Posts Tagged ‘prague

14
Sep
08

Prague: because no one can take it anymore (3)

Important about the dinner is that, before ordering anything, I asked the waiter if he had also czech beer. The word “Budweiser” written in the menu really scared me: I hadn’t given myself all the work of getting there, to drink north-american beer. Waiter smiled politely, and said it was actual czech “Budvar” beer. Gott sei Dank.

Some local food and half a liter beer later, after asking my closest friend mr. waiter if the thing he told me when I first got there was “dobri DIEN” and he told me it was more like “dobri DEN”, I commanded my fairly drunk self out of there. Horosho.

As a matter of fact, I forgot to write that I’ve been to a concert before having dinner. Some vendor harassed me pretty efficiently and I bought the ticket and just went, completely unplanned. A string quintet played Dvorak, Vivaldi (all four seasons except my favorite, the winter), Verdi and someone else’s work. Bass player was the best part of the show: he managed to play always with a huge smile on his face, never made a mistake and, as if making fun of me, turned his instrument around while playing a few times. I wish I can be passionate about something like he is with playing bass. Had to applause him standing.

Just a mirror for the sunWell it was a pleasant evening, the wind kissed me with refreshing coolness and I couldn’t help looking for the moon. She’s not there… not anymore. I kept walking a bit longer, actually figuring out more exactly where I was going to go in the next morning. I had seen everything but the touristic stuff. The wandering part was definetely over. So I took the tram in the wrong direction, found myself in the middle of nowhere and waited 20 minutes for the right tram to come, walking in circles and taking shaky pictures of the cars.

Sleeping was a lot more troublesome than I thought, even after marching approximately 15 kilometers on a single day. I finished a book, listened to music until my palmtop was dead. Felt like writing something, but had no pen and no paper. Wished for my palmtop to ressurect. Somewhere between these phases I passed out, and woke up miraculously on time for breakfast.

Sunday, my second and last day there. Now I was already a connoisseur. But still wanting to avoid objectivity, went walking around at this beautiful park, happened to find an amazing view by accident and then targeted the usual stuff that everyone visits. Which were also not bad at all, I remember sitting on a bench inside the “fortress” and looking at the blue skies for a long time. Wanted to take pictures but my camera was by that time only depressing me, I needed something with manual focus and manual exposure. Possibly manual everything.

Missing the train back home would mean serious trouble, so I went to the wrong train station earlier than needed. Smart move because then I had time to take the subway again and find the right one.

The trip back was pretty average. Train ran over and killed a person. Four hours until the composition could move further. In the mean time, met three young russian relatives and could say “I don’t speak Russian” to them, and they understood. Great. I said where I come from (after guessing their nationality right), and heard a syncronized “oh”. One of them was reading Dostoievski, and offered me a taste, but I gave up. One step at a time.

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13
Sep
08

Prague: like a huge cake full of tiny tables (2)

Now that I had a map, and was back to the initial lone traveler condition, and took around 15 looong minutes to find the exit at the tricky train station, I found the city.

Here is important to notice a very curious strategy. Every time I travel, I don’t feel like exposing to everyone that I’m not a local. It’s very foolish and an annoying resquice of pride that I keep, but don’t worry because things like taking the longest time to find a simple exit from the simplest public place is one part of the punishment. Another part is being asked all the time for directions in languages I don’t really understand: it’s the greatest deal of disappointment for me, not being able to help the person and also not being able to speak their language. Yet.

So like I said, I finally found the outer world and a pleasant mid-afternoon sunlight waiting for me outside. I must have felt really confident striding out there, as 5 seconds later a german lady stopped me and asked if I knew some crazy address, and I had to disappoint both her and myself with a smile. But no problem, I kept walking and, while moving, took my great little map out of the backpack and started my old-fashioned GPS positioning system.

Rule number one: you don’t really get to know a city/place, if you don’t take your time to wander around and get lost, without caring at all about finding the optimal way. It’s a great opportunity to think a lot of people and stuff you shoudn’t think of, or of those you should or want to. Depends on how much mind control you were able to develop in your past winters.

That means that I refused to take the subway or bus or tram or taxi. I just worried about walking in the fairly right direction to the hostel. After taking the completely wrong way and noticing only 10 minutes later, of course.

