Posts Tagged ‘Czech Republic’

Day 4

Eliza’s alarm roused me at 5:30am, and I hastily shut it off, hoping everyone was still in dreamland.  I began dressing, tiptoeing about the room, and gathering my camera bag into my arms.  Having successfully crept from the room, I walked downstairs, nodded to the sleepy receptionist and emerged onto the streets of Prague under a deep blue sky.  What crazy idea was it that caused me to clop down the streets like a solitary horse wandering from home?  I wanted to photograph the sunrise in Prague, and by my calculations, the Charles Bridge was my best bet.  That meant I had to wake up at 5:30 to give myself enough time to reach the bridge before sunrise.  We were leaving this day, and it was my only chance for these photographs.

After completing my photo shoot, I went back to the hostel with stiff fingers from the morning chill, but with a proud smile on my face.  At the hostel I flopped down to snag a few more hours of sleep.  We left Prague at 11:17am, slept for most of the train ride, and woke at 6:30pm in Budapest.

The trip to Prague was incredible, and I am hoping I’ll have the chance to see this city again.  If you would like to read from the beginning of our Prague journey, please click here.  Or go to my “Trips” category.

March 18, 2012

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Day 2 (Evening-Night)

After our tour through Prague, we started towards our hostel with the intent of depositing our candy and excess baggage.  We investigated a few shops, but mostly kept to our path.  During the walk we came upon a guy with a life-size doll of an Indian woman strapped to his back.  He was advertising a massage place on the second floor of the building across the street.  While intriguing, we decided it was an activity to save for a future trip to Prague.  Besides, my shingles were still visible, and I doubted someone would want to look at, much less touch them, and I certainly didn’t want anyone massaging the rash (OUCH).  So, we continued walking in the direction of our hostel.

Before we reached the Charles Bridge, we stopped at a marionette shop so I could look at a collection of Prague’s buildings carved from wood.  Like 90% of the other stores constructed for tourists, this shop had a wide variety of marionettes.  Springing upon the opportunity to sell us goods, the shopkeeper and her assistant delivered an in-depth explanation about marionettes.  Most marionettes found in stores are made from ceramic, and are therefore heavy, or a mixture of wood and plastic of low quality.  These puppets are produced in factories, and the label “made in Prague,” placed on them for authenticity.  During my trip to Prague a few years ago, I had purchased such a marionette, a Robin Hood puppet that I love.  Because of this purchase, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a second puppet.  However, the two women showed us marionettes that were hand-made, and told us that only marionettes with an artist’s signature were legitimate.  These marionettes were made entirely from wood, lightweight, and their looks dependent upon the artist.  BreAnna and I each decided to purchase a marionette.  Our little marionettes are jokers, the traditional puppet, with mischievous wood faces.  We both liked the black-haired version, but they only had one left since the puppets sold quickly, so I got one with brown hair.  The puppets were 600 Czech crowns each (about $30), and we’re both very happy with our adorable puppets.

We continued on our walk, stopping by a stand titled “Traditional Goodies,” to purchase drinks and a bread roll with cinnamon.  BreAnna and I each got a Cocobomb (hot chocolate and Baily’s Irish Cream), and Eliza got a Lomombomba (hot chocolate and rum).  Then we headed back towards our hostel to relax and decide what to do for the night.  After depositing our stuff in the room, we surfed the internet in search of a night time activity.  Resulting sites mainly gave names of clubs, and we weren’t up for dancing.  Maybe with a bigger group or a greater amount of confidence, we would have attempted a night club, but we felt it was a good night to sit and get a drink.

As we exited the hotel, three guys from our dorm also headed out.  They were walking several paces behind us, and I debated asking them if they knew of a place to get a drink.  Partway down the hill, I turned around and posed the question.  Turns out, they didn’t know where to go either.  We introduced ourselves and decided to go in search of a bar or restaurant.  The only thing I knew from the internet was that there were bars near Old Town Square, so we crossed the Charles Bridge and wandered into Old Town.

Two of the guys were Italians (and I’m afraid I can’t remember their names) who were visiting Prague, but leaving the next day.  The other guy was Alioune (or Al), from Paris, and was staying at the hostel temporarily while looking for a more permanent living place.  In Old Town Square a group of guys advertising an Irish bar came up to us, saying there was a massive St. Patrick’s Day party that we should attend.  “You should check it out, there are lots of girls!” one guy exclaimed to our group, then realizing that half our group WAS girls, suddenly announced, “Oh! And lots of guys too!”  We excused ourselves, saying, “perhaps later,” intending to avoid the bar entirely.

