Saturday, January 5, 2008

In which our heroine leaves the country.

So, my apologies for my absence of posting recently - I've been in Prague. Isn't that fun to say? "Oh, so sorry you've missed me - I've been in Praaaaaague, dahlings." (say that with an affected upper-crust accent and your nose in the air)

But anyway, I've been Prague for the past couple of days. What follows is the text-based story of my adventures - I'll post a slide show or something in a day or two, once I get my seventeen billion photos sorted. Be warned that this will be extremely long and full of asides.

So, let's start at the very beginning (that's a very good place to start... ). I got on the train from Dresden at 5:10 pm Thursday afternoon and got things off to an auspicious start when I sat down in the compartment reserved for the conductor people and had to get off and find a new compartment. I had it all to myself for a bit, but then some guy (Dutch, maybe? not sure - English wasn't his native language, but I couldn't place his accent) joined me, and we sat in convivial silence until an older Czech lady sat down with us and turned it into an awkward silence, which was occasionally punctuated by the clicks of her incessant texting on her incongruously orange cell phone.

All in all, it was a pleasant enough train ride (except that it was dark so I couldn't see any scenery). It ended around 7:30 at the Prague main train station, which was bloody terrifying. Compare and contrast. German station: heated, well-lit, insulated from the outside, well-organized with seating and shops and platforms laid out in an orderly fashion. Prague main train station: cavernous, open enough that there was a soul-destroying wind and pigeons (also soul-destroying, if by soul you mean bread crumbs), laid out apparently completely randomly with no seating (so that people were sprawling everywhere on the concrete) and money-changing scams (they list the buy price of euros and pounds and dollars instead of the sell price on their signs, so that you are lured in by a rate significantly better than you'll actually get).

Anyway, the Prague station was extremely jarring and scary. I managed to get my money changed over at a decent rate (Czech coins are the prettiest things ever - very medieval-looking), and I then made my way to the metro to find my way to my hostel. Taxis are apparently a bad idea in Prague, according to a number of sources, so I didn't try them. The metro was a bit confusing, but not too bad, and I made it to my eventual stop with little difficulty.

(Side point: Czech escalators are absolutely terrifying. They're about three times as long as any I've ever been on in America or Germany, and about twice as steep, and they move at the speed of light.)

Unfortunately, there's where things started to get tricky. The address of my hostel was 7 Namesti Republiky (spelling errors are all my fault, since I'm trying to type a Czech name from memory). I assumed that Namesti Republiky was a street, of course, but alas, I could only find the signs for it on one building, which I promptly dubbed the Wedding Cake, due to its multitude of frothy white layers. So I went up and down that street and nearby streets for about an hour. It was dark, and cold, and my bag was heavy, and it was altogether miserable. Finally, I wound around to the back of the wedding cake and found, in this dark scary alley, a heavy wooden door, half-covered with wrought-iron bars, with no light inside and a single creaking crooked sign reading "HOSTEL."

Needless to say, I was nervous about this establishment. It took me about twenty minutes to work up the courage to venture into this forbidding entrance. Once in, I climbed two sets of steep spiral stairs and came to a plain wooden door with the hostel name on it. I opened it up and all of a sudden it's bright and cheery and pleasant, and best of all, warm. Freaky. So, I check in (280 crowns a night [about ten euro], not bad) and go to the room I'm assigned. Six bunks, of course. I picked the only empty lower bunk. It's all nice and clean, but very sparse - about what you'd expect for ten euro a night.

(Side point: I'm going to stop here to discuss the hostel and my nights therein. The bed was okay - lumpy and poorly padded, but okay. The pillow felt like it was stuffed with feet. Four feet, to be precise. Foot-sized separated lumps of padding, about the same texture you would expect from feet. The roommates were the real adventure. I shared the room with five guys, speaking four different languages. We didn't talk much. The first night I slept for about two hours, because the Chinese guy snored like nothing I've ever heard before, and because the two Spanish guys were openly gay. Normally this wouldn't be a problem with me at all, but the trouble was that they were being extremely openly gay at 2am in the bunk next to me. That's just annoying.

So, the next night was a bit better, and I shall tell you why. Around 3am, Chinese Guy starts snoring again, which wakes me up. It also wakes up the guy in the top bunk of my bed. So, Chinese Guy keeps snoring. It's loud. It's annoying. It goes on for an hour and a half, with me and the other guy both sighing and tossing and turning and sounding progressively more annoyed. I bang on the wall to try to wake him up a little. Bunk-above-me Guy claps his hands. I kick the ladder on Chinese Guy's bed. The snoring continues unabated. Finally, my companion in insomnia has had enough. He leaps from his bed, marches over next to Chinese Guy, and starts shouting at him in Russian. I almost peed myself laughing [silently, of course - I didn't want scary Russian wrath turned on me]. It worked, though. Apparently having an angry Russian standing a foot from your face screaming at you is terrifying enough to put off sleep for the rest of the night.)

So, back to the linear tale. The next morning I went to an Irish pub place for some sustaining breakfast (black pudding is delicious, as it turns out) and then embarked on tourism. I'm going to tell the details of that part with pictures, pretty much, so I'm going to skip now to general comments on the experience.

So, what can I say.... Prague is a beautiful city, but it left me cold. I'm not sure why. I think part of it is that it's maybe too pretty. You see scenic street after scenic street, and you quickly become kind of numb to it. The bigger part though is that it kind of feels like it sold its soul, not to rock 'n' roll but to tourism. And tourism and tourism and tourism. Yeah yeah, I know, I'm a tourist complaining about the tourism. Shush and hear me out.

The streets are completely packed with tourists, and this is what they call the low season. I can't imagine how there could possibly be more than there were this weekend. I don't think I spoke to two actual Czechs the entire time I was there. I heard more English than Czech, and more German, and more Spanish, and more French, and more Italian. Every street in a two-mile radius of the old section is packed with souvenir shops. It's like a repeating cycle: t-shirts, glassware, amber/garnet jewelry, nesting dolls, fur hats, scarves, chess sets, shirts, glass, jewelry, dolls, repeat repeat. How many bloody stores selling cheap amber jewelry does one city need?

(And while I'm on that topic: PRAGUE, you are not bloody Russia, do you hear me? Quit selling the China-made nesting dolls and fur hats! You're not fooling anyone! ...except the throngs of tourists, whoopsy.)

Rant aside, though, I had fun. It is a lovely city. I didn't get much sleep, but I did get a lot of shiny pictures, and some souvenirs, of course, though I tried to avoid the schlock. Got a pretty necklace near the castle, a couple of cool-looking chunks of agate and something else that were mined near there, and a few other things. Overall, it was fun. It just didn't leave me with a lot of feeling.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

Well, currently posting this from TX, I think I would rather be in prague.

Not that Texas is bad, but I can't say that I've been to any foreign country. :-(