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Turning our dům into a home

by Katia Sand on May 13, 2013 · 0 comments

Prague is known as one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. Millions of tourists visit every year to admire its architecture, absorb the culture and to drink the incredible beer. Tens of thousands of expats have stayed, unable to say goodbye to the city’s picturesque magic (and the beer). So moving to Prague sans home, sans job, and sans any knowledge of the Czech language can’t be that hard, right?

Now that we were down a suitcase or two of cash, we were in proud possession of a set of keys to our wonderful apartment: our wonderful and utterly empty apartment. I still needed to figure out how to move the remains of my university life in Scotland from Edinburgh to the Czech Republic. The more pressing concern, however, was how to avoid sleeping on the floor.

Alongside boxes and baskets of various sizes, my Scottish storage unit was also sheltering an orthopedic bed, so we were somewhat loath to purchase a new one. A little pressed for time and unsure of any Czech bed-shops, the easiest solution was to hop on a metro to Ikea, pick out an affordable yet comfortable sofa-bed that future guests would not turn up their noses at, and have it delivered that night. We duly headed to Zličín on the yellow B line and quickly discovered that Czech Ikea is as reliably all-inclusive and generic as any of its international counterparts, and has a large selection of bed/couch options.

We wandered past the usual culprits: sprung mattresses and awkward futons, as well as those fairly innocuous-looking sofa-beds that always mysteriously manage to shuffle their occupants to a dipped center. We finally discovered a hidden gem in the form of the Månstad, a three-seat sofa and chaise longue that folds out into a fairly hard but very comfortable double bed. When we could no longer deal with the show floor/warehouse separation in Ikea, we made our way to XXXLutz, another international furniture company about five minutes’ drive away from Zličín (though slightly more complicated to reach by public transport, as it is a bit of a walk from the nearest metro stop at Hůrka). Here we found a few more essential furniture pieces that were a bit more individual and only slightly more expensive than in Ikea.

Over the next few days, risking Kuba’s patience and my own mental health, we attempted to tick off all of the items on my nesting shopping list. Kitchen supplies we found aplenty in Domácí potřeby, a household goods store on the third floor of the Kotva shopping centre next to Námēstí Republiky in Prague 1. While in the neighborhood, we also browsed antique-style furniture in Art & Classic on Kotva’s 4th floor and more modern wooden pieces in Global Interio on Revoluční and in AlmiDecor on the top floor mezzanine in Palladium. However, we restrained ourselves to window-shopping, as these pieces, though lovely and relatively well priced, were a little outside our budget when it came to furnishing an entire apartment almost from scratch.

Kuba’s mother, hearing our woes regarding affordable and unique pieces of furniture, immediately directed us to www.aukro.cz, an online auction house and the Czech answer to eBay, where I discovered my bargain-hunting paradise. You can find almost anything on Aukro, but my favorite pages remain those dedicated to second-hand antique and antique-style furniture. The hours spent browsing, and the invariable tension surrounding the last few minutes of bidding on an item, were totally worth the pieces we ended up buying. As a word of warning, however, it takes about a week to register (and to receive your registration code in the mail), and the entire website, including the registration page, is exclusively in Czech. Despite the difficulties, however, part of the fun of browsing in a language you don’t understand is discovering items you didn’t even know you were looking for!

Unfortunately, the fun quickly disappears when you know exactly what you are looking for and are unable to communicate your wishes to the shop assistants, which is exactly what happened when I began shopping for curtains. I returned to Kotva, where a big soft-furnishings shop called ScanQuilt sells everything from towels and bedclothes to rugs and cushions. I quickly found a material that I liked, but had to resort to diagrams and hand-gestures to explain to the saleswoman what my window dimensions were and discover what the price would be. It was with great difficulty that she finally managed to help me understand that, while ScanQuilt sells curtain material, I would need to go to the Kotva seamstress to have the curtains made. I eventually managed to purchase the material and locate the seamstress, who is on the same floor as ScanQuilt, but hidden behind a children’s play area. Trying to explain the size of my windows and the depth of my desired curtain-hem was exhausting, and I went home hoping that the result would not be dollhouse-sized curtains. In fact, much to my relief, the curtains were finished in a week and all, happily, human-sized.

This process was all more or less complete in time for the arrival of my belongings from Edinburgh. I did a very thorough Internet search when it came to choosing a moving company, and asked for quotes from about twenty or so different international firms. While some failed to make any response at all, most of these companies gave me fairly similar quotes: one storage container of 240 cubic feet from Edinburgh to Prague would cost me about £1400, $2000, or 40,000 CZK. Hruby Moving were the first to respond. Nick Young became my personal contact and replied within a couple of hours to every query I had, arranged a delivery that took place exactly two weeks after I initially submitted my request for a quote, liaised with the Scottish storage company on my behalf to make sure everything was wrapped and packed carefully, and charged me a grand total of 22,700 CZK, roughly half every other quote I received.

