Day 24 finally i have something ...
Trip Start Apr 22, 1999
21Trip End Jun 06, 1999
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Finally I have something semi-substantial to write about. Damn was Venice full of nothing!
The train ride from Wien to Praha was nice. A little lonely since the two people in my compartment didn't speak English and I had decided not to sit with the three Americans in the next one over. The Czech countryside was very pretty. Almost all green though there were occasional wonderfully looking patches of yellow. Yellow what I don't know. I doubt they were dandelions. Looked like some product being grown.
The Boat Haus, the youth hostel here in Praha where I planned to meet up with Chantelle & Curt was booked up. So, I went to AVE Travel Agency recommended by my guidebook and was given a hostel which I still don't know the name of and certainly wouldn't be able to pronounce it anyway. Walking to the metro, I saw the three Americans from the next compartment over, and I just happened to ask where they were going. The two girls were headed to a place called the Traveler's House. The guy had no idea and asked me where I was headed. I told him how AVE had hooked me up so he decided to do the same and tag along with me.
His name is Tyson. He's 19, from Eugene, OR, did a year and a half at U. of Oregon @ Eugene, took a semester off to travel, and is going to my old college, UMass Amherst, in the Fall. Cool guy, laid back, and easy to talk to. He looks and talks just like Edward Norton. When I mentioned it to him, he flipped, saying the girls on the train had said the same thing but he had no idea who Ed Norton was.
"Ever see Primal Fear?"
"People vs. Larry Flynt?"
"Rounders? American History X? Everyone Says I Love You?"
"Nope. Nope. Nope."
"Homer, can you tell us what it's like there?" "Well, anyone see that movie Tron?"
"No." "No." "No." "No." "No." "No." "No." "No." "No." "Yes, I mean No. No."
Tyson had come from Budapest and loved it. He had also been to Interlaken and dubbed it his favorite place so far. He spoke passionately about Interlaken's road less traveled Funny Farm hostel, down the street from Balmer's. There, he says he got hooked up with weed and mushrooms and still went over to Balmer's occasionally to party with the crowd.
The woman at AVE had not only failed to tell us where to go after getting off the tram but the stop she told us to get off at wasn't even on our line. So, we shot craps, got off at an educated guess of a stop in the neighborhood of Vinohrady and began walking. It took us twenty minutes asking around before a nice elderly woman who spoke no English finally helped us out and pointed us in the right direction.
The hostel itself was nice. Comfortable beds, clean rooms, great showers. Tremendous showers. But there were very few Americans, let alone people who speak English. Seems like a lot of Germans. Not the most social atmosphere.
So, Tyson and I went out on the town. We stopped at a pub, each ordered a meal (he got chicken kabob & rice, I ate fried cheese & french fries) plus a pivo (beer) each totaling 238K = $7 (33K = $1). They were right. Praha is fucking cheap, dude. Then, we walked down to the river where we stopped and had more food. I got chicken strips, he ate a chicken salad type thing plus another pivo (beer) each for 230K. One glass of pivo, about ˝ liter, was $1.
We walked upriver, ended up in the tourist haven of Stare Mesto. We walked around, saw a couple of headshops, lot of cannabis shirts... I wondered where all of the cannabis was in this town. We took the tram back around 6:30PM, but not before grabbing a slice of pizza.
I napped and awoke around 9:45, 10PM. When a half awake Tyson asked what time it was, I told him and said if he wanted to go out tonight, now was the time to get up. And he opted to stay in bed. It was up to me to go out and make something happen on my own. On the way out, I stopped to ask some guy loitering in the lobby if he spoke English, and he said "A little" (of course). He was German. He and his friends were going to eat first anyway, and I was still pretty stuffed.
I traversed the couple of miles back down to Stare Mesto, downed a ˝ liter beer on the way. I ended up at some discotechque and went in only because no one stopped me at the door. Zero cover charge is always a bonus. It was a hoppin' scene. Essentially, I got myself a ˝ liter of pivo for 50K, stood by the bar and observed:
A group of very, VERY drunk guys were standing by me. Early on, one of them shattered his glass all over the bar, slicing his hand open thoroughly. He didn't seem to mind, although the bartender looked a little pissed. This same guy shoved an open pack of cigarettes in my face and grunted, which I interpreted as an offer. When I went to take it, he punched me in the chest then insisted I take it again. I asked him for a light, but I don't think he spoke English so I had to get one from elsewhere. These guys were all rowdy, but that one dude was all done. I saw him punch a couple of other people who didn't take his physically zealous greeting as well as I did. He once just completely fell over just from trying to take a step. Very entertaining.
Meanwhile, this dynamite blonde was being hit on by a group of three guys while all three pretty much ignored her not as attractive friend. I considered approaching her friend and even played the eye game with each of them, but I watched from afar as one of the three guys separated from the pack, talked to the blonde more & more, started holding her hand, holding her around the waist, and yes, was making out with her passionately by the time I left. Good for him. Great score. I had the three pinned as Americans, but when one of the other two came to the bar for a refill, I asked him. He was German. Figures.
