Travel Blog - Dancing Across Cultures

Spiraling Through Time
First, Happy Halloween!  
Crêperie in Old Town, Prague
It's been a long time since I've sat down to make an entry.  I'm not even sure where to start.  The last month has just gotten away from me.

I enjoyed the remainder of my stay in Scotland.  I was also more than ready to return to Prague.  Two weeks was a long time to travel alone.  I missed having someone to talk to.  

Prince's Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland
When I got back, I experienced an odd phenomenon.  Culture shock.  I didn't experience that when Lonnie and I first arrived together in the Czech Republic.  I was here about a week and a half before leaving for Scotland.  When I returned, I had then been in Scotland longer than I'd been in Prague.  The language was foreign, I couldn't read signs, the food was different... I felt like an alien in a strange land. Lonnie, however, had had plenty of time while I was away to adjust to Prague and living here alone and was feeling perfectly at home.  I got to spiral through my culture shocked depression alone and come out the other side, in about a week, feeling excited again to be living here and looking forward to the next adventure.

Which came about two weeks after my return to Prague.  I had just re-adjusted to living here, so what better idea than to pack up and head to Croatia for a week, right?  I went to Dubrovnik the first week of October, and it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.  I loved Dubrovnik, the food, the people, the old city, the beaches, and watching the Adriatic glimmer in the sun.  It was the perfect Cindy vacation. 
Dubrovnik, Croatia
The only snag in my happiness... I hit my head pretty hard the first night in Dubrovnik and spent the rest of the trip dealing with vertigo from my inner ear fluids being displaced.  

I've actually spent the rest of the month of October dealing with vague vertigo.  I went to the doctor soon after returning to Prague and was given a clean bill of health and directions to avoid the archaic computer screen on my laptop as much as possible.  (It caused eye strain that triggered the vertigo.)  A month later, the vertigo is gone and my ears have stopped popping like I'm on a plane.  Whee!

During my merry-go-round October, I still fit in a lot of fun.  Lonnie and I took an extremely enjoyable trip to Romania to track Dracula lore.  Travel is better, shared with your best friend.  

At Snagov Monestary, the rumored burial place of Vlad Tepes.
I attended a workshop with Spanish belly dancer Alba Hayal.  She was a joy to learn from, very nice. She taught a full six minute choreography that contained a few gems.  It also contained a crazy amount of turns and spins, some with level changes.  I executed everything without falling over and only needed to chew gum for a couple hours after the class was over to get my left ear to pop!  :)

Last weekend, I used the four day Prague Pass my fellow Tahia dancers bought me.  Lonnie came along on that adventure as well, and we explored Vsyhrad, Prague Castle, the towers and museums of Old Town and the Charles Bridge, and hit the Mucha and Ethnographic Museums.  It was interesting doing all the tourist sites after I've lived here for a while.  My eye was focused on smaller things.  Like the photo of the Basilica of St. George I was intently taking while ignoring St. Vitus Cathedral behind me. The tourists nearby thought I was crazy.  They couldn't understand why we weren't taking photos of St. Vitus, not realizing we already have hundreds.

Basilica of St. George
Tomorrow is All Soul's Day and a Natasha Atlas concert!  After touring the cemeteries, which are supposed to be absolutely beautiful, lit with hundreds of candles, we'll go to Palac Acropolis in Zizkov to hear Natasha Atlas sing.  If we're lucky, she'll bust out some belly dance during the show.  

Besides avoiding the computer, I was also avoiding alcohol and excessive exercise this past month.  (Alba's spin heavy choreography aside.)  Now that I feel like a normal human, I'm back to enjoying Kozel Černý and have started doing yoga again.  Moving feels so good.  It's amazing how fast you lose muscle when you sit it on a shelf.  There's no more time to sit, there's too much left to see.


Sitting up in bed at 4:30 am, listening to the rain fall and the winds tear past my window, it feels as though I could be the only person in Scotland.

The wind in Scotland is its own entity.  It's the embodiment of East.*  It doesn't just howl here, it rages like nothing I've ever experienced, swirling and whipping everything in its wake with an awesome power that can sometimes supplant your feet from contact with the ground.

