Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The Log of Prague

I woke up for Prague a little hungover from Mai-lys' birthday party, combined with the fact that we had to get up really early. Here we are drinking coffees in the airport, while we wait for check-in to open:
Vidar is a wuss - he's afraid of taking off and landing, so I practically had to hold his hand. (I write this mostly because I know it's going to piss him off when he reads this.) We got to Prague and it was already getting pretty late, and we weren't sure exactly where we had to go. We invested in seats on a private van hire, which was only 10 dollars each. The exchange rate for czech korunas is 18:1 though, so it was a seemingly hefty 540 korunas altogether.

We got to the hostel, which was the best one I've stayed at yet. For 2 dollars extra a night, we went from bunk beds with smelly strangers to a private 4 bed room. Little did I know that Vidar snores louder then your average chainsaw. I got maybe 3 hours of sleep per night? Thanks Vidar.

First on the agenda was meeting Marta's parents, who don't speak a word of English, so that was interesting trying to communicate. Marta would make a good interpreter one day. They brought kielbasa, home made cherry jam, bread, beer, and some other thing with cabbage and meat - we had a Polish feast when they left. Which was early, because it was Sunday and some people have to work.

We shared a kitchen with some Welsh guys who were out on a bachelor party of sorts. They've gone the past few years, because it's a cheap and fun getaway. I'd have to agree - I think it was my cheapest trip so far...

The one Welsh guy, Neil, showed us the local bar. On the very short walk we already began to admire the architecture. The name of the bar was Tlusta Koala - Fat Koala. Marta got a kick out of that - she can read some Czech, as it's similar to Polish. It's all Greek to me. (Ha!)

Our Welsh friend turned out to be really funny, if maybe a little uninhibited. He didn't mind talking about the filthiest of subjects, even with ladies present. He always ended questions with "Innay?", which confused me at first. After a while, I figured out it meant "isn't it" - but it wasn't always used after yes or no questions, so it could be confusing. Crazy Welsh:

I'm not sure what was going on in this picture to be honest. We may have gotten overexcited by the price of beer (about $2), and drank a little too much. We got some sandwiches and chips at the local grocery and stumbled home. Me and Vidar got in a fight, because he spilled water all over my bed, and told me I had to sleep in it. I'm not gonna even bother telling his side of the story, because it's preposterous. History is written by the victors.

We slept pretty late into our first full day. When all three of us had finally gotten ready to go sightseeing, it had already started snowing! It was our first of the season, so it was exciting. After a short while, it was more cold and wet then fun though. That's ok.

Prague isn't too big - it's a nice and manageable size. We got a majority of the touristy stuff done on the first day.

You run into buildings like this just by walking around, it's really fantastic. First on the agenda was Powder tower in Stare Mesto, the Old Town. Alchemists tried to create gold here:

Next was Old town square. Lots of cafes, tourist shops, nice buildings, and one really crazy clock:

The Astronomical Clock tells the time, month, season, zodiac sign, course of the sun, and proximity to Christian holidays. I have no clue how to read any of that from it though. It has a spooky little show on the hour, which I'll get to later. We didn't feel like standing around in the snow for a half hour to see it.

More interesting buildings:

We journeyed on to Charles Bridge, home of lots of shops, kiosks, and other tourist hawks. Crappy jewelry vendors and caricature drawers swarm the bridge. It has huge defense towers on each side, and lots of religious statues overlook the River Vltava.

From afar (Prague Castle looms menacingly in the background)...

From a not so far (Defense Tower at the entrance)...

On the bridge.

We continued up the steep and narrow cobblestone streets towards Prague Castle, never stopping to rest our aching feet. Prague Castle is actually more like a complex of buildings and courtyards, but there's only one that really stands out. On our way up, I found some interesting graffiti:

Punk's not death. Marta and Vidar raced to the top of the hill. Up there, we had a commanding view of the city at dusk:

Somehow we managed to stumble upon a changing of the guard ceremony as we continued upwards. I swear I must be one of the luckiest travelers in the world - accidently seeing the Pope hold Mass, etc.

"That's a boring video." Thanks Marta. Those statues up top are guys bludgeoning and stabbing defenseless people. Great stuff. We walked in to check out the magnificent Prague Castle:

I took about 30 more pictures - Marta was starting to get upset with me. These pictures were taken in night mode - it was actually starting to get quite dark. We walked down a staircase that must have had about 500 steps (actually, I just read that there are 287) to get back down to the city. Having done much in the day and the light having expired, we allowed ourselves to wander a bit on the other side of the river. The results:

That's one badass teddy bear.