I drank 1 ˝ liters before walking back. I got a kick ass hot dog for 20K and the best 6 McNuggets I've ever tasted. I got in around 1:45, 2AM to find the other four beds full.
- A friend and I are sitting at an outside café with Jerry Seinfeld. It looks a bit like the front of Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the Upper West Side. I think my friend is asking Jerry all sort of stupid celebrity struck questions while I try to remain silent, not wanting to make an ass out of myself. I finally muster up the courage to stutter out, "I... I wanted to ask you what you're working on besides your show."
"Well, my show is over."
"Right, right. I know. I mean what you're working on now that it's over."
"Well, have you read my book? It's on sale in London. Have you been to London?"
And I realize I'll be back in London in two weeks once my trip is done. But wait a second. Am I not in New York now? I ask him what date it is. The 15th of May. Which means I'm still on my trip. Which means I'm dreaming! And I tell him this but I don't remember his reaction.
- Slowly, it changes and I find out that one of my parents' dogs is being put to sleep. Actually, it's Jerry who tells me as we're approaching the house and there's some commotion going on outside (an ambulance?). I'm almost in tears because I think it's Biscuit (my dog who passed away in '95) and I have to race to say Goodbye to her before she dies. It turns out to be Peggy who's being carried up the basement steps in a stretcher. (They picked her up from the bottom of the steps where my other deceased dog, Princess, was the very last time I saw her.)
- I had another dream that, believe it or not, Eric Cartman was in though he had a different voice.
- I had a dream that I'm taking the Forum a second time. I'm asking myself, "What am I doing here? I just finished the SELP, I don't want to take the Forum again so soon, I can't even afford it." I remember Lael from my SELP being there and everyone is sharing including dorky high school classmate Pete Brookmeyer about his troubles with geometry. I'm telling the people on either side of me that this doesn't make sense but I don't know whether they hear me. I look down and notice I'm standing. I go to sit. Too late. I've already been called on.
"OK", I say. "I just feel like this is all a dream, none of it is real, none of you are real, it's all just made up." And I feel like a complete fool saying it. But everyone reacts positively. "Yup. Got it. Yeah."
- I open my eyes and wake up. Knowing I was right all along and had the courage to share it, I walk over to the blackboard and write the following:
I AM AFRAID OF MEETING PEOPLE IF THEY DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH.
And then I really wake up.
I met two of the other people in our room right after waking up. They were German of course. The guy's name was Sasha and I can't believe I'm forgetting the girl's name. She spoke fluent English and they both seemed pretty cool. I showered and had breakfast downstairs - a hard boiled egg, bread & butter, banana and coffee. The breakfast is improving slightly. I engaged in conversation with Andre, a Norweigan who was studying in Dresden for the semester. He told me he'd recently spent three weeks in New York and had visited a different museum every day plus attended a different theatre performance every night. Amazing. I didn't know there were that many museums in New York. He was very into art. I recommended the Borghese when he get to Rome and the Borgello in Florence. I also listened to a girl at the table rave endlessly about Cinque Terre. I had never heard of this place before but Craig, Jason & Scott, and Justin & Meika had all headed in its direction. It's a small beach resort of five towns (hence Cinque Terre) only mentioned in the Lonely Planet guides. She said she'd planned to stay for three days and ended up staying for ten.
Tyson and I took the tram and metro back to the train station to drop off his bag as he was leaving later in the day. I also wanted to check trains leaving for Krakow tomorrow night. Afterwards, we began our hike towards Prague Castle across the river and uphill. It's pretty beautiful up there. Nice gardens, quiet, a little touristy but that's expected. Prague Castle is a neighborhood of buildings and cathedrals, government buildings, etc. We saw this Changing of the Guard type ceremony complete with hundreds of spectators. We got some more food, checked out the Cathedral, walked around for a bit more before heading back down the hill and stopping to check our email on the way.
We found ourselves at Josefov, the Jewish Quarter, around 2PM. I shelled out 140K just to get inside the Synagogue which was small as anything, plus another 190K for the museums and cemetery. This was by far the most expensive thing I'd seen in Praha. Plus, the museums were small and hardly impressive. What I got out of it more than anything was that the Jews were so oppressed in the old days that they lacked sufficient funds to make their Synagogue anything remotely close to what I've seen in so many churches across this land. Quite an amazing contrast. The one part of the museum I found moving was a series of bare rooms that contained only small writing along the walls bearing the name and date of birth & death for what I ascertained to be every Czech Jew who perished in the war. Tens of thousands of names were listed; all died between 1942 and 1945.
The cemetery was quite a trip. Apparently, the government had only allocated one space for the Jews to be buried and so when they ran out of room, they had to pile caskets on top of each other. There are about 20,000 graves in a perhaps one city block. As I walked through, the tall trees obscured most of the view of the sky or the outside of the graveyard. It was dark and quiet save for the loud cawing of crows in the trees, adding an eeriness to it all.
More food time came next. I got a plate of mystery meat, goulash, rice, and a coke for 81K = $2.50. Then, we addled aimlessly until I remembered passing by a pool hall the night before and asked if he played. He turned out to be quite good. He beat me 3-2; one of my wins came as a result of Tyson hitting in the 8Ball, and I straight out won the 9Ball game, which is what really matters to me. I had a bit of trouble starting out, but I played pretty well after a while.
