Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Life as a Time Traveler

We only have two more weeks in Bangkok before our second term in grad school is over. Time flies. Of course this means we have two weeks of non-stop work. Well, usually. This time we planned ahead, anticipating our NEED to see as much of Bangkok as possible. So our 10-ish page paper for one class is almost complete, along with our 30 pagers for another class, and the third class will be focused on next week. Wow. For once we didn’t completely and totally procrastinate. Hats off to us!

How do we spend our precious spare time? This past Sunday, at least, was spent at a floating market. Thailand is known for its floating markets. Actually, there are four or five of them just within an hour or so drive outside the city. Our original plan was to wake up at 5am on Sunday morning and take a taxi to the Southern Bus Station, then take a bus to the most popular floating market in the country, Damnoen Saduak, also known as Ratchaburi Market. However, our plans changed when there was no getting us up at 5am on a Sunday morning. Typical. So the next best thing? Taling Chan Floating Market, which is approximately 25 minutes northwest of Bangkok.

At 9am we finally make it out the door, ready to see this very traditional and less touristy floating market. (Ratchaburi Market is a much bigger market with tourist flocking in on tour buses every half hour starting around 9am. Supposedly, much of the stuff sold is comparable to the same souvenirs found in Bangkok. That’s great and all, but where’s the history? Where’s the culture?) The floating markets are how many traders sold their goods before modern road systems were perfected in Thailand. They would load their goods into a small, wooden boat and paddle up and down the canals selling their products. These traditions, although less common, are still practiced within some areas of the country. Taling Chan is one of them.

We arrived by taxi about 30 minutes after we left our apartments and were told to keep heading straight on the road we were on to find the floating market. The end of the road was lined with different stands, mostly consisting of plants and flowers, with food thrown in the middle. I snacked on fried quail eggs and then we headed down to the canal.

I’ll be honest, Taling Chan was much smaller than I anticipated. There were only five boats or so in the water when we arrived. We walked out on the dock and found tables down both sides. As I said, this floating market is much less touristy than others. These tables were filled with locals. Hardly any tourists were around. Ok, so maybe we made the right decision coming here – tourists ruin everything...

We wandered down one side of the dock and looked over the side. There was a long, wooden boat in the water, carrying an older Thai women and buckets of fish and prawns. 

She also had several lying on what I would call a small grill, for lack of a better description. The food she was making was for the customers sitting at the tables. And it’s true. It really was like stepping back in time. I see why the tradition has been carried on all these years.

We continued to follow the dock, taking pictures where we could. We then wandered down the other side, finding several more of these wooden boats selling everything from seafood to fruit to fish food. Wait, what? Fish food? Yes, the canals were filled, and I mean FILLED, with what Jonathan tells me is Mekong Giant Catfish…these were some of the biggest fish I’ve ever seen. Not to mention there were hundreds of them fighting to be closer to the top of the water, as people were throwing this food and other snacks to watch the fish and all their frenzy.

After several minute of watching a six year old throw food into the water, us being just as amused as she was, we finished taking our pictures and headed back down the road to catch a taxi back to the BTS (skytrain). Although it lacked the hectic atmosphere we wanted to find, with people everywhere, I’m glad we went to Taling Chan. I can’t imagine hordes of tourists lining canals, waiting to catch the next postcard worthy picture…Jonathan and I did enough of that ourselves… 

- BZ

 (pictures to come - I'm stealing JPs)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Turkey Day....

Turkey day in Bangkok was a success! Well, actually the day after Turkey Day, but it's all relative when your in a country that doesn't have turkeys. Thanksgiving day everyone had class in the evening; we agreed to postpone our expat holiday until Friday when we could really kick back.

Our makeshift holiday had the best of everything. I got to sleep in, went to the gym, and then joined Brandy and a few others on the rooftop pool of our building to enjoy the sunny 90 degree November weather as afternoon faded to evening. After a quick shower, seven of us met for cocktails at our patio sky bar overlooking Bangkok. We then headed a few blocks away for our much anticipated Thanksgiving dinner at Bourbon Street, a well established spot known for its Turkey Day buffet each year. 

First, let me answer the question that I know my dad will ask as soon as he read this. 

So Dad, no--the food wasn't as good as the yearly Powell spread we have all grown to love over the years; especially since I didn't have Granny to bring me my own personal plate of cranberry sauce and rolls. A southern-cooked homestyle Thanksgiving meal really can't be beaten.

That being said, we definitely were not disappointed with the food waiting for us at Bourbon Street. There were more items than I can remember to name--spread out over a giant buffet that covered a large banquet room in the back of the restaurant. After nearly two months of eating nothing but rice, chicken, and peppers in various combinations I couldn't help but exceed the carrying capacity of my plate a number of times. 

