Ken’s posts from his vacation last fall continue…
That’s odd: I’m six days into my Czech Republic vacation and haven’t yet set foot in the Czech Republic. Today was the day- which would turn out to be a rather odd introductory day to a city I’ve dreamed of for years.
I got up early, said goodbye to no one as I exited the unmanned hotel, and trundled off to Gatwick for an EasyJet flight to Prague. It was so darn… easy. Do the Brits know how lucky they are to be just two hours and 170 bucks away from so many cool places?
Yeah, a lot of them did and were boarding my flight. The guidebook says that Prague is a popular place for “stag parties” and “hen parties” (I think we would call those bachelor parties and bachelorette parties). Sure enough, I was flanked by several groups of boisterous males looking forward to cheap beer and god knows what else.
Easy up, easy down, and I’m walking through Václav Havel airport (named for the last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic, who served from 1989 to 2003). Easy trip through customs, too. Hey, no stamp in my passport? Oh yeah, the European Union is no place for stamp collecting- when you’re in, you’re in.
The car-less traveler takes a bus from Václav Havel to the end of the subway line, and then trains it downtown. I boarded the modern bus and, like the other passengers, stared into space waiting for it to depart. Suddenly, the burly bus driver appeared a couple rows ahead of me. Without warning, he began yelling at a teenage girl. No “Excuse me, miss,” no pleasantries, just yelling. Now that’s old school Eastern European.
I didn’t need to speak the language to know that she was doing something wrong. He pointed, she shrugged, he gestured at the plastic cup in her hand. No beverages on the bus. She protested, he protested her protestation, she skulked off the bus and ditched the cup in a trash receptacle.
The 100 bus… to Metro B line… to the fun-to-say Karlovo náměstí (Charles Square) station.
I’ll walk the rest of the way to the hostel, but which way is that? Prague’s tangle of streets was already getting the best of me, and since my “smart” phone wasn’t enabled for international data, I couldn’t rely on GPS. On the bright side, I stumbled upon a Communist-looking facade- just the sort of thing I was looking forward to seeing in Prague.
I got my bearings and dragged my carry-on to ArtHarmony Prague, which their website calls an “original, completely atypical, family, romantic environment – an oasis of peace and harmony in the middle of a city.” It is “perfect for people with a tinge of esotericism and spirituality.” That’s me!
Um, actually, I chose this place mostly for the location- the tram stops at the front door. I just needed to figure out how to use the tram. But first, the sordid question of coin. The balance of my bill up is due, and they want it in cash. We’ve found that the further you get from New York City, the less useful your credit card becomes. (Editor’s note: Nepal is very far from New York City.) For four nights, I owed €203.87, which was US$275.91, also known as 5,300 Kč (Czech crowns). I felt rich taking thousands of Kčs out of the ATM across the street- then I parted with them at the front desk.
By then, most of the day had slipped away. So, how shall I spend my first night in Prague? It just so happens that the local Couchsurfing group hosts a meet-up every Thursday night at a local bar, giving me a chance to learn more about Prague and meet people from around the world, all in one fell swoop. I took the tram through downtown to Wenceslas Square (I’ll get to those sights in a future post), then walked uphill toward the bar. As the street rose, it afforded me a spectacular view of Praha hlavní nádraží, the city’s main train station.
I couldn’t help but think that in Milwaukee, this is a train station:
While in Prague, this is a train station:
I rounded the corner and found the bar. Stepping inside, I scanned the room for a multiracial group of unshaven young people, most likely drinking cheap beer and tapping away on mobile phones even while chatting with other patrons. You know, Couchsurfers.
And I found them… a whole lot of them… probably the most CSers I’ve ever seen in one place. Props to the Prague group for throwing such a happenin’ party every week!
I soon found myself with a cheap (yet quite tasty) beer in hand, chatting with two Russians who go to school here and an Indian who works here and a British/Indian tourist whose holiday is just about over and a Chinese traveler who carries around an old-fashioned camera and shoots (gasp!) film.
It was a bit overwhelming. Braving the chilly night, a few of us sought refuge on the open-air patio. That’s when we saw the puma. Yes, there is a real, live puma living at this bar atop a hill in Prague. He/she walked in circles in a fenced run above the patio. I don’t know why, and I don’t approve. Besides the mistreatment of this animal… what if he/she were to escape?
Back inside, I showed my age and cashed in my chips just as the youngsters were deciding where to go next. I would later hear that they were out until 4AM. Not me: I started the long walk downhill and it started to rain. Within moments, I found myself wielding my flimsy umbrella against a downpour- the rain was coming sideways and I was getting soaked.
I had to laugh. It was the perfect end to a perfectly disjointed day: stag parties, surly bus drivers, Communists, korunas, pumas, and wet socks. And I’ve only been here one day.