it was the fall of 2010 and i found myself perusing various race brochures as my dad was fitted for new shoes at our favorite running store. my fingers stumbled across the ‘volkswagon prague marathon’, noted as ‘the world’s most beautiful corse’ — their marketing certainly worked on me, i was captivated. i had yet to run, let a lone even train for a marathon but i made a promise to myself that i would some day run that. and someday being relatively soon, as in the 27 months i would be living in ukraine, just a skip away from prague.
i’ve been known to have rather lofty aspirations and quickly realized training in my podunk village would certainly be a challenge. so i sorta scaled back my dream to the prague half marathon in march 2012 which coincided with ukrainian spring break as well. i’d run two half-marathons previously, and i live in illinois where i’ve also ran in the winter, so i thought it’d be no problemo.
ha! good one kristen.
my training was initially going great. even in the snow and ice, i strapped on my yaktraks and headed outside as the ‘crazy american’. and besides the frozen snow soaked toes and the wind chapped face, training kept on. that is until the biggest freeze in ukraine hit and i was trying to layer up with my very limited running wardrobe and facing a windchill of -30*F. that’s when i realized maybe training outside in a ukrainian winter isn’t so easy…
the race date approached and my training was as lacking as the warmer temperatures i needed. but i decided race or no race, site change or no site change, i was going to prague…and to my surprise so were about 12 other peace corps ukraine volunteers. so i booked my ticket, packed my bags (later regrettingly) leaving my running gear behind, and left my new site after only a few days and headed to kyiv. the getting to and from prague wasn’t the smoothest sailing…though it wasn’t me (this time) that was having the bad luck. it went something like this:
first stop — kyiv (i’m always on a train with the partiers)
second stop — michael’s site in borzna (northern ukraine)
third stop — kyiv (again) this time with michael. this time with snow. and a dinner of chinese food for michael’s 23rd birthday
fourth stop — vienna airport. where michael and i thought we had the same connecting flight. buuut discovered while boarding, that michael missed his…yea……….so i got on my late night flight and michael had to stay in the airport and buy another ticket.
fifth stop — prague (finally!) but arriving bez travel buddy and super worried about michael. took taxi to hostel. didn’t realize czech republic crown has coins in 10, 20, and 50 denominations so my ‘change of a tip’ was actually very very generous lol oops.
after forking over some cash and sleeping in the airport, michael made it the next morning, not wanting (rightfully so) to talk about what happend. our hostel, the most modern and swanky place i’ve stayed, became reunion grounds for the various other volunteers that booked beds there.
being a peace corps volunteer has the same effect as new parents leaving for the night without their child. they want a break want a vacation, and then when they finally have it, they can’t seem to stop talking about it. so while we found ourselves in prague, surrounded by beautiful buildings, sites, and international foods that were as good as ‘high-fiving god’ — we couldn’t seem to stop talking about ukraine. but i guess when it’s been your world for the past year, it can only be expected.
the brochure at the running store was right. prague is a beautiful city. the terracotta roofs that topped the intricately detailed baroque and hand painted art nouveau buildings added such vibrance to the grey skies. the cobble stone streets added charm. and the hills always offered breathtaking views. it’s what i’d like to think of as a ‘relaxed paris’. it has all the wonder of a western european city, but feels a bit more laid back and quaint.
we spent our days wandering the windy streets, ogling over the food choices (indian, mexican, good sausages, kfc, burger king, subway, STARBUCKS!), the good beer (even the strongest one in the world!), the fashion (oh how i’ve missed H&M), the architecture, and often found ourselves surprised when after hours of walking we realized ‘we were WAY over there!’.
come race day, a few of pcvs decided to brave it and run (unlike me…which now i feel like a wimp). so with them i went and got my race packet anyways (hey, i paid $100 for that!). but being there at the small running expo, made me regret my decision of deciding not to run, and i felt like i was missing out and letting myself down. i had to be reminded to not to be so hard on myself and soon realized that drinking a beer on the sidelines cheering on our friends would probably be more fun anyways.
and it was…though it was too cold and drizzly (not to mention probably illegal) for a roadside beer. it was great to cheer as a group for all the runners right before the finish line. we were unmistakably the loud obnoxious americans. but at the end of a race…i think that exactly who you want cheering you on.
despite the slightly cold and drizzly weather, we laughed and joked, did this, talked about ukraine (of course), created an abundance of new inside jokes (some of which made it to this title), and lived a more western lifestyle — where clothes driers, sitting toilets, and customer service exists!!…even if it was for a few days.
all of this made me homesick. which i realize doesn’t make THE LEAST bit of sense because well…prague is not my home…but having traveled to istanbul and israel, prague is the most western like country i’ve been in since service. it was a weird feeling. and i wasn’t the only one to experience it (so, ha! i’m not crazy). it made coming back to ukraine really hard (i can’t even imagine how it is for the pcvs that live in africa). but it’s always hard to come back from vacation with friends, even if it’s a weekend trip somewhere in ukraine. but we all had to go back, leave our ‘prague-isized america’ and the volunteers we don’t know when we’ll see again behind and go back to our villages.
coming back from the airport in ukraine i realized that the next time i’d be leaving the country was to go back home for a visit this summer. it has seemed so far away, but now it’s within a few months. but coming back from prague homesick made me wonder how the heck i’ll deal with going to america for a teasingly short 11 days only to say bye to everyone again. i can’t wait to go home, but it certainly won’t be easy coming back…but at least i know i have that obnoxiously loud group of americans here cheering me on to the finish line. : )