Tag: Czech Republic

An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Prague

Today’s manhole cover comes from Prague. Prague (known to the locals as Praha for some unknown reason) is the capital of the Czech Republic and a pretty sweet city if you like your cities with a little second-hand smoke and grit. As you can see, Prague also has a pretty boss manhole cover.

Prague

Prague. The finger in the upper right hand corner is part of a new movement in photography. I call it the finger in your eye movement.

(Note: I am wearing black socks and surf-sandals. This is okay, because I was traveling alone and I am from the Pacific Northwest where socks and sandals is perfectly okay.)

Prague’s history as an open-door can be seen in its manhole cover. Look how inviting it is. Praha means threshold in Czech, so depending on the direction you are traveling Prague is either the gateway to the East or the gateway to the West, either way, lots of people (including people who decided how the people of Prague should behave, who they should get along with, and who should govern them) passed through the city so it is not a bad idea to have a manhole cover that looks tough. If you hadn’t noticed the cover has multiple images of power on it.

Power image number one: It is hard to miss the disembodied arm and sword sticking out of the main entrance. This is an odd threat since the door is wide open. “Welcome to Prague. Come on in. Beware of arms carrying swords.”

Power image number two: The castle wall with the three towers is delivering a message about the wealth and power of Prague. The three towers symbolize the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; they could also symbolize Larry, Moe, and Curly for all I know; there is an outside chance that they don’t really represent anything and the artist was just trying to make everything symmetrical.

Power image number three: The half-open iron gate. I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all but I think if the gate were all the way closed it would be more effective. I realize that would mean restructuring the whole bodiless arm and sword thing, but if you  want to scare people off you might consider putting the arm upstairs kind of hanging over the edge of the wall. That would keep people away from the wall and you might be able to attach the arm to a body. Maybe the artist was not very good at doing people’s chins or something and didn’t want to take on the additional challenge of creating a warrior’s head, well if that is the case, then put a helmet on the dude and call it good.

Power image number four: The wooden hinged doors. These doors look like one of my fix-it-up projects. You cannot tell me that those doors fit snuggly into that portico. A sloppy job of craftsmanship isn’t going to intimidate anyone.

Power image number five: The castle, doors, arm with sword, and wall are all on a shield. This is one of those subconscious images of power. Most observers would not notice this, but that is why I am here, to point out the mildly obvious.

Not really a power image, but an image of how many cigarette butts are on the streets of Prague: There are three cigarette butts in this picture. I will estimate that the picture is a square meter (I am American, I have no idea about the metric system because it is a rational and logical system of measurements and therefore not accepted in the USA). The city of Prague is 496 square kilometers, which means it is 4,960,000 square meters (I might be off by a factor of ten here).  So if there are three cigarette butts for every square meter, then there must be (4,960,000 x 3) 14,880,000 cigarette butts on the streets of Prague. That seems like a lot of cigarette butts, but there is good news. Every couple of years the Vltava River floods and all those cigarette butts get washed away. The Vltava drains into the Elbe and then out to the North Sea where fish eat those pesky cigarette butts. Problem solved!

So there you go, another European manhole cover down. Have a great day and see you real soon.

 

TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Prague

My visit in Prague was cut short by a flu/Ebola virus/black plague/monkey pox ailment, but I did have a few observations about Prague before I was put down for the count by a disease that would have killed an ordinary person.

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Someday I will learn how to keep my fingers out of the pictures.

9. Don’t ever, ever, ever, eat in a restaurant where the head waiter walks away from the dining area and shoots a “snot rocket” into a potted plant.

8. There is something about Prague residents and their dogs. I saw many dogs along the way, but the people of Prague take their dogs everywhere: Trains, buses, underground stations, supermarkets, restaurants…everywhere. Most of these dogs were not the little baby dogs I now see so many women carrying around like children in the US, but real life-sized dogs that could pick up one of those baby dogs and snap its head off. I began to wonder if the dogs were a hold over from the years of Soviet occupation where the streets were patrolled by soldiers and their dogs. I don’t know, but I never stepped in a pile of dog poo, which is more than I can say about some European cities; I’m talking to you, Paris.

7. Men’s fashion in Prague is a mix of hillbilly and Soviet Bloc circa 1985. I don’t know if the poorly dressed men were from Prague or if they were visitors from other lands where mirrors don’t exist, but I do know that the men in Prague have the fashion sense of an average 8th grade boy. I am certainly no fashion icon, I have the yellow shoes to prove it, but I know acid washed jeans and mullets are no longer setting any trends.

6. Fashionable women in Prague are expected to have blonde hair and wear a pink top made of some silky fabric.

5. David Černý is a fantastic artist. Rarely have I been more intrigued by a living artist. This guy has done some amazing, thought-provoking things in his time. His work says more about the Czech attitude toward power and the world than an entire book on Czech history could.

The Pissing Men. That is a map of the Czech Republic they are standing in. Their hips, Anthony Wieners, and hands move to spell out words in the water below.

The Pissing Men. That is a map of the Czech Republic they are standing in. Their hips, Anthony Wieners, and hands move to spell out words in the water below.

4. The Czech attitude toward life is a mix of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Stoicism. I really believe that oppression has created a unique attitude toward life that is not optimistic but at the same time is not pessimistic. I did not see anyone in Prague laughing and yet the whole city seems to be holding in a belly laugh as they poke fun at the powers that exist around them. On the hillside overlooking the city there once stood a huge statue of Stalin. This was replaced by a statue of Michael Jackson…yep, Michael Jackson. Now, in the same location is a huge metronome that was built to show the passing of time…the metronome no longer works and is stuck like an old man trying to touch his toes. One would think that repairing a statue like this would be important to the people of Prague, but it isn’t, I guess they figure time marches on whether we measure it or not.

