Friday, July 4, 2008

Olomouc to Ostrava, written 20 June 2008

I headed off at around 8.15am, and followed the instructions I’d been given. I walked to the main railroad station, got the tram heading out of the city, walked under the pedestrian walkway to get to the main bus station, and headed north. Crossed the big junction, and since I had seen a petrol station icon on the map Anna showed me, decided to walk a few hundred meters further north. Got to the station, asked around and no one was headed to Ostrava. So I decided to jump on the side of the road and got out my Ostrava sign…and within 30 seconds, a truck had pulled over.

Well, there was really no communication whatsoever. Do you speak English? Ne. Lots of very quickly spoken Czech, me laughing openly at how ridiculous this situation was going to be, but we managed to say Ostrava, nod fervently, and off we went. I texted Patrik asking how I said in Czech, “I’m headed to Vyskovice but you can leave me anywhere in Ostrava”. He replied, and I tried my very best to pronouce the multiple consonants and keeping in mind the different pronunciations of different letters in Czech, and he nodded with a smile. He was a bit older, perhaps late 40’s, and had a fully equipped truck. 2 cell phones, DVD player (which remained turned off), a fancy GPS, coffee maker, random cutlery lying about…the ride to Ostrava was quick, passing through more poppy fields and farmland, and before I knew it we were reaching city limits. He pulled into the parking lot of Hotel Vista and told me I was 1km from the center of Vyskovice. He was headed to Frydek Mistek, so had gone out of his way to drop me as near as was reasonable to Vyskovice. I thanked him a lot and then I was in the parking lot. Went into the hotel, found out the address, texted Patrik, and within 15 minutes I was getting a big hug.

I arrived at 10.30am at their house, which means I made fantastic time from Olomouc and more than made up for my slightly more frustrating run the previous day. Their home feels like…home. It’s lovely. They keep saying how small it is and they’re sorry etc etc but it’s really wonderful here. It feels a bit country in a way, lots of window light and high ceilings and earthy furniture – lots of wood and bright red sofa, potholders, aprons with plums on them…it’s like where I would imagine Little Red Riding Hood to have lived hundreds of years ago. It’s super kawaii. So we had a gorgeous lunch of slightly breaded cauliflower and vegetable soup, potatoes with delicious butter, and fresh green salad – which I haven’t seen thus far in the Czech Republic…then I had my siesta…

In the afternoon we went for a walk in Bialsky Les, a small parkland just outside of their home, where you feel instantly in the woods and it’s not crowded but there are a few kids riding their bikes and mothers pushing their strollers. I asked dozens of questions to Patrik and Jitka and loved what I’ve learned.

They claim that you can recognize Czechs by their lack of style; socks with sandals and completely unmatching clothes. I’m much more than this fascinated by how the country worked under communism and how it’s changed so quickly, yet at the same time holding on to some of their roots perhaps? For example, the health care system and unemployment benefits. I’m equally amazed that nobody questions how the fall of the Soviet Union came about. They know the date – November 17, 1989, but they don’t know what happened, who caused it, why it happened in Prague and simultaneously in capitals all over the Eastern Bloc, and why it switched over so quickly. They say the system has changed but the people have stayed. No one was ever prosecuted for the crimes they committed during Soviet rule. They say perhaps no one asks for details because they are all happy the change happened; they don’t need to know how it came about. They say it’s all a game, and it was time to change.

The housing system is really interesting. They technically don’t own the flat that they live in but instead, Jitka is a member of the group of tenants in the building. So you buy a spot in this group (remnants of communism) – and she can sell her spot to somebody else. But that does not mean she is selling the property itself, since it is owned by a company. If you want to actually own a flat and be its proprietor, it is much more expensive and not common. This is a completely different system to anything I’ve ever heard of before (unless I’ve forgotten which is always a possibility). However, they have made changes in the apartment, i.e. flooring, painting, taking out the sink in the bathroom to put in a washing machine – without permission, although technically they are supposed to have any changes approved.

Anyway, Patrik went to karate and Jitka and I went to the city centre to meet her fellow English students – she had just finished her course. So we sat at a pivnice, had a pilsner, and I learned how to count in Czech, swear in Czech, and some basic other necessities like toilets – the day before when asking at the petrol station outside Brno where the toilet was, I had to resort to Damy (women, as is written on the door by the women’s toilet – I remembered this from Prague) – and making a peeing sound. I got laughed at but it worked. Now I know how to ask properly, which is probably a good thing.

After this, Jitka and I walked around the city centre, which was eerily quiet. It was a Thursday evening around 7.30pm, but since all the buildings are offices and retail shops, there is very little reason for anyone to go there after working hours. She said they’re trying to revitalize the centre but there’s really no way to get people to go there. It was strange. Beautiful buildings and nice atmosphere but quiet.

We caught the tram to meet Patrik and their friend from orchestra, Hanser (sp?) at Pizzerie Jerek, where I enjoyed my first dark Czech beer which I loved, it’s almost like caramel…I might be converted. Then had a pizza with mushrooms, mmmm. I love the curiosity of the Czechs in this case too, it took awhile before anyone started asking me questions about Japan and culture and scenery and prices and hotels and travel and people, but when they start, they are so inquisitive, I love it.

We went to stay overnight at Patrik’s parents’ flat because they’re away on holiday and there’s more room there (I don't think they realize by Tokyo standards their flat is enormous) and here I am now, hopefully pretty soon we will go to play in the mountains.

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