I have not posted on this blog in a long time, because I have been serving as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in Uganda since November 11th, 2013. Feel free to continue reading and journeying with me on my adventures and experiences for the next 26 months at my new Uganda Peace Corps Blog: mountainsbeyondmountainsuganda.wordpress.com
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
~On the Road, Jack Kerouac
So it’s the last night before I bid a temporary farewell to this old and empty house back in Owings Mills, MD. I have been attempting to finish my reading of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road so that it can be returned back to the library in Maryland before I head back to Boston early in the morning. Once again I start to feel that pang of wanting to move and be dynamic. I just can’t stand wasting away in the same old houses and apartments without actively doing something with my life. I sometimes feel as if I am not using my skills to the fullest: during the school year I never take full advantage of my talents and end up wasting time with procrastination, and then during the breaks all I do is sleep, eat, and think about when things will start up again.
Everything around me is changing and moving beyond any control. When I leave for Boston tomorrow in a 10am Megabus, it will be the last time that I will head there before my graduation. It will be the last time that I say another goodbye to my old Maryland home and welcome the familiarity of my Boston home for the last time before everything changes and starts again anew.
I just feel stuck right now: stuck between the verges of new homes and new lives. I went back to my high school today to give a presentation about engineering in college to two classes of seniors who are taking an introductory engineering course. I couldn’t believe that I was only 4 years gone from their position and that they too would come to understand the glory of life after high school. I guess that I just also have to work on not holding on to things too much. I tend to remember a lot of things in the past, and as a result I tend to get stuck on how things were and how good they seemed to be back then. If I only I could have gone back to those moments with the wisdom and experience that I had now and did things differently. But then again I would never have gained that insight had I not first gone through those experiences with my naivete and innocence.
I started reading On the Road with feelings of joy and ecstasy as I read about the adventures and the Sal’s calling to once again fulfill that wanderlust to move into the unknown. I think that it is a very fitting book for me, because I think that I have always felt this urge to keep challenging myself to tread upon those lesser known paths and experiences. With that comes reckless abandonment, which may have seemed romantic and lofty at first, but then reveals itself to have no real purpose. My only worry is that I will soon find nothing in this world that can fill this aching desire. For Sal, it is to be upon that vast and foreign road filled with glory and mystery. For me, it is to discover that new secret or next part of my life that starts to make sense of this mess. Then again, we all have our ups and downs just like any old road, but this one doesn’t have an end in sight.
The nest stage for me is definitely the Peace Corps, and spending those 2+ years away in a developing country. What’s eating me away is that I made good headway on my application, only to have screwed up and pass the 30 day refreshing deadline. When I last checked on my application it was all deleted and I then had to start over again by scratch. It is a long and arduous process, but I know that in my heart of hearts that it is what I was called to do regardless of what anyone else has said to me. So for the time being, I need to finish my book, pack my bags, and head on to this last stage of my college career and see where that “huge vaulting world” takes me.
So it’s 4:42am in the morning Saturday March 31st, and it’s beautiful. Yes, the perfect end to a night of fun. Good music, a mouthful of delicious food, some chill Ben Howard music, and relaxation. All that’s missing are a few friends and the afternoon daylight mixed in with a bit of Spring warmth. To feel infinite and free with a relaxed mind apart from the stresses and strains of mechanical engineering. To hold both infinity and a passing moment in the palm of your hand
Whenever I have a moment alone, sometimes I just think and reminisce about the past. I never thought about it then, but those golden, halcyon days feel just like that. We live our lives moment by moment, and they shape us. And when the future finally comes we look back upon our memories with fondness, secretly wishing that we could return even for just a fleeting moment and resurrect that lost feeling of comfort and laughter.
So this break has held a lot of reminiscing for me. I met old friends by inviting them to my birthday party, and then I got to see old relatives during Christmas and on New Year’s Day. But the hardest hitting part came from the visit to my old high school, Loyola Blakefield on the Friday before I head on over back to Boston. It was hard knowing that I was three years gone, and that all except for maybe one or two students that walked through the hallways were unknown to me. However, I would mistakenly associate a lot of them with some of my old Loyola classmates when I was in high school. Some of my favorite old teachers had moved on out of Loyola to retire or to try some old job. Those that remained found themselves hard-pressed to maintain a lengthy conversation with me. And that made sense, because I was this young college student travelling the world and experiencing the adventures of life while they were staying put on the rolling hills of Blakefield to help form other young men in their own journeys.
The old writing and language classrooms were remodeled, the old wooden staircase was stripped down and a new annex was added, and the Jesuits no longer resided upon the campus but upon a different campus altogether. It was as if what I had left behind evolved and changed without me noticing it. It is a weird leap, because we are all changing, and for me at least I still view some of my old classmates in the same way that I viewed them when I last saw them during graduation. But I know that this is not the case. What else can I do?
I have long since abandoned my method of documenting every moment through the lens of my camera, because sometimes my memory turns out to be a more beautiful thing than a picture. At least my memory will remember the good times and accentuate them so that I can feel happier about events that may not have seemed as golden while they were happening.
