Why trains suck, and how I managed to make it to Italy.

I caught the train from Prague at 5:15pm, headed for Munich. It’s called “Munchen” in German. When you say you want to go to Munich people look at you like you’re stupid; when you say Munchen, they suddenly go ahh, yes. Munchen. Needless to say, just buying the ticket was a pain in the butt. Saying goodbye to my new friends at the train station didn’t help either. (I miss you Veronica! I miss you all!)

Then I got on the train and as it got further and further away from Prague (or Praha, Prag, or Praga…it goes by all three depending on which language you speak…apparently I speak the wrong one…) more people were getting off the train, until it was just me and about 6 other people. Of course it was dark by then so I was starting to feel a bit like “ew” and creepy. But we made it across the border into German and the German “polizei” boarded the train and asked me for my passport. They stamped it and the train continued, but not on time. Oh no, my train was taking its sweet time to Munchen.

“Zees train ees not timed!” was the only reply I received from the conductor when asking “do you think we’ll get there on time?” I knew I only had 14 measly minutes to switch trains in Munich to make the 2nd leg to Italy. So I was well into freak-out mode by this point. I called Maurice to ask for help on what to say to let the conductor know that because we were late I may not make my connection, and was there anything he could do. Of course my phone died in the middle of the conversation so I started crying like a little baby and cursing the German language, the European train system, and cell phones. I think the woman polizei took pity on me because she goes “ok ok I call zee train” and that she did.

So my train ride continued to Munchen, arriving 15 minutes late. When the train stopped, I threw my luggage off (there was no time for delicate handling) and ran as fast as I could, pulling one suitcase behind me, with my backpack bouncing up and down on my back. Lo and behold, what do I hear?

“MISS BRALISH! MISS BRALISH!”

Alas, there was an escort there on a golf cart who swooped me up, put my luggage on the cart, and drove me to my awaiting Italian train! Everyone in the train station was staring at us as we drove madly through the station, with my train-escort-person shouting stern things in German to get them to move. I made it onto the train and two manly-men hoisted my luggage onto the train. I stumbled into the correct railcar which was important because in Austria, the train was to split in two…had I not made it onto the proper railcar I would have ended up in Bratislava, or somewhere equally non-Italy, no doubt.

I found my seat (#55, car 288) and plopped down with a huge sigh of relief, all sweaty and stinky. But alas, I was aboard the Italian-bound train, safe in my little seat, with my passport in hand and no dignity left. The gentleman sitting across from me was to be the only gentleman I encountered on my journey. He was a fellow of about 60 years of age who was quiet and spoke no English, which was just fine by me. At least I knew he’d be quiet and let me wallow in my English-speaking sorrow for the next 7 hours.

My journey continued rather uneventfully for the next 3 hours until we reached “Brennero” in Austria, which is in the Alps. It got really freaking cold. Like, boogers are frozen to the inside of your nose cold. I was inside the train trying to keep warm, curled up on one seat like a pathetic hobo on the street corner. The Italian man laughed and said “Brennero” and just shook his head. As the train descended into a more hospitable elevation I warmed up again, which meant that the stink I had been wafting about earlier came back to fill the cabin with that oh-so-familiar-and-unpleasant “I smell like a Czech person” aroma. Mr. Gentleman got off the train in Verona and told me it was only “due proxima a Vicenza” which I actually understood! Two more stops to Vicenza. The (hopeful) end of my voyage was near.

After Mr. Gentleman got off, two more creepy guys got on the train and sat in my cabin, and laughed and stared at me for the remainder of the trip. I made a point to run over one of the fellas’ feet with my suitcase as I yanked it out of the cabin and jumped off the train. When I got off, Angelique was waiting for me! Hallelujah! I put my luggage in the back of the car and we drove away just as the sun was coming up. We went out for cappuccinos and a croissant, and then I collapsed when we got home for a few hours. I napped like nobody’s business, and when I woke up we went for a walk through town and got some gelato.

Things Nikki is thankful for:

getting on the right train
not murdering anyone on the train
managing to pee INTO the toilet on the train (and therefore avoiding peeing on my pants, shoes, etc.)
Angelique & my new family
naps
laundry detergent
and soap (to wash the stink away)
Italy
and my Maurice 🙂

It turns out when my phone cut out during the “I’m on a German train bound for who knows where and nobody will help me” phone call to my sweetpea, he called the Munich train station and arranged for the golf-cart-escort-man to pick me up and take me to my train! Maurice is my hero, my German-speaking knight in shining armor. I love you! I love you! 🙂
…and they lived happily ever after.

