Czech dancing, gas leaks and Mexican tour guide!

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 28, 2009

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Thursday, October 8, 2009

Day 1 – Thursday 8th October – We planned on getting up early to get the train to Prague today, but we were still tired so we slept in and got the lunchtime train instead.

Unfortunately the train was half hour late so we were a bit nervous about whether we would make our connection to Prague as we would now only have ten minutes at the station to make our connection. Fortunately our train got there just in time and we made it to Prague as planned.

When we got to Prague we didn't realise we were there straight away so we took a minute to get off the train. Unfortunately by the time we were getting off, the next lot of passengers were getting on and we couldn’t get to the door. They wouldn’t move out of our way either so we really just had to push past them. We weren’t sure where the train was heading but we knew we didn’t want to go with it!

One guy just wouldn’t get out of the way, despite being at the door to a cabin with plenty of room in front of him, so Witek actually pushed him! You don’t often see Witek lose his cool so it was actually quite impressive!

So we made it off the train then went to get the metro to our accommodation. I have to say that I have been in most of the major European cities during peak hour now, and I have never seen such a crowd of people as I did this day when we walked down the stairs to the metro. Obviously a train had just pulled in and the hall was absolutely filled wall to wall with people rushing towards the stairs. I almost felt like we should have just pinned ourselves against the wall and let them all pass on by as I had no idea how to navigate through this crowd!

We had no trouble finding our accommodation seeing as I was organised for once with the directions! Again, we were in a nice apartment that was really cheap so we were happy. We had a kitchen, lounge room, bedroom and bathroom and it had been recently renovated so was all very modern. It was right in the middle of the old town too so the location was fantastic.

We were on the fifth floor so we needed to use the lift which was funny for two reasons. It looked as old as Prague itself and it was tiny! We could only just fit in there with our back packs on and neither of us could turn around! We looked like trapped turtles! Mum would never have gotten in there!

We got settled in to our apartment and went out for a walk to see what was around. I had done some quick research online on where to go and our hostess found me outside our room trying to get wireless reception. It wasn’t very good in our room so she promised me she would move us the next day to a room that was nicer and had better WIFI reception. Only in this day and age would you be moved due to a bad wireless connection!

We went to the Charles Bridge which is a very famous landmark in Prague. It is being restored at the moment so there is scaffolding everywhere but you could still see most of it. As it was night time by now we had some really beautiful views of the river and the castle which was all lit up.

On the other side of the river we had a quick look around and visited the tourist information centre to get an idea of what to do the next day before heading back over to our side to visit the main square.

The main square has an astronomical clock which puts a little display on every hour where these little disciples are supposed to come out. We were there just before 9pm and a crowd was gathering so we stopped to watch too.

The clock chimed and we waited for the show, and I didn’t even see anything happen! Witek said he saw a little head poke out the top of the tower but I didn’t even see that. I was still filming with the camera and waiting for the action and people were starting to walk off! Bit disappointing. But I guess we were comparing it to the glockenspiel in Munich so it’s not quite fair.

The main square is buzzing at night, there are people everywhere though I am pretty sure most of them are tourists. It has a fantastic vibe and we loved it. In the middle of the square there were various stalls set up selling everything from bratwurst, to hot mead (yum!), to metal works to candy and much more. I could have stayed there forever, it was so gorgeous!

After spending a bit of time there wandering around we went to find a restaurant the girl at our accommodation had told us about. Unfortunately when we got there it was basically an Italian restaurant and we wanted something different. We decided to go back to our street and eat there.

We were staying on the street they call the 'Royal Road’ as it is the road leading to Charles Bridge and up to the castle. It is full of restaurants and shops selling puppets, crystal, babushkas (you know, the little dolls that have smaller and smaller dolls inside them?) and of course your usual fridge magnets and postcard shops. It was very colourful and lively right up until the early hours of the morning.

We found a restaurant right next to our accommodation that looked really nice and had a good menu so we went in there and enjoyed a really good meal. It wasn’t too expensive or too crowded and the service was really good. Once again we suffered ‘eyes bigger than belly’ syndrome but it was worth it!