I am losing a base to keep me grounded. I used to associate my grounding with my countless pictures and collages detailing the various escapades that I went through. My rooms all look like museums with my collected curiosities on display. But maybe this just means that I have to find a means to continuously move on and not look back too much. I need to look forward even more and enjoy the present just as much. Yes, there is always that Beowulfian fear that I will not be remembered, but that is inevitable and I think that a great relief in life comes from accepting that. There is no true immortality, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t feel eternal.
So it’s that time of year to finally put things in retrospect. It’s been a wild, crazy year that at times felt as if it would never end. Geez so much has happened and I am having a harder time putting it in perspective. So last year began around the same time as this blog began. I started it in an old, cluttered house where I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years. I lived there through my grade school years, middle school years, high school years, and then through my vacations and breaks during my first two years at college. I’ve said goodbye to it more times than I can count, and now it will simply become a memory. Pretty much everything that has meaning has left the house or has been donated away. And I believe that it’s good, because I’ve become less materialistic in a sense because I’ve had to say goodbye to so many things. About two weeks ago my mom said that my high school class ring was lost in the midst of my mom moving to a different apartment. A few years ago, I would have felt sad, but instead I did not really feel that strong of an emotional attachment. It’s just a ring, just a piece of jewelry that I would only wear to reunions and fancy ceremonies. And it was great while I still had it, but I can definitely live without it and move on.
There are so many stories from this year that are way too many to count.
So I started off with the journey to Dresden, Germany. And that has definitely been covered in full by my pictures on Facebook and by my dozens of posts and reflections that I have shared on this very blog. I returned to a summer where I mainly looked forward to returning back to Boston and seeing old friends and starting a new life in my new apartment. So I drove through Hurricane Irene and made it to Boston after making a small driving error and ending up somewhere near Rochester, New York. I made to Boston in the late evening as the clouds were breaking and I took the first breath of fresh air that I had not smelled for over 9 months. It had been way too long. After the first few weeks of settling in, painting the entire apartment (along with my roommate’s mom), and getting a solid older boy’s bike (with 20″ wheels), we finally started the semester. And what have I learned:?:
Handles of vodka are cheaper when the plastic ones are bought. Six $12 handles of vodka and five 30’s will almost be enough to entertain 60 friends and their “guests.” I learned that these barely allows everyone to get to the required level of drunkenness that allows for hilarious dancing, amazingly deep conversations, and interesting hookups. I have also ensured that a bucket is kept in almost every room in order to allow for people to throw up with dignity and decorum while the general public continues to “get thur drank on.”
Birthday parties at the beginning of the semester when everyone is seeing each other again for the first time after a long hiatus are epic. Seriously, one of the most epic moments of the year was during the first weekend after classes when my roomie and I christened our apartment with our first college party. Friends old and new from the study abroad group of Dresden to the dorm floors of freshmen year arrived to gather together for the first time to celebrate the birthday of an a friend. The plaster was still on the walls, the paint had barely dried, and everyone was ecstatic to see each other again. And the best part, we survived the first trial of having a successful party without any problems with authorities.
You get used to biking 4 miles on a small bike up and downhill to your classes on a daily basis. Seriously, forget the ellipticals and just get a small bike and your quads will be amazing. But just those, and nothing else.
You can have dinner parties with roast. Honestly, I’ve learned how to make meals for over 10 people given about 2 hours, and it’s just such a rush to get everything ready when all you have for utensils and tableware are 6 spoons, a dozen forks, 3 knives, and a various assortment of different-sized bowls and plates (some of which were permanently borrowed from the Mensa [dining hall] of Dresden). You can also survive off of $10 worth of food on a weekly basis as long as you buy things on sale, in bulk, and from the few days old stale section of the grocery store.
Hangovers after Halloween parties while freezing rain falls down are amazing (it has to be that specific). Seriously, just brew some green tea, sit down on the couch by the windows, read The Great Gatsby and don’t care about the rest of the night except for the fact that you still have to dress up for the rest of the Halloween weekend.
You learn a lot about responsibility especially when whether or not you can eat or not depends on whether you logged enough hours on your work-study and regular job to pay for the utility bill, parking spot rent, parking tickets, alcohol, and then food.
Classes get harder in junior year, and you begin to accept the 50% as a fairly good grade regardless of the curve. And the all-nighters and countless hours spent on problem sets and lab assignments never make you feel worth it. The workload just piled up, and it never seemed to end at times.
But for every hard and difficult moment, there existed an opposite and equal moment that allowed for the semester to become bearable. Moments of bike riding with two friends through the summer tinted pathways of the esplanade to a castle on an island, days spent wild and young upon the steppes of the Boston Commons, adventures wandering the streets of Boston through the night without a goal in mind, and singing in beautiful harmony with a group of friends that you have grown close to.
This year, especially the semester has been a blur, a good blur. The weeks just went by too quickly, and yeah I learned a bit in my classes. But most importantly, I learned how to read and understand people. Actually, maybe not. I’m not too sure, I may be wrong, but maybe I learned to observe people better. Yes, I think that that’s more accurate; I learned how to host people. I shared stories with couchsurfers from countries and provinces all over the world: from the villages of Bulgaria, to a pot farmer from California, to the Spanish and French couples, to the novelist writing about Boston University and Harvard. There was beauty in all the moments this year, even through the discord and the trials. And in the process I have made lifelong friends. I know that this post does not come close to rivaling those of my past years, but it is an important post nonetheless.
