Weekend Walking & Crawling Through Prague

My first weekend in Europe is coming to a close this beautiful fall evening, I cannot help but still be in amazement that I am in fact here in Prague. Friday brought with it a lot of tiredness, but I did spend some time touring the city centre at night then coming back to the hostel for a LONG sleep (almost 12 hours I think.) It was what I needed to reset my sleep schedule. Little did I know I would need that sleep store so soon…

Saturday was my first big walk around and exploration day. While I didn’t take too many photos, I did spend some time just looking around and soaking in the energy lingering in the atmosphere. I love the open air feeling the city has with numerous shops and restaurants open directly to the street, not to mention the stands for cheap food, desserts, drinks, and little oddball things that every tourist ends up looking at and usually buying because those items will represent a tangible take away for their visit to the city. Oh, and the shops with shiny things! I couldn’t count the number of tourist/souvenir shops with silly t-shirts, shot glasses, magnets (yes Paul, I will get you one), mugs, etc. But if I am to believe these places, the Czech Republic is known for handmade blown glass and crystal/glass ornamental stuff. I don’t know what else to call it. It that’s stuff that’s really pretty in a lot of light, but I’m pretty sure loses some luster once it leaves the store.

After returning to the hostel, I went to their free BBQ (hey free food!) and ended up meeting a couple other Americans staying here too. One was a Vietnamese guy from Houston and a girl from California/Israel, currently living in the latter. They “encouraged” me to go on a hostel-sponsored/hosted pub crawl through 4 bars in Prague. The group is formed out of people from 4 hostels in Prague. I’ll admit, I had a pretty good time and met some fun people from all over, including Toronto, Brazil, Singapore, and beyond. Each bar had its own “thing” going for it. The most memorable was the second one that was some multi-level bar that was all underground. I have no idea how many levels it had, since we walked up and down a lot of stairs, with seating all over the place. The roof in the entire place was all brick or exposed stone. I wish I had photos to explain it, but trust me, it was very cool. The only thing not cool about Prague? Smoking is still allowed in a lot of public places.

The night got interesting when we ended up at this dance club. 5 levels of music, which was all different, and our group basically split up. It was then we all realized we’d have to find our own way back to the tram and our respective hostels. The guy from Texas and I walked some girls back to their hostel from the club, then attempted – and failed – to find our tram. This process probably took us over an hour! Long story short, we took the wrong tram, got even farther away from where we needed to me, then got a taxi to get us back home, which was around 5:30AM. Like I said, I dipped into that sleep store faster than expected.

Today was a more chill day, yet still with its own share of walking. But I lingered in some places for longer periods of time and found a nice walkway/park to stop and read in for a bit. I also took more pictures today. Below is a sampling of photos from the last couple days.

I saw this sign in a construction zone of the Helsinki airport. I’ve always loved signage from other countries. They tend to send their message in a way that isn’t in your face and I as an American find amusing.

I love the history these roads have and that Prague hasn’t simply decided to go the cheap route and put concrete or asphalt everywhere. I respect that they hold onto their history and do what they can to preseve it. Many sidewalks in Old Town are also made of small stones with intricate details and patterns made from them.

One of many winding paths that go in between buildings that can only be traversed by foot. I have found myself on many of these not knowing what will greet me when I get to the next street.

Speaking of not knowing what I’ll see around the corner… There was an entire exhibit of art made from Red Bull cans, not surprisingly named “The Art of Can.” It’s only showing for a few days and I got to see it. Being the drinker of Red Bull that I am, I found the exhibit interesting. There’s other pictures, but this one caught my attention early and thought it deserved a showing for my friends back home.

Oh, did I mentioned I happened upon Prague during their fashion weekend? They setup a runway for the show on a main shopping street near the Old Town Square. Look at all the new fashions coming out of Europe!

This shot is of the growing crowds in Old Town Square. This was around 7PM. A couple hours and the crowds actually grew in numbers.

Tyn Church, right off the Old Town Square.

I caught this relatively quiet moment tonight in another one of my non-directed walking about the town. I could really get used to this type of scenery around me every day.

This week, I intend to visit Prague Castle and everything surrounding it. I should also decide on some restaurants to try out. Because really, all I’ve had is street fair food. Hey, I don’t have a discerning taste palate, I’m not picky, and I don’t really like to spend much on food if I don’t think I have to. Until next time…

I made it to Prague!

