Czechin' Out Prague

Trip Start Jun 16, 2011
1
9
Trip End Jul 21, 2011


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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Thursday, July 7, 2011

Yeasou from our grounded plane (thunderstorms) in Milan on our way to Athens.

For the last 3 nights we stayed at the Sir Toby Hostel in Prague, Czech Republic. We arrived in Prague by train. The trip took around 6 hours and was thankfully uneventful. After arriving at the hostel we were greeted by Richard, an overbearing/very welcoming desk worker. He was very helpful with familiarizing us with the city although he micromanaged our every move from the moment we walked into the hostel.

After dropping off our bags in our room we headed towards the center of the city to exchange our Euros for Krowns. Once we were flush with Czech money we walked over the famous Charles Bridge. It was here that we were surprised to see what a beautiful place Prague is. Neither one of us knew what to expect from this lesser known eastern European city but definitely didn't anticipate the beautiful architecture and landscape. Getting hungry we headed to an area of the city recommended by Richard for authentic Czech food. We were happy to quickly find a restaurant that looked good and had reasonable prices. Ryan ordered the roasted duck and Patrick had a chicken dish baked in a ceramic bowl. We laughed at the fact that this was only the second time we had a sit down dinner since the trip had started. Both of our dishes were around 150 crowns which would be about 10 US dollars and it was delicious!! From our short trip walking around we were pleased to find that a combination of a more reasonable exchange rate and all around cheaper prices in comparison to the cities we had been visiting. Tired from our travels we returned to the hostel and went down to the pub located in the basement to finish our Berlin blog. The pub was by far the nicest bar in a hostel we have seen. It was all brick featuring arched doorways, hard wood furnishings and a cozy lounge. The pub had a very cool atmosphere with reasonable/good Czech beer.

The next morning Richard offered his beloved "No Umbrella Tour". He gave it this title because we would be visiting places off the beaten track and we would be in a small group so we wouldn’t find him holding up an umbrella for us to follow. We were unsure about what to expect spending 3-4 hours with Richard but, despite his bossy demeanor we decided that taking a walking tour of the city might do us some good. The tour took us to cool places that we would have never seen without him and gave us insight that we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, such as “The Czech humor”. Czech people pride themselves on their dry/ sarcastic sense of humor. For example some time ago a radio tower was erected in the middle of the city. The citizens hated it for being an eye sore and asked a famous Czech artist to “make it more human”. The artist did so by painting a pair of twin alien babies on the top of the towers. The main attraction of our tour was a museum dedicated to the most famous Czech person in history, Jara Cimrman a fictional character. Originally Cimrman was meant to be a representation of the Czech people but his character became wildly popular for being the unappreciated inventor, playwright, philosopher, etc.  Richard’s no umbrella tour was helpful and did give us a better understanding for the culture but his shotgun method of spitting out random unrelated facts along with personal experiences/jokes (all of this in broken English) was hard to follow and didn’t give us the full picture of Prague we were hoping for.

After the tour we went to the Prague castle and walked through it’s garden. The castle was an outstanding specimen of gothic (?? We think) architecture and sits high on a hill giving a great view of the city. Czech is known for their delicious beer so after the castle we risked taking another one of Richard’s recommendations and went to Bar Bar in the Old Town district of the city. This proved to be the most helpful advice we got from Richard. Bar Bar had a great atmosphere and offered us an opportunity to taste a variety of Czech Beers. After relaxing in the Old Town we grabbed a pizza on the way back and decided to attend the quiz night put on by our Hostel. Arriving at the pub, we were a little set back to only find 6 other people (an Aussie, a Kiwi, a Canadian, a Brit, and two fellow Americans). After we commented on how this looked like the beginning of a joke, we quickly hit it off. Working in teams of two we were overly confident about our chances of winning. The first round bruised our egos a little bit (6 out of 10) but made us more determined to step it up for the next round. This round proved to break us as we altered our strategy to shoot for the 3rd place prize of gummy bears. After the final scores were tallied, we found ourselves in dead last place.

However two points would be awarded to the team with the funniest name. Being avid trivia night attendees back home we have picked up a few good ones along the way. We settled for “Hi, my name is Al and I am an alcoholic.” After our quiz master (named Al) read this we respondeed in unison with “Hi Al.” Winning the bonus points made us tied with third place and closer to our gummy bears. Unfortunately the tie breaker question (How many episodes of South Park are there?) landed us back in last. This was a bummer but it did afford us with some really cool friends who we hung out with the rest of the night.

