Scuffling with Gypsies
Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
62Trip End Apr 04, 2006
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The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of heading home
- Paul Theroux
Getting Somewhere Is Indeed Half The Fun
You may recall from the Krakow entry that there were very few options for getting from there to Prague. The only way was via overnight train, and with the cheapest berth, a seat, on that train costing a crazy €45 we didn't really have much of an option for our class of berth either. But that's okay because, as it turned out, the train was almost empty and we ended up getting a closed compartment, one which typically seats 6, all to ourselves. Again, I doubt we'd be as lucky during the busier summer months, when one might even have problems acquiring a seat berth. Anyway, we were happier than pigs in, well you know what, because with the whole compartment to ourselves we were able to lie across the seats and get some semblance of a nights sleep. It wasn't the most comfortable nights sleep ever but it was more than we were expecting. Plus, sharing an overnight train carriage once again brought us back a few months to our train trips in China, Mongolia and Russia. A fitting end to our overnight trips.
"Hey Crackhead, You Wanna Bit Of Me?"
So we got to Prague well rested. That was a good thing because we found ourselves walking through Prague train station at 7am and my flight wasn't until 8:15pm that evening. Plenty of time to look around and more than enough time, as it turned out, for trouble to find us. Walking across the train station arrivals hall we were approached by an overly friendly local bumming a cigarette. We, being the healthy conscious young men we are, didn't have one to give him, a pretty straightforward response he seemed to have difficulty understanding. This changed his tone which then turned aggressive, leading to a small scuffle between him and I. It could have been worse, I guess, but it was basically harmless, handbag stuff. We were eventually separated by a passer-by (yeah, I was wondering what Henk was up to as well) who informed us that he was more than likely a crackhead gypsy and we'd best leave before any hint of crackhead backup arrived. Fine by us. We had a city to explore.
And oh, what a city it is. Sitting right in the centre of mainland Europe, Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has a unique charm that draws tons and tons of tourists each year. Guidebooks wax lyrical about its magic. They have done so for decades, but especially since January 1st 1993 when the old Czechoslovakia ceased to exist and it split into present day Slovakia (to the east) and the Czech Republic. And for good reason. It's a golden, mystical city, full of cobbled streets, riverside parks and wonderful architecture of all types. It's my second time in the city, having first visited way back in August 1999. I remember commenting then on how beautiful the city was, how cheap it is and how busy its streets are. Today the city is still equally beautiful, not quite as cheap and, no doubt, just as busy, if not busier. I say no doubt because this time of year is not prime tourist season and although tourists were evident on the day we were in town I suspect it was nowhere as busy as it would be during the prime tourist months of the summer. Make no mistake; above all the beauty Prague is, unfortunately, a bit of a tourist trap, and I was glad to see the city during a relative quiet time, if only because I know how crazy it can be.
After finding a hostel for the Henkster we spent the day, as any tourist would, walking around central Prague, by far the best way to see it. Under glorious sunny skies we walked from Old Town Square, east of the Vltava River, to the castle district on the west bank. Again, and I'll be saying this for the last time, check out the pictures for the complete story. It doesn't take long walking the streets of Prague to notice how impeccably preserved all its fancy buildings are. While all of the previous Old Town boasting cities we visited (Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius , Warsaw & Krakow) all had their well preserved 'areas', the whole of central Prague is so well preserved and so nicely presented that one could be forgiven for thinking the whole city has recently been reopened after a huge face lift. A lot of the reason for its present condition has to do with the fact that the city escaped World War II with minimum damage and today the only damage the city is liable to suffer is as a result of the hordes of tourists who tramp around its streets each year.
The End. For Now
The Henkster and I were good not to leave our mark on the city and eventually we parted company with the ceremonial book-passing in the basement of Prague train station. Very few were on hand to witness the occasion. Actually, only two were on hand - Henk and I. But it was purely ceremonial as the trip doesn't end here. Nope. Let's just say we're taking a break. That's because myself and the Henkster have plans to reacquaint in a few weeks time in Ireland. I'm loving the fact that Henk will have the honour of being the first of the many people I have met on my travels to be treated to some real Irish hospitality as I show him around my homeland. But in the meantime I have to go home to catch up with family and friends, organize my upcoming return to Canada and entertain my gorgeous girlfriend Meg, the one I haven't seen since leaving Canada for South Korea in December. She's visiting for a few days during her March spring break. So I'll be busy for the foreseeable future. As for the Henkster. Well, the World, or at least central Europe, is his oyster. He plans to travel around for a bit before getting the flight to Ireland, the one he still has to buy. But I know he won't let me down. What this all means is that this Travelogue isn't quite done yet. While my trip proper might be ending here, there will still be Henk's time in Ireland to report on and who know what else. I hope you don't mind? For now however I will bow out quietly as I bid this trip, and the Henkster, adieu. I've got a flight to catch. And gypsies to avoid.