Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another World

Perhaps its the relatively long time I've spent in Germany that gave me a feeling of familiar comfort in Austria, but that was about to change. The Czech Republic, and Prague specifically, was a land of mysterious wonder, of beautiful architecture, of a thousand spires. We met friendly, different people speaking a language with the smoothness of French, the gutteral sounds of German, but of structure and script of complete unfamiliarity. And we were immediately reminded that we were no longer in Western Europe.

On our nine hour trip to Prague, we took a car, a train, a fast train, another train, a train, a bus, a train yet again, and a street car. The trip got interesting on our third train, which belonged to Czech railways. The quality of the car was lower than that with which we had grown accustomed. The toilet was dirty, the springs of the seat feeblely and unevenly attempted to prevent us from falling to the floor, and air conditioner was out of the question. The cigarette and sweat stench of the friendly man who joined us in our warm car sent us searching for new seats. The man who checked our tickets oddly had a necktie which did not quite reach his belly, giving him a comical look. On the next train, our supposed final leg, we struck up conversation with a girl around our age in the car. Because of our amiacable relationship, she soon questioned if we knew that this train was not going all the way to Prague. We did not. Concerned for our well-being, she advised us to stick with her, as the train would be stopping due to track maintenance ahead. I can only imagine what our confusion would have been when the train pulled into a station in the middle of no where and everyone got off to board unlabled busses. Explanations from the train staff were forthcoming only in Czech, but our guardian Czech guided us though the confusion. She waited patiently for us when the bus debarked at another small station and led us to our train. Thank you again, where-ever you are. Dejukui, or something like that.

As we rode the streetcar to our hotel in Prague, it became immediately clear that this was a city unlike any we had yet seen. The train station itself was adorned with large stone statues and guilding. Each building represented a different period of European architecture from the 16th to the 20th centuries, the colors, carvings, decorations, and paintings giving the cityscape the look of a birthday cake decorated by a brilliant but schizophrenic chef. Even the sidewalks were pretty, composed of small stones of various shades of grey organized into varying patterns. Rounding each corner revealed a stunning baroque church or an Italian renaissance palace.

Our hotel was a perfect combination of both above experiences: cheap and beautiful. We walked in the door onto a plexi-glass platform through which we viewed the hottub on our first story of our room. The spacial (by European standards) living space was tastefully decorated with original paintings, upolstered chairs and stone-topped antique tables. Our king bed sat on a platform by the window to the courtyard. The hotel was in a historic building on the king's way a few blocks from both the castle and the Charles bridge. All for $100 a night, including breakfast.

After our long trip, we freshened up and headed out to dinner. On the way, we stumbled on a famous Prague oddity, a modern art statue of two men holding their penises, moving them up and down and rotating their hips back and forth while a steady flow came from the tips into a shallow fountain. The nearby restaurant was on the river with a view of the skyline and the Charles bridge. We ordered drinks as we waited for a table, again making the mistake of straying from beer and wine and ending up with a warm cup of gin. Our dinner could have been found on the table of any fashionable cosmopolitan restaurant. Duck summer rolls followed by roast duck leg in wine sauce on beets and grilled sole, head on, with a lemon butter sauce. We were entertained by jazz cruises on the river and the occasional drift of music from the bridge. Thoroughly satisfied and again tired from a long day of travel, we headed home to bed.

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