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It's almost midnight in Prague and we're about to go wheels up on our 12-day European adventure. While the results on the ice weren't what we hoped for, I think it was a memorable experience for everyone involved. The team certainly has done a great deal of bonding on this trip, which will only help in the long run considering all of the new faces. It's been a grind and a lot has been asked of everyone (players and staff), but those types of situations only bring everyone closer together.
Things I'm going to miss about Eastern Europe:
Multi-vitamin juice - I think they just mixed the orange, apple and grapefruit juice together to make this pinkish-brown concoction, but at least I felt like I was having something healthy every morning at the hotel in Prague.
Czech beer - Staropramen, Budvar, Pilsner Urquell and my personal favorite, Krusovice. They know how to brew beer over here, and why not? They've had a lot more time to perfect it than we have since they started in the 1100s.
The unbelievable architecture - The fact Czechoslovakia basically rolled over during World War II and allowed Hitler a free pass is a source of great anger for many (especially Slovakians), but the fact there weren't any German bombing raids preserved some of the greatest architecture in the world. Prague isn't usually mentioned in the same breath with Paris, Rome and Venice, but people are realizing this truly is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The Bohemian hospitality - While it's not always the case for Americans in many parts of Europe, the locals seem to treat all tourists very well around here. Everyone (OK, cab drivers excluded) is very helpful and friendly. I'd definitely come back.
Things I'm not going to miss:
The language barrier - I've always been pretty good at picking up enough bits and pieces of conversations in Spanish and French to get by when needed, but Czech, German and Slovak are a different story altogether. There have been numerous occasions on this trip when someone has walked up to me and rattled off a question in a foreign tongue, and all they received in response from me was a blank stare. Eventually I say "I have no idea what you just said," but I might as well have said "I have a gun and I'm about to shoot you" because they invariably return the blank stare. They usually give up at this point and walk away.
Smokers everywhere! - If you're like me and hate cigarette smoke, this might not be the place for you. Every hotel lobby, every bar and every restaurant is smoke-filled, and you can't even walk down a sidewalk without inhaling smoke. Tobacco companies probably do well here, but deodorant manufacturers definitely don't.
Exorbitant hotel costs - Ok, we stayed at a nice enough hotel in a decent location, but the equivalent of $90 a day for high speed internet? $45 for breakfast in the lobby? I walked five minutes to an Italian restaurant and paid about $10 for a great meal, but the tuna sandwich I got from room service cost $25. I don't get it...
The security folks at O2 Arena - As I noted yesterday, these guys take themselves a little too seriously. There's no middle ground, it's either yes or no. Good luck trying to argue your case as well.
Finally, all bonding and team-building aside, I don't want to see any of these people again for at least a few days. Time to go home!