Thursday, July 26, 2007

Go West, young man!

Yesterday's first westward train journey marks the official beginning of our return trip!

Our accomadations on this trip weren't quite as idyllic as our previous night train. Though the company was just as good, there was quite a bit more of it; our six bed couchette was packed to the gills with two girls from Yorkshire, us, and a couple from DC traveling to Poland to introduce him to her parents. Patrick managed to find us and a fellow traveller sub sandwiches by way of a late dinner, but the compartment crowded with sleepers and the tiny hallway gave us no place to sit and enjoy them. Eventually the hallway traffic thinned out and we decided just to plunk down in the narrow hall, hoping it wasn't verboten. We had just begun our furtive supper when the conductor poked his head from his compartment and said something in Czech. Summoning my hard won international communication skills I raised my sandwich and gestured to the seated group, "Ist OK?" He nodded dismissively then repeated his question; it ended in "...bier?" Wait...did he say beer? To emphasive, he pantomimed the approximate dimensions of a generous bottle and said "Czech bier, ein Euro." We wasted no time in rewarding our man's entrepreneurial spirit and settled down again to enjoy what was shaping up to be an enjoyable evening. The night was, as always, punctuated by jarring station stops and passport controls, but we managed some sleep and arrived in Prague to sunrise and, once again, few tourists.

Now that we've been here for a day, I can confirm: Prague is as they say. Miles and miles of narrow, cobbled streets wind through the old town. No mere exhibit or token, like many of the vielles villes in European capitals, Prague's old town is large enough to pass for a city in its own right. Even after having seen so many quaint old streets thus far we had to marvel at the sheer scale. It just keeps going! Here there isn't the underlying worry of taking a wrong turn and stumbling out of Disneyland into mundane modernity waiting just beyond.

As is our habit we hooked up with a bike tour to orient ourselves. The bikes they provided were no granny-style fat tire cruisers. They were well maintained middle of the line mountain bikes with thick treads and better shocks. We found out soon enough why: the cobblestones nearly rattled our teeth loose. Among the notable sites on the tour, the tallest structure in Pague particularly amused me. This TV tower, built in the late 80's as a last gasp of Eastern European communism, only ever carried 3 stations: It was built primarly to block Western transmissions. After a helpful but somewhat uninspiring tour we crossed joined the crush of tourists and followed Karlova Street to the famous Charles Bridge. By the time we arrived at the gates of Prague Castle the combined effects of a short night, long day, hot sun, and surfeit of tourists combined to leave us uninterested in further culture for the day. Instead we found a grassy patch on the hill and napped for a few hours, finally waking to 6:00 tolling from the nearby church, which we took for our dinner bell.

Edit: Patrick notes that we are now carrying 7 currencies. They are, in order

  • US Dollars
  • British Pounds
  • European Union Euros
  • Swiss Suissefrancs
  • Hungarian Forints
  • Polish Zloty (/zwah-tee/)
  • Czech Koruna

and the bonus round, the piece-de-la-resistance...

  • Austrian Schillings (discontinued in 1993, found in the gutter!)

Edit: I just viewed the blog using Internet Explorer and I note that the pictures seem to load strangely or not at all. Probably the legacy of my amateur html skills. If you're using IE (and oh God why?) you might have better luck with something else.

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