It was close to midnight by now so we ventured back to our room and turned in for the night.

Day 2 – Friday 9th October – Over dinner the night before we had decided to do two things today, the first was a free walking tour around Prague where you just give a tip at the end. The second was to go to a traditional Czech dancing display which included transfers, three course dinner and unlimited drinks.

The meeting point for the walking tour was the main square which was only a couple of minutes from us, and it didn’t start until 11am so we had a bit of a sleep in before we packed up and moved to our WIFI friendly room which was much, much better! Our first room was nice but this place was almost twice the size, and had fantastic wireless reception! Yay! It had a better view too as it was one floor higher.

We dumped our stuff and went to the meeting point where we met our guide whose name I can’t remember. He was a short Mexican man, probably in his mid-thirties and he looked like a stereotypical uni student. We learned later he was a jack of all trades rather than a uni student, but he was a lot of fun.

We were the first ones to the meeting point (amazing, I know!) and while we waited for other people our guide got chatting to another guide who was next to him.

I should explain here that in Prague there are a LOT of tours you can do. Most of the tour companies advertise, but they also make their meeting point at this same spot in the square and they all carry signs promoting their business while they wait for customers. You can see up to seven guides all standing there at the same time trying to attract business. There was one guy ‘The Experienced Guide’ who we saw there almost every time we went past, no matter what time. We started to wonder if he advertised or if he ever got any clients. He was kind of scary looking in a long black coat, a weathered face and dishevelled shoulder length hair, so that could have been why. He never smiled either.

Anyway, this guy next to our guide was running a tour which was definitely not free and he seemed quite upset that our guide was attracting customers and he wasn’t. It wasn’t rocket science, if your tour isn’t free and the one next to you is, where do you think people are going to go? Didn’t stop this guy from trying to belittle our guide by testing his knowledge, but fortunately our guide didn’t take the bait and was very polite to him.

Our group ended up with five people, a middle aged couple from Canada and a single middle aged man from South America. Everyone was really nice and we had a good time. The Mexican guide was a character and a half! He has lived in Prague for only two years but he is a self-proclaimed history buff and he knew his stuff. We learned all about the sights we hadn’t yet seen and about the ones we had seen earlier but knew nothing about.

The night before when we crossed the bridge everyone was stopping in two spots and touching these golden pictures. We didn’t know why so we didn’t do it of course, but our guide explained the next day the history behind the two characters and that one was good luck and one was bad luck. Some people obviously thought they were both good luck because people were touching both, so I was glad we got the inside word and didn’t inflict ourselves with bad luck!

We visited the main square, the Jewish quarter, the John Lennon wall, the castle (of course!) and many other spots. There were lots of laughs and it was all so interesting.  The more time we spent in Prague and the more I learned about it, the more I loved it. It was one of the few places I could really live for a year or so, should circumstances permit.

Our timing at the castle was great as we got there just in time for the changing of the guard. It was pretty cool but my favourite part was when a spectator walked up into the way and one of the guards just lunged at him threateningly. He retreated pretty quickly and gave us a very good laugh!!!

At the end of the tour we gave him the equivalent of $20-$30 which I thought was ok, but then I felt bad when I saw the other couple give him $40. Meh, The point of it was supposed to be that it was cheaper than the other tours and $40 was about what the others were charging! The single guy gave him $80 which is just ridiculous. I still felt pretty cheap though! Ha!

Our guide had told us about a medieval restaurant with sword-fighting displays and stuff which Witek was a bit excited about, so we went to check it out. Unfortunately once we got there we realised that they only did it at night so we were out of luck. We had already booked in to see the Czech dancing so there wasn’t much we could do about it.

We decided to get lunch in the square and just soak up the atmosphere instead as the restaurant didn’t seem very exciting on the merits of only its food. We sat at a place with one of the biggest menus I have ever seen! Every page had a photo of the dish along with the details and the price. The food was good too, I was hanging out for a good stir fry still and I found it here! I did have to pay for it though.