After wandering under the Powder Tower into the more modern area of Prague, we located Applebees and decided it would be a good place for a drink.  I got an Appletini cocktail, which was pretty good, even though I still have issues with the taste of alcohol.  The Italian guys went to meet a friend at a casino, but Al stayed and chatted with us.  After finishing our drinks, we walked back to the hostel, talked for a bit, and fell asleep.

March 16, 2012

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Day 2 (Morning – Afternoon)

Touring Prague

I woke up on Friday and let my brain process the fact that it was morning.  I wondered if perhaps the alarm set for 9am had failed, and it was now 11am.  Not that it particularly mattered since we weren’t running on a set schedule, but I didn’t want to start out so late that our explorations would be rushed due to shortening daylight.  A quick glance at Eliza’s phone averted my worries: it was 7:15am.  After midterm week with stress and early hours, my body alarm was set to before-school-time.  The bright sunlight filtering through the curtains may also have triggered my awakening.  First Eliza then BreAnna stirred, and I watches as their eyes perused the room.  Answering the morning’s bright bugle seemed like too much effort, and they rolled back over in their comfy beds.  I considered bounding from the room in search of photo opportunities, but instead, I tried to study.  I soon found myself dosing on my notes so I rolled myself into my bed sheets for more sleep.

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, the song from “Inception,” pulled me from my dreams, to observe Eliza stretching to switch off her phone’s alarm.  9am seemed suspiciously similar to 7am; our room was still bright, we were still blinking at each other, and the room was filled with us and quiet.  Wait a second!  Where was everyone else?  Around 7, the glance around the room revealed at least one other bed lump, and there was shifting in the other section of the dorm.  They were gone.  Of course, it’s not like we were expecting them to wake us up.  I had no idea what they looked like, and doubted they were concerned about our sleep habits.  We figured they had probably gone to breakfast.

Breakfast in the hostel was offered for a small charge, however, we wanted to explore the food options around Prague. So, we paraded onto our street and returned to our usual clattering and chattering as we clomped off to locate a meal.  We quickly located the Caffeteria (review coming soon, I hope), a Ferrari-loving shop filled with photos of cars.

After breakfast, we began to follow directions from a suggested 3-day itinerary that BreAnna located online.  We modified the order in which we saw various buildings and areas to fit our preferences.

Our first stop was the Prague castle complex.  From our hostel, we hiked up the cobblestone-lined hill, took a sharp right and continued hauling ourselves upwards.  The view of Prague below us was wonderful, although, personally, I preferred the view from the Clock Tower.

We walked through the castle walls, past the guards, and into a courtyard.  After a few minutes of locating our position on a map, we headed into a tunnel, in the direction of St. Vitus Cathedral.  Blocked by a group of stunned tourists at the end of the tunnel, we started to squeeze through the crowd.  Then we glanced up, and instantly halted, caught in the crowd of gaping mouths.

St. Vitus Cathedral’s Gothic spires loomed overhead.  The Cathedral’s entrance was planted so close to the tunnel that capturing the entire church in a photograph was impossible.  A photograph capturing both bottom and top of the church required circling to the right, where there was a greater amount of space.  After several minutes of fighting crowds and struggling to take photos, we headed inside the church.  Our necks craned backwards as we tried to take in the details.  Intricate stained glass windows filtered light into the church, and arched columns swept above our heads.  We weren’t willing to pay to circle around the church, all three of us deciding food was more important than a closer look.  So, instead, we tumbled outside to explore more of the castle complex.  We saw the old castle, a pale pink building stretching around the courtyard.  Then, we located the St. George Basilica, a ruddy red building with white trimming and white towers.  After learning that the Golden Lane required payment to enter, we wandered about the complex for a bit then exited through the palace walls.

We then went in search of a monastery, and while we found a religious building, I think we located a random church instead of the intended monastery.  However, we were content with this, as it gave us the chance to examine the statues that lined the front of the church and take photos of the church from an elevated parking lot.  By this point, hunger was bothering our stomachs, so we began tromping along streets in search of a meal.  Down some steps, we were drawn to a restaurant with outside seating called Mystic Café (review hopefully on its way).  While enjoying lunch, we noticed the sneaky antics of a pair of pigeons intent upon a bellyful of chips.  There were chips upon each table, and the birds repeatedly fluttered down to the walkway and performed a Pink Panther skip/jump to the one empty table at the restaurant.  The waitresses continuously chased the birds away ts-king at them, but after a few minutes, they fluttered down from their perch on the wall to make another attempt.  One even crept inside to attempt a raid of the indoor premises but was quickly chased out.  Finally, the pigeons seized a waitress-free chance and swept directly onto the table.  They hurriedly pecked at potato chips, gaining only a few bites before a waitress discovered their pilfering and shooed them away.

