About three weeks ago I departed Warsaw for Prague with a duffel bag filled with a week's worth of clothing and a loose plan based around one concept: Relocation. I had two interviews set up and plenty of resources to help me find an apartment at my disposal. The thing is, though, apartment hunting is a nightmare no matter where you are.
I'll be honest: I used to be an almost painfully structured kid. If you had told president-of-the-drama-club-honors-society-hyper-involved Kasia that she'd move first to Warsaw and then to Prague without concrete, color-coded plans either time, she'd probably have choked on her Dunkin' Donuts everything bagel. (As a native Bostonian, Dunks is and probably always will be something that holds a particularly special place in my heart. I don't care if their coffee gives you the runs, nothing beats hearing "I'll have a 'lahj extra-extra,'" while waiting in line. I find watching The Departed helps, though.)
It's now three weeks later. (Still no Dunkin's to be found.) I've officially moved to Prague, but I still haven't gone back to Warsaw for the rest of my stuff. It's become a common occurrence for me to stop every now and then and quote The Talking Heads in wonderment: "How did I get here?"
Prague itself sprawls outward from the center, with its thin, endlessly winding cobblestone alleys that ulitmately culminate in the open air of the Old Town Square. Amid the history, lining each of these alleys are countless neon signs, overpriced restaurants, and souvenir shops lit under about a million watts, bearing literally anything you can think of that has anything to do with or that could somehow physically bear the word, "Prague." I know that makes it seem like a "tourist destination," but, to be honest, it is.
The difference is, somehow this fact isn't repelling. Instead, it all works as part of Prague's singular charm. The seemingly year-round slew of tourists also make it easier to not necessarily have to speak Czech, (though, for the record, I'm trying to learn). From The Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge, Prague expands out in a sort of lop-sided circle, with districts numbered 1 (Center) to 22. The further out you go, the more intimate part of Prague you'll encounter. The areas slowly develop themselves through the windows of the trams, with each one offering its own quirks: The Červené Jablko ("The Red Apple") Chinese restaurant, literally the biggest TESCO sign ever on the biggest TESCO Supermarket ever, and a glowing neon television studio open to the street that's lit up even at 3 A.M. on a Tuesday night are some of my favorites.
I headed down to see the first apartment, a listing I found whose location wasn't bad and whose price was hard to believe. As it goes, low cost means high hopes. When I got there, though, I realized I wasn't the only one who had that reaction. A young girl my age followed me from the door, up the winding stairs and to the apartment door. We didn't speak during the journey but we were both experiencing the inevitable, awkward inner thought-vibes that went something along the lines of, "Oh you're looking at this apartment too? What if I have to fight you for this? I guess I'll fight you for this." As I said, the location was not bad, but it was in a part of Prague I've never been in before (or can't remember being). In the end, it didn't really matter because I soon learned that the room was in a family's home, with a woman about my mom's age and her mother. Truthfully, the women and apartment itself were fine, but ultimately I decided against it. "Too intimate," I thought.
Two days later I found myself riding yet another tram to yet another low-cost location, this time to an area called Vršovice, which literally translates to "Warsaw." Again, optimism was high. The area itself isn't really reminiscent of Warsaw at all, nor is the street named Ruska very Russian. It's not like I expect to see cherry trees lining every Washington Street in the States, but a girl can dream right? A nice Czech guy named Petr opened the door and let me in, where our tour was basically completed in about six seconds. The miniscule kitchen-slash-hallway opened into what would have been my room, a tragically lit, Spartan room with a utility closet instead of a real one. None of this turned me off as much as Petr's massively superior, modern loft bedroom with hardwood floors and a sitting area that would've clearly been off-limits for me. He also asked for, like, three months' rent in advance, so, like Goldilocks, I declared, "Not intimate enough," and waited patiently, twirling my golden ringlets for apartment number three.
I agreed to meet my third potential roommate on Friday evening, but, after a few wines at the photography gallery, that was clearly not an option anymore, so we rescheduled for the next morning. Saturday morning came in grey and slow. Thick wool-blanket rain clouds hung low and chilled the city. I showed up to Zuzana's apartment exhausted, squinting, and suffering from a hangover that felt like it'd last for weeks. It was a wonder I caught the keys she threw down to me through her fourth-floor street-view window in a little cloth satchel.
Hangover or not, it was love at first sight (with the apartment, I mean -- though Zuzana's cool, too). It was again in the same Vršovice area, which was my initial clue. The door opened and immediately the scent of something that smelled like it could cure cancer came wafting out to meet me. My stomach grumbled and my spirits simultaneously lifted as Zuzana ushered me into her spacious, black-and-white checkered kitchen accented with red cabinet doors and hanging wine glasses. She was making mushroom soup for lunch. I sat down in the adjacent breakfast nook, complete with rustic corner benches and framed photographs of Ella Fitzgerald and Big Jay McNeely on the walls.
My hungover state added to my growing, wide-eyed awe. Zuzana brought me a heaping, hot bowl of soup and a cup of tea, and I felt like I was dreaming: was I seeing an apartment or just visiting a friend I've known for years? This apartment, I thought, continuing my fairy tale trend, was just right. I moved in the next day.
Next Time: Teaching English to Pre-Schoolers; Boogers.
(Image courtesy of the author)