Czech this out!

Trip Start Nov 24, 2009
Trip End Dec 09, 2009

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's 10pm and I find myself boarding another train heading towards the next leg of my journey, The Prague. I'm finding it hard to believe that my time here is half over since there seems to be so much more to do, but in a weeks time I'll be on a flight back to SFO. Nevertheless it's only a passing thought as I fall back into the moment. After all, I'm heading to the one point on the map of Europe I've always wanted to see.

From what I've heard the night train from Krakow to Prague is a hotspot for theft so I splurge on a sleeper car for only an extra 50PLN ($17) and to my fondest surprise I find that I have it all to myself...a bed, sink, power outlets and access to a shared shower. Bonus! 9 hours later the train pulls into Praha-Holešovice station and I disembark not knowing where I am heading at all. I didn't have a place to stay, a guidebook, map and I only had US dollars and a few Polish Zloty. Basically I was winging it. To make matters worse when I find the exchange and tourist office they were closed with a que outside! I did find another exchange office only for him to turn down both the Polish cash and my $100 bill?!? (This would not be the only time I would experience my business being turned down here...a not so uncommon problem I understand.) My best resort seemed to be to sit and wait for the other exchanges to open so I can get on my way. Little did I know I would be waiting over an hour, but at least they did happily exchange my cash for Czech Krona.  Not wanting to wait any longer I grab the first cab I find and hand him the address of a place recommended to me, the Old Prague Hostel. After a bit of confusion regarding the address location followed by several apologies I finally arrive, book two nights in a 4-bed dorm and went straight to the internet to book my flight to Madrid. With that task checked off I finally complete my to do list in preparation for this trip!

Once settled in I take a walk to the center of the old town, Marketplace Square. There I found yet another Christmas market, but the difference here is that this one is bustling full of tourists. Prague is one of the most visited cities in Europe for it's beauty, liveliness and cheap prices. As my friend Steve told me, it's the Ensenada of Europe! I grab lunch in the market...sausage sandwich and a fresh-made blueberry crepe, watch the famous astronomical clock (the world's oldest working machine and most overrated tourist attraction) and check out St. Nicholas Church.  From there I walked through the labyrinth of cobblestone streets and wandering crowds to the St. Charles Bridge and up the hill eventually ending up at Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), the largest castle in the world. I spent the afternoon up there wandering through the quaint winding streets and a few hours in one of the National Galleries where they had displayed European paintings and small sculptures from many different regions and eras, with a strong emphasis on medieval and renaissance era German and Flemish art. Having been on my feet all day I appreciated the fact that my journey back was predominately downhill from this high point in the city, giving me the chance to enjoy the city lights as I make my way down the steps back to Charles Bridge.

Once I got back to the hostel I laid down a bit and found myself waking up at at 11pm! I didn't see that coming, but in my desire to maximize my time I got ready to get out and find a place where I could chill and possibly do a bit of journaling. Instead I met Preston, an American working the desk at my hostel who recently moved here with his girlfriend. Being from San Diego he and I hit it off immediately and we end up chatting at the desk for several more hours. As it turned out I never made it out, Preston bought me a Pilsner Urquell (the Czech national beer) and we hung out with some of the other guests coming in from their night out. At least this gave me a chance to catch up on my blog and journal.

