Prague - Winter is Arriving

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
Trip End May 25, 2007

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

So, on with our story of the flight to Prague. We flew a discount Czech airline, Smart Wings, from Madrid to Prague. The plane ended up being two hours delayed but unfortunately no one informed the passengers. They didn't even change the departure times on the screen. There were no ticket agents at the gate or at any of their gates for that matter. That way there was no one to complain to! All the passengers were asking each other "where is the plane? Where are the gate agents?" It is too difficult to go back through security to the ticket agent, so everyone just waited. When the gate agent did show up everyone was too busy lining up to board to make much of a stink. Smart indeed. The airlines in the States should try that.

Our hosts in Prague were Eric and Tereza. Eric has been a close friend of our brother Patrick since childhood so he is like a member of the family. He met Tereza 4 years ago while on a trip in Europe and they fell in love and have been taking turns living in the others country. They have been in Czech Republic for 7 months now so we were excited to see them again. Like Jennifer and Carlos in Spain, they give good insight into the country from a local but also an American perspective. It is nice to be forewarned so when something happens you can tell yourself "Ahhh... They just do that here."

Eric and Tereza were in the middle of moving (isn't it amazing how we manage to show up when our hosts are crazy busy?) but they did a great job showing us around and letting us use all their books. Czech Republic is the first former communist country we have visited on the trip, which gives it some different quirks than some of the other countries.

We went to Cesky Krumlov when we first arrived, as those would be the days they would be busiest. That will be our next blog entry. When we came back we spent a few days and walked all over the city. Prague is lovely. It was also the first city where we met with some bitter cold temperatures as you can see by the photos of us bundled up. We were prepared for cold, though. In fact, we were wondering why we had been carrying around these heavy down coats all this time! Cold is better than rain any day, although we did get quite a bit of rain too.

The cold weather and the fact that it was November did not seem to stop all the other tourists either. Compared to a lot of the other cities we had been in, Prague was pretty hopping. Reasons given were cheap flights (especially from UK) and cheap beer. Prague used to be cheap overall but they wised up and now things like hotels and restaurants are double what they are in the rest of the country. Even in November.

We won't complain, though, there were maybe 100 people on the Charles Bridge when we were crossing it and we walked through the castle without too many crowds. That is never the case in the summer.

The popularity of one site impressed us the most - the astronomical clock. This clock was in the main square in the city and on the hour a little Skeleton would flip over his hourglass and some doors would open up and all the apostles would parade by. It took about 6 seconds. The Glockenspiel in Munich, in comparison, took so long that many people got bored and moved on. But this clock had bigger crowds than anything else in the city. People even video tape it. We wonder about all those videotapers out there. Who is going to watch these videotapes? You? Your family and friends? We have our doubts.

We did all the big sites, all the churches and even some different places recommended by Tereza. One museum we liked was the Communist Museum which was a history of communism in Europe with an emphasis on the Czechs. Julius liked the exhibit on the government stores with empty shelves and a bustling black market business out the back door. It reminded him of 1970's Tanzania in their socialist heyday.

We rode the public transport system quite a bit, as Eric and Tereza lived outside of the downtown. The buses, trams and subways were quite efficient and nice. We noticed that they allow dogs on all the public transport, as long as they are muzzled. This worked very well. Eric told us that they even have a ticket specifically for dogs. When we looked on the ticket machines, there it was! Quite smart, as they take up room. They also have a special ticket if you have a big piece of luggage. We have found that each European country is different in how they monitor ticket use on public transport. Germany, Finland, Netherlands and Czech Republic all use the system of selling the tickets then requiring the rider to validate the ticket in a machine to show when they are using it. These systems allow you to live dangerously and ride without a ticket. If you are caught, however, they levy a massive fine (between the equivalent of $50-100 depending on the country) that they make you pay on the spot. Some countries look quite a bit, especially on subways. Buses are safer. Eric says it is funny to see people's reactions when the subway doors shut and all of a sudden some plain clothed guy turns to his neighbor, flashes a badge and says "Can I see your ticket?" The whole car goes silent and you can see who does and doesn't have a ticket by the expression on their faces. In Spain, Italy and France they just have gates and machines and you cannot get into the station without feeding it your ticket. The buses also make you buy a ticket from the driver. Keeps everyone honest.

We really enjoy learning the history of all these places in Europe, not just in the 20th century but also the older history, the different reformations and counter reformations of the Catholic church like the Czech Hussite movement. Plus we hear the same royal family names over and over again as we move around the continent. It is cool how things tie together when we do our homework for each city we are visiting.

On a sunny day we took the Funicular up above the castle to a lovely park with a mini Eiffel tower. We could hike up it to get great views of the city.  The day was very windy and the Eiffel tower moved a bit more than the one in Paris (Julius was not pleased by this but was a good sport nonetheless). We also visited the nearby house of mirrors that was built over 100 years before for a world fair. It was very fun, not just seeing our bizzare reflection but seeing the reaction of all the others there. People were laughing so hard we though some would fall over.

Tereza's mom came to town at one point and we had to stay in a hostel for a few days. It was in a great location that made siteseeing easier, plus it was a very "youth oriented" hostel, lots of hard drinking American and British students in Europe for their semester abroad. It is always interesting to interact with them. When one group of girls heard we were traveling to Italy next they said "Venice is beautiful, but the nightlife is totally dead". This has now become a favorite quote of Julius'. Obviously she had us pegged for people who are looking for a much more exciting nightlife than sipping a glass of wine in a cafe. My favorite part of the hostel is the fact that I got assigned a bed by the window, thus controlling the temperature in the room. It was wonderful and we slept comfortably and cool all night.

The food and drink here was very good and it is true about the beer - it is delicious and cheaper than water or soda. We drank it all the time. We ate pizza a lot and even tried Georgian food (the country not the state) with Eric and Tereza. That was really delicious and different.

On our last day we separated for our one "Day apart" in the country. I went to Kunta Hora to see the famous Ossuary there and Julius stayed in Prague and watched Champions League games from morning until night. The weather in Kunta Hora was terrible and there was really no way to get around the city but walk (it made for a lot of walking in the rain) but the Ossuary was amazing and I took a ton of photos. I also visited a church built by the silver miners guild way back when, dedicated to St Barbara. She is the patron saint of (who else?) the silver miners.

We are done with planes for a while, it was now time to board a train to Salzburg.

Click here to see all our Czech Republic photos on Smugmug!
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