Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Home Sweet European Apartment

What my window sees. 
My delightfully curious sister just skyped me : "hows prague"

And my answer:

"great, the rain stopped
and my roommates are great
and the cat is currently playing on my bed."

Isn't it amazing how things turn around in our favor, just when we think that some freakishly large and evil puppet master in the sky is about to *Job us a little more?

Well, the clouds parted and between them was a three bedroom apartment on Sazavska Street in Prague. I had been so incredibly desperate when I saw the apartment that when I was offered the place, I could hardly remember enough to describe. I remembered feeling comfortable, and crossed my fingers that was enough, and that I hadn't overlooked gross amounts of mold or a gaping hole in the floor or some weird habits like toe picking or having no heaters.

My intuition couldn't have been better. Armed with three of my girlfriends, each with one of my bags in tow, and with the help of my new male roommate, we managed to haul everything up three flights of stairs (because really, who needs an elevator?) and into my new home. Hallelujah!

The pretty picture: high ceilings, a cosy living room, an adorable kitchen with herbs growing on the windowsill and an mural on the door. New water heater, giant bathtub, and of course, a room of my own, which in reality is enormous and almost more space than I can fill with two suitcases full of me. After a few hours of slowly pushing furniture around and finally unloading, I begin to feel like the life I intended to have here is finally worth having.

Did I mention there's a cat, and the front door to the building is opened with a brass skeleton key?

Like my co-worker Lauren so brazenly exclaimed, "Way to go, Caitlin. 17th time is the charm!"

Mattress sweet mattress (work in progress)

My very own keys!
*Job meaning that unfortunate guy from El Biblio who was punished for no reason and still gained infamy in his own book within a book.

Don't you wish your stairway was old like mine?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Burčák: God Bless Underaged Grapes

It's September and you know what that means: it's burčák season.

Of course it is. It's only the best autumn tradition in Europe, if not the world, and burčák is specific only to the Czech Republic. No idea what it is?

Neither did I, until yesterday. Across a crowded room on Friday night, I had heard a voice say "" and it was enough to peak my curiosity, especially when I woke up only to see that it was yet another gorgeous day. I realize it is uncommon for the sun to be a daily player at this point in the year, but I think I brought the San Francisco Indian Summer here with me.

And so what did this sunny autumn day bring? It brought first harvest wine, or "burr-chack", to the beautiful parks around Prague. It's an easy day to manage. Find a beautiful park. Find the huge crowds of people. Stand in line for five minutes. Pay $1 for glass of baby wine. Drink. Smile.

Burčák is neither wine, nor spirit, not juice, or bubbly water, but if you could turn on your imagination palate for a minute, it is a combination of all of them. The grapes are pressed before beginning any meaningful fermentation and so you're left with a fabulous, thick-ish, Lambrusco-esque, sweet but fragrant and always unique, drink. Sometimes, red, sometimes white, but this isn't really the truth. It's yellows and pinks and personalities you've never seen out of a keg. Is the picture becoming clearer?

The best is how most people purchase it. Because it is young, it doesn't keep well. So buy it now, buy it in large quantities, and promise that you will drink it in the next two days. (This is not difficult. Half an hour is more reasonable.) So you pull up to a vendor booth, or any average wine shop on the street that advertises it, and you get the wine out of keg, poured into 1.5 liter soda bottles. Classy, practical, delicious, and once again, only here.

Yours truly, living the high life. 
It made for a particularly colorful day. On top of the happy drinking, there were extravagant outdoor performances and drums and harps (with nymphs and soldiers and fair maidens and an elephant. In the park.) There were scores of food booths with the most amazing non-Asian foods.

Have I mentioned how much I miss Taiwanese food? But Saturday made up for it. Czech food is quickly growing on me. Potato pancakes, grilled onions and ham, topped with saurkraut...all made on the back of a hot 10 gallon drum.

And of course, good company and general merriment of everyone around us. That's why I came here. I thought it might be beautiful, and full of good alcohol, and what the heck, it delivers every day.

Happy Vinobrani!

Have I mentioned, I move into my flat on Tuesday!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I got a visa to Cuba.
I got a visa to Taiwan.

What the hell is wrong with the European Union and their Soviet Union style visa application process?

I've been in contact for about 4-5 months with a woman here in Prague who works for a company called EasyVisa. This is hilarious. EasyVisa must be some sort of sick joke that the owners came up with over some beers. Let's tell everyone how easy it is! HAHAHAHA!