My first plateful consisted of garlic bread, cornbread, ham, turkey, prime rib, lamb chops, fried shrimp, blackened shrimp, blackened fish pasta, crab cakes, beef cutlets, mashed potatoes, malaysian sweet potatoes, jumbalaya, and of course, cranberry sauce. There were also six different soups, numerous salads, dipping sauces, and more....my stomach can only hold so much.

Dessert? yes please. A plate of pecan pie, Georgia pecan pie, ice cream, fruit, chocolate banana pudding, and some whipped cream put me over the edge. There was a whole table of desserts I didn't get to sample; by that time I was holding my stomach and moaning in gluttonous ecstasy, just like everyone else. We did manage to finish our meal with some Grand Marnier and Makers on the rocks--glazey eyed and ready for our nap. 

A nap would have been nice, but there wasn't a couch in sight. What's the next best thing, you ask? Why--an open air rooftop lounge complete with ambient lighting, full layout cabana loungers that can fit four or five people, sand, and a remarkable view of the Bangkok skyline. 

Afterwards, one more stop at a British pub named The Pickled Liver is where we finished or evening playing pool and watching the clock take us from night into morning. T'was a good day indeed. 


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Things we see

Here are a few moments I managed to record in the past few days...

Annnd dinner from tonight...the best deep fried squid I've ever had and spicy prawn soup. We told our waitress to make it only a little spicy...yet, it made me cry and my nose run after the first bite. Yuummmm..

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Thailand is amazing. I love it here and I want to stay.

Vienna had gotten pretty chilly by the time we departed. As Brandy said earlier, we had our little interim vacation in Budapest, which turned out to be rainy and drab. Well, that all ended the moment we stepped off the airbus that floated us from Egypt to our new home in South East Asia. We made it through customs without a hassle, retrieved our baggage, and were greeted with a grunt and a hand motion by the fellow hired by the university to pick us up from the airport.

As soon as I stepped out of the airport the humidity hit me like a ton of soggy bricks. My forehead started to glisten as my pores and sinuses opened for the first time in a long time. To quote my wise friend Richie – it was hotter than two rats making-love in a wool sock with the heater turned up. Damn, feels just like we’re back in Georgia!

Hot. Humid. Sticky.

That is about where the similarities end. I love Thailand because you look around and see so much that looks familiar if you glance around quickly, but look a little closer and it’s starkly different. It's twisted in many ways, ingeniously adapted in some, downright alien in others. Actually, that statement goes for Bangkok. American’s like to talk about being a melting pot of this or that, which is true in many senses, but this city is absolutely filled with different cultures and influences…the good, bad, ugly, beautiful, smelly, colorful, and flagrant. Anyone who has been here for a while says Bangkok is much different than the rest of Thailand so I definitely don’t want to make any sweeping generalities about the country in general.

Little things make me laugh everyday. For instance, it doesn’t take long to notice that you’re barreling down a six to eight lane highway with cars going every which way with no traffic lanes in sight. Instead there is just one giant, wide road. The airport is about 25 minutes from the center of the city where we live. Of course, just a few miles before we arrive we hit the infamous Bangkok traffic. Atlantans…you only think you know what a traffic jam is. 

Here there is a wildly colorful display of vehicles jammed together everywhere you turn; cars, vans, trucks, motorized carts with dried squid, motorcycles with refrigerator sized boxes strapped to the back, and tuk-tuks….the classic three wheeled death-trap of a tourist motorcycle taxi that everyone has to try at least once.

My personal favorites are the mopeds…there are damn mopeds everywhere. On the streets, on the sidewalks, in the alleys, in reverse direction in traffic…and yes, sometimes they ride through the restaurant you’re eating in because they want to take a shortcut. 

On our way into the city I saw three in particular that caught my eye; one was a family of 5 on and 80cc, one was piled with dead chickens, and the last had what seemed to be a 100 year old woman riding backwards taking a nap. I will mention that though traffic is hectic, it is quite entertaining. Much more so than slugging from 285 north up to Canton Road….eh.

We’ve been here for 3 weeks now and have been to quite a few places, so I’m just going to make a short list and maybe retouch on a few of them later. So far this is what we’ve been doing:

-EATING! – sure, there are normal restaurants like McD’s, Hard Rock, and honestly anything else you can image…but anyone who comes to Thailand is selling themselves short if they don’t eat street food. For 30 baht (1 US dollar) you can have a plate full of any kind of meat with rice, veggies, peppers, egg and the works. Thai food is without a doubt the most flavorful food I’ve ever had. Brandy and I have 4 or 5 places that we rotate through on a regular basis. Half the time you don’t even know what you’re eating. Worth.Every.Penny….all 100 of them.

