Sam and me in our pajamas, our host mom with her cup of tea. We talk about boys—our host brother Adriano, boys from home, boys on our program—and we also talk about Trump, and the immigration ban, and why Sam and I can’t get the “Ř” sound right when we try to speak Czech. At that table, we’ve learned that Lenka has never seen The Sound of Music (?!!?), that Sam and I finally share some common thread re: the drag scene (see: Adore Delano, or Danny Noriega from American Idol Season 7), and that I’m really, really good at procrastinating on my Czech homework. Last night, Lenka laughed so hard she cried because Sam told her about the strange noises our dog Biggie was making when she was trying to study (“It’s springtime, so those noises are his hormones” was the explanation we got).

The commute in and out of Prague’s city center might be a little long or a little lonely, especially on rainy days, but being able to waltz through the door and be welcomed by a warm kitchen and two amazing women (and sometimes Adriano, especially on movie nights) is the best gift I could hope to receive while living here.

The food isn’t bad either—here’s a picture of Sam making Irish soda bread in honor of St. Patrick’s day (obsessed):

Now, if I think about leaving Prague—just when the weather’s beginning to get nice, and it’s starting to smell like summer at night, and I’ve built enough of a rapport with my host family that pajamas are really an okay uniform around the house—I become physically uncomfortable.

I love the little Ikea loft where Sam and I live. I continue to be fascinated by how a creature like Biggie, our tiny black Whippet dog, can exist in the world without disappearing into nothing. Riding the metro, going to class, walking down cobblestone streets that are hundreds of years old and gulping down my afternoon cappuccinos have coalesced into a singular rhythm, the beat of a completely wack and different and magical life I’m fortunate enough to live for another precious few months.

Don’t make me leave! @WhitmanCollege award me the Internship Grant for the position of Daughter in this host family so I can stay here until graduation!!

Lots of love to my adoring fans (& na shledanou to the haters),

Mary

Mary Goes to a Spa! (see: getting the giggles, music bars, Jessie J)

Today I’m thankful for: getting the giggles, music bars, Jessie J

Greetings readers! I’m a little backlogged on my writing, but I felt that this was a necessary post for all those yearning for a glimpse of spa life in the Czech Republic. Because being abroad has been so ~stressful~, four other students also living in homestays on my program organized a girls’ weekend to the Czech spa town Karlovy Vary, known for its hot mineral springs and pastel-colored buildings. King Charles IV founded the town in 1370, and since then it is the place to be if you find yourself needing a place to chillax whilst in Central Europe.

My friends and I decided to take full advantage of our 2 days in Karlovy Vary, so we booked an AirBnB that looked like a princess’s loft and made appointments for aromatherapy massages and some quality time in the salt caves for a fraction of the U.S. cost.

The main spa in Karlovy Vary was enormous and felt a bit like walking into an abandoned, but beautiful, elementary school: wide, carpeted hallways, with numbered doors leading to either private massage therapy rooms, or a classroom filled with kindergartners with ADHD. I enjoyed a strange but wonderful massage by a woman whom I made laugh so hard by my own ticklish laughing that she had to move into another room for a moment to recover. Normally, getting the giggles with your massage therapist while you’re laying nude on a table in the basement of a Czech spa wouldn’t sound very relaxing, but I’m here to testify that it was just fantastic.

The salt caves and baths were somewhat underwhelming, likely because it was hard to beat the laughter I’d just shared with my new massage therapist friend. The baths were synonymous to a swimming pool in the same spa complex, and the salt cave was a room filled with pink salt and chaise lounges and blankets so you could nap and soak up the minerals in the air (I had the great fortune of having my hour-long time slot line up with a young Czech couple, who were not shy about their PDA across the cave).

After our time at the spa, we wandered around the city and sampled the sulfuric hot spring water that you could drink for free from spigots on every corner. It smelled and tasted like rotten eggs, but people were filling up several Nalgenes with it due to its alleged healing properties!