The next morning we discovered that our hostel has bikes for hire. With our biking experience in Amsterdam in mind we knew how we were going to spend our last full day in Prague. Amsterdam taught us there is no better way to see a city than by bike and we weren’t going to miss this opportunity. The cost was only 2 euro more than an all-day metro ticket and took us to anywhere we could possibly want to visit. We started off by going towards the castle via the bike paths through the park and the zoo (another good recommendation of Richard). Although we had to carry our bikes up what seemed to be a never ending flight of stairs to get to the park, the view from the lookout at the top reconfirmed how surprisingly beautiful this city is. While bike riding we passed by a homeless man who appeared to be in great pain with a grossly infected ankle. We have passed hundreds of homeless people along our journey, but this man struck a chord with us. We decided to go back to check on him and offer him some money. Martin broke our stereotypes on what we thought homeless people were like. He was bilingual, up on current events, a deep and insightful thinker and not an alcoholic or drug user. We were really moved by the fact that he still had hope and ambitions for his future including eventually making it to university and starting a family. He brought up more than once that people treat him like he is a dog and we could tell that having people talk to him like an equal human was something that he was not used to and appreciated. We gave Martin enough money for a decent meal but he gave us a new appreciation for the trip that we are on and how blessed we are for what we have. The most remarkable thing about our conversation with Martin was that he let us know that even though he is in a bad situation there are people out there who are in a worse situation. This coming from a man who didn’t even have a shirt on his back- it really put our complaining about petty inconveniences in perspective.

After saying goodbye to Martin, we rode our bikes enjoying the scenery before stopping at a park to watch some locals sword fight. We then rode into the center of the city and found a mall to look for a new pair of jeans for Pat (after his only pair fell apart). Needing a caffeine boost we stopped at Starbucks in the mall to order some Frappuccinos. While things are generally less expensive in Prague some Americanized things are not. For instance for the price of one Frappuccino you can get a delicious roasted duck dinner and for the price of four Frappuccinos you can get a new pair of jeans. The coffee drinks were grossly overpriced but we were desperate for the energy so we gave in and purchased two venti java chips. After the mall we realized that we have neglected to get a single souvenir from any of the cities we had visited so far, so we jumped back on the bikes and went to the most touristy area we could find (loved ones look forward to some Prague memorabilia). We visited dozens of different gift shops looking for something unique and authentic to Prague only to find the exact same mass produced merchandise in each store. Once we finally settled on our purchases (sorry no spoilers) we went searching for the John Lennon wall. We had seen the attraction on our tourist map but we didn’t exactly know what it was or why Prague had a John Lennon wall in the first place. On a section of a wall near the French Embassy thousands of people have spray-painted Beatles lyrics, portraits, memorials, messages, and anti-Yoko propaganda in honor of the late musician. We saw a tour guide talking to his group so we took the opportunity to wander past and get some insight. Apparently one day shortly before the fall of communism a young student painted a portrait of Lennon on the wall and was caught by the police in the act. Being that Lennon stood for ideas of freedom and individualism this act didn’t sit well with the authorities. Normally the student would have been horribly beaten for the offence but the officers didn’t want to be seen by French ambassadors roughing up a kid so they just let him go and painted over the picture. The next day the student came back to re-do the portrait. This went back and forth for some time while more and more people started using the wall to pay tribute to Lennon and his ideologies until the owners of the wall finally decided to allow it. The wall now stands as a tribute to the freedom that Czechs have experienced after being released from Communist rule.

After taking pictures of ourselves making the peace sign in front of the memorial, we decided to just ride our bikes around the city and take in some other sights. The more we rode the more we fell in love with Prague. We decided that out of all the places we visited up to that point Prague was the most surprising. It is arguably the most beautiful/ coolest city we have been to, also the great weather we encountered helped.  After a long time of riding we decided to take advantage of the affordability of the country and had our third sit down dinner. We capitalized on the opportunity to be healthy and had salad, grilled chicken breast, and mixed vegetables. The food was delicious although the waiting staff was not very friendly. During our travels we have found that on multiple occasions we unintentionally come off as pushy while ordering food. This has always been met with ICY cold service. We made a point to be overly kind but failed to win over the servers. Once rested and satisfied it was beginning to get dark so we started the long ride back to Sir Toby’s.  For the rest of the night we enjoyed the company of all the cool hostel mates while preparing for our early morning flight and made an attempt to get some more laundry done (which was unsuccessful).

Prague was exceptional! We have both decided that the Czech Republic is a place we would gladly re-visit.  Although its sights are not as famous or extravagant as places such as Rome, Paris, London, etc. this city has a lot to offer.

Please bear us- Athens and Santorini coming soon!

Thanks,

Ryan and Patrick
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