-Cheap food means more money for SHOPPING. At least that’s what my girlfriend keeps telling me. There are gigantic shopping malls on every block, street vendors on every curb, and people willing to haggle at every turn. My dad would be in heaven. We sure are. A bargain-finder’s dream is just a few stops up the skytrain where one of the biggest outdoor markets in the world takes place every weekend. Brandy and I were there for 4 hours going up and down rows…we barely saw a fraction of the place. Huge.

-The Beach – Our second weekend here we took a bus with some friends to a popular beach on the Bay called Pattaya. It was a typical beach town Thai style. With food, street vendors, and a lot of beer we couldn’t go wrong. Let me just say the pricing is amazing—this is the way to vacation—I managed to pay for 2 bus rides, food, taxis, moped rentals for a full 24 hours, jet skis, random trinkets from vendors on the beach, many Chang beers, and who knows what else, all for about 100 dollars. Not bad for two days of fun.

-We spent Brandy’s birthday riding around the city on tuk-tuks. We explored “Old Bangkok” where we saw the royal palace, the Grand Temple that houses in famous Emerald Buddah, the amulet markets, and the Dusit Zoo.

-School work. Eh. Thankfully its hasn’t been nearly as bad as last term….I’m very thankful to be able to see more of the city!

-Wandering...everywhere you go there is something to see. We’ve been to some cool little ex-pat bars that are set up like a backwoods Louisiana nip and sip, a futbol pub, and an Irish pub featuring a fully Thai Beatles cover band that sounded just like John and Paul were there singing. Like many big cities Bangkok has it’s indigenous quarters that are home to the Japanese community, the Arab street, Korea, Chinatown, etc. Each has an amazing assortment of foods and goodies to buy. For all those wondering about the prostitution…yep, it’s all over the place. It’s more overt in some areas than others but definitely out in plain sight.

-Enjoying our rooms. We are staying in some amazing "service apartments" with a heck of a view. Not to mention a jacuzzi in each room, cable, a king sized bed, laundry service, and a housekeeping who clean up after us and leave little bottles of shampoo every day. Theres nothing better than not having to replace the tp or wash your own dishes!

Here's some views from the balcony...

More to come!


Monday, November 1, 2010

It's been a while: Budapest

Ok so I know it’s been a while since we’ve touched our blog. Ooops. Sorry about that. Let’s just say grad school has been taking up our time…

Since we last blogged, we have been through a few more countries. We finished up our term in Vienna and are glad it’s over. Altogether, it was rather stressful for a time there. We didn’t leave the apartment for days at a time unless it was to go to the grocery store or school. But now that it’s over, on to the next adventure.
We left Vienna on October 16th, by train, to head to Budapest for a few days before our next term started in Bangkok, Thailand. We learned our lesson last time about trains…be there early and make sure you know which train is where. So we headed to the train station about 2 hours before it was scheduled to leave. All was good to go. We arrived in Budapest about 3 to 4 hours later, slightly rested and ready to stretch our legs. Of course, we were toting our 23kg bags around with us so it wasn’t easy.

First things first. Where do we go when we get off the train? To the metro. But where it is in relation to the train? Let’s ask. So I did. Oh and where is the nearest ATM? Considering Hungary doesn’t use the euro but the forint we needed to stock up before heading to the metro. So we step out of the train station and find one of the most depressing set ups thus far. Jonathan told me on the way to Budapest it’s one of the most depressed cities in Europe – typical Eastern European city. Lots of construction and renovations “in progress”. The view from the train was exactly that. So we cross the street, head over a small construction site (wooden boardwalk included, aka ply wood) and headed towards the ATM. It was closed. So we tried the next. We each took out about 10,000 forint, which was approximately $50. A nice start. On to the metro. We head back towards the train station and go past it to the metro. Unfortunately I’m little and a 23kg bag is hard for me to maneuver down a flight of stairs. So the great and wonderful JP carried mine down for me…and his. We bought tickets on the metro and headed towards the train.

