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!

sightseeing tips - 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!

Charles Bridge - Definately spend at least an hour here, sitting, observing and buying. This is a huge tourist attraction leading over the river to the castle and to Lesser Town.

Prague Castle - If you’re into paying to walk into cathedrals and potentially wait in long lines, then this is for you. Otherwise, definately make a point to hike up the street to the castle, but stay for only an hour or two wandering the extensive area. If you pay 50czk, you can walk down Golden Lane, which is probably no longer than 50m and takes all of 10 minutes to see, but cute anyway.

Old Town Sqaure - A must see. Go down Celetna Street on your way in. Have a meal in one of the cafes - the one right infront of the clock was delicious. Picturesque and very European.

Wenceslas Square - This is multi-block street where all the shopping is (H&M, among others), internet cafes, hotels, etc. At the end of the street is Wencelsas Statue and a big building, very pretty. Turn right on the other end of the street at Na Prikope for more shopping, like Mango, Lacoste and others.

The John Lennon Wall - This wall was created as a symbol of peace and anti-communism and is reminicent of the spray painted Berlin Wall reminants. The wall is located on a side street just over the Charles Bridge. Must see.

I stayed at Hostel le Papillon which is located not far from Wenceslas Square, on a street with many small food markets. The staff is not overly helpful and is lazy, but probably very kind to Czech visitors because I think their lack of good English (and other languages) is their biggest problem. There was no room in the hostel for me and several other people, so we were brought to apartments on a busier street closer to the square. The accomodations appeared odd at first, but I quickly grew to love the 4-bedroom apartment with a shared bathroom (that smelled, but was otherwise clean). My room had 3 beds in it, faced the street, had a huge window which I sat on at night, and most of all, locked. The apartment was in a building with both business and housing, but the apartments were well-gated by its own door, plus the door to the apartment. The street, like I said, is very busy and loud because of passing cars, construction, and at night, bars. Luckiy for me, I’ve always lived on a busy street and this was rarely a problem (if not soothing). They provided towels and linens. I found the beds to be very comfortable and the towels and linens clean, though not ‘hotel quality’ (which was not expected). If I came back to Prague, I would only stay here again if completely nessisary, as this hostel has some of the only cheap private rooms in town. Through walking around, I might reccomend Pension Star, Apple Hostel, Hotel Europa and Old Town Hotel based on location and facade only, but I can speak nothing of the accomodations.

Other Tips
- If you read other websites about Prague, they will all advise you not to hail a cab on the street. The drivers are only for your money, sometimes the meters run too fast or they don’t use the meter at all. If you need a cab, call AAA Taxi, they all speak English and offer reliable, reasonable prices. They are even ok to grab at taxi stands around town.

- Visit Albert, a chain of supermarkets. If you want to experience European culture, you should go here! The supermarkets here are all small and always underground, but feature products you cannot buy in America, especially chocolates and candy. It’s fun to make at least one meal and the goods are very inexpensive (about $5 for several bottles of juice and water, yogurt, chocolate and musli).

- There are tons of street vendors that sell ‘Czech Hotdogs’ and sausages, but they aren’t really a statement of Czech cuisine and are really fatty, oily, huge and gross. I would reccomend pizza or McDonald’s over this! Also, please, gelato in any other country besides Italy is not real gelato, ok?

- Hold on to your bags! Pickpocketing is very common, usually only in tourist areas. They target people with open bags (obviously) and fanny packs (or whatever they’re called). The pickpocketers are usually young and work in teams, usually one of them distracts you while another gets your stuff. Other times, they use newspapers to disguise their hands. Whenever you go to a restaurant, keep your bag on your lap or in a chair immediately next to you, and not on the table or by your feet. Someone can easily walk by and swipe the bag, as this almost happened to me in Old Town Square. On the flip side, if you are carrying a small handbag that you can wear on your shoulder, with the zipper in front, close to you, you will have absolutely no problems. Also, wheeling your suitcase through the city is fine and very common.

- Watch for beggars. I saw one that was a dwarf amputee (I don’t know much about the PC-ness of this) who never moved from his spot and I believe really is homeless. Another man on Charles Bridge was dressed in fine civilian clothes and would kneel down to beg, but then get up, count his money, put it in his pocket, have a cigarette while waiting for the right time to beg again, and even speak to a local or a friend. I don’t know what his aim is, but definately not homeless and might have something to do with pickpocketing.

