The gringo lands in Prague's broken brand-new airport

23-04-2006

My first brilliant observation when I arrived in Prague was that Czech people still speak Czech. I'd been told otherwise. "Oh, you'll never speak so much English in your life as you'll speak in Prague," one of my classmates back in the States once said. Incredibly ignorant, I know, but there were reasons to think there wouldn't be much of a language barrier.

Last year eleven million people passed through Prague's Ruzyne Airport, where I was standing, while only ten million live in the entire Czech Republic. Plus I'd heard the city had become a British tourist utopia. I had visions of road signs with English subtitles.

When I stared down a long, sterile hallway where the yellow signs were completely incomprehensible - well, incomprehensible to me at least - I began to realize just how wrong I'd been.

Thankfully, a Dutchman named Stephen saw my bewilderment and showed me the way to customs. I approached an agent, who said something that sounded like

"Dobry den hrmashrmactcsasdalkajdfasdfads and other words you don't understand you silly, unprepared Anglophone."

Embarrassed, I quickly found Stephen and followed him to baggage claim. When the luggage arrived, the belt started to turn with a gurgle. Bags bounced down the pipeline. Suddenly...

BAM! BAM BAM! BAMBAMBAMBAMBAM BAM BAM!

Tiles tumbled off the wall and onto the conveyer belt. Some shattered, shooting sharp bits of shrapnel inches from my rucksack. That they hadn't torn through the canvas was a miracle, in my opinion.

I looked at the broken white tiles. "Ha," I said. "What folly communism hath wrought." My second brilliant observation, or so I thought. After all, surely such shoddy masonry was leftover from the communist era.

"Actually, this is the new terminal," Stephen said. "They just opened this part of the airport a few months ago."

I couldn't believe him, but he was right. We were inside the North 2 terminal, a 0 million addition meant to ease the strain of so many visitors who arrive every day. At the fall of communism, Ruzyne handled about a million and a half passengers each year. The airport now has the capacity to safely land some 16 million people annually, though apparently there are some kinks that still have to be worked out.

So until further notice, I'd recommend that visitors use hard-shell suitcases. And my fellow uni-lingual gringos out there should definitely spend quality time with a language instruction tape. Trust me, it'll help. The Czechs, after all, still speak Czech.

23-04-2006

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