After lunch we headed across the Charles Bridge and began an exploration of the Jewish Quarter.  The exact synagogues that we visited are listed on Day 1 of our itinerary.  Having no knowledge of the synagogues’ histories, but still in need of entertainment, I adopted the role of tour guide.  “Welcome, thank you for coming along on this tour, I’m very new at this, and I hope we’ll get to where we need to be.”  I started making jokes about my “tour group,” intentionally picking on BreAnna (she started this by saying I wasn’t very good), and proceeded to mangle the names of the streets and synagogues.  At each synagogue, I announced our arrival, and we all took photos.  Then I commented on my extensive lack of knowledge on the building’s history and directed us to the next synagogue.

Whenever our brief time at each synagogue ended, I moved everyone along with the words, “Shall we?”  Before the Prague trip, it fit quietly into my speech pattern, but as a tour guide, I threw weight onto these two words, adding to my role as an incompetent, terrible tourguide to keep my group of two amused.  Now, these words are stuck as cues in my language for BreAnna and Eliza, and whenever I say this phrase, I’m assaulted by rolling eyes and sarcastic grins.

As our tour ended, we decided to head to Old Town Square for some water and rest, and once again, I shuffled us forward with my characteristic, “Shall we?”  The water and shaded park benches gave us an escape from the sun, which I’m near positive was responsible for half of my crazed tour guide antics.  Noticing a candy stand, the three of us grabbed bags and selected multiple candies for delectable consumption.  While sampling a few of our newly-purchased treats, we walked past the Church of our Lady Before Tyn, and wound our way to the Powder Tower, the historical entrance to Old Town.

We then set our eyes on the trek back to our hostel.

March 16, 2012

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Day 1 (4am-Noonish)

Train Traveling Tales

We really did not want to wake up at 4am, but by 4:30, at least one of us was awake.  For some crazy reason, BreAnna, Eliza and I decided the perfect train to catch was departing from Keleti Palyaudvar at 5:30am.  Let me backtrack for a minute and answer the basic question of, “Why Prague?”  Personally, I wanted to go back to Prague because my memories of the few days I’d spent there in high school were limited to a bridge, a marionette shop, a cafe, a boat ride, and a clock tower.  I remembered a beautiful city swollen with summer tourists, and bursting with dancing puppet legs.  I knew my trip money would be spent on Prague.  Luckily, BreAnna was also interested in visiting.  Then, the week before our trip, I invited Eliza on a whim, and she bought her train ticket two days later.

We three adventurers set our trip to extend over a 4-day weekend thanks to the Hungarian National Day which falls on March 15.  This year, the 15th was a Thursday, so school was canceled for Thursday and Friday.  When BreAnna and I wandered into Keleti Pályaudvar two weeks ahead of our desired departure date, we quickly located the international ticket section and waited for our number to be called.  (I didn’t think to invite Eliza until the following week).  Normally, the online route would have been simpler, but trying to purchase tickets online resulted in webpages in Hungarian, confusion over ticket prices, and difficulty in signing up.  Therefore, we chose to purchase them in person.  As I began listing the train times that we wanted, the woman behind the plastic wall said our tickets would allow us to board any train.  We thought this sounded marvelous.  She also suggested purchasing a transportation pass for Prague that would last the first 3 days we were in the city.  Since we were unsure where we would be traveling, we decided to pay the extra 10 euros.  We booked the hostel online, and by March 15 we were packed and ready.

At least our suitcases were ready, but at 4:30am, waiting for the 4/6 tram to arrive, we felt like falling asleep on the concrete.  The only thing keeping us upright was the excitement that had been building all week and was now keeping our knee joints and spines from collapsing.  After catching the tram and then a bus to Keleti, BreAnna and I met Eliza in the train station and found our train.  It was about 5:10am and the train was scheduled to depart at 5:30, so we boarded the train and found empty seats.  About 10 minutes later we learned why the “boarding any train,” wasn’t the best choice because that meant we had no assigned seats.  A family with reserved seats received the added bonus of evicting me and my friends from those particular seats.  They were actually very polite about it, but we stood around feeling foolish as the train car began filling up.  Soon it was clear that the seats in this train car were completely full, so we began working our way through multiple train cars.  This is an extremely complicated process as the doors between cars stay open for 10 seconds and then close whether or not you’re out of the way.  There were also issues of passing people loading their luggage and awkwardly smiling at others who also lacked seat reservations.  We were still drifting along when the train released its brakes and began to move away from the station.

