Prague

Trip Start May 29, 2005
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Trip End Jul 28, 2005


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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

May 31,

So anyway, I took a train from dresden to prague and the train broke down about 1 hour into the trip. At the border of germany and the czech republic the german crew debarks the train and a bunch of czechs take over. Immediately after that the train breaks down in what I gather is a daily ritual. The two hour ride became a 4 hour ride in an unairconditioned car but man was it worth it. Prague is a fascinating city. I've seen a bunch of european cities by now and prague wins in terms of authenticity. Everything was built 1000 years ago and by some freak of nature prague avoided the destruction every other city has faced in that time. Hitler liked prague so much he decided to spare it...ditto for some various other nefarious characters who have run things around here throughout the past few hundred years.
Everything in prague is ancient. Dark black stained sandstone sculptures, early gothic construction, and lots of dark age craziness. The city has an obsession with death. One of their favorite traditions is defenestration. I didn't know the word until today but it means "out the window". Basically every 100 years or so the citizens of prague would get uppity and toes a) the government or b) the bishop out the window of a rather tall tower. Alternatively, they would toss folks off the charles bridge(older than london bridge and more impressive if you can believe that) into the valtava river in a burlap sack. Not a peaceful time, those middle ages. Trivia fact of the day is that Charles the IV laid the first stone of the charles bridge on July 9, 1351, at 5:31 am. His goal was to start the bridge on a palindrome time for good luck. I'm not sure if that math works out and more importantly, I'm not sure if anyone in 1351 knew what 5:31 am looked like. Seems awfully accurate. Most interesting site I saw today was the arm of a thief hanging on the wall inside a local cathedral. The story goes that in the 14th century(recently in prague time) a rogue sort of fellow got his arm caughtin a statue of the virgin mary while trying to steal some jewels from the church. The virgin mary proceeded to rip his arm off to teach him a lesson. Whether or not you believe that I can vouch for the fact that a 600 year old arm is hanging from the wall from this particular church...a very creepy site. In fact most of the sculptures and artwork in this city deal with similar themes. As soon as I upload some pictures I'll show you what I mean.
Today I took a tour of the prague castle in the morning and a walking tour of the city in the afternoon. The castle was built in the 1100s and has been updated since then. It isn't a fortress like the tower of london but has become the center of government. Imagine Buckingham palace and the TOL all in one. Afterwards I followed a scottish bagpipe troupe around town (not sure what they were doing but it was fun) before meeting some poles at a local pub. I was grabbing a drink and reading my tourist book when these two polish guys challenged me to a drinking contest (parents: stop reading here). Unfortunately for the poles, I realized two things that they did not. 1) they had been drinking all day. 2) I have been drinking all month. These two facts combined resulted in a dramatic win for the US of A. They upped the ante to jagermeister early on and lost. In fact I'm not even sure if they remember the contest. They were, however, fun guys to talk to. One of them is a dentist in chicago and the other works in Krakow and gave me some good tips for when I visit there next week.Interesting talking to them about communisim and life during the transition. Quote of the day was "maybe the germans attacked us, but the US betrayed us". Not sure what that means so I just nodded, smiled, and out drank them (yeah it's that kind of trip...what did you expect?) This evening I met up with some hostel folks and we went out around town. Tomorrow I'm taking a day trip to a local castle about 25k from here. I am in prague 1 or 2 more days before heading east for poland. Highly recomment this town. Great people, amazing site, and it feels like legitimate medieval europe of the sort you can't find in western europe anymore. Local czechs feel democreacy has destroyed the city but with only 10 years in the works there is still a great deal of original europe to see and it is something else.
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