Sunday, September 9, 2007

Prague

Okay the gloves are off. For those of you who’ve complained my travels have been boring and too photo-oriented for a guy who claims to hate being a tourist, THIS is the story you have been waiting for.

But still, it involves little to brag about.

Also, you will have to read through the usual rambling crap first.

I woke up rather crusty from the pub crawl in Berlin but felt pretty good overall. I asked the cute hostel clerk/bartender (yes they are the same person) the best way to get out of town and hit Prague. She gave me directions to Haubenhoff train station (probably spelled that wrong but who cares?) and when I got there, I was TOTALLY confused.

Please note, I am nearly 3 weeks into Europe and I have yet to take a Eurail train. So I was expecting a crowded train station full of tourists going the same direction. Well it was huge and nice but seemed very local.

I walked around for a good 10 minutes with 50 lbs of gear on my back and decided to park it at a McDonalds because I had NO CLUE how to do something as simple as book a train.

I finally figured it out and found the travel center (which was empty…I get the feeling it was open solely for idiots like me) and since the economy ticket to Prague was 60 euro and the first class ticket was 85, well I decided to splurge, especially after staying in the hostel.

My trip was very relaxing, though the waiter in the first class car had such horrific B.O. I stopped ordering after my ham and cheese sandwich and glass of red wine.

I made it to Prague and once again had no clue what to do. Yes, I had my hotel booked, and even wrote down the address and confirmation number, but other than that, unprepared.

I found the taxi stand but was surprised to see that while it had taxis, it had no taxi DRIVERS waiting for me. I walked around a bit more thinking I must be in the center of town but then started having lower lumbar pains due to said 50 lbs of gear.

I walked back to the taxi stand and a voice whispered from the shadows “Taxi?”.

I said “yes!”. I showed him the address and hotel name and he went to the back of his trunk and pulled out a laminated piece of paper showing the “fixed rates” into town, which seemed way too high.

Not knowing how far city center was, and nearly in traction, I said “sure, fine!”

Unfortunately, he quoted me a price of about 40 euro, and after 10 minutes of driving, and about 8 left turns in a row, we arrived at my hotel. I needled him only slightly for the obvious rip-off, but he gave me the “I’m sorry sir, it is a set rate” guff.

Oh well.

I checked into the hotel and it was rather nice so all was fine.

I was very happy to hit Prague since I had a friend Jana there, who I met in NYC when she visited Joe. This was great for several reasons, namely: (1) I was tired of being by myself to the point I was feeling a bit like a loser at times. (2) Jana is darn fun, likes to drink, and is extremely proud of her town and LIKES to show people around. And most importantly, (3) She happens to be a bone-crushingly hot Czech gal.

But anyway, she checks her email less than I check my pulse and she wasn’t exactly informed of my relatively early arrival, but that was fine since I wasn’t down for a full night of partying. (this was a Wednesday)

So I went to a nearby restaurant to get some food. I ordered the spicy pepper steak and boiled potatoes but they only had the spicy pork and French fries ready. (Um, okay?)

The food was excellent anyway and the 2 gals working at the bar were rather cute and friendly. I had one of them take the pic of me with the Absinthe…which I didn’t drink (that night at least).

Now my hotel is a bit far from the city center but I was happy for that since I’m about done with touristy lodging spots, so I asked for a good pub nearby.

(For those wondering when the story is coming, well, never)

So it is about 10pm and I’m tired, but not out of energy.

I hopped on the first tram I saw, without looking at a map, and headed “into town”. Unfortunately, I hopped on a train that sorta went into town but then took a hard right and headed north. I eventually ended up at the airport (after like 20 minutes, when I KNEW I wasn’t going anywhere useful, but I enjoyed the people watching!) and I hopped off and then took a tram headed the other direction.

Fed up, I got off at the same stop I had initially caught it on and just went to the first bar I saw, called “Monty’s Herna bar”. I didn’t like the name much but then again I was thirsty and it was just about the only bar in the area.

