Someone described Prague to me like this: “it’s dark, it’s gritty, the buildings are covered in gargoyles, it comes at you!”
Prague’s train station was a multistory complex with a dollar store feel to it. A Burger King, generic coffee places with sparse seating, and stores selling tacky zebra striped handbags I often spot on Russian women at home desperately geared toward every tourist created the bleak atmosphere of a mall around closing time. There was even a stand in the middle of the ground floor devoted to rhinestones.
Here I quickly discovered the benefit to being a Russian speaker in the Czech Republic: Czech is written in Latin script, so it’s like reading Russian written in English (or like reading the emails I wrote home). Czech and Russian aren’t similar enough to be mutually intelligible, but they’re similar enough that when I saw the sign “sever,” I instantly knew that it meant not “to cut,” but “north.” Getting around was a cinch. I would’ve struggled more in Russia, at least until my reading speed picked up.