Just listening to the sound of the wind outside makes me want to curl up with a good book and a toddy.  No surprise that Scotland boasts claim to some famous literary figures and fine scotch whiskey.

At the present moment, I'll settle for a cup of tea and my own thoughts.

Having been rudely awakened by what I can only describe as a horribly bad dream born of alienation, I'm now left fully awake to contemplate my first full week in Edinburgh.  

And a good week it's been.  Being here alone, I've been able to wander along throngh filled major arteries and quiet, cobbled alleyways at my own, slow pace.  I've visited several museums (almost all free), descended into Mary Kings Close (now buried under the hulk of the Royal Exchange building), added haggis to my list of conquered foods (actually quite good), executed some excellent shopping (both by window and wallet), and nosed around Holyrood Palace (the Queen's residence in Scotland).

The people of Scotland seem to me as shaped by the fierce winds as by their fierce history.  They're a rugged lot, chiseled to a brash yet reserved perfection by centuries of struggle: against invasion, disease and famine, with the elements they live in, and for the freedom to rule themselves.  They've evolved a dry yet cheerful sense of humor and a no-nonsense approach to life.

I have another week here.  In a few hours time, I'll board a bus trip for the highlands and Sterling Castle- what seemed like a nice way to spend a Saturday.  Assuming the weather cooperates, I'll hike Arthur's Seat on Sunday.  I still have the castle to tour and numerous deserted streets to discover.  

I'm having a fabulous time, and I'm sure next week will bring greater joy in my solitude as I settle even farther into the harmonious symphony of the wind outside my window.  But, in this moment, all of my little discoveries and triumphs are somehow missing their normal thrill.  I wish Lonnie were here to share them.  I seem to be homesick for my husband.

I feel a little archaic stating that, but sometimes things are better when shared.   Any birthday cake would agree.  Even Scotland would back me up.  To quote Robert Burns about his Edinburgh love, Clarinda:

"Had we never loved so kindly,
Had we never loved so blindly, 
Never met or never parted, 
We had ne’er been broken—hearted."

* Pagans and Wiccans often associate the cardinal directions with an elemental correspondence.  North=Earth, East=Air, South=Fire, and West=Water.  (That is, if you're a Wiccan living in the Northern hemisphere. Location, as well as your particular tradition, may effect which element is attached to which direction.)


Lessons From Scotland

So, here I find myself, at the end of my second day in Edinburgh.  Alone.  Confused.  A little lost.  

This is my first time in the UK.  It's also my first time traveling sans Lonnie, by myself.  Those who know me, know I took a fabulous week long trip to Costa Rica last year, but that was different.  It was belly dance sleep-away camp.  I stayed at a marvelous yoga and spa retreat, Pura Vida.  Sahara Dance in DC organized the trip and filled my days with dance, yoga, and more dance.  The biggest venture I had “on my own” was my ill-timed walk to the nearby corner market, “off the reservation” (outside the gates of Pura Vida), and to my chagrin, in the dark on the walk back.  This current trip is the first time I’ve traveled completely by myself, no tour-guides, no husband reading the map, no plans for what I’m going to do each day.  

When I jump in, I like to do it head first.  Fortunately, Scotland seems ready to teach me a few things.

Lesson number one:  the Scots have an off-beat sense of humor.  To be fair, so do the Czechs.  The other night at a pub in Vinohrady, Praha 2- after staring me down uncomfortably for at least 3 minutes, a gentleman took my glasses off my face and put them on his only to reject them with great aplomb.  His mates found this hilarious.  I found it awkward.  All this was done sans speech as neither of us had enough vocabulary in the other’s respective language to make conversation.

But where am I?  Right… Scotland and the quirky sense of humor around here.  First, there was the amazing Inn Keeper at breakfast this morning.  He was great.  He had me laughing before my enormous plate of food was served and completely comfortable by my last cup of tea.  He also gave me the scoop on where to find the city’s best boutique shopping.  Not Prince’s Street like my guidebook says.  George Street, two streets north.  And profitable shopping it was:  I needed a “nice” pair of pants and some ballet flats before attending a show tonight at King’s Theatre.  (Hiking boots and one pair of jeans are all this girl brought with her.)  Let it be known, my wardrobe has been updated.

