Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ostrava Saga Pt. I

Hi y'all! Sorry for the extreme delay. Hopefully you still remember me...

In any case, there is so much to say that I've decided to break my update into three parts. It shall be called The Ostrava Saga. Don't worry, it's not related to The Twilight Saga. No vampires or werewolves were harmed during the making of this update ;)

The Ostrava Saga Pt. I: End of Training/The Travel Experience

Training was...how shall I put it? Difficult. Stretching. Funny. Heartbreaking. Love-filled. There are so many ways to describe it. Let's just say this: it was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I absolutely loved it while I loved to hate it. I loved getting to know the other teachers who were heading to other countries. I absolutely hated saying goodbye. In a way, we became a family during training. Our time was full of preparation for the next year, but since we were preparing together, it seemed like we would be together the next year as well. Things were comfy and cozy. Then reality set it in as each country team left, with the Czech team being the last to go. In fact, us Czechsters were there at training two days after all the other teams had departed. There was nothing to do but pack and wait. As a fellow Czech teacher put it, it was like we were in Purgatory.

Finally, it was time to weigh our bags. This also consisted of repacking them several times so that they would be under 50 lbs. a piece. Though I think this was more of a girl thing...the guys didn't seem to have much of a problem. After a handful of tries, I was finally able to get both of my bags to 48.something lbs. each. Now that's success :)

Travel was certainly an experience. The Czech team assembled at 10:30am August 19th to receive our visas (Which reminds me, all 5 of us Ostrava girls were the last to receive ours...they came in on the 18th. Let's just say that was a HUGE answer to prayer.) and passports, pray together, and hoist our luggage into the vans that were taking us to LAX. With 13 travelers, there was quite a bit of luggage. Each person had two big suitcases at max capacity and two carry-on items. You do the math :) We managed to all get in line together at the Lufthansa ticket counter...a feat in itself. Then disaster struck.

Ok, ok, a slight exaggeration. Here's what happened: TeachOverseas had arranged it so that we could take 2 bags, but Lufthansa was only going to allow us one. Thankfully, Laura (our RD) and Josh (the transportation director) were there to sort everything out. We got all of our second bags paid for and checked, but we still didn't have our boarding passes. Apparently, the Lufthansa lady in charge of that got tired of us and went on a break. Not sure if that's really what happened, but after waiting to the side of the counter for about an hour and a half, it sure seemed that way. Thankfully, she magically reappeared, and all was well.

The guy in security who was in charge of making sure that 1) my passport was real, and 2) that I was the same person as the one pictured in my passport, asked if I was taking all of Los Angeles with me. Let's just say that it was extremely apparent that my bags were heavy...not to mention huge on such a small person. I told him that it sure seemed that way. His response? "Spread the love." :)

After waiting so long at the ticket counter, we no longer had a long wait at the gate for our flight to Frankfurt. I was in row 54, seat G. There were about 57 rows of 10 seats across, and out of the 13 Czechsters, I was the furthest back. I sat next to a mother and her two kids and was glad to have an aisle seat. The little girl sitting next to me was indeed adorable, but little children do not have good dexterity, and so everytime the airline fed us, I prayed that her food would not end up all over me. The flight was about 10 hours, and I barely slept a wink. This was mostly because said little girl next to me decided that I would make a great pillow. It was actually kind of cute, but let's just say that I couldn't get comfortable to save my life.

We had taken off half an hour late because a passenger was stuck in customs, so we arrived to Frankfurt half an hour late. This wouldn't have been a problem...except that our hour and a half layover was then reduced to 45 minutes for getting through customs and security...oh, and making it from gate B to gate A (which you'd think wouldn't be far, but oh, we might as well have been at gate Z). We literally had to sprint to catch the plane to Prague. So here we are, 13 sweaty and out of breath Americans, crawling onto a fairly small plane with like a minute to spare and all the European passengers staring at us like we're crazy (not that I blame them). And of course, an 18-member orchestra had boarded with their instruments, so all the overhead storage bins were full. And remember, we all had 2 carry-on items a piece. Oh, and I was lucky enough to be in the emergency exit row, which meant that I couldn't even have luggage under the seat in front of me. Hooray :S With the help of the flight attendants and a taller member of the Czech team, my luggage was stowed away in time for the plane to head down the runway. Whew.

Thankfully, the Hungarian lady sitting next to me in the exit row didn't appear too fazed. In fact, she was quite nice. She asked if I was American (hmmm, how could you tell? ;) hehe) and we proceeded to have a nice conversation. She asked why I was heading to Prague, so I told her that all 13 of the straggling passengers were together and how we were headed to the Czech Republic to teach for a year. She wanted to know if we were all going to be in Prague, and who/what we would be teaching. It was a short flight, so we didn't get to talk for long, but after all we'd been though, it was so enjoyable to have a nice conversation with a stranger (the little girl next to me on the 10-hour flight wasn't exactly chatty).

All of us had planned for our baggage to be lost, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that every single piece had made it to Prague. Now we just had to get it all to our respective cities. Our contact in Ostrava had sent his sister-in-law, Eva, to pick us up from the airport and put us on the train, and suddenly it was time to say goodbye to the rest of the Czech team. Then it was just us Ostrava girls and Eva pulling all of our luggage (about 20 pieces total) onto the bus, down a huge set of stairs to the metro, on and off two different metro lines (to get to the train station), and finally onto the train.

Thankfully, we weren't rushed for time...until we had to heave each heavy piece of luggage up the steep stairs of the train before it took off. That was fun. The train was really full, and with so many pieces of luggage to watch, most of us ended up sitting on the luggage in the aisle. At one point, I layed across 3 big suitcases. It was actually pretty comfortable. It was my first "real" train ride, and the scenery was beautiful...which made up for the lack of seats. After 4 hours, we arrived in Ostrava and created a sort of assembly line to get all our luggage off. However, we were spared from having to do it all ourselves, as 4 people approached the train, asked if we were the Fishnet girls, and proceeded to hoist all of our luggage off of the train. What a relief! The four people consisted of: the school director, the school secretary and her husband, and the affiliated church's youth pastor (who used to work at Fishnet). They packed us (and our luggage) into cars and took us to our flats, where we promptly passed out.

Actually, before passing out, they took my team to visit the other girls' flat, which is about 10 minutes away from ours. While exploring the other girls' flat, I needed to pay homage to the bathroom. Their bathroom had a key in the lock, so I played with it. Boy was that a mistake...I couldn't get out! I swallowed my pride, banged on the door, and yelped something about being locked in. Of course, the four other girls and the four people from school thought this was hilarious, so they were all standing outside the door laughing at me. Don't worry, I made it out ;) But there's nothing like having your first embarrassing moment in a new country right away.

If you've made it this far, you can see why this update needed to be split into parts. I'll be working on part II this evening, so stay tuned! Also, once these extremely lengthy updates (sorry about that...I cut as much as I could) are all up, my new goal for this blog will be to post a little something every few days instead of posting novels once a month.

Thanks for reading! I love you all :)

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