January 1-4, 2017: Freezing in Prague

Link to Prague album with over 1000 pictures: https://goo.gl/photos/wj6NymKoMAiyy7A4A

So I guess our trip to Prague started with our saga just getting out of Rome. The metro doesn’t start running until 8am because it’s New Year’s Day. And the one that came, the first train, was super crowded. We got to Termini but couldn’t find the bus. We went to three sides of the station and finally found one but it wasn’t leaving until 9:30. So we waited out in the cold. And to top it off, the luggage handle got stuck. So I was running just carrying the luggage in my hands because it was too short to roll. Ryanair is stupid and makes you do a visa check if you are not European. That is some infringement on sovereignty right there, if you ask me. And of course, when we got to the counter the Roman woman told us they don’t really check that here. Because once again, if they have a choice between doing work and not doing work, the Italian will choose to not do extra work. We got through security very quickly and then I fell asleep waiting for our flight. The plane left 30 minutes late because they put all the flights through the same gate. On my first Ryanair experience, I now understand what it’s like. They try to sell you stuff on the whole plane ride. Does anyone actually buy this stuff? My headphones finally broke. The sound was so bad on my new phone with those headphones. They were unusable.

We were sure to look at the exchange rate for the Czech currency and knew exactly how much money we wanted to take out. And then dad went and added an extra zero and took out way too much money in a useless currency, about $1000 USD. Especially because everything is so cheap in Prague. Dad has gotten bad at basic math and memory.

Our Airbnb in Brussels canceled on us at the last minute because the building is not structurally sound and there is no hot water or heat. So on the one hand, I guess it’s a good thing that they canceled. But it’s another thing that we have to figure out now. After the whole fiasco getting to the airport, and the ATM incident, we decided not to tell dad right away. It was like the Robert De Niro movie I caught on TV the night before. It’s a remake of a Tornatore film, so for some reason they were showing the English language remake in English without Italian dubs or subs. But the point is that in “Everybody’s Fine,” the kids keep this information from their dad because they don’t think he can handle it. There was nothing else on TV. New Year’s Eve coverage is terrible. Italian Ryan Seacrest is terrible and the music sucks and there’s no fireworks. It’s very lame. But anyways, dad knew already somehow because he’d read his email.

We took a cab and the trees were all a very pretty white. The frost and snow clings to the trees creating a magical landscape. We had a late lunch at Vietnamese restaurant. It was the only thing open on New Years. The food was cheap and good and Asian, exactly what I wanted. I know Morgan didn’t really want Vietnamese, but I hadn’t had Vietnamese in ages. Plus what’s better than pho on a cold day? The owner spoke to us about practicing English and immigrating. He has been in Prague for 11 years. Dad asked him about traffic in Prague, because that’s the kind of thing dad cares about when he’s looking at livability of a city. Dad has weird small talk. Dad’s English isn’t that good to begin with, but when he asks about strange topics like traffic, the language barrier shows.

We went into the Church of St. Ludmilla during Sunday service. Prague is very foggy. We wanted to get some stuff from the supermarket, but the 24 hours supermarket was closed…so it isn’t really 24 hours. What a lie. It is unbearably cold. It’s not too windy but the cold cuts right through your clothes, right through both pairs of pants. All we wanted to do, really, was stay inside. Especially because our bed was so much more comfortable than that terrible bed in Rome. We got to sleep more because we were on less of a tight schedule.

We didn’t really want to go back outside because of the cold, but we forced ourselves to have dinner at a bar around the corner in Namasti Miru (the square). We walked right by this crazy woman in a short dress in the cold. I had a Pilsner which is apparently from Pilsen, Czech Republic. Who knew?

Prague castle sits atop a hill overlooking the city. It is a very commercialized tourist site. We bought a full ticket and the full ticket didn’t even include going up the South Tower. There are gift shops everywhere. In fact one of the tickets you buy is to enter a section of the castle that is a row of gift shops. One of the shops was Kafka’s house. They all have the same souvenirs. Morgan wanted to try shooting a crossbow but we didn’t have small bills and the operator didn’t have change. It was snowing pretty hard but it made for some pretty pictures. They eat much earlier in Prague than in Rome. I got a discount with my student ID card at the restaurant. There is a Christmas market in the square inside the castle grounds. The Cathedral of St. vitus is huge and very majestic from the outside. We went through the whole thing with our ticket. Other people had to stay behind the ropes at the church, even the tours. We felt like the posh rich people looking out at the peasants that couldn’t get all the way in the church. And there’s the famous defenestration window in the castle. It’s just a window but it has history of people being thrown out of it.

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We didn’t have enough time to go up Petrin Lookout Tower. Instead we took the tram to the Lennon Wall. It’s exactly the kind of thing Morgan would like. A wall full of graffiti for pictures plus music from the Beatles. But we got stopped several times on our way to the wall. We passed through a market with a pony and a metal worker. It looked like Lil’ Sebastian. And of course, one of the main attractions is the clock in the main square. The clock is kind of cool I guess but it’s not really. We watched it strike the hour, and barely anything happens. The figures hardly move. Everyone stares up at the clock and then looks disappointed. I think the clock goes up there with Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid. Maybe it’d be more interesting if I understood the scientific significance of the clock.