Which brings me to exhibit B and my actual journey to the theatre this evening.  

I’ve already admitted in previous posts how I suck at directions.  So, I gave myself three hours today to walk to the theatre.  I figured I’d walk there and take a bus back.  Plenty of time, right?  I had studied the map and memorized street names and put the map in my purse….. which I then changed at the last minute for just a wallet in the inside pocket of my jacket.  No map.  But, hey!  No problem- I made it down to Prince’s Street just fine and around the castle to turn left on Lothian Road.  I got this.  

Then, I came upon Tollcross.  Six directional choices.  Cindy’s nightmare in stark reality.  There’s even a clock smack dab in the middle of it to let you know just how long you’ve been floundering in purgatory.  So, I did what any self-respectingfemale tourist by herself would do.  I went into the pharmacy on the corner and asked for directions.  “Go straight down this road.  It’s two minutes.”  

Ten minutes later, I found myself smack in the middle of The Meadows.  The one place in my guidebook that said a woman alone should avoid at night.  Granted, it’s 5pm at this juncture.  But, is the theatre in The Meadows?  Surely, I’ve gone too far.  I ask for directions in the little café in the middle of the greenfield. “Go straight down this road.”  (The way I just came.) “Take a right at the second intersection.  It’s two minutes.”  

I’ll admit, at this point I’m beginning to be suspicious.  But I follow her directions to the letter, turn right where I’m supposed to, and I end up?  In an empty street that looks like housing.  After fumbling around in circles here for a little while, I finally find myself back at the clock of doom in the middle of the intersection from hell.  All dignity now thrown to the wind, Iwaltz up to two gentlemen standing at the nearest crosswalk who sound like they’re speaking with the local lilt.  They instruct me to “Go straight down this road.”  (The next option over from the road the pharmacist gave me.  A good sign?)  “It’s two minutes.”  

I now have the distinct feeling that a Scotsman instructing me how to get from Edinburgh to Prague would insist… “it’s two minutes.”  

I venture down my new path, feeling good.  This is a different street than I had before.  THAT’s why I didn’t find it the first time.  Until I somehow eventually end up back on the first street that took me to The Meadows.  Not about to do that again, I go into a corner deli.  “Go straight down this road.”  (A totally different side street from anything I’ve been on before.)  “It’s two minutes.”

This side street is not named “Leven.”  No street I see anywhere is named “Leven”.  I know the theatre address.  2 Leven.  The side street leads me around in a circle back to the corner deli.  

Now I’m ready to cry.  I’m convinced that the locals, fed up with festival goers converging on their town like locusts, have all conspired to have fun where they can by giving directionally challenged foreigners vague and faulty directions.  I spent the earlier part of my day listening to shop owner after shop owner talk to local clients in hushed tones about how much “better” it is now that fringe is over and how they can’t wait for the fireworks show tomorrow because it signals all the tourists will leave.  I KNOW they’re over tourists and I honestly can’t blame them.  We gawk and walk slow, ask dumb questions, take pictures of everything, unknowingly offend (some of us without caring), and get lost trying to find locations that are, to them, simple and easy to navigate to.  

What I wanted to do was give up, find my way back to my B&B in the daylight, and seal myself in my room for the rest of the night.  What I did was go up to a surly looking gentleman standing in a doorway next to an old cathedral and ask one more time.  I think he saw the desperation in my eyes, and I know he had watched me go down the last alley that circled me back to where I was presently standing.  “Go straight down that road.  (Said alley I had just been down.)  But, turn right.  You have to turn right.  The theatre will be on your left.  You’ll see it.”  For good measure or just to piss me off, he threw in “it’s only two minutes”.  

To his credit, I found it.  And it really was only two minutes.  My painful panic was over, but look how many locals I had entertained in the course of the evening.  Cheaper than a cab ride.  I’ll take it.  Lesson one was cemented in my brain.