We got a shock when we got the bill, they had added on about $10 worth of extra charges that weren’t mentioned on the menu anywhere!  Unfortunately you can’t really argue about things like this when you travel as there are problems with language and cultural differences. You have to pick your battles. Had we been at home I would definitely complained!

During our tour our guide had told us about the oldest coffee shop (yes, an actual coffee shop, not a coffee shop like you might find in Amsterdam!) in Prague which is right on the river with a good view of the castle. It is also frequented by famous people, which is demonstrated by the pictures on the wall. Seemed like a fun place to check out and hopefully get some mulled wine without getting ripped off again!

On the way I wanted to check out a shopping mall at the end of our street next to Charles Bridge. When we got there we could both smell a really strong odour of gas so we moved on very quickly!

There wasn’t much in the mall anyway, it was basically smaller versions of the shops on our street, so we went on to the coffee shop pretty much straight away.

This place was great! It was like 1950’s style, but not the bright reds and whites etc. we’re familiar with from the movies, it was all marble table tops and dark red vinyl seats. It was really big and we were lucky to find a spot with a nice view of the castle.

We ordered our mulled wine and sat and enjoyed. I liked! Did I mention that I love Prague?

We had to go back to our apartment to get ready and wait for our pick up by after this, so we headed back up the street. Traffic was banked right up and when we got to the spot where we had smelled the gas there were fire trucks and police cars and that whole intersection was blocked off to traffic. I started to be a little concerned at this stage that our pick up bus might have trouble getting in to our street, but there was still traffic coming through via a detour so I figured they would just be a little late.

We went up and got ready and we were downstairs on time. Witek wanted to go up and change his shoes (ok, maybe I wanted him to a bit too!) seeing as they would probably be late, but we thought it would be just our luck that they would arrive just as he disappeared up the lift.

I tried to call the number I had used earlier that day but couldn’t get through. After they were half an hour late we figured something was wrong so Witek did go up and change his shoes and also got the other phone number we had for the establishment.

I called again when he returned with the other number and this time I got through. They said that they had been unable to get through to our street and could we get a taxi instead and they would pay for it? It was 6:55pm by now and the show started at 7pm so we high-tailed it out of our crowded street and went to find a taxi in a quieter area.

We found one pretty quickly but he didn’t speak much English at all, we showed him the brochure but he still looked puzzled. Fortunately the restaurant called at this moment to see if we had found a cab so I was able to put them on to him to explain.

He didn’t seem to know what had happened in town and we tried to explain but I don’t think he got it. He asked if it was a terrorist attack! Um, no. The bad part was that all the traffic lights were out as they had shut off the power (Witek had to climb the stairs at the accommodation as the lift wasn’t working). Traffic was backed up everywhere and it took us about half an hour just to get out of the city!

Once we were out though it was ok, we arrived at the restaurant at about 7:45pm and they were very good to us. We were greeted with a flute of honey liqueur, which was standard, but they bought us another one later as well. The meal was good, soup then roast chicken and veggies and a dessert which neither of us can remember! When it came time to settle the bill they refunded us the taxi money and they also gave us a bottle of honey liqueur which I thought was nice.

We sat with a good group of people, there were two Russian women who looked like they were in their sixties sitting opposite us, then we had a Finnish couple about our age next to Witek and the Russian ladies, and a bit further down were a couple of Scottish women who were probably in their fifties. Everyone on our table was really getting into the performance.

After the first couple of dances they asked for volunteers to come up and learn a dance with them. Witek was pulled out of the audience by one of the girls and of course he put on a great show! Apparently she was quite surprised at his fancy footwork. It was funny to watch some of the other men give it a crack though! Some of them had obviously been tucking in to the free grog for a bit longer than us! They did a kind of slow dance where there were lots of turns and changing partners, Witek was a star!

We really enjoyed chatting with our group, everyone was really friendly and up for a laugh, again I think the free flowing grog helped!

Next time it was time for people to go up from the audience everyone on our table bloody turned to me and started trying to get me up, and of course this wasn’t ignored by the dancers! One of the guys came and asked me to dance and despite my resistance I soon found myself on the dance floor.