Eventually, we located empty seats and plopped down for the beginning of a 7 hour train ride.  I was very excited and didn’t want to sleep.  Even though the Pennsylvanian town in which I live developed thanks to the train yard, I never had the chance to ride on a train.  So my first train ride in my life was this trip from Budapest to Prague, a fact that I had been discussing with friends and family ever since I bought the ticket.  After an hour, I was still ridding on my hype and was attempting to snap photographs of the unique houses rushing past.  Most of the photos are blurred because of the speed of the train and have glaring streaks of light thanks to the inside train lights reflecting on the windows.  Watching the sunrise was spectacular, particularly since I usually see sunsets.  My normal waking times are apt to prevent glimpses of early morning colors.  This sunrise consisted of an orange dome hovering behind blue mountain ridges and surrounded by a salmon-pink sky.

As we passed through a city, 4 skyscrapers rose above 3-4 story buildings, embracing the orange sunrise in their windows.  I took out my papers to study for midterms, however I couldn’t focus and put them away after 10 minutes.  Then I decided to relax and drift away into my dreams.  Around 9:00am, the train made one of its numerous stops and a young couple found us in their seats.  BreAnna and Eliza decided to locate new seats and allowed me to continue relaxing in the one remaining seat.  Several stops later, I found myself standing in the aisle.  I had noticed that a lot of people without seat reservations were sitting in the sections between cars, where the stairs and doors were located.  After a few more stops I began debating whether awkwardly joining the group would allow me the chance to sit down.  I then noticed an elderly woman rising to her feet and preparing to depart the train.  Her now vacant seat was located next to the window, and the other three seats, plus the four across the aisle were occupied by extremely boisterous guys drinking beer.

I headed over and asked if I could take the empty seat, and the guys immediately said, “yes.”  I settled into the seat, stared out the window and watched out of the corner of my eye as the group of guys passed around a bottle of vodka.  Judging by the cluttered trashcan under the window, it wasn’t their first drink of the morning.  At first, the guys asked a couple of questions and I mostly stared out the window as they chattered to each other.  About 10 minutes later, I suddenly became the center of attention.  Luckily, the guy who sat next to me spoke English fairly well, and questions directed at me were sent through him.  The group of guys were Slovakian, and only 2 or 3 of the group understood a majority of what I was saying.  Everything else was translated for the guys who understood some or very little English.  One guy sitting across from me was limited to naming American movie stars, movies, band names, and quotes in English. Most of what he said was accompanied by hand gestures, such as pointing to his arm muscle for “I’ll be back,” and “Govenator.”  Our conversations consisted of him saying words and me repeating them as a confirmation that I recognized the names.  We really made quite a comedy team, particularly as we compared bands we knew of, accompanied by doubtful head bobs and furious nods.

The guys talked to me about the Slovakian government and a bit about Slovakia.  They told me they were taught only a little English in school, and I was impressed by what they did know considering I know zero Slovakian.  Throughout our conversations they regularly offered me a drink from the bottle they were passing around.  Since I generally dislike the taste of alcohol, can’t stand hard alcohol, and was pretty sure the bottle held vodka, I politely refused.  “It’s European,” they told me, and I understand that drinking together is a sign of friendship, but I really hate strong alcohol.  Finally, they offered me a can Slovakian beer, “the best beer,” which they opened in front of me.  I figured since the top was clean and I hadn’t tried beer in a while that I would take a sip.  Beer is still disgusting.  So, they asked me what I drank, “soda?” No, I really don’t like soda, instead I drink juice, milk, and at about this point they tried to convince me that beer was milk.  They then opened a different can of Slovakian beer, half of them claiming it was a better beer.  I sipped it, and when asked which was better, I threw my judging platform out the window.  As far as I’m concerned, beer, Slovakian or otherwise, is not milk and tastes terrible.

After the assault on my taste buds, I calmly chomped on a bread roll to eradicate the beer taste from my mouth.  The rest of the train ride involved a great deal of laughter and some confusing issues involving translation.  The guys were impressed that I took martial arts, and one of the guys across the aisle expressed his respect for my dedication.  On the other hand, when one of the guys said something rude in Slovakian (left untranslated), others in the group said I should hit him for it.  I tried to say something clever along the lines of “not hitting defenseless people,” but I’m not sure the concept got across and I gave up.

When the train arrived in Prague, I found BreAnna and Eliza asleep in their seats.  If I hadn’t been worried about us missing our stop, I would have taken a photo.  We stepped off the train in Prague and I had my photo taken with the guys.  I’m still working on composing the other parts of this trip, but for your amusement, here’s me with the 7 Slovakian guys:

March 15, 2012

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