I’d also learned Lesson Number Two:  Edinburgh directions are like West Virginia directions – they make perfect sense to the person giving the instruction, but no one else can follow them.  I’m from West Virginia, I can say this.  And I’ll never forget my map again.

The box office wasn’t open yet, so I wandered up the street to find an open eatery and discovered some of the best lamb donerkebab I’ve ever eaten in a tiny deli I almost missed.  All of the obvious restaurants were curiously closed.  But, the owner of this little gem was from Turkey and fortunately for me, brought his own recipes with him.  Yum.  Lesson Three:  hunt for the hidden doorways.  There are treasures back there.

Once inside the theatre, the venue was beautiful.  The show itself, American Lulu, was a reimagined version of the unfinished 1934 opera, Lulu, set in America’s deep-south during civil rights struggles.  It was a performance of the Edinburgh International Festival.  It’s not what I thought I was getting.  At one point, an actor dressed as an American football player jumped in the air and sang “fucking shit”.  I’ll leave it at that, but I got the distinct feeling that Scots were having anotherover-the-top go with this show- this time at the expense of America’s tendency for materialism, violence, and sex.  Or maybe that was my own embarrassment.  

Lesson Four came on the way home.  I fully intended to take a bus back home.  But, the first bus stop had a queue 40 people long.  I kept walking.  Then, I noticed that a lot of others were walking with me.  I wasn’t alone.  So, I kept going.  Right on past Tollcross’s purgatory.  Past Bottoms Up, the red light club I’d walked by with apprehension on the way to the theatre. Back around the castle, down Prince’s Street, around by Saint James’ shopping center, and up Royal Terrace to my hotel.  I didn’t get lost once.  All the walking around and getting lost I’d done in the daylight the past two days had paid off.  Lesson Four:  Walk, get lost during the day.  I’ll learn the city far faster than if I rely on taxi or bus (or my husband reading the map).

And I did that walk home in the dark.  Something I wasn’t going to do while I was here alone, but I felt safe the whole way.  It was 11pm when I got home, and I had encountered no qualms on the trek.  Lesson Five:  when walking home in the dark, walk with purpose like you know where you’re going.  Don’t lolly-gag like a tourist or look around like you’re lost.  Mastering Lesson Four allowed me to execute Lesson Five with a flourish.  Walk Like a Local.

My rule of thumb at night is also to make sure I’m not walking solo, even when I am solo.  I keep more than one group or individual walking along with me within ear shot.  I have one piercing scream if needed.  

Once I was back in my cozy room, curled up in my chair by the fireplace with a cup of tea and writing this entry, I wondered if I over-think safety.  I don’t think I do.  I’m still not afraid to make walks to the corner market in a foreign country after dark.  America is the land of paranoia.  It may be my country, but I don’t want to get sucked into its tendencies.  While I don’t want to be stupid and put myself in real danger, I also don’t want to ever find myself afraid to get into the streets and explore.  

This last lesson might be the one I like best:  Edinburgh is showing me that I can read my own maps and get on by myself.  I can have a fabulous day without a travel companion.  And,I’m not alone.


So... I love Prague.  There. I've said it.  This city is amazing. 

We've spent the past couple days exploring the city via foot, which is quite doable. The city is what I call right sized- you can get to any neighborhood in a short time.  It's easy to get lost in the twisting, turning, narrow cobblestone alleyways. But, getting lost is half the fun.  And you're never really lost. Turn a corner and you'll see one of the myriad of spires and landmark buildings, cluing you back in to where you are.  I can navigate here. That in itself is astonishing.  Ask my husband- I have the worst sense of direction ever.  I'm lucky to find my car in the lot when I come out of a grocery store I've only been in for ten minutes. 

Getting "lost" yesterday found me several cute little shops and cafes and a second hand clothing store where I bought two French tops for the price of a side dish of dumplings.  From here on I shall refer to this type of good fortune as getting "Prague Lost".