We did some kind of polka and it was actually really easy, but we had to keep swapping partners. There were four women dancers, five male dancers and one broom. Every time the music stopped the men had to find a new partner and the last one to do so ended up dancing with the broom!

By this time most of them had been well and truly been tucking into the free grog so there were lots of laughs! I definitely preferred dancing with the professional guys than the drunken ones as I got my toe stepped on by a drunken one, but it was all good fun.

There was a break after this and they said that during the break they wanted us to team up with our fellow country men and after the break we would all have to get up and sing a song to represent our country. Witek and I were the only Australians so we were going to cast a lonely shadow on that stage! But we put our heads together and tried to come up with a song.

After running through all the Barnsey and Farnsey songs we could think of and realising that we didn’t fully know the words to any of them, we decided on ‘I Still Call Australia Home’. I was very disappointed that we couldn’t remember the words to Khe Sahn, but what could we do?

We watched the other groups of 10-20 people get up and sing their national songs and they all did a great job. There was one gentleman who got up on his own and obviously had struggled to come up with a song from his country, so he sang ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ in his language!

When it was our turn we sang the first verse and the chorus and we got a really good round of applause. I had pre-warned the crowd that they weren’t to expect any vocal brilliance so I think they took pity on us! It was good fun though!

At the end of the night this little old lady from New York came up to us and told us how impressed they all were with our song, seeing as we come from such a ‘young country and all’ and ‘it was really great to see that from the young people’. It was very funny, but very nice of her at the same time.

After it was all over we said goodbye to our new friends and found the bus home. Everyone was a bit tipsy by now so we made more new friends on the bus! Our Scottish friends were there too so that was good to see them again!

We were dropped back at our hotel and we thought we would go into the main square and check it out again, but it was quite late by now and things were winding up so we turned around and went back to our room. I fell asleep on the couch shortly after sitting down so it was just as well!

Day 3 – Saturday 10th October – Our flight to Poland was at about 4pm so we had the morning to wander around. We decided to go and check out the new part of town with all the shops and stuff.

On the tram there were a couple of guys in Polish soccer tops and they were talking about meeting up with their friends so we figured there must have been a Czech vs Poland game on that day.

We were right, once we got off the tram there were Polish and Czech soccer fans EVERYWHERE! It was funny to see them all singing and carrying on.

The new town was quite pretty actually, the buildings are still pretty old, but they are newer than the old town, so there you go! There were heaps of shops and food kiosks all over the place. The food kiosks were selling mostly bratwurst and other sausages, and of course, hot mulled wine. Who were we to resist? We got a mug of mulled wine each and a bratwurst to share.

We found a spot at the stand and I tucked in. As soon as my teeth went into the bratwurst all the fat and juice sprayed out and all over Witek’s jacket! Whoops! He had splashes of sausage juice all over him! It was bad, but funny at the same time.

We wandered through the mall towards the old town again. We thought there might be a bit going on there today with all the soccer fans in town, and we were right. They were all over the place, as were the riot police! Luckily they weren’t needed while we were there but there were at least 50 police in full armour scattered around the main square.

We hung out there for a while and soaked up the atmosphere. We checked out the astronomical clock on the hour to see if we had missed something the first time, but no, it was just as uninteresting this time!

It was time to go and get our plane to Poland so we grabbed our stuff from our room and caught the metro and the bus to the airport. We were there with plenty of time so I had a chance to have a double scotch to calm my nerves. We were flying LOT and my experience with them last time wasn’t very good, so I was a little apprehensive and nervous.

We had to board a bus to get to our plane again which straight away had me concerned about the prospect of another propeller plane. I was right, we had another propeller plane.

Big bonus though, somehow we ended up in Business Class! Admittedly, because it was only a small plane our seats were no different to the rest of the plane, but we got special treatment.

Before take off we were given a glass of water with a slice of lemon, and a refresher towel each. Then as soon as the plane took off the curtain between business class and economy was pulled across and we were bought drinks and a snack of salmon, caviar and salad. Very nice! My fears were forgotten as I just enjoyed this fantastic service and looked forward to seeing the family in Poland.
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