Walking back to the train station, we stumbled upon some rowdy political rally with lots of shouting and flag waving. I have no idea what it was about but it seemed pretty exciting. We each got a slice of pizza and a hot dog before parting ways at the station. We managed to exchange email addresses, and when I decided I would definitely go to Budapest, he said "Good choice" and gave me a brochure for the hostel he'd stayed at, the Yellow Submarine. I bought my Krakow ticket for tomorrow night. Since the Czech Republic and Poland are outside the Eurail Zone, I had to shell out 495K ($15) for it, but that seems damn cheap for an overnight ride.
I came back to the hostel and took a nap. And I decided to stay in for the night. Nice change of pace. I masturbated for the first time since Avignon, fantasizing about Elisa. That was different and nice. I guess I do miss her.
Tomorrow, I think I'm just going to take a hike before my 20.30 train. If I'm lucky, I'll be in Budapest for dinnertime Tuesday. I doubt it though.
I had a really nice day today. I walked all around Praha. I laid out on a ledge by some bridge south of Nove Mesto and sunbathed. I then crossed the bridge and soon was horribly lost. I had to stop, study, and compare my two maps for 10-15 minutes just to figure out which way was north. Everywhere I went, I admired the unique architecture and color of so many buildings in town: the grays, the greens, the pinks. I made great eye contact with this Czech chick in a park wearing one of those bright red sweaters you can spot from yards away. I made the long walk back up to Stare Mesto and stuffed myself silly for lunch (Hot dog for 12K, you can't beat that!). I toured the Museum of medieval Torture Instruments which Elisa had suggested to me. The one machine that made me cringe was a contraption where they place the victim upside down, your legs spread wide open and they take a hacksaw and cut right into you, starting with the rectal area and moving right up. Ouch!
In the afternoon, I crossed over the Charles Bridge and observed as tourists either shopped for lovely framed scenic paintings and trinkets or had their caricature portraits drawn as they would by the southeast corner of Central Park. I entered the west side of the city and began an ascent uphill, then climbed 313 steps to a beautiful park with a moontower requiring an additional 298 steps to the top. It's all about the stairs on this trip, isn't it? I can't wait for the Alps, baby! The top of the moontower, by far the highest point in the land blessed me with an amazing view of the entire city extending for dozens of miles. I spotted an Olympic stadium right around the corner, and I pondered the fantasy of sunbathing out on the bleachers. I walked over there, couldn't find an entrance, and soon realized I needed to spend use the restroom in the worst way. The gigantic parking lot leading up to the stadium had uniform buildings lined on either side; I'm certain it was some sort of campus. So, I kept my mouth shut, marched right into one like I lived there, and went in search of a bathroom.
Get this: Every single stall in every single bathroom I went into in every single building (3 buildings, 5 bathrooms, 20 stalls) has absolutely NO toilet paper. Zero! I walked back into the park, found a public toilet that cost 1K to get in the door. And I didn't have a 1K coin. All I had were 10s and 20s. I had to buy metro tickets from the machine nearby, fucked up the first try and lost 10K, then got in the bathroom to discover the stall is an additional 2K. Back out I go to buy more metro tickets. Well, I got my crap all right. "And this scar I got climbing underneath the stall of a pay toilet." *Homer.
Afterwards, I relaxed out on the lawn in the park for a while before walking back to the train station. One the way, I stopped at McD's to piss again, and I saw Ronald McDonald putting on a show talking in Czech. It was a rather strange sight. I had seen one in Rome talking in Italian.
As in Venice, I arrived at the station hours early after a tiring full day of exploring the city. Once again, I passed the time with pivo before boarding my overnight train.
I feel like I've hit a bit of a lull in my trip. I haven't really met anyone besides Tyson since leaving Rome. I've stayed inside two nights of the past five. The other three, I went out by myself twice and took one overnight train. I will take another train tonight. I'm also out of the Eurail Zone now and feel like a bit of an outsider every time I look at my Eurail Map. It's kind of a foolish thought, but it reminds me of when I was in Glenbrook Middle School and felt like I was in enemy territory whenever my friends and I would ride our bikes into the section of town where the kids went to Williams. I also notice very few people speak English outside the Zone. At least in France, Spain, and Italy, I could attempt to speak the language and get by with "Hello", "Please", "Thank you", and "Where is the bathroom?". Here, I don't even know how to say Hi. I am that stupid American tourist walking around, "DOES ANYBODY HERE SPEAK ENGLISH!?!" I feel like I'm getting used to being alone now, which can be both a good or bad thing. I don't think I'd want anyone to do Auschwitz with me. On the other hand, I'm hoping Budapest will pick things up. I knew one guy back home who had been to Budapest and said it was by far his favorite place. He practically begged me to go, but I just assumed it was too far away to bother. Now that I'm going, I'm looking forward to it. I can't believe I'm going so far out of my way to see a concentration camp. As a Jew, I feel it's my duty.