When the delivery day came at last, the Hruby removal men were polite, exceedingly helpful and patient, waiting to take away all the packing debris while I emptied box after box onto the living room floor. When I began to feel overwhelmed by the growing mountains of clothing and books and random artifacts, most of which I didn’t even remember accumulating, I paid the guys (again in cash!) and let them go. I was alone with the chaos. Once Kuba got over his initial fear that my assortment of memorabilia wouldn’t leave any space for him to enter the apartment at all, we sorted through the mess and flattened the remaining boxes. I e-mailed Nick to ask if he knew of any dump sites we could take the rest of the large boxes, and the next day he called to ask if it was OK for the removal men to stop by in a couple of hours as they would be happy to dispose of the remaining debris on my behalf. Never say service is dead in the Czech Republic!

Katia is a Belgian native who studied in Scotland and went to work in America, where she met her Czech boyfriend. In September 2012 she moved to Prague to live with him and is quickly falling in love with the city as well. Her passions are travel and adventure and reading and writing about them!

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Somewhere to live, prosím?

by Katia Sand on January 31, 2013 · 0 comments

Prague is known as one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. Millions of tourists visit every year to admire its architecture, absorb the culture and to drink the incredible beer. Tens of thousands of expats have stayed, unable to say goodbye to the city’s picturesque magic (and the beer). So moving to Prague sans home, sans job, and sans any knowledge of the Czech language can’t be that hard, right?

On my one-way journey to Prague, I began to compile a checklist of tasks to be accomplished on my arrival, in an attempt to squash the rising fear that I was going to be homeless, jobless and friendless in a country with an utterly incomprehensible language. Checklists soothe me, and luckily this one was fairly straightforward.

Number one was to find somewhere to live. This would be a piece of cake. I had plenty of experience relocating, and my Czech boyfriend, Kuba, (for whom I began this adventure) would be able to help with everything I couldn’t do myself. I did briefly entertain a moment of panic when he suggested we might live with his mother in a little village 2 hours drive from Prague: it turns out Czech men are excessively close to their mothers. Waving him off on his way to the city every day and then wiling away the hours with his maminka while I desperately trawled the Internet for job opportunities was not quite what I had in mind. In an effort to distract him from this potentially disastrous train of thought I bombarded him with links for rental apartments in Prague and suggested he call them to set up viewings for when I got here.

As a result, upon my arrival, we left my enormous suitcase and my slightly smaller but equally overweight hand baggage in a locker at the train station and promptly embarked on our list of places to see.  It was all going swimmingly so far. We loved the first place we saw on the edge of the Stromovka park in Prague 7: the real estate agent, Lucie from Happy House Rentals, spoke perfect English and was extremely helpful, and the neighbourhood is beautiful. However, as we had already set up another viewing immediately afterwards, I felt we should at least check out the second place as a formality.

We ended up wandering down a street in Albertov almost entirely blocked with construction work. The door of the building to which we were headed was propped open with a thick rubber tube and one of the glass panes in the door was missing. The ‘agent’, who turned out to be the son of the lady who owned the place, shook hands with Kuba, threw me a brief glance, and then headed inside, nimbly hurdling a broken step. On the way up in the lift Kuba asked him if he spoke English but as far as I could work out the only response was laughter. By this point my presence had yet to be acknowledged and I was squashed against the back of the miniscule lift feeling like I had definitely not been invited to this party (the missing pane and broken step also failed to get a mention). ‘Low point,’ I thought to myself, bewildered by this man’s apparent unwillingness to deal with anyone not male and his total inability to muster even so much as a greeting in English. Needless to say, we headed back across town and rented the lovely apartment from Lucie the lovely English-speaking real estate agent.

In spite of Lucie’s niceness, however, there are several things particular to renting an apartment in the Czech Republic that seemed totally to defy my Western logic. Firstly, the initial payment of the first month’s rent plus a deposit of a second month’s rent needed to be paid in cash. Apparently this is standard practice. For us, this total amounted to about 35,000 CZK. Call me modern, but carrying this amount of cash around a town known for its pickpockets seemed slightly lunatic. My suggestion that we pay with a credit card rather than bringing a suitcase filled with 1,000 CZK bills was met with a sorrowful headshake. Apart from the challenge of navigating our way around Prague with our pickpocket’s jackpot, the logistical difficulties of actually acquiring this much cash over a weekend then hit us in the form of ATM withdrawal limits. Thanks to working in America for the past 6 months, both of us have American bank accounts. In addition to this I also have a British bank account (left over from my university days) and an account at home in Belgium. Kuba also came armed with his Czech account. Despite this multitude of bank accounts, however, it still took us 3 days and several trips to the ATM to amass the necessary number of bills.

The second thing that stumped me about renting a flat in the Czech Republic was that letting agency fees are not paid by the owner, as is the case everywhere else I have come across, but by the prospective renter. This also needs to be paid in cash at the time that the lease is signed. Our fee was 10,000 CZK. We added this to one of the various envelopes of money we distributed about our bodies for the trip across Prague to sign our lease.

Somewhere to live, check! Now for furniture…

 

Katia is a Belgian native who studied in Scotland and went to work in America, where she met her Czech boyfriend. In September 2012 she moved to Prague to live with him and is quickly falling in love with the city as well. Her passions are travel and adventure and reading and writing about them!

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