- Prague is the only place in Europe where you can buy real Absinthe (at extremely good prices), so if you’re into that, make sure to get it here (I saw a good place on Celetna Street). Also, I read that Prague has great beer and for this I cannot attest, but it is extremely cheap (you can buy it at any vendor along the street who sells hotdogs) for 25 czk (about $1).

June 27, 2006

how do you say 'rain' in czech?

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!

It's raining! It's pooring, thundering and lightening!

Today I woke up at 5am for no reason. I tried to fall back to sleep, but was unsuccessful, so I walked around Wenceslas Square for about an hour before going back to the room. I slept until 9am, then I went and called the airline. A girl told me that my bag was on it's way! So I went to the hostel and waited there for about an hour until it felt hopeless and I went to call the airline again. Well, while I did that, in a 15-minute span, the bag was dropped off. I was so happy and yet very overwhelmed by the fact that I had all my stuff. I went back to the room and took a wonderful shower. But then I got really tired after I ate and didn't want to face the sun, so I went back to my room and slept from noon until 7pm. That has literally been my day thus far.

At first I was kind of sketched out by the apartment, but now I love it. Last night I met a man from the Basque country who's name is the equivalent of Emmanuel. He's 35. We talked for a few minutes and he offered for me to go get food with him, but I declined because I thought I was going to bed. He is in the room next to mine. Well, I ended up leaving at 10pm to go walk around and get McDonald's.

Every time I went into the bathroom, I noticed this horrible stench, like a million toenail clippings. I kept looking around to find the source, but I couldn't. It wasn't as though the bathroom wasn't clean - everything was fine, nothing disgusting. Anyway, I came back today to find it gone, the woman from the hostel must have come and cleaned it somehow! Good for her! (Though she's a bitchy woman who speaks little English and her armpit hair is literally 6 inches long, you can see it.)

There are very few Americans in Prague, or at least where I've been so far. Since America is a "melting pot," anyone can "look" American, but then I'm always suprised to see someone I thought to be American speaking Czech. Czech, by the way, is very hard to understand. I thought it would be very similar to Russian and some of it is, but Czech doesn't sound like a Slavic language, it sounds like a German-French cross! However, I can read a lot of words, (though they don't use the cyrillic alphabet, so any Russian-esque word is basically spelled out phonetically in Czech) especially the roots of verbs and prepositions.

You know the stereotype that Europeans dress very well? Well, local Prague-ians break that stereotype. They dress horribly and wear incorrect clothes for their body types, if you know what I mean!

The city itself is reminicent of a German city, but nothing like any other European city. The cars here are normal sized and I've actually seen some you'd see in America (including a mini-van today!) This is not very typical of most European cities where the cars are old and small, nothing you'd ever see sold in the US.

So far, traveling alone is not as easy as I thought it would be. First of all, no one is there to motivate you, which is why I slept for 7 hours today. Second, in a country where you either know the language or you don't, it gets very lonely when there is no one to speak English to - it gets intimidating to always be around people speaking other languages. Tomorrow when I finally see stuff, I won't be able to share it with anyone else -- that's another downside. But mostly, I miss the company and activity, so I don't know if I want to travel alone again in the future. However, I am really looking forward to Italy where I can unpack and learn Italian! I really hope that my roommate is American and not Italian, I really need to be with some Americans right now.

And that's the most ironic statement of them all, which is why travel is good for anyone. Yes, there are times when I think I don't want to live in America, but being away from the country makes me realize the luxuries I take for granted like language and knowing how to navigate. Travel is important even if you realize you are content with what you have, you make realizations like this and believe it or not, it makes it easier to deal with life back home.

I think coming to the internet cafe is a great way to stay connected and it's very managable to do it every day, so I will. My near-future obstacle is figuring out what to do on Friday, when I have to check out at 10am, but my flight to Milan is not until 6:15pm! I am not lugging around this huge bag through the city. I might try to find a laundromat. Anyway, now I'm going to try to find food!

June 26, 2006

first day and baggage

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!

Hello, everybody!