Typical of the Czech attitude toward life: the men's urinals in an expensive mall.

Typical of the Czech attitude toward life: the men’s urinals in an expensive mall.

The Metronome stands where Stalin and the King of Pop once stood.

The Metronome stands where Stalin and the King of Pop once stood.

If Ray Manzarak dies do you still expect him to show up in August?

If Ray Manzarek dies do you still expect him to show up in August?

3. Things that don’t make sense to me are not necessarily wrong, they are just different. I hate having to turn my key over when leaving a hotel, but in Prague my hotel key was this bulky thing with a rubber ring around it. I really thought the whole thing was pretty dumb until I discovered it all made sense.

This is a big stupid key. Why is it so big and stupid?

This is a big stupid key. Why is it so big and stupid?

Why is there this dumb rubber thing around it?

Why is there this dumb rubber thing around it?

Oh, I see. When I lock my door from the inside the rubber thing protects my door. Oh, I will never leave me key in the room and lock myself out this way...this is smart.

Oh, I see. When I lock my door from the inside the rubber thing protects my door. Oh, I will never leave me key in the room and lock myself out this way…this is smart.

2. If you are going to visit Prague get a map and a compass. I finally realized while in Prague why I get lost so often when traveling: There are no natural landmarks that I can see to let me know where I am. Where I live you can always see a mountain or the ocean or something that lets you know where you are. In most of these old cities you can’t see anything beyond the block you are standing on and none of the streets are straight for more than two blocks so good luck looking down the avenue to see where you are going.

Which tower is that? What direction am I facing? Why am I so lost again?

Which tower is that? What direction am I facing? Why am I so lost again?

1. Prague is an affordable city. Beer is a dollar. A meal can still be eaten at a restaurant for ten bucks and hotels are inexpensive. If you are on a budget Prague is a great place to stay.

The Summer of Jon: Czech Rail

English: CD class 682 007-0 Supercity "An...

English: CD class 682 007-0 Supercity “Antonín Dvořák” (SC 16) from Vienna to Prague crossing the first bridge over Thaya (Dyje). Note: the second rail track was under reconstruction at that time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the past week I have attempted to buy a rail ticket from Prague (Praha) to Vienna (Wien). I have had a few difficulties since I am not a native Czech speaker and everything about the website confused me. I am no rookie when it comes to navigating foreign language websites, I know how to find the button near the top of the website with an American or British flag (I can read and write in British also) and push the little icon. These icons can be helpful when a traveler might be language challenged like me. I did have five years of Spanish classes and I can say some pretty entertaining things in Spanish like: “There are many tacos in the airport.” “The elephants are very long.” “The door is closed.” These key phrases have helped me when making my Spanish-speaking relatives laugh, but I have yet to travel to a Spanish-speaking country where I needed to use this wealth of language.

My language limitations have not stopped me from doing what most Americans do when traveling: expecting everyone else to speak English. This makes it hard for me to have meaningful conversations about philosophy or global politics, but I can live with that. I doubt if I spent the next 30 days studying Icelandic it would pay off anyway. Icelandic people speak English better than most Americans and how often will I be called upon for the rest of my life to say something in Icelandic?

So, back to the Czech rail site. I have tried unsuccessfully for about a month to buy tickets for my trip from Prague to Vienna. I finally figured out that I cannot buy tickets from the website until the trip is within a 60 day window, for German rail it is 90 days  so I was semi-aware that this could happen to those of us that want to have our trip planned out five years in advance. I waited until I reached the 60 day window and then I went to the Czech rail website to buy. I found the little “en” button at the top of the page and pushed it and the page was transformed into actual, readable English. I filled out the little boxes at least five times and got rejected each time. This was a bit frustrating because each rejection had the same paragraph about why my request could not be fulfilled. I switched a few things around, maybe leaving later would work, nope. Maybe I should try earlier, nope. Eventually I lucked out and my request was accepted. This was great, but I could not tell you why it worked or what magical combination you should select if you were going to be traveling between Prague and Vienna.

The next problem I encountered was selecting a seat. Reserving seats is for suckers because most rail passengers just grab whatever seat they can find, but since reservations were only 7 Czech monetary units (either 25 cents or $2.50, I think) I pulled the trigger on reserving a seat. The seat map was wide open since the rest of the world was not waiting to order their tickets at the moment they became available. This was mildly exciting for me. I looked at each of the train cars, thought about what it would be like to sit in different locations and then notice that some of the cars had those private four seat rooms. I have never traveled on a train with those little rooms so I narrowed the seat selection to the two cars with little rooms. One of the cars had a bike storage area and I decided that I did not want to be on that car since people stuffing their bikes on my train would get in my way. (The real reason had more to do with body odor, but that sounds even more shallow than having to wait to get to my seat. I figured people riding bikes might be sweaty and being in a little room with smelly people for four hours does not meet my romantic idea of traveling on rail.)

I finally narrowed down the seats and looked for a lucky number (77) near a window. I pushed the button, paid for the ticket and then had all kinds of second thoughts. Reserving a seat might put me in a little room with a pack of Gypsies, or even worse a pack of loud Americans. It was too late. My ticket was approved and I printed it off.

Hopefully my little room with be filled with travelers like me: quiet, and self-centered. Then we should all get along.

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