Not sure how many of you have seen the movie “Quarantine” but it’s a zombie movie that came out several years ago, and personally, I thought it was terrible. Horrifying but terrible.  Well walking into the metro to wait on the train was exactly what I would call the “Quarantine” station. Everything was dingy, cracked, dull, faded, scratched, and in need of some serious work. Oh and the lights flickered like a horror movie, too. Regardless, we wait patiently for the train. When it arrives it’s obvious that it’s been there for a while. The “Quarantine” train. It stutters to a halt and we wait for the doors to open. Everyone looks terribly pissed off that the train has to stop at all. We get on and go three stops, each time having to hold on to the railings to make sure we don’t fall over. Characteristic of an old train. When it’s time for us to get out, we do. We head towards the escalator (no stairs this time!) and reach the station only to find that we have to walk up a flight of stairs to get out of the station. Again, the great and wonderful JP takes both of our bags up to the top.

We get to the top of the street and realize we’re on the wrong side of the road. So we race across the 4 or 5 lanes of traffic (with our heavy bags) to reach the other side. Later, we discovered if we had gone to the other side of the station before exiting, there is another exit on the other side of the road. Oops. Anyways, we find our hostel and follow the directions to get in. Check in was a breeze. It took a total of 10 minutes and then up to our room to put our stuff down.

The hike itself wasn’t too bad – there was an elevator. A “Quarantine” elevator that had just enough room to hold me, my bag, Jonathan, his bag and the guy showing us to our room. We get there to find that our room is the size of a coat closet. A slightly large coat closet, but coat closet nonetheless. We put our stuff down and head back towards the door. It’s feeding time. Before we left Vienna, I bought a Top 10 Budapest guidebook. Let’s take a look in there to see what we can find. The Black Cat Irish Pub you say? Deal.
We leave our room and towards the pub. We arrive about 15 minutes later and find the little hole in the wall pub that was exactly what we wanted. We went in and noticed there were several tables that had a piece of paper with writing we couldn’t read. However, we assumed they meant ‘reserved’ and I guess our confused looks gave one guy that worked there a hint: foreigners. Or worse: Americans. He said something we couldn’t understand so naturally we asked if he could speak English. He said “I try” and asked what he could do for us. Where can we sit? Anywhere you want! So I pointed to a table behind him and said ‘is this ok?’ It
wasn’t one of the papered tables. ‘Sure! You sit here!’ So we did. We each ordered a beer and then a skewer of meat and steak fries, with a side dish of chips and cheese. Note to self: if you see something that looks like pineapple on a skewer of meat that doesn’t say it comes with pineapple, don’t eat it. It might just be a big piece of fat.

We finished our meals and headed back to our rooms. Time for sleep. Much to see tomorrow. The morning came quickly and we headed out semi early. We started down a road called Vaci Utca which the Top 10 book told me was worth the walk. Lots of shops perfect for tourists. We bought a few things and decided it was food time again. We noticed several coffee shops around but didn’t want to take a lot of time to sit and eat. Next best thing? Burger King. I don’t even like Burger King in The States but here goes nothing.

After breakfast/lunch, we head across the bridge that runs into the end of Vaci Utca to head towards the Cave Church. Literally a church inside a cave. It’s been “remodeled” with new cave-like plaster walls but it’s still a church inside a cave nonetheless. I quickly snapped one picture, afraid to disturb anyone (although we weren’t there during a service), but also wasn’t sure if I was allowed to, so I didn’t want to get caught.

Heading out of the church, we turn left and walk down the river towards the castle district. Along the way there is a monument on the top of a hill so we decide to wander up there. Fall in Budapest is beautiful. So many colors! We get to the top and take pictures of the city. The river is right in front and Parliament and the Castle District and to the left. Heading back down we’re not really sure which way to go. Left obviously, to reach the castle district but which road is best? We make it across a few intersections and find an outside restaurant/beer garden type deal. It’s cold but we decide to take our chances outside. After a quick beer, we’re on our feet again. Up towards the castle!

We walk for about 15-20 minutes and come to the next bridge, which, according to my map, is where we turn left to head up to the castle. Sure enough we find the almost 200 stairs and start climbing. Once at the top, we take more pictures of the amazing view. I’m almost too tired to walk at this point but there’s so much to do and such little time! Suck it up Brandy. Moving along. We walk inside the castle walls to find a huge courtyard where I make Jonathan take pictures with the lion statutes. We debate whether we want to pay to go into the castle or not. We choose no. Heading back out of the court yard we head in the opposite direction from which we came and find numerous walks and ways. We wander through a few of them only to find the end roped off. So we turn around and head the other way. We eventually come across a man who is standing with a bunch of children holding bows and arrows. Out of curiosity, we stop and watch. For a small fee of like $5-7, you can shoot 5 arrows into a target about 10 yards away. I want a try! We wait for 10 minutes and the line is going nowhere. So we leave, making a pact to come back later. Unfortunately it never happened but we found something even more exciting a few minutes later. A Hungary “funnel cake” is what Jonathan called it. It’s very hard to explain but it’s dough in the shape of a cone – when it’s cooked, it’s wrapped around some kind of wooden cone and heated until it’s crispy. Then they roll it in the “flavor” of your choice. Jonathan’s was cinnamon. It was delicious! But of course it just made us more hungry for real food.

