Days of Many Steps

All over Europe, but in particular Prague, Gabe and I walk, walk, and walk some more. We also take our share of metros, trams, and buses, but walking is a great way to see any city. In Prague, we are staying about a three to four kilometer walk out of the Old Town, Stare Mesto, and from there, it is probably another kilometer to the famous Charles Bridge, which is a couple kilometers from the Prague Castle, Prazsky hrad. Although no single stage of our journey seems like a large commitment after walking to and from the castle, our feet are a little sore. And this does not include the walk to the USA Embassy to show our support on the 4th of July, the walk to the club and back the night before, the meander around the Jewish quarter, the stroll around town during the walking tour, and the train station adventure.

Near the Charles Bridge at night

We need to find the train station in order to purchase tickets for our overnight train to Budapest the following day. And to find the station, Gabe and I think that we are being smart by looking at a map, finding the largest collection of tracks, and heading in that direction. We find many railroad tracks just northeast of the city, and although the weather is drizzly, we put on our raincoats and start walking. We get near the tracks, start looking for signs or large train-station-looking buildings. We find nothing. Eventually, we again pull out the map, and find another slightly smaller although still large collection of railroad tracks. Luckily, we are able to see the comedy in the situation and laugh even as we continue to have to walk through the rain. When we near the second grouping of tracks, we again do not see many signs, but at least we see a building that could pass as a train station. We walk in and it is darker and gloomier than we had expected. We maze through the station until finding a ticket counter. There is one window open that reads “International Tickets” above it and we reserve two seats on a train. After about 20 minutes of fiddling with my credit card, the man behind the counter finally gets it to work, we get our tickets, and we ask from where the train will be leaving. He lets us know that the train will be leaving from a station about 100m down the road. We are a little confused and decide it is best to explore this other train station now rather than tomorrow night. We get to this other station, which again is not very well marked, we enter, and we are presented with something more like we had expected. There are convenient stores, more ticket counters, escalators, and a level of cleanliness much greater than that from our first station.

In other words, between walking all over town, walking to Prague nightlife, and walking to the wrong train station, we calculate that we probably covered about the distance of a marathon in 48 hours in Prague.

Prague's famous clock

From inside Prague Castle

Famous Defenestrations

I am unsure how many famous defenestrations there have been in history, but I did learn about two that took place in Prague. As I remember from back in the days of SAT vocabulary, to defenestrate is to throw one out of a window. However, why a word exists that is so specific is unclear and makes me wonder if there is other similar vocabulary such as to debalconizate, to deroofate, or to destairate.  During our New Europe Free Tour of Prague, Gabe and I learn more about these defenestrations.

Defenestration Window
The site of the second defenestration.

Quick history lesson: The two defenestrations of Prague occurred in 1419 and 1618. The first involved an angry mob being frustrated that the town council members would not release their Hussite prisoners. As a result, the mob flooded the town hall and proceeded to throw the judge, the mayor, and 13 others out of the window and onto the street. This event sparked the Hussite wars, which lasted until 1436. The second defenestration is now marked as the starting point for the Thirty Years War between 1618 and 1648. This one began when Roman Catholic officials ordered that Protestant chapels stop being built on land which they thought belonged to them. A meeting occurred in the Prague Castle, where two imperial governors were tried for violating the Right of Freedom of Religion. They were found guilty, and afterwards, they were defenestrated from a 16-meter high window. Not even their secretary’s life was spared. Legend says that the governors landed on a large pile of manure and survived unharmed. They then left for Vienna to explain to the Emperor what had happened thus exciting only more conflict.

The moral of the story is when in Prague, don’t find yourself near a window during times of conflict.

Friend or Foe

We are in Prague for about two minutes before Gabe notices someone across the bus (which takes us the long distance of about 100m from plane to airport terminal) that is wearing a Cal Bears sweatshirt. We are discussing which baggage carousel is ours when Gabe loudly enough declares that we need not worry because we are following a Cal Bear. That gets their attention, and we soon get to chatting as we wait patiently for our baggage. Unfortunately or fortunately, it does not take long for the conversation to devolve into me spouting some Big Game statistics. For example: Cal gave up more points to us last year (48) than they had in their five previous games that year at home in Memorial Stadium. In addition, the Bears were only a last minute, trick play away from matching the largest one-sided loss in this rivalry’s history dating back to 1930 when Stanford beat Cal 41-0. After getting Big Game talk out of our system, we again became more cordial and ask the usual questions of where each other is from, how long we are traveling for, etc. And before we know it, our baggage comes, we exchange contact information, and we part ways.

After Amsterdam and a day of travel, Gabe and I feel a little tired and decide that tonight is a good night to take it easy, get a couple beers at a corner store, change into comfortable cards, put on some tunes, and play cards. We get to the stage of playing cards, when the computer rings with the modern equivalent tone to AOL’s “You’ve got mail.” We check, and it’s Tracy and Christina from the airport asking to see if we’re planning on going out tonight. We unabashedly admit to our current state of beers, pajamas and cards, but are also open to evening activity suggestions. They proceed to describe Karlovy Lazne, which is advertised as the largest club in central Europe. We research what comprises central Europe and several sources, including the very reputable Wikipedia, describe it as Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland. The biggest club of all these countries might be worth exploring, so Gabe and I rally, put our faces back on, and walk across Prague. Karlovy Lazne is five stories tall, and each story plays a different genre of music. We enjoy the oldies (which is now music from the 1990’s) and the pop music floors. The beers are inexpensive, the music fun, and the company good. It is easy to call our first night in Prague a success.

The timing then works perfectly that when we arrive back at our apartment, I call California where my extended family has gathered to celebrate my Grandma’s birthday! It is wonderful to hear everyone’s voices before I go to bed.

Czech into Prague

We upgrade from living on a boat to an apartment in Prague near the Vinohrady neighborhood of Prague 2 for about the same price (if not less). Similar to Paris, we again use, and we again have a positive experience. Waiting for us just outside the apartment is someone with a key and helpful tips about the city. The apartment is in a nice part of town although a bit out of the center, and looks like it belongs in an IKEA catalog.

Prague view

The first thing we do after arrival is find food. In general, the food here is good, heavy, and lacking of color. My favorites of the local cuisine include goulash and pork knuckle, both filling, and both tasty. Also, because the weather is overcast, rainy, and cool for most of our time in Prague, this heavy, warm food usually hits the spot perfectly. And no meal in Prague is complete without a cold glass of beer to wash it down. The beer, in fact, is cheaper than water at most restaurants, so I also feel that ordering beer is the more economical option.

Prague may be rainy, but with my second hand United Nations rain jacket I picked up at a second-hand store in Amsterdam, I am able to stay relatively dry, still appreciate the beauty of the city, and experience the history and architecture that surrounds me.