June 29, 2006

the real prague

Note: This entry was originally posted to an old blog of mine called Go Out and See the World. It can be seen in its original here, including all comments, which were not imported. The entries are separate from Sunny Day Happy Face, but were imported for posterity! Enjoy!

Yesterday, Wednesday, I woke up early to go to Prague Castle. It was overcast the entire morning, as though it was going to rain. Though I didn't know my way to Charles Bridge (which is how you get to the castle), I found it through side streets with my map. I arrived at the bridge at about 8:30, except this is not a time I would advise anyone to arrive there because you'd miss all the fun! More about the fun after. So, I crossed the bridge and found a small supermarket for breakfast. I bought some banana yogurt with mix-in chocolate bits (had to eat it with a fork I got at a pizza place because no spoon was to be found!), a croissant (though it was not a good one) and a juice box. I love this combination of food, as I eat it most mornings in Europe - this is all we ate on our trip last year and though I complained about it then, for some reason, I love it now!After I ate, I made my way to my favorite spot of the day: The John Lennon Wall. Since I was there so early, there was absolutely no one on the tiny side-street, so I wondered if it was a frequented attraction, but I had it all to myself at the time. I think the wall was first started sometime after John Lennon's death, as a symbol of anti-communism and peace. It began with a spray-painting of Lennon, but has since become a place where people write their favorite Beatles lyrics, messages to eachother, other pictures, tags, etc. I think that seeing this wall was payback for the part of the Berlin Wall that I didn't see. Anyway, I felt a huge sense of community looking at the wall, which was colorful and beautiful.

Next I made my way to the castle, which at first was unsuccessful because I followed my map instead of the loads of tourists. Eventually I followed the correct route, which lead up a hill, giving a scenic view of all of Prague. Prague Castle has several areas that require admission, but nothing, I must admit, piqued my interest except for Golden Lane, which is where the various smiths and snipers lived in the castle. It is a little stretch of really tiny houses put together, some you have to duck to get into. The lane is very picturesque, but unfortunately because of the small size and the amount of tourists, it was impossible to get a good picture of. So, I must admit, I was not overly impressed by the castle. It was huge and surely enjoyable to walk around, but as far as beauty goes, did not live up to my expectations.

After I came back down from the castle, I re-crossed Charles Bridge because it was high-time to go. Every day, vendors and musicians come and set up on the bridge. It was drizzling, so I bet there were less-than-usual levels of tourists, but it is crowded with people taking pictures of the statues and musicians, and people looking at every stall. I had heard that this was a prime spot to get pickpocketed, so following the advice of one website I read, I sat on the wall of the bridge and tried to watch it happen. So much for trying to bring a little excitement, nothing happened! So, I continued on, trying to find Lesser Town, which is a district beside the castle. For some reason, I couldn't find it, so I moved on. I would have liked to see this part of town because that's where the canals were, but I was tired, it was raining and I don't feel that I missed that much afterall.

Yesterday was the height of loneliness, as I made one stressed call to Paul, he told me how proud of myself I will be after I've done all of this. Then I talked to my mom, where I realized that I didn't feel like there was any 'light at the end of the tunnel.' This meant, I explained, that I felt like I didn't know that I would have a different and fun time in Florence, I was scared I wouldn't meet anyone. That's when I decided to call the school in Florence to find out who my roommates were. I did that right away and the director immediately answered and told me how beautiful my apartment was. He asked if I would like to talk to one of the girls who lives there, because she was sitting next to him at that moment! So, he gave her the phone - she is 19 from England and sounded so sweet. She told me that there were a few other girls in the apartment and that they all spoke English and they were all friends. She said she'd met tons of people and was having a wonderful time. That was all I needed to hear to decide that I was going to stop feeling so alone in Prague and have the time that I wanted to have.

Part of the stress was coming from always having to find a pay phone to make calls to my mom, who I very much wanted to stay connected to. So, I bought a cell phone. It's with a pre-paid SIM card (and I'll get a new one in Italy for better rates) and at the end of the month, the phone will have cost less than all of the phone cards that I won't have to buy anymore. This made me feel extremely relaxed.

After this adventure of finding the cell phone vendor (Eurotel), I walked back to Albert, the supermarket, and again had a fun time picking out the next few days of beverage and breakfast (yogurt and chocolate musli, which is sort of granola). By this time, I was so tired, I went back to my room for the night and went to bed after reading a bit of The Birth of Venus, which is a historical fiction novel my grandmother gave me for graduation. It's about Florence, but even without its pertinance to my trip, and extremely good book!

Today I woke up and it was sunny, yet cool. I left the best part of the city to explore for last - Old Town, which is only three streets from my room. Old Town is where the astronomical clock is (I didn't even want to see this, but when I did, it was awesome and much bigger than in pictures!) and a lot of market shopping. First I passed the Municipal House, which is art nuveau (sp?) and very pretty. Then I walked down Celetna Street, which is a fun street with the typical tourist shops (post cards, t-shirts, etc). Finally I hit Old Town Square, which is a gorgeous square similar to, but larger than Grand Place in Brussels (one of my favorites!) It was picturesque and old, lined with cafes and another touristy market, plus the clock, like I said, and some pretty side streets. After making sure I saw every bit of this area, I sat down at a cafe to eat a real (and probably my only so far) meal. I ordered Hungarian (I think..) sausage (which came cut up sort of like pepperoni with a dipping sauce), a plate that was a salad with a special sauce, red peppers and chicken, and a baked potato that came with dill sauce. I'm not sure if any of it was 'typical' Czech food, but it was heavy as is their type, so I didn't feel as though it was anything near American. I was so full after that I didn't even order dessert! While I was there, two older women (grandma's age) struck up conversation with me! They were from Australia on a tour. They were very sweet and I was so happy as I told them they'd be my English interaction for the day. After they left, another couple from Australia came and we spoke briefly as well, except they were complaining about the cost of a cappachino (120 czk, which is $5.25) and asked me if I thought my meal was too expensive, to which I replied no. The appetizers (the two dishes that I ordered) were appropriately priced and they automatically add 15% service charge, which is in place of a tip.

I would without hesiation say that today has been the best day so far and exactly what I wanted out of this trip - leisurely strolling and taking pictures of a scenic part of town, chatting with other tourists, eating good food - PERFECT!

I've been noting some things about the people here. For example, I walk down the street and play Spot the American or Spot the Brit, or sometimes just plain old Who Speaks Czech? For one, if they have a cell phone, they are almost definately Czech. If they are impressively dressed, they are European, but not Czech. If they are female and wearing shorts (like Soffe's), they are American. In general, the young Americans dress more conservatively and stylishly, whereas it is young European trend to wear bellyshirts and extremely low-rise jeans with tanlines. Also, if anyone is wearing a shirt with anything written in English, they most definately do not speak English natively. Some of the things written on the shirts are pretty humorous, but the people buy them because it looks fashionable to wear English on your shirt, not because of what is says. I wish I could remember some of the better ones, but I can't. Anyway, I must say I've broken two of my assumptions, one is that now I have a cell phone, and on the day I arrived I was wearing a shirt that blatently said American Eagle, for the most part, these are my humourous observations.

I just now spoke to an American from San Diego, he was looking for hostels because, I think stupidly, he arrived here without a reservation. I gave him the name of my hostel and he asked for reccomendations of what to see. I would say that short moments like this are benefits of traveling.

As for tomorrow, I have to check out at 10am, then waste some time in Wenceslas Square before I am picked up for the airport to Milan! Prague has been a difficult stay, but once I got used to being on my own, was finally the beautiful city I hoped to see. Mission accomplished!

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