Most importantly this year revolved around adventuring and reminiscing. It was about a time of going forward while looking backward at the same time. And it was a reminder that I will once again have that wander thirst to travel to hidden paths that go all throughout the world through unknown dangers that would prevent even the most hardy and experienced of travelers from going had they previously known what had lain ahead. But through all these things, I can honestly say that wherever I go with my friends, family, and experiences I can honestly say that I am finally home.
By: Gerald Gould
“Beyond the east the sunrise; Beyond the west the sea
And East and West the Wander-Thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness to bid me say goodbye,
For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! The call of the sky!
I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But a man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide, a star;
And there’s no end to voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call, and the road calls, and oh! The call of a bird!
Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun,
And the white road and the sky.”
On the Wednesday afternoon of March 2, the group took an excursion to the Technische Sammlungen (Technical Collection) Museum of Dresden. The museum was on Junghansstrasse 1-3 and the group ticket only cost 1,50 Euros. We split up into two groups, and the first group had the tour guide showed them around the different exhibits. There was only one tour guide, so we were allowed to explore any part of the museum by ourselves for an hour. This excursion was due in part to our Sociology class where we were supposed to present and reflect upon our excursions and how they concerned the culture and history of Germany. At first, we weren’t able to see how the exhibits affected the culture and society of Germany, because we entered into the Adventureland of the Technical Collection. Way up on the fifth floor was a Physics Playground with all sorts of fun objects found in science museums. It contained vacuums, air machines, angled surfaces, magnetic solenoids, mirrors, speakers, torque playground spinners, and wave polarization. Being the engineering nerds that we were, we all found this floor really exciting and fun. Then the floor below us consisted of a more child-friendly area of light shows, triad music towers, a bubble machine that could encase several people in a bubble, and mental puzzles. It was just an area for kids and adults to play and just experience wonder and excitement.
Eventually, our playtime ended and a tour guide walked us through several different exhibits. We learned about the science demonstrations, saw marionette puppet shows, walked inside a room-sized camera obscura, saw the firefighters exhibit, and saw countless cases and cases worth of cameras and micro photography. The photography was cool, because one of the main photographers, Robert Koch, attempted to fuse both art and science together in his micro photography. His intended to demonstrate how both of them did not need to remain separate. And I thought that that was cool, because it reminded me of sophomore year in high school when I studied a little bit about the development of photography into a pure and respectable art form. That has always been a debate in so many different cases from petty arguments between students to supreme court cases mandating what constitutes a piece of art.
However, one of the most intriguing exhibits consisted of a square pool of water that was situated in the middle of a room. The water did not appear to be clean and potable, and upon further inspection I could see extremely small worm-like beings swimming around. Our tour guide then explained that there was a woman who collected water from rivers all over the world and displayed them in exhibits. Her purpose was to demonstrate how each culture in different parts of the world has such a diverse array of life inside of it. The water from one river may appear to be exactly like the water from another river, but it is in fact totally different. The bacteria, germs, flora, and elements inside these sample pieces all differ from one another. This exhibit helped me realize a little bit about how it important it was to see Europe through the eyes of European and less through the eyes of an American. Actually, maybe it’s more imperative to see every country and person through the eyes of a non-judgmental child. I’m not too sure.
Then on Wednesday, I had a pretty regular day, but an amazing night. Several of us walked to the Grosser Garten a few blocks northeast of the Max Kade Haus. We wanted to have some good group bonding. We all walked to the inside of the garden where the lights were out and no one could see us. And we all just bonded as a group. It was pretty amazing, and it reminded me of the summer, even though the coldness engulfed us. We then heard a noise emanating from the inside of the garden, which also housed a zoo, and we thought that an elephant was making the noise. So we all got into formation where the one girl who was with us stayed in the middle, and we started walking even deeper in to the pitch-black garden. After a minute or two of walking, one of the group members got smart and suggested that we return back to the house. I was just so happy and in a state of happiness. I had brought my journal along with me, and someone suggested that I draw something. So I drew a smily face, when I had meant to draw an abstract drawing. I then tried to draw a house, but I instead drew a house with a smily face on it. And I could not stop smiling. I just loved everyone around me, and it was great. Life was good. The group walked back to the house, we hugged friends, watched Lola Rennt while eating Gouda and bread, and then we went to bed.
Then on Friday we were supposed to go to the Wismut mines. These mines used to be Uranium mines that the Soviet Stock Company, SAG Wismut (Sowjetische Aktiensgesellschaft), used to mine in order to harvest Uranium for nuclear reactors and weapon development. However, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wismut has changed its company mission from mining uranium ore to decommissioning and cleaning up the mines and the areas that were irradiated and contaminated by the uranium. We were supposed to go to the Hauptbahnhof and take a train to the Wismut mines. We would then go put on environmental suits, tour the mines, and then take a group shower afterwards. That was probably the event that most people either dreaded or looked forward to doing.
