The story of our time in Prague is best told by food. Not because we ate out at so many amazing local restaurants, but because we didn’t. For the most part, our meals were had around a large family style dining table. Perhaps it was meant to seat fourteen, but we managed to fit at least twenty around its worn wooden surface.
This table was found in a warm and lively shared kitchen in downtown Prague, only a hundred meters away from a magnificent fifteenth century city gate. While I am irresistibly drawn to all things medieval, I have to admit that we spent far more time at this simple kitchen table, than we did exploring the thirteenth and fourteenth century wonders of Prague. So before you start judging my historical indifference, let me tell you more about this very special table, and the conversations that were had around it.
First, it is worth noting that these experiences were only possible because our home in Prague, Hostel One Home offered FREE family style dinners EVERY night…if only all hostels were like this.
I have to start this story just before our first dinner. After arriving in Prague, I had collapsed onto my carefully chosen lower bunk bed in our ten bed dorm (for the full TMI account on why I was exhausted I must refer you to my previous post). After a forty-five minute nap, I woke up to the sound of Jakob recounting the details of our life to a complete stranger: “We met when we were in grade five. I dated Meghan’s best friend in middle school. Then in grade eleven we started dating. In her second year of university, we broke up for like one week, maybe two weeks and then in 2013 we got married…” I dragged myself out of bed. I should probably meet this person who now knows far more about me than I do about her. Jakob’s new friend’s name was Kate. Like all other Kates we have every known, Jakob got along with her immediately.
“She reminds me of someone,” he told me as we walked the few steps to the kitchen for dinner.
“Ya totally, maybe Tiegan? or maybe Veronica?” I had been trying to figure it out too.
“No…not quite…Anna Kendrick! yes Anna Kendrick!”
Great, Jakob had just found the doppelgänger of his celebrity crush. Guess I’ll say my goodbyes now.
Stepping into the kitchen for our first dinner, we were each greeted with a large bowl of bacon Alfredo pasta and told to find a seat. Immediately, I felt about eight years old again. I didn’t have to cook, shop, clean, or even think. The food found me and all I had to do was eat it with a grateful heart. The table quickly filled up, there were three young American women who were on a week break from their semester abroad in Montpellier, an American computer programmer with an Economics degree from Harvard, two Americans on a long weekend break from their English teaching jobs in Austria, and Kate (also an American…but from the west coast, so we claimed her as one of our own.) So if you missed that, we were surrounded by a lot of Americans. Despite our vast differences in culture and language, we all became fast friends.
About twenty two hours later, we were back together again in the dorm common area counting down the minutes until dinner. Some of us were on couches, others on bean bags, a few seated on the floor leaning against the brightly painted walls. It reminded me of high school days, when we had nothing better to do then lounge around waiting for the bell to ring and the next thing to begin. We all had a story to tell from our day in the city. Perhaps it won’t surprise you that after the late night on the town (see Jakob’s latest blog post) everyone else’s days hadn’t been much more successful than ours. One stayed in bed until noon, two got sort of lost, and three went thrift store shopping. We all were relieved to know that dinner would, once again, magically appear in a bowl in front of our seats around that family sized table.
This time, the bowl bore chilli. The best chilli. Made with love by Nick-from-Spain (who happens to have the same birthday as Jakob). Also there was a massive silver mixing bowl with fried tortilla chips at the bottom. As we ravenously shoved chilli and chips into our mouths, an intense discussion arose.
“What are the spices on these chips?”
“I taste cinnamon.”
“Cinnamon? Who would put cinnamon on chips?”
“Maybe some paprika?”
“I just taste salt, a lot of salt.”
“They are in such a big bowl, I can barely even see over the edge. The real question is why are there so few chips in such a big bowl.”
“I think it was for mixing the spices.”
“Oh no, there are only like three chips left.”
“You’re kidding me, how can the chips be almost gone? They’re so good and the bowl is so big!”
“Quick, none of the staff are watching their bowl.”
“Hurry, hurry, they’re coming back to the table.”
“Fewf, nice steal.”
With our bellies full of chilli and chips, we waited around the table, like children, for the next thing to happen. Sure enough the same hands that had provided our food pulled out a game board and passed around some beers and we all joined in. Part way through the game, three awkward young asians walked in to the room. More Americans? Their English was perfect but slightly British. Nope, they were from Singapore. Finally, a little diversity for this crowd! One hour later, we were bundling up and wandering our way through the tourist-free version of Prague’s streets. All I knew about our destination was its GPS location (I, for one, am not getting lost in a foreign city) and that it was nicknamed “the dog bar.” I was beside myself with excitement. I pictured a massive Newfoundland(?) with a mini keg around his neck wandering around and nuzzling the patrons with his soft wet nose.
