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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Nikita who’s currently working and living in Prague. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city, shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail.com.
6:30 am is my wake-up time. In the summer I would get up earlier, do some stretches, have a cup of tea… But the winter darkness has me pushing the snooze button until the last possible minute. The only advantage to this dismal awakening is that by the time I leave to walk to the metro, the sun is beginning to rise. I take a minute to notice the shifting of the light, the hills and the intricate details of the buildings. I take a lot more time to look around here than I did back at home. With buildings twice as old as my entire country, built at a time when architectural beauty was more of a priority, I feel as though I’m living in a museum. Even on the streets I walk down every day, there’s always something I’ve missed.
My mornings are spent teaching in a pre-school, which isn’t without its struggles. The Czech instructor I work with doesn’t speak a word of English, and I never quite understand the instructions she’s giving me. I’ve learned to wing it and hope for the best. However, the kids make it worth it with their hugs and enthusiasm. Though they sometimes make me want to rip my hair out, they more frequently make me burst out in laughter.
In the afternoons I teach for a language school, which means running from office to office teaching business English to adults. The transportation time is both a blessing and a curse. Financially, it’s terrible. I only get paid for my teaching hours, and three teaching hours can easily eat up 5-6 hours of my day. On the plus side, I get a break between lessons, and I get to spend more time wandering down the cobblestone streets and the relaxing parks of Prague. Nine months in, this city still takes my breath away.
The classes themselves are pretty small, usually 1-4 students. We cover a bit of everything: grammar, reading, writing… But the students tend to prefer the speaking portion of the lesson, and so do I. In fact, I often feel like I learn more than they do. I try to cover topics like Czech traditions, values and legends, or get them to talk about how things have changed since the Velvet Revolution in ’89. Teaching these lessons has given me so much insight on Czech culture, and has fuelled my fascination with this country.
I sometimes teach some private lessons as well, and those are my favourite. The pay is better, there’s no middle-man, and my students mostly just want conversation. Ideally, those are all I would do.
My evenings are spent either lesson-planning at home, or meeting up with friends in some pub or another. While going out this regularly in Montreal would put a serious hole in my pocket, in a country where beer is cheaper than water, it’s just how socializing is done. We tend to avoid Old Town like the plague. While it is pretty, hoards of tourists, expensive drinks and constant pub crawl invitations get old very quickly We tend to stick to the neighbourhood I’ve adopted. I love having so many options within walking distance of my flat, and the pubs almost all have character that can’t be beat. There’s nothing quite like slurping down cheap beer in a dark and smokey, no-frills pub with good friends, and just letting the conversation flow. Even the surly service has started to grow on me.
Sometimes, we get approached by locals who overhear us talking and want to practice their English. Usually, we’ll happily oblige
As for my Czech, it leaves much to be desired. I foolishly thought that my language skills would have me at a conversational level in no time, but as it is, I’ve barely mastered the basics. That doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped trying, and the effort is generally appreciated, as many people don’t even bother. However, I’ve essentially given up on fluency.
When I first moved here, I thought my weekends would be spent jaunting around Europe, and while that does happen on occasion, I often find myself caught up in everything there is to do around here (not to mention that spending euros when you’re paid in korunas gets pretty brutal!). I’m fortunate to have a solid group of friends, both locals and expats, who are always willing to make the most of what this city has to offer. Sometimes, we lurk the various farmer’s markets and collect delicious produce to cook with. Or we’ll run away from the noise and spend the day hiking through the rocky cliffs of Divoká Šárka, a nature reserve on the outskirts of the city, but that feels like it’s thousands of kilometers away. Or we’ll respond to the pull of the Vltava, and drink a bottle of local wine while dipping our toes in the river. I’ve spent nights swing dancing in flapper get-ups, watching amazing live performances in jazz clubs, unknowingly dancing my heart out in a brothel, chasing light shows around Prague, watching a dance/puppet show on a theatre boat, watching clandestine fire shows in parks… But I’ve yet to feel bored, and if I’m staying at home, it’s because I’m simply too exhausted to leave. For every event I attend, I’m missing out on several more. Living in Prague means learning to accept that you won’t experience it all.
In Prague, we’re surrounded by fields, mountains and a sense of peace. And with the incredibly efficient transportation system, getting out of the city couldn’t be easier. I’ve picked mushrooms in Jesenik, drank wine under a bridge in Karlštejn, went for an impromptu swim in the Berounka river, got hilariously lost on long bike rides, killed time in local pubs where nobody speaks a word of English and everyone does shots at noon, star-gazed after a nighttime hike to the top of a hill… These moments leave me refreshed, and ready to face the not-too-chaotic chaos of a not-so-big city.
I came to Prague for a month, not sure where I wanted to go next. I’ve been living here for nine months now, still unsure of when I leave but knowing that when I do, my heart will be torn to shreds. It’s more than the Gothic architecture and cheap beer. It’s this undefinable charm in the people, the landscapes, the nightlife, that makes its way under your skin and refuses to leave, No matter where I go, I’ll take Prague with me.