I walk in and there is no bar, no bartender, just a guy sitting in a loveseat wearing a sweatshirt and tight red boxer briefs, and he seems far too surprised and/or happy to see me. I notice another guy get up from his seat and walk behind the counter.

Me
“Um, what kind of bar is this? It said night club outside?”

Him
“Oh, this is the hostel entrance. The bar is on the other side.”

So thinking little of the man-lady in red, I went into the other bar.

It was not as odd, but also dead. I left and started walking back to the hotel.

Not far from the hotel, what seems to be a beggar comes up to me asking for money. I tell her I’m American and don’t understand a friggin word, and she pesters me just enough (about 3 seconds, which is all it takes) and I give her 10 Koruna, worth about 50 cents.

Then she gives me the money back and locks arms with me, and appears to like me. She is about forty, KINDA pretty, but seems to be on some sort of drug and is basically creepy.

Her persistence had me a little freaked out, but still I simply felt sorry for her. I try to give her the whole 50 cents back and she refuses. INSTEAD, she appears to want a kiss.

I refuse. She tries again. I refuse again, with an actual push-off this time.

She then, ahem, gets VERY friendly and tries grabbing exactly what you are thinking. I refuse again.

All I can think at this point is “wow, that Axe body spray I bought in Denmark really works!”

Somehow, she kicks it up another notch and tries to hump me as I’m walking. This strikes me as very funny and I laugh uncomfortably while I push her off (rather forcefully at this point).

This goes on for about a minute or two. After saying “sorry, not interested” and “goodbye” roughly 50 times as I dragged her around like a terrier in heat, she finally gives up and leaves.

“Phew!” I thought, just as I came upon a bar I hadn’t noticed before. It was dead, but after the last encounter, I needed a beer.

I opened my wallet and poof, no money!

Yep! I got freaking pick-pocketed!!!!! And if you were doing the math, I was sober!

I was wondering how a beggar would go from asking for pennies to hailing a taxi!?! Yes, I am an idiot.

I have lived in NYC for 2+ years and I NEVER got pick-pocketed. I’ve never been pick-pocketed or mugged (or even woken up in a tub of ice without a kidney) in my life! (okay Eggy, I know you are thinking of the gal at “dime beers night” in Blacksburg…but that wasn’t quite the same)

This development had me 50% angry and 50% grateful that this occurred. I mean, sometimes you NEED things like this to happen to you. What is amazing to me is how she took my wallet, took out the cash, and then PUT IT BACK IN MY BACK POCKET without me knowing? She didn’t get any credit cards or my passport so I am VERY lucky.

Here I was feeling sorry for her, especially when she tried to hump an ogre like me, and all the while she was playing me. It was the best I have ever been bamboozled…and here is the great thing, by a real honest-to-goodness gypsy!!! If you asked me how much I would pay for a tour called “how to be swindled by a gypsy”, I would say at least a $40 admission!

Unfortunately, I had much more than 40 bucks in my wallet. Sure, I only had 40 bucks of Czech money, but I had about 50 bucks Norwegian Kroner, 60 euro, 40 British pounds and 60 us dollars! Damnit.

All things considered, not a catastrophe, but I HATE that it happened to me…and yet, love it! What a memorable story! (I am warped)

But to you my gypsy friend, I’m glad you took 40 bucks of my money, but the other 250? I want it back!!

The next 3 days:

Never saw the wily pick-pocketer again, but the rest of Prague was fantastic.

The next day I walked around town a bit before meeting up with Jana for dinner.

And for anyone wondering if Jana and I were an item, well we are just friends. (and I consider her a great friend as she was a fantastic host, dedicating Thursday night and her whole weekend to showing me the town)

Of course, I’d hook up with her in a second, but she finds me about as attractive as a shower drain clog.

Oh well. You know what they say, give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but give a man a hot tour guide and he will look like the coolest guy in town and jealous fishermen will deny him angling tips.

I digress.

As for the town of Prague, well it is easily the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some great ones lately!

