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…

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