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One of the things they do in the Czech Republic is trdelnik, which I didn’t know the name of before. I actually had it in the Christmas market in Cluj. It’s a cylinder/chimney of sweet bread. The one in Cluj was huge and cheap. The ones in Prague are about a quarter of the size and are filled with strawberries and cream or apples or ice cream or even savory salads. It’s better plain, I think. Also, the ones with filling are kind of expensive at almost $5.

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The Charles bridge is gorgeous but it was a little difficult to appreciate it in the dark. It has a view of the castle atop the hill. There are statues lining either side. We actually went back to the bridge two more times. The second time it was still too dark. Then we went again on our last morning. We used the bridge to cross into the old town. There is another Christmas market there. Kafka square has a plaque on the building where he was born, except it’s not actually the original building anymore. That was since knocked down. That’s just where it used to be. They’re kind of just milking it.

We had dinner at a beer place. I had a schnitzel and beer. They had live accordion music. It was a cool place. It’s right across from Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, which not-coincidentally is right down the street from another off-brand wax museum where they all look just a little weird.

Prague is a music city. There are musicians everywhere playing jazz and classical and Beatles and folk and even medieval. The medieval group played on the stage in the square. They play medieval songs on medieval instruments in ridiculous renaissance costumes. It’s certainly niche. They were actually quite good. And then, kind of odd, they facilitated a marriage proposal on stage…as if they’re really into renaissance fairs or something?

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The next morning, Morgan finally got the pastries in the train station that she’d been wanting ever since she laid eyes on them. The metro is very simply, just three lines with three intersection points. Each station has a unique modern design that you don’t really expect from Eastern Europe. Some of the stations are very deep in the ground. the escalators go down forever. And they go down very fast. That might’ve been the fastest escalator I’ve ever been on. On our way to the Jewish ghetto, we stopped outside Rudolfinum concert hall.

The Jewish ghetto was a really interesting experience. There are a bunch of synagogues that were preserved. The first one has names on the wall of Holocaust victims from the Czech Republic and there is audio reading names. The writing on the wall is perfectly straight in thick market. It is a very solemn monument. It then has the names of the concentration camps on the front wall. The second floor had a small exhibit of children’s drawings from Terezhin concentration camp. That was really powerful and sobering. The cemetery is the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe. It doesn’t look that big, but the graves are all very close together and it is vast.

I really appreciated the first synagogue but the rest were about Jewish culture. It was admittedly kind of weird because Hitler preserved the ghetto as a museum of the Jewish race that he would hold up to the world after he’d exterminated them all. You don’t have museums like this for civilizations that still exist. It’s an extinction kind of thing, like ancient Egypt or classical Greece. The ghetto kind of fulfills Hitler’s prophecy. I understand they think they’re actually being defiant by preserving and exhibiting their culture but I don’t think it comes off that way. The Spanish synagogue is really pretty. I read about Wissenschaft des judentums, which I amazingly learned about in Jewish History class. That’s right! I actually knew some of this stuff! And then forgetful Morgan left her had in one of the synagogues and we had to double back.

Prague has an Apple Museum (I wonder if Apple knows about this). It doesn’t seem to be sanctioned by Apple, rather it is someone’s personal collection of Apple products.

I had fried cheese for lunch at a bar. It’s like mozzarella in carozza, but it’s actually better than I’ve had in Italy. It’s more like American style fried mozzarella. Needless to say, I was very happy with it.

Back at home, they were showing the Giants game with Czech commentary, as if they really understand American football outside the US. I would watch football again in Vienna with German commentary, but you’ll read about that in another post. Outside our building, there is some dog poop that mom insists on pointing out every time we walk in and out. She is very adamant about us avoiding it. The apartment has two doors. We have to lock the outer gate, essentially locking ourselves in. It’s probably a safety thing, but it’s also definitely a fire hazard.

One our last day, we went to Dancing House, designed by Frank Gehry. It is a very Frank Gehry looking building. I could’ve guessed it was him. Down the street, we went to a tavern that was decorated in Nazi memorabilia for some reason. I couldn’t tell if they were sympathizers or what. It has newspaper headlines about assassinations and pictures of hiel-ing people. It is very strange. The menu outside was in English and it was more extensive but they didn’t have it inside for lunch. The lunch menu came with a tomato soup like chef Boyardee, so Morgan liked that. At this point, I think everyone was sick of eating bread dumplings. Dumpling is really a misnomer. It’s basically just bread. And usually bread is good, but it’s just this heavy soggy starch that is not good. We recently discovered what this tavern is. Mom and dad saw the movie “Anthropoid” about the Czech resistance. The tavern sits right next to the Church of St Cyril and Methodius where the attempted assassins were cornered by the Nazis. So that is probably what all that was. Kind of amazing we figured that out coincidentally. I thought we’d go our whole lives not knowing.

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Our last stop before the airport was the powder tower and the mall. We had so much time at the airport. There was a supermarket at the airport and everything was super cheap. Morgan and dad had a ball finishing the rest of our Czech money (dad converted most of it back to USD). We were only left with 2 dollars after buying mom a relatively expensive cappuccino. Not that it was expensive, but everything in the supermarket was so cheap and cappuccino in Italy is also so cheap.You could buy so much with so little! I got a donut for 5 crown, which is like 8 cents. Morgan after all that excitement got spoiled chocolate milk. She was so disappointed. I laugh now as I write this remembering how disappointed she was after being so excited about what she could buy with her approximately 2 dollars.

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