We get to the Hauptbahnhof, and the RA’s start laughing, because there’s a strike today. The trains will all be delayed and there isn’t another one that can take us to the Wismut mines. Most people were excited, and the RA’s decided to give us the unstamped tickets so that we could go to anywhere within the state of Saxony. One RA suggested that we go to Rathen by taking the train towards Schöna or Königstein. We get off at Rathen, and we walk across the small town to get to the Elbe River. We take a ferry across the river and enter into a quaint river town that has cafes, restaurants, and small stores that are not open because it’s the off season for vacations. The first thing that catches our eyes are the mountains in the background of the city. We look at the sign posts and decide to walk on the Bastei Trail. We start walking up the stone steps that were hewn into the hillside dotted with leaves and trees. It almost felt like a warm fall day with all the brown leaves strewn across the ground. We continued following the trail higher, and before we know it, we can see that we are a bit closer to the tips of small peaks and mini mountains. The cities of Rathen and Königstein were used as mountain fortresses during older times.
Before long, a few rocky outcrops gave way to a spectacular view of the Elbe and the fortress cities below us. The Elbe River almost appeared to stretch out endlessly before us. But the best views were yet to come. We then crossed an old, sandstone bridge that connected several rocks together that allowed visitors to pass a huge crevasse. The trail continued to wind even higher up. Eventually, everyone met at the highest point on the trail. And the view was spectacular. I don’t think that I have ever been that high except during my skiing on the Snowshoe Mountains in West Virginia. I could see the Elbe flow around Rathen and towards another town. I could see the flow of the landscape and the verdant green grass that grew as far as the eye could see. And then it hit me: I was still in Europe, and now had visited one of the most beautiful spots and trails when I could have just as easily been stuck in an old uranium mine. I am witnessing the beauty of nature in such a new way.
I did take a lot of pictures, and my old World Religions teacher from high school commented on my facebook album saying, “In these photos, I can just feel the excitement of your Journey through Europe! I love the contrast of your profile pic, dancing on a table or something and that one of you staring off in wonder from the mountaintop!” And yes, there is definitely beauty in both cases. It just seems to come together at some points. It’s almost as if some things and events just start to make sense when you least expect it. Up there on the mountaintops, I felt a bit of my own mortality. I knew full well that if I were to slip and fall, then I would die. But I also felt exhilaration at being fit and excited enough to get to the top of the mountain and see what so few people have seen before. I am so lucky and blessed. What did I do to deserve such an opportunity to visit exciting, new places and gaze across the German landscape for miles in wonder and awe? Maybe none of us deserve anything, but things just happen in life. Maybe what matters is what we do with the things that happen to us. In this case, I tried to soak in the smell of the fresh air, the feeling of the sun upon my skin, the sound of the whistling wind, the touch of the eroded rock, and the sight of a far green country that has seen countless sunrises. It’s too beautiful for words, and in that moment, I swear that I was infinite.
February 25 – 27, 2011
Wow, it’s Tuesday and I just finished playing some good old fashioned American Football with the liberal arts students and my fellow Engineering Study Abroad classmates here in the field behind our dorm. But I am still recovering from such a crazy and unbelievable weekend in Prague, Czech Republic.
Friday February 25
On Friday around 6am the engineering students all met at a bus stop near the Hauptbahnhopf to take a 2+ hour bus ride to Prague. We arrived at the Nadrazi Holesovice stop, and we are immediately greeted with many different cultural shocks. Seeing as we are just starting to become conversational in German, we were then thrust into a situation where we did not know how to speak or understand the Czech language. But the public trains were easy enough to navigate, because each line (red, green, and yellow), had a map that had a white dot showing where you were, and arrows pointing to what each side of the station led towards. We take the red line down to Florenc and then transfer to the yellow line in order to get to Smichovske Nadrazi, which was where our hostel was located. We get off at that stop, and we see a mini-grocery market (with a lot of Asians working in there), and then we cross a green walkway bridge that allows us to cross the train tracks. Once over the train tracks, you then could pass the street and then get to the Arpacay Hostel (Radlicka St. 76, Prague 5). The hostel had a 5 story building on one side of the street and another one on the other side. We didn’t check in right there, but we did leave behind our luggage that contained most of our clothes. And then we went back on the metro to stop in the heart of the city at Namesti Republiky, which was located near the tourist trap destinations.
Before walking, we were forewarned by our RA’s that Prague was notorious for the many pickpocketers that were so skilled in snatching wallets, money, keys, cards, and purses, especially from people who were just leaving or entering the trains. So we start walking through the cobblestone streets of Prague, and let me tell you how unbelievably beautiful the city is. Every turn yielded ancient villas, baroque cathedrals, vaulted archways, campaniles, street vendors, and thousands among thousands of tourists. Almost every major language in the world was overheard during that weekend in Prague. It was so beautiful to feel part of a larger history that surpassed anything in the US. And it was later mentioned that part of Prague’s beauty stemmed from the fact that it wasn’t bombed during the major World Wars. So we went on one of the guided bus tours that had headsets which spoke about various sites. And these headsets could be set to any of the 20 major languages ranging from French, Deutsch, English, Spanish, Czech, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and so many more. I would usually alternate my headset from French to English, and I was so surprise about how much I still remembered.