War monument, that's the Czech Republic's flag. Not a bad picture, considering it was basically pitch black by this point.

We walked back through Old town square, because it was nearly the hour and we were curious as to what the

We were hungry! We went back to the Obese Koala for some food. Beef goulash and bread dumplings was the order of the day, but it didn't quite satisfy me. We looked at the menu's again, and found Bryndza cheese on a cheese platter! Naturally, we had to get it:

Bryndza is the one in the middle, the crumbly one. It sucked! But at least we could tell John we tasted his cheese. The rest of them were good, but entirely too much for 3 semi-full people.

It was a long day, and all the beer, food, and cheese made us sleepy. But we were unsatisfied with going to sleep too early, so we took a quick walk to "the Dancing house", some crazy building over by the water:

Couldn't get a good picture because it was night, so I took one off the internet.

We vowed to wake up earlier for our last full day in Prague. We did, getting out the door by around ten. We walked down Wenceslas Square, the epicenter of protests that eventually brought about the Velvet Revolution (the bloodless collapse of communism in the Czech Republic).

The patron saint of Prague, St. Wenceslas, on his high horse in front of the National Museum.

On to the Cafe Louvre, for hot chocolate and cake. The hot chocolate was much like the one in Barcelona, where you are basically just drinking chocolate. Somewhere between the hot chocolate and the cake was a sugar overload. The Cafe was once host to the likes of Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein. Thanks for the tip Marketa, it was a really nice place.

Onward we went, across a different bridge to Petrin Hill. Immediately we stumbled upon a very interesting...monument? I'm not sure what to call it:

A little cement block next to it explains that it's a memorial for all those who suffered under communist regimes. Naturally I had to be dumb and completely ruin its meaning:

Karate Chop! We had difficulty finding the nearby funicular railway, the easiest way up the steep hill. After some struggles, we managed to locate it. Public transportation in Prague is great; for the equivalent of one dollar, you can ride any bus, metro, or anything else in town for the day. The funicular was a strange little thing. It was like an outdoor subway car that goes really slow. Marta told a really dumb, long joke on the ride that made us angry. I accidently got off at the wrong stop (who would think it makes stops in between the top and bottom of the hill?), and I had to leg it the rest of the way up. It was good exercise, and the mountain was beautiful when covered with snow. I don't regret it.

You scare me baby.

When I walk alone.

Imitation Eiffel Tower at the top of the hill. I started getting a little nervous I wouldn't be able to find Vidar and Marta, or that they'd gone back down to find me. No worries though - found them outside the funicular station. Overjoyed, we started groping statues:

And then we went on the swing together. We wandered around on the top for a while, and then got hungry and came down on the funicular. I got off at the right stop this time.

It would be a while before we finally found food. We wanted to eat at a cart outside to save money, and it seems that whenever you want to find one, it's impossible. On the way, we passed by St. Nick's Cathedral...

And we went back over Charles Bridge...

...And we figured that we might as well make a stop over at Josefov, the Jewish ghetto. There was the creepiest cemetary there:
You have to pay to get in - that's the best view we could get. 20,000 graves are laid in 12 layers. It survived World War II because Hitler wanted it to be a "museum of an extinct race."

Our hunger got the best of us. We went back through Old Town square toward Wenceslas Square, where we finally found a food cart. Delicious kielbasa sandwiches and fried cheese sandwiches were devoured, along with a taste of hot wine. It tasted, cheap wine. Gross.

On our way to the food cart, we found a delicious looking pastry place. So after I bought some souvenirs and a gift for a certain someone back in America, we headed back there for coffee and pancakes. Now that I think about it, we ate quite a bit that day...

On our map was a mystical place named Beer Garden. Even though it was far out of the way, Me and Vidar decided it couldn't be missed. Well we did a lot of walking and searching, without much reward. Turns out the beer garden was nothing more then a row of trees. If you're ever in Prague, you can probably skip it.

We walked back down Revolucini Road, and found ourselves a little Christmas miracle:

That guy who accidently made his way into the picture explained to us in broken English that the building used to be an old army base. Fair enough. Our feet were tired, but managed to carry us back to the hostel for a break.

Vidar had to watch the Arsenal game, so we found a sports bar without too much trouble. On the way, we looked for a little Franciscan Garden our tour book told us about. I didn't really pay much attention to the description - it turns out it was a rose garden. Roses don't do so well in late November. Cool, creepy statue though:

Prague has this creepy dark side to it. I like it a lot though, it adds character. Anyway, some kids were smoking cannabis next to the statue, and I think we freaked em out a little bit.