Heading through the rest of the castle district, we find several more places to take pictures of the city, but soon head down out of the castle district towards food. We find a pub and go inside but were disappointed to find out they have no food. What? A pub with no food? Oh well. One drink then we move on. We head across the river to find a pizza place down a side street. And honestly, it’s some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. But there’s no time – moving on towards Parliament. We’re both tired and the light from the day is almost gone. We reach Parliament in time to take a few pictures and then head back towards the hostel. Along the way, we walk through a park and several green areas with monuments and statues. Eventually we come to St Stephen’s Basilica. I want to come back tomorrow to go inside but take advantage of the night view. Down one of the side streets, we stop for coffee and then head back to the hostel for the evening. It’s late and we’re both exhausted from such a long day.

Unfortunately there isn’t much more to write about our trip. Why you ask? Well I apparently got into something that didn’t agree with me and was sick all night. I woke up the next morning and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to handle going out again. We eventually wander back down towards St Stephen’s to take pictures inside but that’s about the extent of my energy. We do, however, stop and buy postcards. At least my family and friends can see what I saw in one day. Back to the hostel to nap some more. Around 5pm, I’m ready to find food. Oh and I have to find my book from Budapest! So off we go. I’m still feeling sick and Jonathan isn’t 100% either. We head towards a book store I found in my Top 10 book which is supposedly an English/Hungarian bookstore. Wrong. English only. So we wander to the next store. We’re running out of time because most of the stores close at 6 or 6:30 and it’s already 5:50 or so. However, I eventually find my store and walk in. Aldous Huxley it is. No idea what the book is – I can’t read Hungarian – but the author has two thumbs up in my opinion. Mission accomplished, on to food. We stop at a Chinese restaurant and then head back to the hostel. The rest of our evening was spent watching Mad Max and finishing my dinner.

The next morning we wake up to the first sunny day in Budapest since we’ve been there. We’re both feeling better so we get cleaned up and pack all of our stuff up and then head down for food. We wander for a few minutes but want to leave enough time to get to the airport. So we stop for a pastry and then head back to the hostel to retrieve our stuff. We leave at 11 and our flight doesn’t leave until almost 5pm. We wanted to make sure we left enough time in case we get lost. However, we apparently know what we’re doing and made it to the airport in less than an hour. So we have time to wait. Time for some reading and food. We anxiously watch the board to see when we can check in. But of course it doesn’t show up until 2 hours before we leave. At this point we’re just tired and ready to be on the plane. Once we get up to the check in counter, we realize we’re going to have to pay for our luggage – it’s too heavy. We get out of paying over $350 for our baggage (we paid a fraction of it – thank god) – I’m assuming it’s because of the absolutely shocked look on my face and the “how much?” in a high pitched tone –
 and head towards the gate. It’s going to be a long flight.

We board the plane that will take us to Cairo where we will switch planes to head to Bangkok. Naturally we get the plane filled with loud obnoxious people and have to listen to movies and music play the entire almost 4 hour ride. However, we make it to Cairo without committing murder and only wait about an hour until we are on the next flight out to Bangkok. Time for horrible plane food and some sleep. Bangkok here we come!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And so its going.....

Good morning, 9am here means 3am back home...this is still somewhat of an abstract idea to me. Yes yes...I know we all understand how the earth's rotation works and that the sun can only be on one side of the earth or another...but still, I was never a morning person at home and now I can't seems to sleep past 8. This inevitably proves that miracles do happen.

Enough with the rambling.

My calendar reminded me this morning that today is September 21 which means we have been out of the States for exactly five weeks and one day. I was deliberating about buying a bicycle I found yesterday for a tremendous deal, then to my dismay I realized that we are leaving the country in less than four weeks. This high mobility stuff really puts a damper on getting settled in somewhere.

I suppose that is the point of this whole process though. From what I've been learning at our professional visits any job in the field I'm hoping to enter will be highly mobile with transitionary job descriptions that are short in duration and vague in mandate. The initial shock of being somewhere else indefinitely has subsided, but there is a whole new process of some sort of psychological transition that I'm observing from myself and all other members of our group.