The tour brought us through alleyways, to the facades of Cathedrals, the banks of the Vltava River, and to the Prague Castle Square. The castle is also known as the largest Castle complex in the entire world. And it was breathtaking to behold. The bus drove across one of the bridges that crossed the river and then traveled uphill through the winding terraces and roads that wound their way around and through the castle. When we finally reached the top, the bus tour gave us a 30 minute break during which we could explore the large open square area and enter into the St. Vitus Cathedral. The view was absolutely stunning and amazing. One could see the entirety of Prague from above. And sometimes I felt as if I had just stepped into an older era of artisans, kings, lords, and European politics and monarchs. I instantly remembered the stories concerning Marie-Theresa fleeing to Prague for some reason that I could not remember.
We first had to enter through a gated archway guarded by the Prague Royal Guards who reminded us of the Swiss Guards of the Vatican or the Buckingham Palace Guards. We entered into the St. Vitus Cathedral, and were instantly greeted by vaulted archways and huge stained glass windows. It was beautiful to see the afternoon sunlight striking the stained glass windows and then shining colored light upon the ancient stone walls of a building housing the remains of Bohemian Kings and Holy Roman Emperors. Upon leaving the square, we were able to witness the changing of the Royal Guard. And then we were finally able to take our first Engineering Group Picture.
Then the bus drove us back down to the Old Town Square, and we followed our RA’s to the BU sponsored meal at the Staromacek Czech Restaurant. The waitress was dressed in traditional Czech country garb, and the food was absolutely delicious. There were plates of roast beef with nutty, fruity sauces, potato and bread dumplings, croquette balls, and scrumptious morsels of old-fashioned vegetables. We all had a good time eating together. And for some odd reason, pretty much all of the Asians on the trip ended up sitting at the same table which was hilarious. Fortunately, none of us got rice because we always made rice back in Dresden. And yes we had a little bit of fun taking pictures of each other. Actually, there was this one guy who always took creepy stalker pictures of a few people on our trip. It actually freaked one of the RA’s when she was taking a picture in his camera, and realized that over 2/3 of his pictures were of this one guy on our trip. And then I remembered what one of my friends told me about photography. Regardless of the composition of the picture, following the rule of thirds, getting good lighting, or whatever, you can never fully capture that perfect moment with a picture. There is just simply too much to contain that even a book with pictures, smells, sounds, and words could not even come close to the raw and unadulterated feelings and emotions that came with a moment. And as I will share in a bit, I was unable or unwilling to photograph some of the most beautiful or amazing moments during the trip. However I got some pretty damn good pictures.
So we left the restaurant, and the head waiter presented the RA’s with gifts for our group. We got outside and discovered that they were two liquor bottles. One of them was Becherovka, a Kräuter (Herbal) liquor similar to Jägermeister, and the RA’s decided to give one of them to us and keep one for themselves. One of them started to say that unlike Germany, the Czech Republic does have an open container policy and that it is illegal to drink alcohol open in the streets, but that she always does it. So then we all took turns taking swigs out in the open on the street, and the taste was very piney and herb-like; almost like a Christmas Tree or Thanksgiving in your mouth .Then the RA’s said their goodbyes to us and let us loose in Prague.
So we then decided to explore the city on our own. The large engineering group then split up into several subgroups. We walked through the main streets and then stumbled into several tourist trap shops and stores. Almost every corner had a store that advertised 0% commission in exchanging Euros into Czech Crowns. However, one still had to be wary of the weird guys who sometimes stood outside of those shops and said, “Hey, do you want a good price for your Euros.” We had suspicions that they were going to give us fake money. We continued exploring the main city streets, and entered into a liquor shop. The prices for wines and beer were more expensive, but they also sold Absinthe in really cool bottles for much cheaper than sold in the tourist shops. It was interesting to note that many of us were interested in trying Absinthe that had wormwood in it so as to produce the hallucinogenic effect. There were some cool bottles and designs, and I was sorely tempted to buy one and keep it in my apartment in BU in the fall, but I wanted to save some money for the rest of the weekend. They even sold Absinthe with hemp seeds in them.
We continued to explore, and entered into a Cigar Shop where we were then able to buy Cuban Cigars. It was funny, because we were able to get these cigars halfway around the world here in Prague while we are still unable to legally obtain them in the US due to the Cuban Embargo. And Prague was so cool, because everywhere you turned yielded a new, adventurous cobblestoned pathway that led to herbal soaps and oil shops, marionette basements, and benches filled with young Czech teens. It was during this time that we smelled the scent of weed. It happened twice: the first occurred when these two burly looking men passed by us and the second time occurred when we passed a group of teenagers in a courtyard. For some reason, that smell always reminds me of the good days of the summer and of service. Yes, the smell of weed reminds me of Christian Service where I devote my life to helping others. Someone shared the same feeling with me, and we both believe that it has something to do with volunteering in Kingston, Jamaica and going to concerts in the open spaces of Maryland’s Meriwether Post Pavilion open air concert hall where I had once before felt infinite with my High-LI and best friends.