Only a few short minutes after arriving, I let out a small shriek.
A fur blanket drapped over a couch in the corner just moved. Wait, that’s an animal. That’s a massive dog! His hair was matted and grey and his sad eyes roved the room aimlessly.
“How does a dog in a bar get so dirty,” I exclaimed angrily.
“I think it’s dirty BECAUSE it lives in a bar,” Kate replied with an equal level of disappointment and concern.
“We have got to break it free.” I devised a plan using my llama herding skills and Kate’s stunning good looks. She would distract the bouncers and I would rush the dog out through the small entryway…wait is that a ladder? Are there people sitting on the rafters?It didn’t take long for Kate and I to become distracted from our plot. We shimmied our way up the rickety wooden rungs and perched ourselves above the bar going crowd.
My first thought was, “if this breaks, who do I sue?” The first thing Kate said was, “I guess insurance policies aren’t a big deal in the Czech Republic.”
No one else up there looked too concerned. After a few photos, we were ready to put our feet back on solid ground. Perfect timing, one of the hostel staff, Matt, came sprinting around the corner, “I just found a brilliant (I don’t know if he actually said ‘brilliant’ but he’s British, so in my head he said ‘brilliant’) spot for us all right by the live music stage.” We snatched our coats and raced off into the maze of underground rooms and bars.
The table was situated on top of a graffitied wooden structure about three feet high and with about three feet of clearance above it. We all crawled up the stairs to the upper platform and got cozy. Wait are there people sitting underneath us too? Yup, sure enough there were people packed into the little space underneath, what is this? Jakob didn’t bother climbing into our little table cave. He was glued to the live music, which was one level below us and behind a layer of what looked like soccer goal netting. To prevent falling drinks? People? It’s anyone’s guess, but at least some one had thought of safety.
I spent most of that time chatting with the Singaporeans.
“I have my masters in French history and I want to become a professor, but the job prospects aren’t great. Nobody is hiring history professors these days.”
“Actually, in Singapore people love that shit.”
“Ya the arts are really big. They closed a court house recently and turned it into an art museum.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There is a place where people actually value and even respect an arts degree??? By midnight I was interested in visiting Sigapore, and by 2 am I was filling out my paperwork to become a teacher in the safest country in the world.
Ok we did some things other than have dinner, here are some photos from our walking tour on day two:
Now back to the story…
That evening, as we gathered for dinner, Jakob mentioned, “so we want to move to Singapore.” Hands flew up in defence and eye brows expressed concern.
“It’s very expensive.”
“We are not representative of Sigaporians.”
“Ya, just because you like us doesn’t mean you will like our country.”
“Not everyone is as nice as us.”
“Ya we know,” I admitted, “but you guys just make it sound so great, maybe it would be a good option for us for a few years.”
In the back of my mind I knew this would be one of just many work abroad whims, but why not embrace the adventurous fantasy and see where it goes?
Jakob’s sense of adventure came to an abrupt halt a few minutes later while sitting around the family dinner table.
“Babe, are you ok?” I probed nervously
“Ya, I’m fine.”
“You don’t like the food do you?”
“I haven’t even tried it yet.”
If I know one thing about my husband, it is that he does not, under any circumstance eat couscous. So don’t blame me for jumping to conclusions. Sure enough, ten minutes later, I was finishing off his bowl, and that of one of the Americans. I certainly wasn’t going to turn down fresh veggies. Let me remind you, we have spent the last two weeks in central Europe in January, I was beginning to forget what a cucumber looked like. Yet the saddest part of the evening was not Jakob’s inability to be gastronomically adventurous (yes I am still talking about eating couscous), but saying goodbye to the Sigaporians and most of the American crowd. I could hardly believe it had only been between 24 and 48 hours since we had all met.
The next evening there were more veggies in our bowls mixed with the tears of goodbyes. It was our last night. I ate not one, not two, but three bowls of Zach-from-Edmonton’s amazing chicken stir fry. I ate as if rice and peppers alone could keep tomorrow from coming. Tomorrow, when we would have to pack our bags and say goodbye to the most fantastic hostel we had ever stayed at. Yes we did manage to say goodbye, fortunately Kate’s train left only thirty minutes after ours, so we could offer each other moral support as we walked away from that warm kitchen full of loving people. Good bye friends, good bye table, good bye Hostel One Home. We will miss you!