'Tis my first post from Europe and here I am in Prague, somewhere in Wenceslas Square, which is in one of the districts called New Town. I left Newark last night with only about a 15-20 minute delay. However, this small delay greatly impacted me as we arrived in Paris this morning. My flight to Prague was supposed to leave at 9:55 and my plane from Paris got in at about 9:10, but didn't disembark until at least 9:30. All the flight attendants were telling me I had to rebook because I'd never be able to make the flight. Well, I went to the rebooking desk and they told me the flight to Prague was delayed, too, so I could still make it, and I did. However -- and this is a really sad, big however -- my bag wasn't as quick as I was. It got left behind in Paris. When I arrived in Prague, I waited and waited and no bag!

I took a cab to the hostel. The desk clerk was friendly, but very disorganized and informed me that there was no more room in the hostel, that he would bring me to the "sister hostel", which is really two apartments a few streets away. After a lot of waiting, a large group of us went over to this new location. The apartment has 4 bedrooms - in one are two Finnish girls and in another are some people I haven't met yet. I have my own room, which has 5 beds in it, but it's all to myself. My door locks, which is the most important thing to me right now.

After I ran around to find a phone card and payphone to call my mom, I went back to the apartment to take a nap. I was a bit depressed by this point, wanting to go home of course because I was so stressed about the day and having been moved and not knowing where the heck I was! Finally I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later feeling very comfortable with where I was. That's when I ventured out and came here.

Today, I can only hope that my bag comes to the hostel. It's 8:00 now, so any time is fair game for them to deliver it. It would make me so happy to be able to take a shower and change into fresh clothes! If I don't have this bag by tomorrow, I think I'll be greatly set back because of not being able to take pictures! And I'll be really sweaty and dirty. (Though people in Europe are notoriously smelly because they don't use deoderant and many women don't shave their legs nor their armpits. It's gross.)

This internet cafe is bustling with young people waiting to use the internet. I must have arrived just before a rush because now people are waiting over my shoulder for this computer! So, I guess that about wraps it up, I don't hae too much else to report, but I'm sure I'll have lots to say tomorrow or the next day, depending on how things go. Life as the solo traveler isn't as easy as I thought, especially without a bag, but I'm learning to make due. I can't wait to see this beautiful city!

June 19, 2006

6 and counting

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!

Some time has passed since my last entry (don't worry, it won't be like this when I'm abroad), mostly because I didn't have anything to say, especially that could top the previous two entries.

I submitted my log to a travel website and have been receiving comments about my entries. I'm really glad to see that what I have to say actually helps people and that while I'm away, I might give some insight on what to see and do in the places I visit, as well.

My mind hasn't been completely focused on Europe, I must admit, because last week I moved. However, I have done a few things like research and buying necessities. For example, luggage locks. I think these are valuable if you care about security and if you're traveling alone. I always lock my bag while traveling within (and to and from) a city. First of all, anyone who is looking to steal my bag or pickpocket me can see from a distance that the bag is locked. Most importantly, even though you have locks on your doors in a hostel, staff members have been known to steal. So, when you leave your room, lock your bag just incase. Another security precaution I take is with handbags. Last summer, I would literally lock the zippers of my backpack, but I realized that wasn't completely needed. Instead, this summer I will carry a bag with only one zipper and safety pin the zipper to the canvas of the bag. I know pickpocketers are very skilled, but I doubt they would be able to get that undone without me feeling it and alerting someone! Keep in mind, security is a mindset and has a lot to do with confidence and not appearing as a tourist. My friend, Brittany, had no locks and was never overprotective of her backpack, yet nothing happened to her, nor anyone else in my group, of which I was the most security-obsessed. But, that doesn't mean that it won't happen. So, I suggest thinking about security ahead of time - decide if you are going to be very careful (but also be careful not to go overboard, sort of like I did) or not care at all. Either way, be smart about your stuff.

I finally made lists of what I want to see in each city. Here is part of what my list looks like for Prague. Prague has many districts, so I broke down what I wanted to see based on the district:

Lesser Town (below Prague Castle)
Nerudova Street
Royal Way/Kings Road, links Prague Castle to Charles Bridge, Mala Strana
Lesser Town Square (Mala Strana)
Charles Bridge

When I get to Prague, I'll get a map and decide how to break down my days there based on the distances and how much I want to cover. Sometimes I wrote a note to myself about the sight, or directions or operation hours.

That concludes this entry, but I hope to write again on Saturday before go.