National MuseumWalking up and down a pretty big avenue, I happened to see the city museum, local kids, local old people, local tourists in packs of 20 or more blocking my way (I walk quite fast with my short legs). Stopping to take a bad picture or two, watching the sad scene of a white-bearded man in his sixties looking for food and, unfortunately for me, actually having some, in a trash cart, and walking through an old monastery which luckily had informative signs in English, I managed to get the first special surprise from the city: I found a precipice, and the bridge or whatsoever which took to the other side was for cars only. And I needed to get there, I think. No, worse: I needed to go down there, and there were no stairs. Or elevators. Or spider man.

That ruined my day and I got so upset that I turned the camera on and started shooting pictures frenetically. Damn it. At least I wasn’t that tired yet, after walking 4 or 5 kilometers. Damn backpack. Thank god I had a 2 gigabyte memory card and freshly recharged batteries. Wise decision was to… go back a little bit, near the monastery. There were a few streets with negative slope there, which would hopefully take me down inside the abyss of defeat.

I reduced the pace a little bit in order to extend my life span, and dove in those streets. Was actually very pleasant, to see lots of old buildings, mothers scolding children near the porches, ladies washing the sidewalk as if time had stopped. Maybe it really had. Was an old neighborhood, and the bricked, narrow roads reminded me of Rome. Silence… a deep sigh.

No human being could understand how, but I found the hostel. No matter how lost I get, I always manage to find my way. Well, I find some way. By that time I was a little bored and tried some small talk with the owner of the hostel. She opened her eyes in astonishment when I showed (appoximately) what I did to get there, “dear lord you could have taken the tram, you know?”. I knew, I knew, but I wasn’t in the mood to explain everything. After I said my name, a guy who was climbing the stairs halted and said something to me. Ok, deep breath, what was that? Took me some tense moments and killed maybe 1 of my 2 neurons to switch to Spanish and greet the guy properly, he was from Barcelona (they never say they’re from Spain) and thought I was an hermano after hearing my name. Happens a lot.

I felt like a bird, walking around with no backpack. I felt so energetic I could run a marathon, I swear. This time I took the tram to downtown, and walked around there. As the sun went down in the horizon, the city became more colorful. Streets were getting piled with people, more and more by the minute, and when I got to the main square I figured what was happening: Russia was about to teach Netherlands how to play soccer, only that by that time nobody knew it was going to happen. Point was only to go out and drink and shout. And be happy. Was a different atmosphere than the one I expected, there at the main square, but I liked it. I liked even to discuss with some criminal looking bastard that wanted me to exchange euros with him. I could really beat the crap out of him, but I gave him the right of bothering me unharmed.

Russia vs NetherlandsThe game began, streets got a bit emptier, and I felt like having dinner. You feel very stupid when you have dinner alone, specially when you have dinner alone while traveling alone. When you’re walking, you’re busy looking at people, discovering new things and taking pictures. But when you sit down you feel lonely to the point of making small talk with the waiter. To the point of drinking to stop your head from spinning. It’s just awful to eat alone together with people you can’t talk to: be they passionate couples (the worst), or small families, or just a mid-aged englishman travelling along with his son, who is already grown up enough to drink beer and discuss grown up matters, like a real englishman.

This is getting too long. And I feel strange… Geez… so many things I still would like to write about this one trip. Please be patient and wait a bit more! Perhaps get even more curious?? Who knows… I don’t.

12
Sep
08

Prague: like a table full of cakes (1)

First of all, this short description (like a table full of cakes®) was obviously not originally spoken or written by me. It’s too good and summarizes too well. Writing names would go against my writing rules so I’ll just write thank you, and the person will know, I’m sure. Maybe… well ok I’m not so sure…

Life moves forward, usuallyIt all started like all the travels I’ve made: from nowhere. Let’s take the chance and walk through my usual steps when going somewhere new.

STEP 0: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

I was already “pregnant” with the idea of going to Prague for some time, for a reason or another. Everybody talks about Prague, and everybody’s been to Prague. Not me. But one sentence wouldn’t get out of my head: “Don’t you dare to leave Europe before visiting Prague”. I think it was because of this threatening tone, you know, I hate being threatened. Makes me feel challenged.

STEP 1: THE FOURTH-DIMENSIONAL ISSUE (time, for the non-nerds)

The idea was set. The opportunity, though, came in a random weekend. As usual, Thursday came. Then came Thursday evening. And Thursday late evening. And Thursday waaay late in the evening, also known as Friday waaay early in the morning. And holy crap, tomorrow (rule number zero: it’s tomorrow only after you sleep and wake up®) is Friday and it’s gonna feel even worse to sit here and do nothing!!! How’s my bank account doing? Oh, not negative? Let’s go to Prague!