Because it was getting late and we still needed to check into the Arpacay Hostel, we all walked back to Namesti Republiky and took the metro back to Smichovske Nadrazi. We stopped by the grocery store, and bought alcohol to pregame for the night. For about two euros, one could but a plastic two liter bottle of cheap red wine. For 600 Czech Crowns (roughly 24 Euros), we were able to stay for two nights until Sunday. We then paid the key deposit (100 more Czk), and then we entered into our hostel rooms. There were three bedrooms with bunk beds. Two of the rooms were occupied with the BU Engineering students and the third one was occupied by Austrian guys who had just graduated from high school and were visiting Prague for the past week. And this Friday night was their last night, and they told us that they wanted to go out with a bang. Amongst the three bedrooms were a small toilet room, a shower room, and a kitchen common room area. Since we had planned ahead, a bunch of us had already packed some already cooked pasta, rice, and meat for the weekend so as to conserve money for souvenirs and entertainment during the weekend.
But I was in love with our bedroom. There were six beds in the room, and four of them were in two separate bunk beds. And the other two beds were in an alcove above the door that was so cozy and comfy. I’ll talk about it later, but the naps and the sleep was so beautiful and amazing. So we start to eat dinner, and we make friends with the Austrian guys. Their names were Lawrence, Laurence, Raphael, and Ryan. They were quite excited to talk to us, and the first one to break the social barrier was Lawrence. He was 19 years old, and he had teeth that had spaces in between all of them. We started to share where we were all from, and why were staying in Prague for the weekend.
Later on as we started to get into pregaming, several of us walked to the rooftop of the hostel were we smoked Cuban cigars and drank some cheap Czech liquor and wine. For some odd reason, I started to impersonate Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, while I drank my glass of rottwein. It felt so cool to be that high up in our hostel and see the far-off bright lights of Prague’s main streets. We then all walked back downstairs and the Austrians and the Americans kind of joined together in talking about German and getting even more ready for the evening. Apparently, Lawrence’s first words to one of the Engineering girls were, “I like your boobs.” Yes, they were quite direct in that respect. I had to leave in order to get more liquor, namely Prazska Czech Vodka. I returned and took about five shots in a row, and then stopped. It was pretty hectic with people left and right drinking the Czech beers, sipping on 140 proof Absinthe, and chasing vodka shots with saft and coke.
We then drunkenly leave the hostel and head to the metro station across the bridge. And with every 5-10 minutes I could feel each individual vodka shot hitting me. By the time we got off at Namesti Republiky, I could no longer focus so well on the streets, but I was able to talk about German with one of the other Austrian guys. I learned a few valuable lessons from him that night. First of all, I understood how to say, “I am horny” three different ways in German. I also learned how to get to the best pubs and bars in Prague. But despite my inebriation, I still acknowledged my surroundings. And it was such a cool understanding, because there was a stark contrast between Prague during the day and Prague during night. During the day, tourists of all nationalities walk the streets and families shepherd their members around on various sightseeing tours. During the night, the streets become lined with younger teenagers looking for fun, older couples looking to feel wild, and so many people of various ethnicities stumbling around the cobblestone streets of Prague. What I noticed was that the only black people in Prague came out during the night in order to solicit tourists to go into clubs and bars
We get to “The Pub” or the Beer Works Museum which is a bar and club where each table has its own tap of beer with a screen on it detailing how much beer the table has gotten from the tap. The entry fee was 100 Czk (around 4 Euros). So I enter, and I look behind me at the glowing spiral staircase. It turns out that one of our members had pregamed a bit too hard and had thrown up all over the staircase. So we quickly rushed her to the bathroom, and the manager approached our table. He said that either she or someone from our group had to clean. Mind you that I was drunk at this point, and I agreed to get the mop and clean up the mess. Thus I danced and mopped up the mess as the loud pop music blasted around me. Apparently before the manager told me that I had done a good enough job he said, “He looks like he’s enjoying it.”
I then sit back down on the table and realize that my free beer, that came with the entry fee, was nowhere to be found. I then open my journal and start writing something down to one of my friends, because the music was too loud.
I told him, “I want you to know something. Sometimes I think that I’m too nice, and I feel good for being a good person, but bad for not allowing myself to have selfish fun.”
He then told me, “It’s good to be nice but not too nice, but I don’t think you’re ever too nice. Your just very nice and happy. You should have fun and I don’t know why you aren’t. Don’t worry about selfishness, you already did more than anyone here and you came here to have fun so go!”
We continued the conversation for longer, and I continued to open up more and more to him. We finally stopped the conversation, and I wrote one final entry at The Pub: “I just want someone to hold on to as I hang out by the banks of the River in Prague. It’s hard to think it’s a drunk mindset, but I just want to be with someone. I don’t know who. Am I happy or not? I don’t know. I am definitely drunk, but I can’t help feeling still too nice, cleaning up vomit and helping others to the bathroom and such.”
It was around this time, that I decided to just try and enjoy myself, and coincidentally the final shot of vodka hit me and I was pretty drunk. I believe that I continued to mop about two more times after this and that I helped bring more people to the bathroom. A few minutes later, our group left The Pub to the open night and air of a different Prague. The large group started to head back to the station, but the Austrians and several other people in the group wanted to go find weed. As started to go to the station, the Austrians and four other people kept on walking, and three of us told the rest our group to go home to the hostel while we brought the rest home.