– THE END

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Czech wine, the opera, homework, and blue laundry

howdy!

another great weekend in prague! despite the challenging classes (ok, sometimes just plain shitty) i really do like prague. i still find the people a bit rude but that’s part of a new place.

friday afternoon after our final exam (we all passed! and i didn’t even “squeak by” – i did well) we all went to lunch at this restaurant that has been open since 1466. the food was decent but the beer was really good. everyone else had beer but i had the usual glass of wine, this time a really good red czech wine. sometimes their wine isn’t very good but on friday i
found a good one. everyone else went to a few more pubs that night but i went home early due to exhaustion. veronica (classmate/roomie) and i have fallen into a lovely geek routine of staying home on either friday or saturday night in our pajamas, reading books, eating gummi worms, and drinking wine. two happy little homebody nerds.

saturday most of the class went to Karlstejn castle and spelunking in the country, about 45 minutes from prague.

i just didn’t feel like going, nor did veronica, so we hung out around town and did more sightseeing within prague. it rained pretty hard all day so we were soaking wet but still laughing! she’s also from the northwest (oregon) so i guess she and i are just used to being rained on and it didn’t matter at all.

i decided to see what my chances were for seeing an opera that night so we walked over to the State Opera (one block from our flat!) and bought myself a ticket to Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” it was a $50 ticket but come on – i’m in prague, it’s the opera, and…what other reasons do you need?!?!!? i went home and dyed my hair back to brown and got dressed for the opera. i had a cappuccino and croissant at my favorite bakery on the way, and walked into the opera house….oh – my – god….it was GORGEOUS!!! the whole building was just amazing. even better was my seat – right in the middle, dead on to the stage. yeah! i was surrounded by -clean- smelling Czech people and treated to the most wonderful opera experience. the sets were great, very minimal, and the talent. oh my god the talent. i’ve never seen the opera live, and there is truly nothing more moving. google “La Traviata” if you’re not familiar with it. i totally want to go again. veronica and i have tickets to see “a midsummer night’s dream” on tuesday evening at the same opera house so i am super excited! 🙂

sunday we did a lot more homework, this time at a little starbucks-esque coffee house north of wenceslas square. i succeeded in jacking myself up on enough caffeine to kill a horse but i still finished my homework. i think i also annoyed veronica quite a bit but she’s still smiling at me today. we did a little shopping, went by the Alfons Mucha (google him) museum/store, and had dinner at a great little italian place. there was a fat little baby in there who kept smiling and blowing kisses at us from across the room. he totally melted us, that little romeo!

sunday evening the landlord came by to look at our shitty little washing machine, which keeps dying all our clothes blue. he said the “colorization” problem is from a dirty filter, so he changed the filter and ran a test load…and alas….more smurf-hued clothing! apparently there is a russian laundromat next door to the flat, and the lady will launder and press your
clothes for next to nothing. so i’m going to take my new collection of blue underwear to the russian dry cleaner and have them properly pressed.

tonight is my final teaching practice, tomorrow is the ballet, wednesday is moderation (a formal moderator person from Oxford College in London comes in and meets with us one-to-one and tells us whether or not we pass the course) and then…i’m done!

more later, time for class.

lots of love, say hello! 🙂

kisses,
me

Greetings from Prague

Greetings from Prague, Things are slowly but surely improving. I’m sorry the emails have been so few and far between. And I know – I’ve totally messed up the whole picture thing. Sorry 😦 School is been a major pain in the rear the past two weeks. My instructors have assured me that my struggles are normal and that if I was understanding everything right away, they would be out of a job. So I trust that they have seen a teacher-in-training meltdown before, and believe them when they say it’s their job to help me pass. They’re not intentionally trying to fail me, although you couldn’t have convinced me of that last week! Last week I taught a 55-minute class…I made all my own materials and thought I had it nailed down. But when I got up, my mind just totally erased and I ended up with 15 minutes left of class and no material. I couldn’t even improvise because I was so flustered, so my instructor had to finish the class. Totally demoralizing. Anyway, all the other classes I’ve taught so far have gone well so I guess that was my own lesson in failure. I taught an excellent class last night and am hoping to do more of the same going forward.

The grocery stores here have been a thorn in my side for the past few weeks. What’s on the label isn’t necessarily what you’re going to get. I thought one time I’d bought what appeared to be a spongy chocolate cake with strawberry filling. But in fact, it was just like a candy bar, no strawberry filling. I did find some cheese I like so I’ve been eating the same kind of cheese for two weeks, and I ate what I think was turkey the other night. Restaurants are a much better option if you want to know what you’re going to be eating, and the yogurt aisles in the grocery stores are endless. So you can either (1) eat your weight in sausages from the street vendors, (2) exist on a diet of cheese and yogurt because they’re the only foods you can safely recognize in the grocery store, or (3) eat out, which isn’t too expensive of an option here…

Friday night Kaylee and I made Tex-Mex at the other flat for all the other trainees and had a blast.