It is certainly an exceptional (in the atypical sense) position to be put in. Only 11 hours of our aggregate week are spoken for via mandatory class attendance. The other 157 available hours of each week are wide open to anything we can imagine (or realistically, afford.) What then, do you fill the time with? Our relative position to the city is not too far, but not too close either. Going downtown with a specific goal takes a considerable portion of your day. Therefore trying to be especially *studious* can be hampered by entertainment quite easily. I'm my case in particular the two events are mutually exclusive.  Though only 11 hours are required for class, the amount of reading we are assigned is pretty enormous if you really want to grasp it all. Therefore, the process of watching myself and nine other people try and learn to balance the two in this kind of environment is pretty intriguing.  

Of the ten of us, I don't think anyone has been adapting in similar ways. This psychological transition is definitely wearing on some more than others...obviously everyone has different needs and different mental compositions. There are a slew of activities: drinking, shopping, slothing, exercising, going "awol", etc...all of which sound no different than anything there is to do back home to cope, yet there is no reenforcement by friends/family/comforts of being somewhere "safe."

We were all told about "culture shock" both in our handbook and by the student counselor at orientation in Leiden, yet watching it all played out is a different story all together. Mentally I picture all of us living in the bunker from LOST with the countdown clock slowly ticking away, though alternative to the show's plot, no one acts like anything will happen when the numbers hit zero; incredulous observation if you will.

I'm left to wonder what will happen when the clock runs down; a massive explosion, a jack popping out of a box, or will I end up like Desmond....laying naked in a field with new trans-reality hopping powers that link one dimension to another. Though unlikely, the latter option sounds rather appealing.

For anyone that never watched LOST in its entirety I am truly sorry for the previous paragraph's analogy....that being said, if you haven't already, don't watch the show unless you want to be utterly disappointed by a limp, weak-ended, mind-exhausting finale of a should-have-been work of art that turned out to be an overextended mind-fart.

Yes, I am still truly bitter about this whole fiasco.

Or, as I like to say...."6 years, LOST."
And thats my opinion on the season finale. Good day.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Here Comes the Sun...

Ok…picking up where Jonathan left off…

Let’s see, where were we…Oh yes, beer and sleep. Ok so day two, as JP said, was quite a bit better than day 1. We started the day by getting up early, sometime around 8am, and heading downstairs for breakfast. St Christopher’s Mosaic House is quite a fancy place – everything is brand new, clean, color coordinated. Classy if you will. That explains the price for breakfast. Most hostels include breakfast in the cost of the bed. Not St Christopher’s. We walked downstairs and paid 150 crowns each, which is roughly $7.50 a piece. For breakfast. Oh well, it’s all you can eat so we took advantage of stuffing ourselves while waiting on Matt.

While Matt woke up and got breakfast, JP and I decided to wander around the streets near our hostel to waste some time. We found lots of shops and restaurants, even upstanding establishments like Hooters. Yes, in Vienna. After wandering around for 20 minutes or so, we decide to head back. Although heading back, if not in the direction you came, can be tricky in Prague. They like to make things difficult and completely ruled out the grid system when planning the city’s streets. So we pulled out the map to see if the next street would take us back to the hostel. Ten minutes later, we decide to go back exactly the way we came. Holy confusion…note to self for later (see below for my reasoning...).

So we met up with Matt and decided to head down to Prague Castle. I wrote down the directions at breakfast so I wouldn’t look like a tourist and break out my oh-so-“inconspicuous” map (credit is given to where credit is due – thank you Ali for loaning me your map and city guide book…they were the only things that got us around the city!!). So on to the castle we go. My directions were pretty darn accurate, if I do say so myself. It took us down loads of winding streets that, again, laugh in the face of common grid system cities…as well as unsuspecting tourists. We eventually came upon the river and Charles Bridge which takes you across the river to Prague Castle. And all without getting lost! We wandered in a few shops along the way and bought tokens of our trip and then headed across the bridge to find coffee and snacks.

This bridge, I must warn you, is pick-pocket heaven. Hundreds of unaware tourists check out the venders on the side of the bridge, selling everything from jewelry to paintings to something resembling the sound of an Irish flute. Don’t get me wrong. I checked it all out, too. But a hint if you visit Prague: watch your bag/pockets ALL THE TIME. There are so many people it would be nearly impossible to tell when it happened if anything were to happen. Either way, the bridge allows for beautiful pictures of the river as well as the view of the castle.

After stopping several times to take pictures, we finally made it to the other side of the bridge. By this time we had one mission in mind, and one mission only: coffee. We took 8 steps into the surrounding areas of the castle and found a little café that looked promising. We found two tables outside the café and sat down, taking turns to run inside and see what they had for us to munch on. JP went in for the both of us, and when he asked what I wanted, the only thing I said was “coffee,
surprise me”. (If you know me, this is not uncommon.) And surprise me he did! He brought back two huge lattes and a crepe, and conveniently for me, he likes to share J So 20 minutes was spent drinking lattes and eating crepes. Day 2 is looking better already!

