First of all a somewhat amusing thing about me going to Prague: My sister visited Europe in 2004 on a study abroad program, and her teacher got her passport stolen in Prague. My mother then had an impression of Prague being dangerous and warned me to be careful there. Prague might have a few pickpockets, but looking at my itinerary I think Prague was the least of my worries.
Since we flew into Prague from Canada and made a connection to Moscow and for some reason a return airfare was about the same as one-way, whenever we had to leave Europe we had to come back to Prague. Therefore I visited Prague twice, once when Sergey and Marge left and once when I left. We also waited for several hours for the connection in PRG when we came and being used to airports like YVR, YYZ, and NRT (and now also HKG), PRG was somewhat lacking.
As was the norm of this trip we arrived at Prague on an overnight train. After I came back to Canada I found out that the Krakow–Prague train was known to be especially dangerous and that cars had been gassed and people having everything stolen while they were "asleep". It just shows how these stories are just scare stories, or that we had gerat luck. Anyway, the train ride was uneventful; the Russian train was still the best; we spent most of the time sleeping. The businesses in order when we arrived in Prague was the following:
- Get Czech money.
- Go to the toilet.
- Try to check in at the hostel.
Getting Czech money was easy enough: reliable-looking ATMs were present at Praha hlavni nadrazi (as I mentioned before I love this word), and exchange rates were the best at train stations. Going to the toilet was more difficult since the stupid ATM gave us large bills only and the toilet attendant refused to break our 2000 kc bills. I suppose paying for a 5 kc fee with a 2000 kc bill was excessive. Finally one place broke one of our bills and we received too many coins.
The thing about Czech money was that there was a lot of coins. Not just coins, but giant, heavy coins. The coins were at least twice the weight of the equivalently valued Canadian coin. The dual-metal fifty koruna piece was particularly quite the looker. I imagine Czech men being plagued with hole problems in their trousers.
Back to the toilet. I peeked in the stall area to see what the Prague train station toilet was like before using the sink to brush my teeth, and the toilet attendant thought I was going to use the toilet and the sink, which had separate charges. Seeing how I spoke zero Czech and had zero understanding of Slavic tongues I couldn't explain myself but somehow I escaped without paying extra. Perhaps she was tired of arguing about five korunas.
The train arrived at the ungodly hour of six in the morning and our hostel did not have a 24-hour reception. So we ate breakfast by the Vltava, enjoying the Prague scenery. I'm unsure why I'm not impressed by the view. After all, people call Prague the most beautiful city in central Europe, and since Prague was largely untouched by the war many of its quaint buildings were originals.
Prague was fine at dawn, and soon it became less fine when the tourists woke up. OK, I was a tourist too, and we were in the tourist area. But my idea of Prague was Kafka and Smetana and the Velvet Revolution, not spires and a town square that looks like every other where tourists sit under beer advertisements and a crowded castle that's not worth the entrance fee. The romantic image was at once broken and I spent my first visit to Prague disliking it very much, and also I was unhappy with our Turkey train ride situation, and Sergey and Marge leaving. We had trouble finding reasonably priced and tasting food in Prague and started visiting supermarkets more often, meaning that we mostly ate bread, cheese, and sausages. I found the fare monotonous and was eating to live and not to enjoy, which added to my dissatisfaction and I longed to return to Canada, or more precisely Vancouver. For 200 CDN, my air receipt said, I could change my return ticket.
I grew sicker in Prague (I say it's the Russian virus) and spent about 20 hours sleeping continuously one day. The next day we took a train to Kutna Hora where the Sedlec ossuary, a church decorated with human bones, was located. Outside the train station was a house labeled "Traveler Hell S.O.S.". Upon closer inspection the second "l" in "Hell" was originally a "p". According to a letter posted in front of the house it was originally a travelers' help place, and the owner left after being driven out by the local officials, apparently (according to the owner) because he was telling the tourists to Kutna Hora to just walk to the ossuary instead of taking a bus or a taxi, and that there was nothing else to see in the town. I must say both of those are good advices. We took the first but not the second.
Sedlec ossuary was interesting. The site was a mass grave for victims of the Plague, and in the 19th century a Czech created the present decoration from those bones to symbolize that the dead belonged to the same community as the living. In the centre hung a chandelier, allegedly containing every bone in the human body. A Japanese tour group came in after us and the eerie atmosphere in the ossuary gave away to chatter that I could somewhat understand. Since the train back to Prague was not until a few hours later, we decided to check out the town of Kutna Hora. There were signs pointing to the town centre and we thought it meant there was something to see. However in the entire town there was a total of three things open, two of them were cafes and one was a sports bar. They must be the entire income of the town. What a waste of half a day. My advice was that you only need at most two hours in Kutna Hora.
Now for the best part of Kutna Hora and also of Prague so far: We found a "grep" flavored drink at a supermarket in Kutna Hora. Earlier we found "grep" flavored ice-cream near the town square in Prague. "Grep" meant "grapefruit" in Czech, but to us it meant the best *nix utility and to eat and drink grep was totally the thing to do. To tell the truth the grep drink was quite vile and I refused to drink it when I returned to Prague later, but for some reason Luke and Julian enjoyed it very much. I think it had more to do with the price than the taste.
We completely underestimated the cost of staying in Prague. We had to withdrew money multiple times, and still we kept running out. We had not realized that we should just have one person withdraw money to save on service fees, and the biggest winner here was probably the bank. We stupidly went to a laundry place advertised at the hostel and had to pay an arm and a leg to wash two loads of clothes. I had known there was also a laundromat at the train station and it probably was better priced, like everything at train stations were.
We sent off Sergey and Marge, bought a six-pack of Czech Budweiser, and went to take care of things related to going to Turkey. Czech Bud was indeed better than American Bud but still nothing to write home about. What was worthy of writing home about was that we lacked a bottle opener. There was not one at the hostel, and we were totally pathetic at opening it with other tools. Every bottle was a struggle.
Everybody spoke English (other than the toilet attendant) in Prague so far. Everything was tourist-priced and of tourist-quality. There were too many drunk Brits at seven p.m., and I didn't know what's so lovely about a bridge with statues or a large clock tower. I didn't know why there were so many "Bohemian glass" shops and why the souvenir shops sold Putin matryoska and "Russian hats", or why anybody thought a "Czech me out" t-shirt was a good idea. When was I going to leave Prague? When was I going back to Canada?