After 10+ hours on airplanes and some quality time on Prague’s public transit system, I’ve made it to Prague and the first hostel I’ll be staying at, Sir Toby’s Hostel. While I can’t say there’s much to report just yet, one of the early highlights came in the middle of our flight over the Atlantic and near Iceland. The man sitting next to me informed me that we could see the Northern Lights just outside the window. He stepped away and allowed me what seemed like ages to spend gazing at the wondrous sight. Even just a few hours later, it plays back in my memory as though it were just a dream. Amazing and beautiful. I need to see them again for a longer stretch of time.

I’m doing well so far given the time change. As long as I don’t think about what time I think it should be back home, I’m OK. But sitting for that long is quite tiring. I hope the room is ready soon! Until next time, “sbohem” (goodbye) for now!

The day has come! Sabbatical ’11 begins

The day has finally arrived! I’ve done what I can at work to prepare. The bags are packed (the two bags in the pic above is everything I’m bringing), ride to the airport is scheduled, and I’m freshly showered for the last time until I arrive in Prague. This trip and time away from work has been building up so much in my mind, from excitement of the adventure to the anxieties and fears of being away from pretty much everything I know for a whole month.

Ever since this opportunity for a sabbatical was given at work, I told a friend I wanted this time to be “life changing.” I’ve mentioned this before here on the blog, but I’m realizing that just preparing for this trip, being willing to travel solo, choosing to go somewhere far away, and be out of my comfort zone has already begun the process.

My nerves are calm this morning as I await my ride and stare out the living room windows. The next time I post something, I will be in Europe. And to my friend and fellow blogger J, do expect that some of my blogging will be very pretentious. 🙂

Planning to Unplug

In a bit of irony, a couple weeks ago I recently got into a discussion with a client (who’s also a friend) about unplugging from everything while we were discussing a Twitter application developed by the company I work for. She was talking about the anxiety that’s already building up as she plans an unplugged weekend. While I won’t exactly be completely “off the grid” during my sabbatical, I will definitely not be as accessible overseas (phone, text, no work email) as I am now.

I’ve unplugged before for a couple days here and there during camping trips and the like. What I’ve found so interesting about those times when I actually don’t stay so connected is that I’m OK disconnected. The world doesn’t stop if I don’t read an email or text and reply 30 seconds after it’s delivered. I don’t worry about keeping up with what the latest trends are on Twitter or what my friends are sharing (or complaining) about on Facebook. We all worry life will fall apart without being online and available. Somehow we all found ways to live without it growing up, at least those of us in their upper 20’s and above. As children, nobody told us we needed to be connected to be well adjusted and “better” human beings. (Well, perhaps I won’t speak for newer parents and kids who won’t know a life without ubiquitous high speed Internet most everywhere they go.)

Being in cultures that have been formed in rich histories and still exist in them will bring new perspectives and chances to reflect and see the world. I hope to connect to people around me in real life (“IRL”) and spend more time away from this Internet thing. I’ll be forced to because I’m not going to be near anyone I know, so if I want to be social at all, it will have to be with people I don’t know right now.

After talking to a friend this week, I’m also giving some considerable thought to taking a break from Facebook for the month, save for posting blog updates. So consider it a warning to any Facebook readers here: if you want me to know what’s going on in your life, I expect an email from you or some time where we hang out together – in person even! – when I return to the US. And if you want to keep up with me, email me to ask or follow me here.

Don’t worry, you’ll still get updates from me via trip details, (probably new) perspectives on life, and see a few photos once in a while, just don’t expect it too frequently for the next month.

Sabbatical: 7 days and counting

It’s amazing how quickly time moves. I feel like it was just 2 months ago that I was buying plane tickets to Prague and still a bit unsure about what it was I actually going to do on this trip. As of today, I have a bit more outlined, but am leaning toward my “P” tendencies (of the INFP personality type as defined by Myers-Briggs) and want to leave some of the trip in a more undefined state. Hostels are aplenty in Europe and tickets for train rides don’t get crazy expensive if you don’t purchase them months in advance.

I feel like I’ve already gone through a lot of internal change just in preparing for this trip. The fact that I’ve mentally prepared to take this trip by myself has brought upon some anxiety and concern. But then friends have reached out and put me in touch with people they know in places I’m going so I’ll have people to reach out to and possibly even hang out with. It’s through these actions that I’m reminded people here are thinking of me as I prepare to travel to far away lands.