Al's first taco

We even managed some guacamole, although salsa was out of the question. The grocery stores here have a rather limited selection so you have to get creative with what they do have. And besides, a few swigs of vodka and everything tastes good, everyone is happy… 🙂

Some of the other girls and I went to this boat party afterwards on the Vlatava River that a student had invited us to. It was a great time! Imagine being on a boat with the hippest crowd of Czechs, dancing to house music and meeting cool people. Definitely a good time. I spent the remainder of the weekend at home sick with a head cold and sore throat. You can only get medicine (even stuff like cough drops and NyQuil) at the pharmacy, and of course the pharmacies are closed on weekends because -people in Europe don’t work 24/7- so of course, I stayed at home in bed suffering. Well not quite suffering but I threw enough “I feel like crap and I want my mom” fits to convince everyone that I was quite ill.

Sunday morning I managed a 4-hour walk about town with my other flatmate, Veronica, and we had a nice time. We found a little Italian cafe that had good tea and a non-smoking section. We finally got to see the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square

as well as some other beautiful buildings that I don’t know the name of.

The weather was beautiful and we had a great time! Last night I found the most fabulous tea shop! It is right off Wenceslas Square

by my flat. You walk through a hidden little alley and then it appears, sweetly decorated with little lights and Buddha-stuff everywhere. When you walk in there are lots of little nooks to sit in; some are on the floor, some are on ancient benches, some are behind curtains, some are in sunken rooms…it’s awesome! I found a little curtained-off nook and then this yogi-looking guy came around and handed me a little bell. The tea menu is about 10 pages long with hilariously translated Czech-English descriptions, so you really just don’t know what you’re going to get. (A common theme here, it seems…) I rang the little bell when I was ready to order and the yogi came back to take my order. I ended up with a pot of the most delicious tea ever, and had a relaxing evening in a non-smoking (rare in Prague), ambient, quiet tea room. I felt like I was among the most chilled out people in town. I am not telling my fellow classmates about it though. They’re completely too loud-mouthed and will ruin it, so I’m keeping it hidden for myself. Yeah 🙂

That’s about it. I am hoping to do some more sight-seeing but school is keeping me plenty busy. When the course is finished I will probably take a train back to Italy to visit my soon-to-be in-laws! 🙂 If I can schedule it correctly, the train will take me back through Innsbruck and perhaps I can steal a day of skiing from the Austrian Alps. I LOVE YOU ALL! Please write and say hello. There isn’t anything better than a letter from home 🙂 Lots of love,me

Cheese…?

i am so swamped with school work it’s not even funny. email? what is that? i wish i had time to catch up on all of them 😦 i didn’t tell you that our luggage didn’t make it with us to italy (until the next day) because i knew you’d freak out. i was trying not to freak out. eventually it made it, but yeah – we were lucky we had the luxury of going back to the airport. my classes are going well although there is more work to be done than time in the day. i tried to wake up early today but you know what kind of early-bird i am. i’m a noon bird.

aside from lack of sleep i am having fun giving classes, and was told last night by my instructor that “i look like a natural teacher” and “the students react well to you” so that’s nice.

i managed to buy some delicious cheese at the store last night. it was a bit of a crap shoot. the picture on the package had a little smily cow on the front, so i thought “ok, this could be mild happy cheese.” i was afraid i would get home and it’d be some kind of nasty stinky cheese that i don’t like, but it wasn’t…it’s delicious and from now on i will just buy that cheese. i also got some cherry tomatoes and milk, and a little cookie thing that i have yet to try. and some dark bread. really though i don’t have much time at home so i’ve been eating out a lot, but you can eat here for about 5-6 dollars a day. so it’s worth it, and even though i’ve been eating many a hot dog, my pants are still getting looser and looser. yeah! alright back to studying.

My first lesson

My first lesson is finally done and over with. I didn’t passout, throw up, or pee my pants. Phew! I gave a 35-minute lesson on adjectives, yeah that was fun. But most of the students pick up on things pretty quickly, they’re advanced students so they’ve already been exposed tomost of the language. I just tried to help them use it in relevant ways. Like, say you want a friend to meet up with you in the middle of a busy square. To help your friend find you, you could describe different “landmarks” and cues to help them. For example, “I am wearing a -green- shirt under a -large- statue of a rather -tall- horse, etc. Ok more later.