Later that night, the five of us walked across the street to a music bar that our AirBnB host recommended and were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the atmosphere. Since we were by far the youngest people in the lounge, we seemed to be the only ones who knew all the lyrics to the jazz singer’s rendition of Jessie J‘s “Domino,” but it was the over-60 folks who kept the dance floor bumpin’.  The best part of the evening was when we found out we could simply walk across the street to our AirBnB afterwards—an amazing discovery, seeing as all of us homestay-ers have at least a 30 minute commute in and out of Prague every day!

The most stressful part of the weekend was the bus ride from Prague to Karlovy Vary. Bussing is a very popular way to get around Central Europe—I recently took a bus to Berlin, which was much cheaper than flying—and some bus lines like Regiojet are so deluxe that they serve you a free cappuccino once on board!

Our particular bus ride, though, was stopped midway through by Czech police needing to make their monthly quota. Two men in uniform boarded our bus, and went up and down the aisles checking for identification (in the Czech Republic, international students can be fined if they don’t have their necessary identification cards on them, i.e. their passport, student ID, travel insurance card, etc). Two of my friends were fined because they had copies of their passports rather than their originals, and a few other people on board—all students—were also ticketed.

After about 45 minutes, the police gathered the information they needed and allowed us to keep moving. “All we’re trying to do is get to the spa,” my friend Libby groaned, and we laughed and agreed. Not an ideal way to start our trip, but a great reminder to always have your passport with you (and that even means at The Club!!!).

So, if anyone is planning on making it to Central Europe any time soon, Karlovy Vary is a must-see. A weekend there is the perfect amount of time to wander its ornate bridges and ostentatious buildings post-massage and pre-dinner. And then maybe pre-your next massage. 😉

Na shledanou for now!!

Mary

 

**MEGAPOST** Zanna, Martin, a Hungarian man named István

Today I’m thankful for: Zanna, Martin, a Hungarian man named István

Who is Zanna? Who is Martin? Who is István? Read on to find out!!

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of firsts. I had the opportunity to be hosted in Copenhagen for a weekend by my amazing and travel-savvy Delta Gamma sisters from Whitman (as well as one of my best friends from home), and then five days later they made the trek to Prague to visit me! I transitioned from hosted to hostess, and the ability to show two of my best friends my homestay and around “My” city has really reinforced both as home. Peep some pictures here of Anna and Zan (also known as Zanna) in these cities by their personal paparazzo (me).

side note: In case anyone is on the fence about visiting…I have a quick and historical walking loop memorized, complete with a trip to the 10th century fort Vysehrad, aka the place where I have most of my classes (?!) and a pit stop for gelato. I am a great and food-oriented hostess. Please come 😉

One of my favorite parts of this past weekend was the meal Zanna and I shared at Lokál, a Czech restaurant chain that is NOT to be missed. Even though Prague has more McDonalds and KFCs then home, probably, Lokál is less chain-like than those two and more like the authentic feel of Dick’s Burgers in noattle—just with fresh daily specials (goulash & dumplings, anyone?) and set in a giant, smoky beer hall. Zanna and I ordered a variety of Czech dishes, including beets and beef and beer, and shared them all (below).

Right as we were about to finish our second plate of dumplings, a Czech man suddenly scooted onto our bench (the tables are set against walls lined with benches) and started making fun of us.

“Why are you…doing this?” he said, gesturing to our plates and looking kind of skeeved out.

“Eating Czech food?” I said, my mouth still full. “Oh, we’re American.” Like that single phrase explained away our cultural idiocy.

The man, who we later learned was named Martin, just laughed and shook his head. “No, in the Czech Republic, we do not share food like this.” He looked at our hands, which were guiltily scooping up the last of the goulash with bread dumplings. “Also, we do not dip like this. We use forks.”

We were truly too stoked about our meal to be embarrassed, but we thanked Martin for the cultural heads up and talked to him for the rest of the evening about movies, Trump, and why on earth Lokál didn’t serve authentic Czech desserts (“They’re trying to scam tourists by pushing Italian profiteroles! We don’t even have a national dessert!” Martin explained, equal parts excited and enraged).

Martin blew us a kiss on his way out of the restaurant later that night. The three of us were so excited to have been culturally enlightened while eating the best homemade sausage and mustard maybe ever.

Talk to a Czech person in a casual setting outside of my homestay (where I usually only wear pajamas): check/Czech. Thanks Martin!