STEP 2: THE WHITE-COLLAR BUSINESS

Game! Another trip with no planning or decent management coming on. And no one I’d really like to, or could, invite, as usual (the name of this page is no coincidence). There we go, Friday afternoon, buy some strange currency known as “crowns”, check some maps, check if the city is walkable (I’ll be more specific about this further on), check train schedules. … oh, book a room. Yep, done.

You could probably notice that this is not really the smart way of traveling, neither the cheap way. But I did it my way. Frank Sinatra could, why can’t I?

Bahnsteig

Saturday morning, here we go. I like to be very punctual, so I almost missed the train, as always. You know, one minute is too early, the other is too late… life is about these little adventures. Anyways, there I am, trying to pick a cabin to spend the next 6 hours of my life. Do you feel the weight that this decision had?

Nah, too many old people. Nah, no seats. Nah, some girl and some weirdo who are probably a couple. Nah, it’s not empty. Nah, I want to sit by the window. Nah, I want to sit near the door. Nah, too many kids shouting. I love kids but if I have no intimacy with them, it only makes me feel depressed, not to be able to play along.

I’ll admit I was looking for an empty cabin. Of course such things don’t exist for Einsteins like me, who jump in the train in the last minute. So I went back, asked the girl if the seat was free and sat there, facing the german weirdo.

Yep. Here we go. Youhoo.

Are we there yet?…

I turned to the girl and she was asleep. Weirdo was reading, and after all he wasn’t so weird, he was just german. With a sense of fashion (which is something very, very dangerous). I liked the sleeping idea, and crashed.

For long trips, you should always take something to eat with you. I always take twice as much, it’s my growing up phase. So I had a bite, then slept again, then read, then had another bite, then had a little discussion about leaving the window open or not, about if the train was going directly to Prague or not. Final score: the german could find out that I am a moron and the girl was not german. The girl could find out that I can also talk, other than just snore almost directly on her right ear, and that the guy was german. I found out that she had unbelievably pretty eyes, and that I was starving more and more by the hour. Growing up phase.

Another important point of the discussion that I might have forgotten to mention was that no, the train wasn’t going directly there and we needed to take a bus, then another train. So everybody gets out, I notice that the girl who probably hates me is carrying a 200kg corpse inside her bag and fail to have the wonderful idea of being nice and helping her carry it, you know, same story all the time. And everybody gets in again. In the bus.

After a very exciting ride through the border between Germany and Czech Republic, little Nobel prize here finally finds an empty cabin in the train. Got my 3 seconds of satisfaction. Then, started thinking and thinking again. But destiny had something else planned for me, and it came in the form of a blond girl carrying a corpse in a bag. It sort of kicked me out of my thoughts, her shy request to join me. This time I was more like a gentleman and helped her lift the dead relative (or probably ex-boyfriend) up to the bag compartment.

You know, it’s all very stupid. You plan it, and go, all by yourself. You make this face, that you’re already a grown up and nothing can shake you. But in reality you’re always dying to talk to someone. Geez, was it great to talk to that girl. She was actually a local, from Prague, studied Medicine and was going back home after a 2-week intensive German course. We were, against all odds, able to talk quite well and even have a few laughs. She was really lovely, I can’t forgive myself for not remembering her name. I remember only that she said it was a danish name, well I could even speak it correctly, but I forgot.

Time went really fast this time, and the party wasn’t over yet. Wait, don’t get me wrong, not yet. In a certain stop another woman came in. And shortly afterwards, two old men, who looked like they came from India. Bingo, I’m getting good at this game. Suddenly we switched to English, and everybody joined the conversation. I learned quite a bit about indian geography and lots about the last 128 years of their lives, about their grown up children, about their grandsons, the weird guys who married their daughters, you know, old man talk.

I ended up proposing (not to the lovely, cute girl to marry me, but…) to everyone that we could have a beer when we arrived in Prague. Their reaction was a bit funny, if I may say. But I let things be and kept talking.

In the end, we all said goodbye, nice to meet you, “don’t worry young man, you’re smart and I’m sure you’ll make the right decisions”, bye, success with your Medicine studies… and no beer of course. Hum. Guess you can’t have it all, all the time.

I still met the guys from India in the station, because we all needed a map. And another lesson was learned: you don’t make friends as fast as you would like, specially on a train.

You know what? I’ve written a lot already, and we barely got to the final destination! It was supposed to be a highlight reel and I sort of got carried away. Where are those pills anyway?

So, I’ll take my right as this place’s greek god, and publish this story in two posts.