After filling ourselves with café goodness, we headed toward the castle. The guide book said it might be a bit of a hike…up a hill. I will write to the guidebook publishers and tell them to be more specific next time. What. A. Hill. Well, I might be over exaggerating a bit, but after the shenanigans we encountered the day before, a 15 min hike up a medium sized hill is NOT what I had in mind. Either way, the walk up was beautiful and completely worth it. We reached the top and had a most amazing view of all of Prague. Words won’t explain it so I won’t try. Again, there were minutes of picture taking and then on into the castle.

Going into the castle, we noticed it said there were tours for approximately $6 per person. We were about to venture inside to find out when the next “short tour” started when a man approached us and asked us if we would be interested in the “short tour” (“short tour” meaning 45 minutes through the main parts of the castle walls). We all hesitated, noticing he has no uniform on and looked like a tourist, but in the end gave him our money, which again, was completely worth it. This supposed tour guide was quite incredible. He really knew his stuff. He took us around the castle, along with 3 other unsuspecting tourists, and explained all of the history of the castle, from when it was built to the present. At the end of the tour, Matt, JP and I were ready for food. We asked one of the girls on the tour, Maria from Germany, to come grab some food with us. She agreed and off we went chatting about traveling, school and festivals, all while on the hunt for food.

Food was found and bellies were filled. We invited Maria to come with us to explore more of the city, but alas, she had plans of her own – only so many days in Prague, you know! We made tentative plans to meet up again that evening for drinks and future plans to attend a festival in May of next year, if school/money allows it. Hopefully we will see Maria again!

On to find more! But first I must mention this jewelry store along the way. My goal in each city I go to is to find a bracelet to bring home with me. This is the souvenir I will collect so that more things don’t come home with me, like books and clothes. We ran into this jewelry shop and sure enough I found my bracelet! And my fantastic, amazing, wonderful boyfriend purchased it for me J We can officially check Prague off the list.

Next stop was the Astronomical Clock located in the center of Old Town. It’s set right in the middle of the square and, for a nominal fee, you can take an elevator/stairs to the top and get a view of all of Prague. Sign me up! First, ice cream for the boys, then stairs to walk it off.

So to the top we go. Again, another beautiful sight of Prague. It really isn’t a small city. Red rooftops are everywhere. It just adds to the majestic splendor that is the Czech Republic (view from the top below!).

Time for a nap. Back to the hostel for a break, some sleep, and a shower. We actually didn’t make it far from there. The rest of the evening consisted of conversing with people from all over the world in our hostel. First, we chatted with a few Australians that we shared our room with. They were from Perth and quite the entertainers. I had to apologize once or twice for listening (and giggling) at their conversation. It’s easy to hear people’s conversations when you have 5 in a small room at one time. On to the rest of the evening. Again, I should emphasize the grandeur that is the Mosaic House. Clean lines, funky style, lamps on the ceiling. Exactly what we were looking for. The bar/restaurant is no exception. JP and I come downstairs to find Matt schmoozing with 2 English fellows and 2 Danish blondes, all of which share a room with him. The rest of the evening consisted of card games, stories and bullshit talking back and forth between the British, Danish and Americans.

Day 3: This day started much like day 2; JP and I got up early, ate breakfast at the hostel, and decided to explore the city some more. Matt requested a few more hours of sleep so we ventured out on our own. First stop was a bookstore I saw in the guide book. Normally I’m good with directions but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a pro at reading maps. I misunderstood one bit of information that took us down a street that wasn’t where we wanted to go, although it wasn’t far from our intended destination. On to the real bookstore! We arrived to where the bookstore was located to find a huge “mall” or road that headed to what I believe was the Museum of Prague. It was beautiful! Long stretch of a wide road with a pedestrian walkway down the middle of traffic, ending at the museum. Brilliant design. And naturally shops and stores on each side of the road. Finally, after taking pictures of the museum, we headed back in the direction of the bookstore. It’s a huge bookstore with every kind of book imaginable. I was looking for one of the classics but in Czech – I have a thing for books I’m familiar with in other languages. Collectors items really. However, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. On to the next order of business: finding coffee. This time a bit more of what we’re use to…Starbucks. Conveniently there is one off of this main road I just mentioned so we stopped in and I had my first European Starbucks drink of the trip. Café Mocha. Mmmmm…

By this time, we had about an hour before we had to go meet Matt at the Astronomical Clock we found the day before. We had just enough time to find a statue by an artist I was very interested to see, David Czerny.