And thus started the adventure of the night. None of our friends were answering there phones, and the only lead that we knew of was a black person on the street telling us that the best place to get weed in Prague was in The Red Hat. And so we started walking through the bright, well-lit streets of Prague. As stated earlier, the night time was when many of the black people came out to solicit people to go to sketchy clubs and bars. And there were so many tourists and it felt so amazing to be a part of the melting pot culture of the Prague nightlife with nationalities from all over the world. And in our group of three wandering BU Study Abroad Engineers, two of whom were bedtrunken, we had the speaking capacity of four different languages. My friend and I spoke French, my other friend spoke Spanish, and we all spoke English and ein bisschen Deutsch.
It was so amazing to walk the streets of Prague after midnight in a drunken state. It’s indescribable to explain how the feelings and emotions came together to make me feel just so epic and a part of some part in the annals of history of young people in crazy adventures. And I was never alone. I was with my friends and I continued to bump into other people. Many people pointed us in the direction of the Old Main Square in order to get to The Red Hat. At one point we asked a relatively young couple if they spoke any English and the man said that he could only speak a little bit of it. But the guy could speak it perfectly and pointed us to a small alley that jutted out from the square. When we told him that his English was really good he retorted with, “Well I’m not some stupid American who only speaks one language.” Instantly my friend angrily spoke a phrase to him in Spanish and I said, “Merci beaucoup de tous de ce que vous avez fait pour nous. Danke schon,” which roughly means thank you for everything that you have done for us. Thank you. And his girlfriend literally bowed her head in shame and covered her face in embarrassment at what her boyfriend had said.
We continued to walk through the square and we bumped into other Engineering classmates, and they tried to dissuade us from looking for our “kidnapped” friends. They told us not to be superman and try to be the hero, but we said that we just wanted to find our friends and make sure that they are alright. To be honest, I also selfishly wanted to wander around Prague and just continue feeling the thrill of adventure and discovery. We continued on our way and our group grew to have a fourth person. We eventually found our way to The Red Hat and could instantly smell the smoke. Two of us went inside the shop to look for our friends, and the other two went inside to buy weed. I couldn’t find the friends whom we were looking for so we left. By this time we were cold and just wanted to return back to the hostel.
It was around 3am, and the metro had closed. But I was still happy, because I was on an adventure. My friends told me that I kept saying, “Guys, this is great. We’re cold, lost, and in the middle of Prague and we are having an adventure.” And apparently a lot of the black people spoke French, because they responded back to me when I tried to tell them off in French. Eventually we found our way to the Palacheho Namesti tram stop. And in the midst of our sadness at not finding our friends, we saw a hat and recognized one of them. And to our amazement we found our lost friends. Some of them were quite drunk, and we later found out from them that the Austrians were just taking them from bar to bar and not letting them go home. But that didn’t matter anymore because now we found our friends and we could all safely go home.
While we were looking at a map of the trams, a homeless poor man came up to me. And he explained how to get back home to Smichovske Nadrazi by taking the 54 tram. And then he asked for some money in exchange, and I gave him 20 Czk and we made it back to the hostel without incident. We freshened up, climbed into our beds, and I wrote a bit in my journal and fell asleep. Thus ended my first day in Prague.
Saturday February 26
So we woke up and had a complimentary breakfast of ham, cheese, bread, tea, granola, milk, orange juice, and cereal from the hostel staff. It helped restore the electrolytes from last night. And then the group from our Hostel room split, because some of us wanted to take a nap. The rest of us went to the National Museum of Prague. The first exhibit displayed the chronicles of Czech folklore and history. We witnessed their equivalent stories of ancient heroes, pagan magic, and fortresses and lords. It was so cool to go into that exhibit, but it was also weird because at one point it said that one of Prague’s castles was 300 years older than Harry Potter’s castle of Hogwarts.
We continued through the exhibits and walked past displays of animal skeletons, trilobites, and precious gems and minerals. At one point one of the female curators started yelling at me in Czech because she thought that I had broken one of the wooden displays. Several of my friends called me after they woke up, and we all planned to meet by the Old Central Square. But we were distracted by an open air souvenir market where I got my cool Prague stein, shot glass. After meeting up with the group, we all walked to a small crowded bakery called Krusta where the food was delicious. However, I dropped a 50 Czk coin, and as I bent to pick it up a man literally blocked my hand, picked it up, and walked away. And he wasn’t even dressed like a homeless man or a thief. He was just a regular looking husband with his wife at the bakery. For some reason, this incident really made me sad. I just couldn’t believe that someone would do something like that to me or anyone else for that matter without any reason. I mean, I could understand a poor person needing to steal something to survive, and I probably wouldn’t have been upset at that. But he looked like a well-off man and he looked me straight in the eye as he took it.
At one point I noticed that the group that had joined us later from the hostel seemed a little bit spacey. And after I had spoken to them I realized why. The rest of the afternoon was devoted to exploring the other side of the Vltava River over the Charles Bridge. We walked into the Franz Kafka museum shop, and onto the side of the river that supported the Castle. And according to legend, touching the statue of St. John of Nepomuk would make one’s wish come true and ensure that whoever touched it would return to Prague. And I was so excited to take part in this superstitious tradition. And as we passed by the castle again, I remember telling my friends that the reason why the nobles didn’t die during the Defenestration of Prague was because they fell into a dung heap.
