Jan 5, 2012

Our new place - "An American is moving to Prague 10?"

We planned a month in Prague 1 (the old town city center) to get to know the place and make sure we wanted to stay a year before committing to anything long term. The city is divided into 10 sections and to me on first impression seems to sprawl out forever. Amazing how your perspective changes when you are on foot or using public transport rather than driving. Jeff says its really not that big compared to other big cities.

I'm starting to get used to it and I think once I really get to know the metro system, I'll start to like the change from packing the kids in and out of carseats. We are shopping for a car, but I think it'll be long time before I brave driving in the city. Cars drive right next to the speeding metros and maneuvering around them would make me really nervous.

So, our plan was to rent a place for a year, but travel around 4-6 months of it. There are quite a few websites listing apartments in English (I guess they are used to dealing with expats) and Jeff spent lots of time scouring the listings. The only problem turned out to be getting people to return a phone call during the holidays. Sure, you'd expect places to close down for a few days, but this is one of those cultural differences. Europeans get an average of 6 weeks of vacation time a year not 2 like us Americans. And, come to find out, Czechs seem to not really use voicemail!

In the end, we only got to actually see 3 apartments out of the many we'd considered. Our basic wish list included 3 bedrooms, elevator (our first place had 5 flights of stairs with no elevator), close to grocery store, metro, parks, some option for parking, be in a decent area, and of course price... So, as is always the case you face the tradeoff of location vs. price and size. We kept debating; spend more for something near the beautiful old town or save some money in the budget for travel... and did we really want to live in the midst of so many tourists anyway?

We didn't know this new area very well. Its about 10 minutes by metro from the center and is known as (Prague 10 or Vršovice). It appears to be where the city starts to change over from the colorful, ornate 19th century buildings to the newer soviet era construction. Our building lies on the more beautiful side, but is across the street from a huge towering, relatively stark soviet era church. It might not have been exactly the location we'd envisioned, but it is interesting and I'm feeling inspired to investigate the history of the area. I think we'll appreciate being outside the tourist area and immersing a bit in a real neighborhood. Yes, the owner of the building said "Americans are moving to Prague 10?" Apparently he had rented to plenty of expats, owning several buildings in the area, but never to Americans. Yet, we are right nearby areas where plenty of Americans have moved. We are in the "undiscovered and up and coming area".

Our building; nice architectural detail with little market, middle eastern food, and women's clothing store downstairs. You'll notice graffiti around everywhere, even in the really nice areas. I've yet to figure why they don't seem to do much to enforce it or clean it up. Its a bit shocking at first, but you kind of get used to it.

This is the view from our place.

Our street has a great woodfired pizza restaurant, a toy store, a drug store, a Czech restaurant, and quite a few other little restaurants and stores.

We just loved the apartment and felt at home there right away. It is on the top floor of the building, has rustic beams throughout, two stories, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths. For $850 a month. A great price we think and leaves extra room in the budget for travel, classes for the kids, whatever. It had the amenities we needed; walking distance to a huge grocery store, mall, across the street from a park and nearby several others. Near a beer garden, park with vineyards and tons of restaurants. And just walk outside to the metro. We decided to go for it and sign a 1 year lease.

We've moved in and are so far really enjoying the place. I love the space for the kids. Its amazing that this space seems to work better for us than the big house we'd designed and built ourselves. Being spread out over 3 floors and 3000 square feet was actually too much. And, a big difference has been the lack of a big screen tv as the centerpiece of the living room. It was just too easy with it right there to be turned on too often. I am so happy to see how the have quickly forgotten all about it and are finding so many other ways to entertain themselves.

Now, we have an open area with toys and we bought a new big table and chairs to have plenty of room for projects and all of us. The girls have the whole upstairs loft to themselves which is divided into 3 rooms, but they wanted to share a room. Their beds are next to each other and so far this is working fine. Nice for me when its story time. Jeff has a separate area to work so he's not in the living room trying to work amidst the noise of the kids.

I even have my own work area. I haven't had my own space like this for a long time, its so nice!

The girls, watching the snow come down. This was the most snow we've seen since we've been here. It snowed for a few hours, but melted quickly. No shoveling!

Waiting for the elevator, which is amazingly slow to reach our top floor. Necessary though when I have the heavy stroller.

People in our neighborhood have been so nice! Every time I look like I'm struggling with carrying something or folding our heavy mega stroller, someone seems there to help. We've visited plenty of parks during our time here but during our first visit to the one across the street, we met a really nice mom. We exchanged numbers and she invited us to English mommy & me classes she goes to. I took it as a good sign about the neighborhood.

No, our street isn't as posh as the old town city center, but I'm starting to enjoy its quirkiness and unique little shops. Apparently its one of the few areas in town that still offers mom and pop butcher, bakery etc and hasn't succumbed to the competition from big box retailers. I like that if I decide I need something, I can just walk downstairs and find a good selection of produce, eggs, milk, wine, etc. and that I don't have to get on the metro with groceries.

Its only been a few weeks, but we're enjoying it here and can't wait to explore more of the city.