Prague - day 2

Trip Start Sep 01, 2013
Trip End Sep 22, 2013

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Hlavní město Praha,
Monday, September 16, 2013

I woke up truthfully not knowing where I was. For a brief moment I thought I was in NZ, and I would roll over to find Geoff, Mia and Stella. I quickly realised I was somewhere else and then did some fast calculation to remember what part of Europe I was in. Prague. This was a part of Europe that I was so keen to see, but after yesterday I was feeling burnt out, sick of sightseeing and homesick. I was a bit annoyed with myself that I didn't feel like getting out there and enjoying this city that I'd heard was so great. At the same time, I was too tired to do much about it. I could hear people stirring in the B&B and figured I better get up and have breakfast. Over breakfast I listened to Americans from the Midwest talk about their travel plans. I marvelled at whatever sort of life it was that they'd had that allows them now to treat Europe like some kind of cheap and exotic playground. These kind of retired Americans are everywhere I go over here and they're instantly recognisable because they talk louder than everyone else and go on about how things are different in Missouri. Yes, things are different. But they say 'different' like they mean 'wrong'. It's annoying to me, obviously.

After breakfast I went back to bed! Phoned Geoff, had a shower and then literally forced myself out of my very comfortable room. Jiri told me what trams to catch, which I was most grateful for as it made my day run a whole lot smoother.

I took the number 3 tram to the old town and looked at all the amazing old sights there. Then I had lunch in a cute little restaurant (goulash soup again). A woman came and sat down and smoked a cigarette at my table - she was Armenian, raised in Lebanon, and had been living in Vienna for 15 years working for the U.N.
She said this was her first time in Prague and she loved it. I was secretly so excited to meet a real life Armenian because I had never heard of them before watching Kardashians. Yes, that is very sad but also true. I didn't ask her if she was related to the Kardashians - I had a feeling she probably wasn't.

She said she works for the Damage Register at the U.N. Specifically, she said they register details of damage caused by the wall that the Israelis have built around Palestine (much like the soviet's wall around Berlin). She said it is a very sad job as most of the stories she hears are from olive farmers who have had their land stripped from them as a result of the wall's placement, and now feel they have no reason to live.

After that interesting meeting, I headed off to the Museum of Communism. My soviet interest persists and I'm fascinated to find out as much as I can in each affected country that I visit. Czechoslovakia had a very rough time under the soviets and the museum gave me a good run through of that system from the early 20th century onwards.

As oppressive and totalitarian as the soviet system was, I continue to be struck by the way in which capitalist political parties use communist techniques to win favour today, in spite of their supposed criticisms of the left. The cult of personality within politics really had its origins in Stalinist communism, for example. The use of mass media and advertising for propaganda, particularly to workers about their relationship to their work, seems still to be commonplace. The idea that women's involvement in the workplace is crucial to the nation's economy and results in their emancipation was promulgated by communists and yet is used today by the right ring to force solo mothers into work. I guess I was struck by the hypocrisy of those who today claim to be opposed to communism, yet cherry pick its tactics for continued use in the 21st century.

After the very interesting museum, I walked across the bridge to the castle district. The atmosphere was much nicer - it seemed quieter and more quaint. The tram headed up a great hill to the Prague palace grounds. I loved seeing nearby St Vitus Cathedral, a beautiful gothic (I'm getting good at identifying these eras!) church. I got some good photos inside.

I was pretty pleased with my afternoon - I'd managed to cram in both the old town and the castle district, the main sightseeing destinations, in a short time. I took the tram back to my little suburb (it's cool staying outside of the main centre because you get to see the 'real' city) with a plan to freshen up in my room and then head down to the local restaurant, Josefina, that Jiri had recommended. As I passed by Josefina it seemed pretty inviting so I popped in and decided to have an early tea of pasta (a little bit over pork bones and goulash!) I ate my pasta and then noticed a woman come in who sounded like a kiwi - she was telling the waiter that 12 years ago she had lived across the street. We got talking and it turned out she's from Auckland and had moved to Czech to be the photography editor for Elle magazine in 1996, just as that industry was opening up in this area of Europe and they needed westerners to train Czechs. She asked me about my work and we got on to talking about traumatic brain injury, which she felt was a massive coincidence as her mother in England had a fall 14 months ago and suffered a severe TBI, and Anna has been caring for her since. She insisted I come out with her and her friend Len, also a kiwi, and his ex wife Oli, a Czech, who were her neighbours when they were married in the 90s.
Sounded a bit nuts but i figured it would be silly to refuse, so I went with her across the road to Len's apartment (who was in his 60s and seems likely to die from a smoking related cough at any moment). Len drove us on Prague's scary streets to a restaurant in an underground cavern, where Oli (his ex-wife 30 years his junior) met us. We had a lovely dinner. Len and Oli bickered. They share custody of a half-dead dog called Scruffy. Honestly, it was hilarious.

Len and Anna dropped me back to my B&B after a lovely evening and now I have indigestion from the duck pâté I ate. Tomorrow, to Berlin. Last stop. Prague really is a lovely place.
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