The final person to whom I owe my deepest and most heartfelt thanks this week is a man I may never meet again. He is a Hungarian man named István who gave me The Best Haircut Experience of My Young Life earlier this week.

(Riveting, I know, but bear with me! This story gets even more tolerable!!)

The first time I tried to cut my hair in a foreign country, I was seventeen, on my way to Senegal for a month, and was convinced I was going to be “too warm” in West Africa with long hair—because my shaggy brown mane was, undoubtedly, the deciding factor of my happiness quotient there, not my attitude—so I tried to cut it with nail clippers in the bathroom at the Paris airport.

A moment of silence for my physical appearance and mental state during those tough ten minutes under those fluorescent lights.

I was determined to make my Prague hair-related experience a more positive one. After an awkward phone conversation with a woman who confirmed that she had a free appointment and no, she did not need my name, I took the metro and a tram to a hair salon that apparently did not exist, then walked past four more hair salons, all of which were filled with older women getting their hair dyed a particular shade of red that is very popular here, and all of which claimed they had no room for me.

Just as this was all starting to feel a bit biblical, I passed by a motion detector in an alleyway I was catching my breath in (there are so many miles to walk here, guys). I walked by the little motion detector again, a bell chimed as if I were entering a pharmacy, and a door that had previously blended into the brick wall clicked open. A door clicking open in an empty alley in downtown Prague? Sure! I iopneed it, w alked in, and a man sitting in a reception area looked at me quizzically. No, this wasn’t István. I made a stupid “haircut?” motion, said the word salon, and he rolled his eyes because I was indeed sounding silly and pointed me down a hallway, which led to—

—a salon!!! The very salon that I originally made an appointment for, and could not find!!

(I promised the story could only get better!)

Imagine my delight. I walked into the beautiful, empty, mirror-lined space, where the receptionist told me they had no openings. After talking to her for a moment, showing her my recent calls tot he salon as proof that I had tried to be proactive, and basically looking more desperate than was necessary for a simple haircut, she told me to wait a moment.

Enter István: tall, spiked up hair, dad-aged, tattoos, muscular, clearly interested in the power of the universe.

He looked at me for a moment, then moved very quickly towards me and shook my hand. “I am István, and I am Hungarian,” he said (I thought he had said Esteban until I realized maybe that wasn’t a  super Hungarian name). “You need me.” It was not a question, just a simple statement, and I nodded while he stared at me, sizing up my bone structure and my sweaty hair mess from my hair quest around the city.

“I have no time, because I have another client,” he said, gesturing to an older woman who was eyeing me from her corner chair as she waited for her hair to finish bleaching. Oops. “But for you—I sense your…” He moved his hands around my face. “Vibes. What do you want—short? we go short.” I was so overwhelmed and so relieved that István had entered my life that i just nodded and followed him.

The next fifteen minutes—seriously, only fifteen minutes—he made me sit down, pose, stand up, twirl, and make different movements near and around his station until he could really sense my vibe and I felt like Lizzie McGuire. “Today is a good day for change,” he said as he literally kicked my several inches of hair into a giant hair mountain near the wall. I nodded, almost crying with pure joy because this man was apparently changing my gosh darn life.

Walking out of that magical and well-hidden salon, I felt a sense of accomplishment right up there with when I rolled my R’s for the first time in 3rd grade Spanish class and when I graduated from middle school. It did not make me feel completely adult—I mean, all I’d done was pay someone to let me sit down and make me feel pretty—but it did make me feel like a functioning person, which is a big deal to a) a middle school girl and b) a 21 year old woman studying in the Czech Republic who happens to know no Czech.

Like Martin, István blew me a kiss upon his exit. Our goodbye involved him literally running away to attend to his abandoned client, who was clearly PO’d because, I’m sure, the bleach was beginning to burn her scalp.

Thank you, István, sojourner of my soul. Thank you, Martin, who used an odd pick-up insult? to talk to some hangry American girls at a restaurant. And thank you, old friends and new friends, for continuing to solidify this venerable and breathtaking place as my home for the coming months.

Na shlednaou, and I love you!

Mary

(next week: I go to a spa in the countryside and Mom comes to town. I know. It’s tough to live here).