Day 5: It’s all off the record

Today’s post can be short and sweet.

After 45 minutes at the American Center of the U.S. Embassy in Prague, talking with its Counselor of Public Affairs and a friendly Czech journalist with a degree from Mizzou who works for them now, one question sparked a response I hadn’t expected:

“Of course everything is off the record.”

Let’s be clear — these are Kent State students writing multimedia stories or research papers as part of the “Modern Media and Democracy” course. Sure, their results will go on the Web. But their topics are designed to help them compare the two countries’ situations on issues like media trust, smoking laws, educational policy. We’re not talking security risks or top secret diplomacy.

I know, I know — what did I expect?  But all the conversation is off the record so tomorrow the students push on, spending the morning with television journalists. I’ll bet they are willing to talk and not need to have their views vetted by anyone higher up.

Day 1: The downpour

Sometimes bad things make the best memories, especially if the end result isn’t TOO bad.

That’s the mantra of the Kent In Prague group after Day 1 in the Czech Republic. Dealing with jet lag — no one got much sleep on the flight from Cleveland to Newark to Brussels to Prague — we greeter the Czech Republic with enthusiasm. Even three temporarily lost bags were not an issue — though I had worried earlier watching the Belgium Air baggage handler give my new suitcase a shove that sent it wheeling wildly under the plane to his waiting fellow worker on the other side.

Slightly jet-lagged but awed by their surroundings, the Kent State group poses in Old Town, Prague, in front of the Jan Hus statue. (photo by Bibiana Hakosova)

Slightly jet-lagged but awed by their surroundings, the Kent State group poses in Old Town, Prague, in front of the Jan Hus statue. (photo by Bibiana Hakosova)

The sun was shining — maybe a bit too much in the 80-plus-degree weather — as we set off with guide and protector Bibiana Hakosova, assistant to the president of Anglo-American University.

It was an amazing stroll across Charles Bridge, full of rambling tourists and street artists. Old Town on the other side was no less amazing. The cobblestone streets, roasting ham on a spit, crowds gathering in front of the Astronomical Clock as it strikes the hour — all unique to our Ohio eyes.

The group posed in front of Jan Hus, the statue to honor this martyr to religious reform in the 1300s who became a symbol of freedom during the era of Communism.

Dinner was a lovely meal on a terrace overlooking this scene, but then we saw the clouds rolling in. And then the waiter warned us of an impending storm.

I’ll confess to being a less-than-wonderful journalist, as I clutched my iPhone camera to me and I have no photos of the ensuing half hour. (Some of our students do, though.) The gentle rain turned fierce with what said were 35-mile-an-hour winds with 60+ mph gusts! The grit from those cobblestone streets bit into our legs as we hurried through the labyrinth of streets, aiming for Charles Bridge and the route to the hotel.

Huddled under an arch between buildings as one point, as Bibiana ran ahead to check out the shortest route, we watched in horror (yes, there were screams) as a window above her banged shut and literally exploded, showering her head and bare back with glass. Then, seconds later, one did the same just to the other side of our sheltering place.

We dashed to better shelter in a nearby restaurant, hoping for taxis that weren’t to be found and patching up Bibiana’s back with the Band Aids and gauze from our less-than-professional-quality first aid kits. Another dash and we were off again, finally reaching the hotel, thoroughly wet but certain this was one of the bad things that will make good memories — as long as Bibiana’s back is OK this morning.

Controlling the iPhone addiction

Giving up my iPhone habit may be the toughest part of the trip to Prague. Sure, I won’t have to give it up entirely, but I can’t be snapping a photo of every meal, checking the Words With Friends leaderboard or frequently calling up the weather forecast and current temperature. And then what about food photos? (Yes, I’m one of those.)iPhone weather

Because the iPhone is locked – even the old ones – getting a Czech SIM card isn’t an option, though some of the students of our group are doing that. Buying or renting a cheap Czech phone seemed like a waste. So getting a moderately priced international plan for a month was the next best thing. I will have 30 minutes of calling, 200 text messages and 300 MB of data.

As someone who is grandfathered in for unlimited data, I had no clue what I used—I hadn’t had to worry about it before.

That’s where AT&T’s little data calculator came in handy. It let me input my smartphone usage.  I’m safe on the emails with attachments – not TOO many of those. Hours of streaming music. Nada. Hours of streaming video. Likewise. Apps/games/songs downloaded. No need for that. But, oh, the Web pages visited and … social media posts with photos. Ouch. That boosted the number.

If I ration myself and only post three photos a day, I should be able to make it. At first I thought that might be tough, but, in the meat-and-potatoes cuisine of the Czech Republic, I might not have as many dinner plates to capture.