It was late in the afternoon by this time, so we headed back to the Hostel for dinner and pregaming. But this time, the Austrians had already left and we played games as we drank. We played a game of zoo, which was a rhythm game where every person had a hand motion and passed it on to another person. We continued with a rousing game of Never Have I Ever and the car crash game. We all got drunk, and once again made on to the public transportation to get to a club. But this was not just any club, but the 5 story Karlovy Lazne, which also holds the title for the largest single club in Central Europe. My favorite floor was the third floor, which played “Black Music.” A clarification should be made here, because black music in Europe stands for any American pop song that is played on our hit radio. Each floor had two bars, couches, tables, and a large dance floor in the center that randomly spewed out fog from machines. I was dancing in ecstasy, because I was listening to my favorite music. At one point I got on top of a ledge and started dancing to Katy Perry’s California Gurls, and continued through I Gotta Feeling, Club Can’t Even Handle Me, and Pokerface. And I felt so amazing just dancing, and would often look at the guy on the ledge opposite mine and pretend that I was attempting to out dance him.
Sunday February 27
We woke up in our deliciously comfortable beds, ate the hostel breakfast, and checked out. However, the morning started out in a weird way, because we get to the train station, and as we switch stations the Controller approaches us and asks for our tickets. I reach to grab mine from the day before since it had probably not expired by then, but I realized that I had left it in my bag back at the hostel. He told me to come with him, and I sadly followed him. I was informed that my fee would be 700 Czk. I was so sad and shocked, but then he started apologizing to me. I withdrew the crowns from an atm, and he asked me about where I was from. He then shared his knowledge of the city of San Fransisco and the state of Texaco, his friend in the American CIA, his past profession as a Czech Colonel during the Communism days, and his intent to write President Obama a letter about how much he admires him. And I told him about how I was studying Engineering in Dresden and that both my parents were Filipino. And to my shock, I understood that I actually made friends with an old Czech Controller, and I asked him to take a picture with me. And even though those 700 crowns cost a lot of money, I was still happy. I made a new, crazy memory and had made friends with a retired Czech Colonel who wanted to write our president a friendly letter.
After that incident, we get to Letna Park. It was quiet, and one could almost swear that we were nowhere near Prague. One of the most beautiful moments occurred when we saw a small child laughing and chasing around a puppy. It was such a great moment of unbridled innocence and joy that one couldn’t help but smile in such a wholehearted way. And then we get to the edge of the park where a lot of teenagers were skating. And behind a giant metronome was the city of Prague far below us. Just like when we were at the castle two days ago, we were able to see the entire city surrounded by the Vltava River.
Excerpt from my journal:
“The weather is cool and the sun is warm. Prague is amazingly beautiful. There is a lot of mist, fog, or smog in the air that covers the city. This is Prague, and I’ve experienced it in such a new way. So many beautiful memories and people here. Wonder. We are seeing something here that so many people will never be able to see in life. And this was one of the cities not bombed during WWII. And once again I can say life is good.”
The view inspired me. I cannot even put it into words. I did feel glorious. I imagined seeing the city during the olden ages of lords, medieval armies and vassals, and conflicts concerning the Reformations. How many people collided every day in this city? What were the stories that everyone had that we would never be able to hear? Sure, there are so many mysteries in this world, but at least after this weekend I could say that one of those mysteries was answered
We walked down the terrace-like steps of the park, and entered into the city through Parizska Street, which was a ritzy high class store area. I turned to go down a road that had Jewish Synagoges, and I saw a few stands selling clay replicas of the Golem of Prague. But what caught my eye was this woman who sold shot glasses that had a beautiful design etched upon them. She told me that the etching took a long time to make. And so I bought my second shot glass from her, and it is one of the most beautiful things that I could have gotten from Prague, and it wasn’t some easily replicable touristy item. Her name is Veronika Tesarova and I believe that she was part of a company called Galerie Tesar (http://galerietesar.ic.cz).
I was walking alongside Sean, and we both started to get hungry so we stopped by this restaurant called Lokal which was next to a Traveler’s Hostel and Club Roxy.. It was recommended to me by my BU Alternate Spring Break friend who lives in Prague. The restaurant was quite large, and had a paper menu because the dishes changed everyday depending on the season. And they also had menus in English with explanations for their dishes. It was funny because when Sean tried to order a potato salad with his Roast Beef with Raspberry Cream Sauce, the waiter told him no and that he should instead go with the bread dumplings because they went complimented the dish better. I ordered the Sausage Goulash, and I was so excited to taste authentic Czech Cuisine that was all homemade. And afterwards, I asked the waitress for the Raspberry Sauce recipe and she delivered a handwritten note to me in Czech from the chef himself. Then we left the restaurant, regrouped with some of our classmates in the middle square, left to go back to Nadrazi Holesovice, and then took the bus back to Dresden and the Hauptbahnhof. And that my friends was one of the most memorable weekends of my life.