I sent all of my documents to Prague in June, as asked, to get the ball rolling. Normal. Police report, college degree, passport photos, the whole shebang. I thought I was old hat, but of course, the world is full of surprises! This part was easy.

Arriving in the Czech Republic was when the easy ended. I learned that I would have to pay for myself to travel to (first Slovakia, then Berlin, and finally Vienna - the appointments kept changing for no obvious reason to me) - THREE times, during the week, during work. 10 hours total on the bus or train each time. I would have to go without assistance and face the scary Viennese consulate employees, who would go on to reject my long term visa application due to lack of a proper stamp on a Taiwanese document.

My first trip, last Tuesday, was a trek upon treks. Luckily I had two co-workers with me to soften the blow, unfortunately one of them dealt with the difficulties of the day by having a few too many Czech/Austrian beers and coupled with wearing high heels, made walking around a good combination of funny and uncomfortable.

And so it turns out, I am swinging in the sad, cold balance of post-communist bureaucracy that somehow doesn't deem me a safe person to work in the Czech Republic. I wonder if they found out about my parking tickets from high school...

The Silver Lining:

The Czech Embassy in Vienna is right next to Schonnbrunn Palace, which is gorgeous and free to roam around. I have never seen a more beautiful outdoor garden! And in the hour we spent sitting in the park, I couldn't help think, where else but Europe can you show up to a giant garden, hundreds of years old, and sit and talk about your favorite TV shows?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Welcome to Prague: The Househunting Game

Jedna, dve, tre.

This could very well be my neighborhood.
Breathe in, breathe out, and welcome to the new and improved tales of Caitlin. Coming to you live from the kitchen table of her very own housesitting apartment? Wait, why don't you have your own apartment? 

Let me level with you: I have been looking for apartments for months. Some days in Taiwan, I would feel so optimistic about my upcoming move that I would email people about flats I knew would be available far too soon. As soon as I landed, my top priority was to get a cell phone, so I could get a leg up on all the other househunting losers who couldn't call flatmates to set up viewing appointments.

Off I went, text message to text message, running up, down and sideways across the city. 4:00 here, catch a tram, 4:45 there. The major benefit of this was I got to see the city, fast, and I got to learn the public transportation, fast. But more on this later.

Apartment shopping is a rite of passage. I've never had the privilege of being invited into people's homes, cleaner than usual, and being able to fantasize about living there, even for a short while. Apartment #1 and 2 were I could not imagine myself here, not even for a second. Apartments #3 and 4 I saw were if I really had to, I could hide myself in my room, which is the only place I could be, because there is no living room. 

My second day had too much success. I saw four places that were equally impressive. Jaw dropping old neighborhoods, large living rooms, clean bathrooms, friendly people. I had the cream of the crop of Prague apartments, and I chose one with a gorgeous view of the city.

And then it fell through. The landlord was a shady fellow that I wanted nothing to do with. After being promised a move in for two weeks, I finally said, "Thank you very much, but no freaking way."

This brings me to my red plastic chair in Podoli, a Prague district by the river, a 30 minute stroll from the center. (Although truthfully, there are like 4 centers, and it's really easier to tell someone where to meet you by specifying tram stop or metro. "I'll see you at Namesti Miru at 7:00!" "Let's drink beers at Karlovo Namesti at 22:00.")

I have transcended to the 24 hour clock.

This place has been generously gifted to me, at the most appropriate time, by a couple I met on Couchsurfing, who are enjoying themselves in Albania for two weeks. Therefore, I have time to gather my thoughts and begin again.
Just a stroll up the Vlatava

And what a place to begin again, over and over!

What is so great about Prague? A little over two weeks of opinions tells me, everything.
It's the collision of the best qualities of European cities.

Buildings as beautiful as Paris or the old quarters of Barcelona.
A river to rival the Rhine, cutting the city into two easily accessible parts.
Cobblestones like Lisbon, and small enough to walk all over the damn thing (city).
Diversity of food like London.
The best public transport I have ever seen. Trams are the bomb.

So even though the apartment game beat me down a bit, all I need to do is walk outside and see something beautiful. Watch an outdoor movie at a gorgeous park with a view of a castle. (Riegrovy Sady is the Mission Park of Prague.) Listen to live music at a beer garden. Watch a hip hop show at a man-made beach.

Welcome to Prague, people.