I can’t even pick my favorite sight as they are all amazing. Eating dinner with a great view of the Vltava River and Prague Castle in the background was probably my favorite part.

Be warned though that the Prague Castle Grounds were amazing but incredibly crowded. We walked to the top of St Vitus’s Cathedral, which was 287 steps up a spiral cement staircase. As tired as I was climbing up the stairs, descending down them left me a dizzy, stumbling zombie. But it was cool just the same.

Old Town Prague is also excellent to see, not just for the photos but the buzz of the town. While waiting for Jana at the Astronomical Clock (which was cool but I screwed up the pictures of it) I forgot my watch and wasn’t sure if I was early or late, so I asked someone the time.

Let me repeat that. I asked someone the time after waiting 5 minutes under the Astronomical CLOCK. (I should be euthanized…thankfully the couple I asked pointed this out with a raised eyebrow)

Here’s another great thing about Prague: Beer is incredibly cheap! Sure the hotels are a bit more expensive than I’d like, taxi drivers are dishonest and humping gypsies reign supreme, but a beer costs a little over a dollar!! Oddly, cocktails are 3 times as expensive but that’s fine too!

I tried some Absinth one night. It had no effect on me, but I was surprised it was actually pretty GOOD. Why I would try something that might make me murder several people and is known to taste like pure shit is another issue.

Jana and I also walked along the Charles Bridge, which had part of it under construction but the rest was amazing and the views were fantastic.

Also, I find the city to be the perfect size, with a little over a million people, and only 3 metro lines A, B and C, and a very understandable system of above-ground trollies. I of course managed to get lost in the beginning, but I think I do that on purpose. It is very odd how each and every town I’ve been to has taken exactly 3 days to figure out. Come to think of it, NYC was the same.

The food is MUCH better than I anticipated. They are a meat and potatoes kinda town, in a creative way that isn’t predictable, and while not entirely healthy, I enjoyed it all! No garlic and minimal onions too! And the deserts were fantastic.

I simply had a great time in Prague. My only regret other than the pick-pocketing is wasting much of my time stumbling around trying to find a Laundromat Friday. I was intent on finding the one up the road the hotel told me about and I took entirely too long looking for it. And when I finally did find it, it was a stinking dry-cleaners! Ugh. This was the outskirts of town so nobody had any idea where one was. I eventually went into city center and found one immediately. The lesson? I’m showering with my clothes on from now on.

While the women were not what i expected, the men were even less attractive. I am convinced they all cut their own hair, and not with a scissors. My best guess is they do the cabbage-patch in front of an airplane propeller to get this style. Seriously, it is odd.

(I’m a bit lazy on this post for now. More to add later I think)

Prague Ratings:

The scenery: 10
The "local feel": 8 (way too many tourists, but it is such an amazing place, I don’t blame people for coming here)
The bars: 9 (Jana picked some great places in different parts of town, and smoking is allowed too!)
The food: 8
The friendliness of patrons: 7 (Not too many people talked to me, but I think that’s because I looked like Jana’s bodyguard)
The ladies' presence: 7 (Expected better. Actually I expected a town of gals that look like Jana, but as Debbie Gibson would suggest "Only in my dreams")
Desire to return 8 (there is so much I DIDN’T see despite a good crack at the sights)
Value for Money 8 (um, dollar beers anyone? And Budvar, my favorite!)
Opinion of Americans 7 (they like us, but like many places, find us a bit ignorant. Good thing I was there to be extra stupid)

3 comments:

Butler said...

Hey Kevin!
You crack me up... where to next? If you make it to Rome watch out for the gypsy kids!!

Chae said...

You really need to to watch your gayness. I think this trip is converting you to the biggest homo.

I would say that I am surprised that you got pick-pocketed, but since many people that visit Europe gets pick-pocketed, you had no chance to prevent it.

24 weeks to life said...

Um, Eggy, you do realize I have gay friends?

I would have deleted your comment but your grammar is far too comical.

The fact you made it through 3rd grade is amazing...the fact you made it through an Aerospace Engineering program is the 8th wonder of the world.

Kevin