Speaking of dumplings, those are delicious too.  The potato dumplings are my favorite.  And I've quickly learned that I prefer the dark beers. Don't get me wrong, they're all good. But the dark beers are sweeter with less bite. Not that any of the brews are terribly bitter here.  The beer is easier to drink than water. And cheaper.  

I tried to find the Dance Bohemia folkloric performances yesterday that were rumored to be happening in the city center, with no luck.  Not even the tourist center had times or venue for the performances.  Alas. Hopefully I run onto another opportunity to view regional folk dance here. Always looking.

Lonnie tipped me off that one of the CET academic program contacts focused on the Romani people in her studies.  I can't wait to see her at dinner tomorrow night and grill her about all she knows!  I'm fascinated by the history of the Romani and where groups ended up in the world. Some of the Ghawazee in Egypt are thought to have Romani lineage, like the Nawar in northern Egypt. The folk dancers of Egypt, like the Ghawazee, are the original inspiration for modern Raqs Sharqi.  They're our dance mothers.

Romani are variously referred to as Roma, Rom, and unfortunately probably the best known- gypsies.  Please don't ever call a Romani person a gypsy.  It's become common practice to capitalize the word gypsy as though it's an actual ethnicity.  It's not a proper adjective.  It's a derogatory slang term.  I don't capitalize it. I think that gives it credibility.  

Ka-thump.  *jumps off her soap box*.  I identify with the Romani.  I have a desire to wander, and a tendency to keep to myself as I observe what I find in my travels.  And with that, I'm off, into the sun shine to see what else I can soak up.  Im off to get "Prague Lost". 


My new favorite airline:  British Airways. 

Not only were we served a full dinner (which was really good, by the way:  melt-in-your-mouth tender beef with rice and beans, and a salad) but there was strawberry cheesecake and tea for dessert.  All served by the nicest British flight attendants who also offered free wine or beer several times on the flight.  All included in our ticket price.  We sat in coach. In super comfy seats.  Granted, it was a 747.  But, still.  Try that on a US plane. "That'll be $18 please.  We accept cash or credit card."

After watching Identity Thief, I had a lovely nap and woke up to... A buttery croissant with jam and more yummy tea.  Yes, we're still on the plane. How did they know I had been yammering for a croissant?  They reading this blog?

Great breakfast in Heathrow, a short but not nearly as comfortable second flight to Prague (though I'll note we got served sandwiches for lunch and more to drink), and voila!  We're here.  And so is our luggage. I'm feeling like one lucky girl.

Our landlord, Olga, picked us up from the airport. Then brought us a snack tray of really good coffee.  Love her.  The apartment's adorable. We had a long walk around Praha 1, 2, and 3, then sat down at this great little pub for dinner.  

You had to walk down this long, rickety, spiral staircase to reach the dining room. Our poor waiter didn't speak anglitsky. We don't mluveem cheske. But if you just keep listening, you don't need language to understand each other. And then... There it was. On day one- already.  A dish I will crave when I'm gone. Potato gnocchi with diced ham, saurkraut, and green onion.  So good. 

My parents who have never been out of the US would have been in love and felt at home with this dish. Grandma Amy (dads side) used to make huge stone crocks of kraut every summer.  Half way across the world is feeling remarkably like home.


24 hours from take off!  I'm packed, wound up, and ready to go.

Apparently the Dance Bohemia International Folk Festival will be going on this weekend in Prague. Can't wait to see what I can find there.

Something else I'm looking forward to is finding that food (or foods) that I fall in love with and can't do without when I get home. I can't say I'm worried about missing any of the fare we have available here. Any dish I get too homesick for, I can whip up for dinner.  Lonnie, oddly enough, can't wait to try the Prague Mexican restaurant to see how it compares.  Me, I'm looking forward to a French croissant.


Hello and Welcome!

Today, I'm three weeks away from landing in Europe for a four month adventure.  Home base will be Prague in the Czech Republic, but I plan to visit as many countries as possible, including:  Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, and Scotland.

I'll be posting photos of my journey along the way and noting any dance experiences I'm able to soak up during the trip.  What does Oriental dance look like in Europe and the UK?  Let's find out!

Best,  Al-'Anqa / Cindy