With just one business week left before I go, I’m realizing I have much to do and a bit of knowledge to share with coworkers to allow them to work well in my absence over this next month. I also have a lot of personal activities and hanging out with people prior to my trip, along with more things to buy (of course.) I have just all about my tech needs resolved with my DSLR and a small, but powerful enough, laptop to handle my photo editing and uploading, along with my pretentious blogging needs (right, Joy?)

My hope is that all of you who read my blog and keep up with my travels and reflections will share comments here and join with me in the journey. While I’ll be traveling alone, I know I’ll still be connected to people. Though I hope not to be tethered to a laptop and the Internet whenever I’m not sight seeing.

Sabbatical ’11 – 3 weeks and counting

It’s hard to believe my trip is only 3 weeks away. There is so much I feel like I need to do at work to prepare alongside my actual trip preparations. At times, it’s difficult to find the motivation to plan stuff by myself. Really, it’s just me so I can be flexible. The part I have to schedule is transportation and housing (though this is less stressful due to the large amounts of hostels in the bigger cities of Europe.

Thankfully, my first two weeks of lodging in Prague are taken care of. To boot, it’s only costing me $225 US! You have to love that. And that leaves more money for food, drinks, sightseeing, etc. I have no idea what I intend to see and do during those first two weeks, but I fully except there will be a lot of walking, photographing, sitting in cafes and parks reading and writing, and possibly meeting people in the hostels and hanging out with them as well. Admittedly, that will be a stretch for me. Then again, doing this whole trip solo will be a stretch.

The biggest thing that keeps going through my head about this sabbatical is I want it to be life changing on some level, which I’ve talked about with a good friend for a while now. What “life changing” means has been difficult to explain, even to myself. All I know is I want to come back shaped by my experiences, by time away from the routine and regular responsibilities of day to day life. I’d love to have a clearer vision of what’s ahead for me, personally and professionally.  That stretches from my roles in friendships/relationships, my leadership and management at work, taking care of myself physically, mentally, spiritually. All that time in Prague at the beginning will hopefully create that space I’m looking for to process all the thoughts that are constantly running around in my mind.

Stay tuned as I decide on where to go for part or all of week 3 of the sabbatical. I just found out Easyjet flies to Prague, so that opens up a few cities farther away for low prices. But in the spirit of the trip being life-changing, where should I go?

Sabbatical ’11 aka Sabbatical ’10 rescheduled

Back in December 2009, my company’s CEO made a pretty shocking announcement at our annual holiday party. For everyone who has been with the company for 10 years or longer, he is offering a paid one month sabbatical. It requires that the employee take the time off all at once and that it is a time completely disconnected from the company. No email, no phone calls, no coming to the office for any reason. At the time, I had been at this company for 9 1/2 years. The only other people who had been there longer was the CEO/founder and our president. (Actually, this fact is still true today. 11 years and counting!)

Needless to say, it was quite the surprise to everyone in attendance. All I could think about was “wow, in 6 months I’ll be able to take a whole month off from work! What should I do? Where should I go?” So the process of vetting locations began. In the spring of 2010, I was pretty well set on going to Iceland and Prague. I even had gone as far as purchasing my tickets for the flight there and back.

Fast forward to the first week of June. Due to some staffing changes in my department that saw a programmer leave us and us eliminating another position within the course of a week, I was down from a full department of 6 to 4. My conscience wasn’t able to let go of the responsibilities of running IT given how busy we were and the fact that we’d be down to 3 people for a month. So, of my own volition I decided to cancel my trip originally scheduled for September 2010 to a date in the future. During that summer, a lot of other things happened, such as finding a new programmer (who’s working out great by the way) and me deciding it was time to make some roots in my current hometown and purchase my first home.

After the dust settled, in the fall of 2010 I began again the planning of taking my trip in spring of 2011. In early November, my most senior developer gave me his two week resignation. At this point, I again rescheduled my trip, but thankfully I hadn’t purchased tickets just yet. I began to wonder if this trip would ever become reality for me. Thus began the long search to find another programmer.

Fast forward a few months. We are back to a team of 5 as of a couple months ago and things are looking good for me to finally go in mid-September through mid-October. The planning process for what to do, where to stay, etc., will be going into full effect very soon. I will be sharing some thoughts as I prepare myself for the longest period of time away from this job, and really anything else, since my teen years. I’m working to learn and fully appreciate what this sabbatical can be for me personally and how I can make the most of this opportunity. Come back here for more reflections in the next few weeks.