The next morning I grab a pastry at a little shop on my way to the square where I meet up for a free walking tour. The tour took us around the old town and in parts of the Jewish quarter and ended up along the riverfront. It was both fun and highly informative thanks to our guide, Huw, whom which I hit it off well with. The majority of the people on the tour were American students studying abroad, mostly in Spain and were a fun and lively group despite their aversion to the cold. This was one of the coldest days I've experienced since I got here, surprisingly even colder than Warsaw! It would turn out that I would also end up spending the entire day outdoors. As the tour ended I tipped Huw for his excellent services and singed up for a Prague Castle tour which would meet us right where we ended. Huw caught the tour group and I paid the 350 Krona ($22) to be taken up the hill back to the castle district...but this time we were taking the tram! We make it to the top, get the history of the various buildings and locations and stop in at the Strahov Monastery where they brew and serve renown Czech beer. Thanks to Kirk's generous donation I order a large glass of the dark and an apple strudel to go with it...thanks again Kirk!! At my table were four lovely gals from Australia, Susie, Jenny, Kathy and Sharon whom all just recently graduated with law degrees from the University of New South Wales. I end up hanging out with them for the rest of the tour as we all were led into the castle proper. We were all a bit disappointed that we were denied admission into St. Vitus cathedral, one of the largest and most beautiful in all of Europe, but it turned out that the Czech first lady was inside. We did however get to see her pas right by us as she came out and her head of security came over and chatted me and a few others up whom all just happen to be from California. "California? I love California. Monterey, Mountain View, Redwood City...all very nice." I'm not so sure I ever thought that about Redwood City but apparently he had been there and liked it.

As the tour ended I walk back towards downtown with the Aussie gals and had a nice chat with Susie whom  invited me to have a traditional Czech dinner with them. We end up at a crowded place that seemed to be full of locals (or at least Czechs) despite it's proximity to the tourist attractions. I had a breadbowl of cabbage soup and sausage as well as sharing bits of everyone's plates with the girls. We had a great time despite the fact that we had to part ways after dinner. They had to get things together before moving on to Vienna and I had one more tour...a Czech Pub Crawl. I just had enough time to get back to the hostel and change before I had to head out to the rendezvous point for this drinking tour. The deal is you pay 350 Krona ($22) and you get 90 minutes of all you can drink beer, vodka and absinthe shots at the first stop, then admission to three more clubs along the way where they hand you a shot when you enter. On paper it sounds like a great deal, but here's the catch...first the all you can drink place is really a bagel shop, second the shots were dinky and watered down quite a bit, especially the absinthe, and third everybody was under 25, most of which were under 21! In fact most of the attendees were annoying American college students studying abroad in Spain who only wanted to drink until they were blind! Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind hanging out with young people and did so with many from the workshop in Warsaw but this was just a bunch of immature rookies representing the lowest common denominator. It seemed to be the first time they were able to go out and drink legally without repercussions. There was one table of 5 girls, none of which were even 20, stacking up their shot glasses 30 or 40 high (bear in mind these were little plastic medicine cups) and already falling down. Who knows how they are going to walk to the next stop! I was hanging out with a few people from my hostel who all were much too mature at the ripe old age of 22 for these shenanigans. Huw, my guide from earlier also made it out for the ride. Nevertheless we made the best of it and hit each of the stops along the way. I came to the conclusion early on that the two guys running this show, two Americans in their late 20s, were doing this simply to hook up with drunk easy college chicks. After talking to them my suspicions were confirmed. I called it quits at about 2am and headed back to the hostel which was conveniently just around the corner. As for the pub crawl, sure it was worth the cash for value (just barely) but the lame majority of the company just isn't worth the price.

That next morning I packed up in preparation for my afternoon flight and met up with Preston and his adorable pitbull terrier Bigz for a mini coaching session he had mentioned he was interested in earlier. We end up back at the bagel shop not for beers but actual breakfast, a much better option. After a bit we move on through the old town and made quite an impression. The crowds of people parted around us as two large, intimidating-looking Americans and their pitbull strolled through the square and down the old town streets. I'm sure from a bystander's perspective it was quite an unusual and perhaps humorous sight in the middle of this majestic city. Prague is a city I undoubtedly will return to, if for no other reason than simply to share with someone else the wonder, history and excitement that I have found here. It's where east meets west, old meets new and everyone walks away a better person for it!

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Jeanine Loose on

Prague looks spectacular.
Sounds like this was a good time to go traveling with the beauty of the Christmas season.
See you soon . Have a safe trip home.

Ace Diamond on

Looks like fun, man. How in the world do you afford this? I can hardly afford a carne asada plate. Be safe, stay cool.

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