"To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom....Since our office is with moments, let us husband them."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Prague: A City of Serendipity

The arrival into Prague was uneventful. It was also the only portion of the trip that would retain that designation. Pretty much every event/thing/item that followed getting off the bus in the city had some unique twist to it. First, upon arrival a group of us attempted to find our hostel with no real directions or true sense of where we were. About 20 minutes and a lot of steps later we finally found the place. Once we became settled, we then headed towards to Old Town square. There we found the Old Town Hall and the Astronomical Clock. Prior to continuing, we decided that some lunch was in order, and quite randomly stumbled upon a great little pub that had traditional Czech food, so we ended up all ordering the same meal – the goulash – which was splendid to say the least.

After lunch, we explored a bit of the Jewish quarter and then continued on to one of the lesser-known bridges crossing the Vltava River. It afforded some great views of the more famous Charles Bridge, which nicely allowed for a different perspective. Once we crossed the river, we headed up to Prague Castle. Simply unbelievable. Prague Castle contains the Old Royal Palace, but more importantly it also encloses the St. Vilius church. I’m not exactly sure what to say about this church. It was breathtaking. I'm pretty sure neither my words nor my pictures could fully do it justice. We took our time and walked around the church, as well as climbing its 279 steps to the top of one of the towers (the exact number is known because we were warned about it before beginning). From the top of the tower we had an amazing view of all of Prague. The only negative was the lousy weather wasn’t conducive to having a clear view.

We then walked down from the castle and briefly walked around New Town, before crossing the ever-famous Charles Bridge into Old Town. From all of this walking around I came to two conclusions. First, Prague is incredibly touristy. There were tourists everywhere you were. It reminded me of New York City in some ways with just the incredibly large number of people milling about. And this is in the end of October – definitely not high tourist season. Second, if you are British you were visiting Prague. Obviously, that is an overstatement, but I heard so many British accents everywhere that at times I thought I was in London. The Brits are probably just being smart and taking advantage of the 40 Czech Kroner that every 1 British Pound is worth.

That night our serendipitous decisions continued, as we decided to see a black light theater show called “Rock Therapy,” which was based off of Beatles music. It was an experience to say the least, or I guess a bit better one could say a trip. There was no dialogue, just Beatles music and some odd compilations done by the troupe putting on the show. I think to truly enjoy the show a person needs to take the song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” a bit more literally. The show did remind me of home, as it was definitely a show for the Geibs.

After the show, we left the theater and were walking down the street when we were suddenly greeted by fireworks. It turned out that there was a huge mall opening that night very close by and a party was being thrown which included bands and fireworks. Once the show was done we of course had to check out the new mall. It was pretty high class in terms of the stores inside but also its architecture and design. A definite change from places like the Mall of America or the mall back home.

The next day was a slower day, which was needed after the constant going, going, going of the previous couple days. I woke up and went to the train station to purchase my ticket for that night to Budapest. I had researched the train I wanted before hand, but did not purchase the ticket, as I thought it would be cheaper to buy it in person than online through a ticket broker. Unfortunately, and quite surprisingly, I was wrong, as I paid about $20 more in Prague. I then decided to it was necessary to see St. Wenceslas Square. However, somewhere along the lines I lost my map, so that became a 2-hour adventure of walking around Prague. Eventually, I found a tourist information booth, purchased a new map, and found the square. It reminded me a bit of Unter den Linden strasse in Berlin, which leads up to the Brandenburg Gate. In both cases you have a wide, tree-lined street, lots of people, shops on either side of the road, and the street ending in a national monument.

I then met up with my friends from DIS, had a late lunch, and then headed out to see the actual Mucha museum. Even after seeing most of his work the previous week it was still quite interesting. My favorites are “The Four Seasons” and “Four Precious Stones”.

We ate dinner that night at some random restaurant in the basement of a building that we stumbled upon in the Old Town area. It was really good, and probably one of my last cheap meals for the rest of my travels.

I hung out with my friends for the last time on the trip for a couple hours back at the hostel before I had to head to the train station. Luckily, the train station was only a metro stop away from the hostel, and the metro stop itself was only 50m away from the hostel. So around midnight – my train didn’t leave until 1 am – I gathered my bags, said my goodbyes, and headed towards the metro station. This is when the fun began. First, after I got down to the station I realized I was at the wrong line. This required 5 minutes more of walking up and down stairs to get to the correct line. Once I did that I then heard an announcement saying that the train I needed was no longer running for the night, even though on the schedule it was supposed to run three more times. So I then walked another five minutes back up to the street level to try to find another way to the station. I stumbled upon two taxis, and asked them if they were in service. I received a gruff shaking of the head to indicate no. At this point, I was beginning to worry a bit, and started to walk towards the station. About 10 minutes later I found a taxi that was in service, but he didn't take credit cards for payment, and my Czech Kroner supplies were running low, which meant we had to stop at an ATM, where I needed to withdraw about 200 Kroner. Of course, the ATM the taxi took me to only allowed withdrawals in 500 CZK increments. This meant that I was going to have some extra money at the end of the trip. Nonetheless, I managed to get to the station on time, and went and boarded the train. The train had to be from the 1970’s, as it was dirty and worn down. Luckily, I had an entire compartment to myself to sleep in for the 9-hour ride to Budapest. It was also a good thing that I was alone, because by the end of the night I needed to strip down to almost no clothes due to the overactive heater, which constantly spewed incredibly hot air even though I had it set as cold as possible. The fun continued though, as I woke up around 9:00 am to find that we weren’t moving. Figuring it was just a scheduled stop I milled around my compartment putting things away, etc. Half an hour passed and we still weren’t moving. Finally, I questioned a German passenger what was going on and it turned out the train had some troubles in the evening. We were three hours behind schedule and in Bratislava, Slovakia. This means that I lost 3 quite valuable hours in Budapest – I was only supposed to be there four about 24 hours as it was – along with having to occupy myself quite a bit longer on the train. Such is the life of a young traveler.

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