His masterpiece is a very unconventional sculpture of a horse and a man in a passageway between streets. And it happens to be right around the corner from Starbucks! So off we go to find this artwork. Ten minutes later, we find the passageway and look up to find the sculpture. It’s a horse hanging by his feet (from the ceiling) and a man sitting on this stomach. Strange but rather typical of this artist. The only disappointment was the scaffolding all around the sculpture. It was barely noticeable next to all the gray pipes and such, packing it into a tiny space above our heads. Oh well. Maybe the next sculpture will exceed expectations…

It’s noon and we arrive at the clock to wait for Matt. Ten minutes go by and no Matt. Twenty minutes go by and still no Matt. So on to the Dali exhibit across the square to see how much it costs. Maybe we can go later if we have the urge – Dali is one of my favorites!! However, we still need to find Matt. To waste a few more minutes, I head into this bookstore on the square and look for my classic while JP plays with the fish-eye view on my camera. Success for us both - I found Robinson Crusoe in Czech for something like $8 and JP got his fish-eye of the clock. Now, let’s see if Matt’s made it yet. A few more minutes of searching and we find him! Time to move on to more adventures…this time, ice cream.

We find this ritzy little ice cream parlor that looks more like an upscale café than anything. We sit down, take a glance at the menu and see pictures of art. This ice cream is beautiful! They really work on presentation at this place – oh and it tastes good too. Speaking of tastes good, it’s time for food. Real food. The ice cream isn’t cutting it.

But naturally we’re distracted, or I was distracted rather, by a little outdoor market on the way back to the river. The vendors sell everything from Praha magnets to handmade jewelry to candy. I bought a necklace. Enough said.

We wander down towards the river to see what we can find in the way of lunch. Pizza sounds good but will we be able to find any? We come across this little restaurant on the river. Literally, it’s on a boat in the river. And of course they have pizza. So we go for it. They seat us 10 minutes after we get there and it’s time to order. Beer to start off with followed by pizza for JP and pasta for me and Matt. Everything is fabulous. Not to mention the view is beautiful. Again, we’re on the river but I forgot to mention it’s on the other side from the castle.

After lunch, we head back across the river to find another David Czerny sculpture. This time we were disappointed. Not much to mention so I’ll save my comments.

Time to go back to the hostel. Another nap is needed and shower time too. However, our plans for later consist of finding food (a common theme of the weekend) and entertainment. After our downtime, we decide to head back to the center of the city to see what Praha looks like at night. Everything is lit up and there seems to be just as many people out at night as during the day. We walk back across the river to find food – as it’s nearly 10pm and everything is closing for the evening. But first, we must find the Lennon wall. Yes, the Lennon wall. There is a wall down a side street in Prague that has John Lennon inspired graffiti all over it. This wall must be 12 to 15 feet high and 40 feet long – I’m guessing of course. But the entire wall is filled with Lennon themed pictures and words and quotes and symbols and messages.
It’s quite the attention getter with peace signs and music symbols in every color of the rainbow. Not to mention the lyrics and titles of many of the Beatles greatest hits.  Ok, hunger is now becoming an issue. On to food.

We find one of the only places that’s still open on this side of the river and it sells sandwiches and hotdogs. Oh and chocolate cover waffles (which seem to be popular in Europe) which Matt didn’t buy and regrets to this day. The lines were long – or slow rather – but the food was good. Yet time called for other entertainment, like walking back down to the center of town to take night pictures there. So back to the center of town we go. The boys were denied ice cream from a cart vendor who said they were open but one of the two carts was closed – you can have ice cream from one of the carts only. Not really sure why this was but either way, JP and Matt were without ice cream. It was a good day, day 3. But it was getting chilly and we were all exhausted. Time to go back to the hostel. We all agreed to be ready and meet downstairs at 7:50 the next morning. We walked back to the hostel and said our goodnights. Back to Vienna tomorrow. (Below is a view of the city center. Kinda looks like something out of a Disney themepark...)

The next day arrives and we pack our backs and head downstairs. We check out of St Christopher’s Mosaic House and head down to the train station. Along the way, we saw practically empty streets, except for tow trucks and the cars they were picking up (literally picking up – they had a contraption that allowed them to put something under the car and a crane to lift it – strangest thing ever). Either way, we made it back the train station in time for breakfast before we headed to the train. Three hours later we were in Breclav, which was the station where we switched trains. After almost missing this train too (because our train was minutes behind, and again we only had minutes until the next train left), we made it to Vienna with only one thing on our minds: homework. Our trip to Praha was over. Time to start planning the next trip…in between papers, tests and projects of course…