Thursday, July 14, 2011

Havel, Clinton, and us

Prague is difficult to explain. The splendor is equivalent of paris. The romance didn't quite hit the level of Venice, but it is close. The beer is outstanding. The people are friendly. The streets are cobblestone. The buildings are a menagerie of architectural styles. Maybe it isn't that hard.

We went up the street to Prague castle to get our main tourist attraction out of the way. Even there the city didn't feel as crowded with tourists as others. All in all, even though we were there in peak season, our mostly out of the way venues helped us to feel local in most of Europe. Without San Marco in Venice, I think we would have felt like there were few other tourists. Anyway, the castle is on a hill overlooking the city, which provides for amazing views of the" thousand spires".  We arrived just before noon to witness the changing of the guard, an excellent display of marching and music. Afterwards, as we wandered taking pictures of the palace, we heard the sound of singing. Going to investigate, we happened upon a wedding party. I'm not entirely sure why they were there, but a tourist had stopped to serende the bird with "Ava Maria" in full operatic tenor. Random. Inside the castle we viewed the St. Vitus church, built on top of a church originally built by St. Wenceslas, the good king of Bohemia in the 10th century. Inside were many tombs, including the biggest silver tomb I've ever seen. We viewed a Romanesque chapel, which reminded us how far churches came during the Gothic period. Then on to the palace and its great hall, which was large enough for indoor jousting. They had a stairway large enough for a knight on a horse to pass.  This is also the hall where the term defenstration came into the lexicon, when some nobles threw some Hapsburg administrators out of the window. After that, we grabbed lunch in a palace that brewed their own beer. Pilsner, of course.

We walked down the hill and caught the tram to Wenceslaus square, on the other side of Old Town. We walked from there, enjoying the buildings and shops. Old town has the winding streets with which we had become accostomed in Europe, but the architecture was no more beautiful than any other. We found an authentic pub where the Czech president had taken Bill Clinton in the 90's. Unfortunately, we were without a local guide, so our experience was likely less smooth than the President's. After wandering around marveling at our localness, we went to the bar to order beers. Before I could complete the sentence, the bartender aburptly told us to sit down. We found a seat, which we were told by the server was reserved, and we scooted in with some accomodating locals. As soon as we settled, two frothy mugs banged down on the table, and the server dropped off a slip of paper with two tick marks on it. We could now settle into the background and watch the Czechs talk, laugh, smoke, and drink.

Soon a new problem arose. We read that the bartender would automatically bring a new beer when one's glass reached one inch from the bottom. That was alright with me, but Anna was pacing herself with the strong Czech lager. We thought he may cut the tourists a break, but were disapproved of that notion when the Japanese couple next to us received new beers, which they tried to wave off to no avail. The only remedy was to cover one's glass with a coaster before the new beer appeared, but the problem came in that final inch.  Anna did not want to waste the ounce, but the margin was narrow to avoid 16 new ounces. The race was on, and, with the server's back turned, Anna downed her final inch in a few quick gulps and slammed down the coaster. Success was hers, and the amused server tabulated our tick marks and took our money.

Back on the street, we stumbled upon an authentic Czech restaurant with an excellent guitar and sax jazz duo. We dined on goulash, both beef and pork (they had nine kinds) and enjoyed the music. After dinner, we wandered across the Charles bridge, marveling its rows of 500 year old statues and enjoying sunset (around 9:30 pm). Leaving the crowds of characature artists and street sellers behind, we headed to our room for a hot tub bath and sleep.

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