Arsenal lost to a Spanish team, but they already clinched the next round so its alright. Vidar explained to me some of the finer technicalities of the sport. Pretty confusing, but I guess American football is as well.

Dinner time! I went big and got the roast duck:

Ate the whole thing like a champ. Shouldn't have though, because then I was too full to go out to the club known as Five Floors. Another one of those clubs with 5 floors of different music. Oh well, I've been to clubs like that before.

We had to leave in the afternoon. We got some advice from our very helpful hostel receptionist about how to get to the airport cheap. Before we left, we went to Marta's favorite coffee shop, and then over to the clock one last time to finally get the video we wanted:

In the airport, our flight was delayed an hour or so. We wandered around the duty free shops, and got some classy and cheap liquor. Absinthe and some cinnamony liquor called Becherovka. Got some KFC, which was my first taste of American fast food abroad. I was unimpressed.

Tragedy struck. While we were waiting for the plane to board, I dropped the Becherovka. Everyone around cried out in empathy. I cried inside, then took the shattered remains to the garbage and cleaned up. At least we still had our absinthe:
That was for back at Bristol with friends. I had a total of 13 hours at Bristol I believe, before we left for Dublin. They were busy - I had to go to UWE and take a quiz, unpack, repack, take a shower, eat, and get a few hours of sleep. All worth it. I'll post Dublin when I get a chance - I have goodbyes to do, and some classwork too...

Thanksgiving Recap

Ok, so I'm gonna share some Thanksgiving pictures on here now. Here's me prepping the apple pie:

Me and Mai-lys did this together, and it was quite time consuming. We made the pastry by hand, because we couldn't find any pie trays and even if we did, we had to feed 20 people!

I decided to try and make a quilted top, because I'd seen it once before with a pie at our house and it looked great.
It's more confusing then it looks.
That's before baking - Mai-lys painted it with egg yolk so it would be golden brown. Note the U.S.A. on top - she wasn't happy about that.

Here's the finished product, along with yours truly:

Someone had a better picture of it before it was sliced, but it was deleted or lost or something. If you can't tell, I'm quite proud of myself.
It was a little bit cramped because our kitchen is meant for 6, not 20. But it's ok - we're all friends here!
Here's Hannah, Becky, and Sud...
Saj, Dali, and Shalini...
Tanj, Becky, John and Katelyn...
And on the left, Vidar, Marta, Alex, and Chris (All from flat 43). Not pictured are everyone in my flat, and Nick's dad and brother, which I believe adds up to 21?

Some other things that have been going on:

Rugby Game:

Bristol vs Paris. The Parisians wore tan uniforms with pink flowers, in typical French style. Our boys in Bristol were in blue. We were underdogs, but we surprisingly won! The highlight was probably our 2 pint cups of Guinness:

Those things were huge. On the walk home, I caught a picture of the other Banksy graffiti post in Bristol, like I promised:

The Mild Mild West.

These pictures are all from Piia's birthday:
Here's Marketa and Maja (pronounced Maya). Maja is from Poland, and Marketa is from Prague in the Czech Republic. She gave me some advice about where to go in Prague. Thanks Marketa!

Here's Piia and Angela, undoubtedly laughing at one of my hilarious jokes.

Here's Nick and his brother. I couldn't find a picture of his dad, but they were both pretty cool guys.

Mai-Lys' and Ben's Birthday: The night before we left for Prague, we celebrated Ben and Mai-lys' birthdays. It was a big huge French party.

The three Americans.

Wladimir and Laura, his belle. I just found out he spells his name with a W the other day, because he's originally from Poland. He's French now though. I forgot to mention it was a Hawaiian theme. (very few people dressed up)

Aanchal, Shreya, and Sehar, my Indian beauties. That's Damien up top.

Chris from Malta, the coolest science communicator I've ever met. I even have his business card for if I need his services back in America.

Some other French friends:

Here's Astrid and Francois, along with me and Vidar, at Revolution bar. It was 2 for 1 night last night, which is a steal.

Here is one of the crepes Francois, Mai-lys, and Astrid made last night for dinner. Egg, mushroom, cheese, tomato, ham, delicious.

Here's Lauren Lion, the crazy animation artist girl of Flat 43. She's always doing crazy stuff, like making banana sandwiches, and cutting parts of her hair really short. I guess all artists have to be a little quirky though.

I leave for Istanbul tomorrow morning. I'm going to try to post my trip to Prague by the end of tonight, and maybe Dublin if I burn the midnight oil.