Tag: Prague

27 Things I learned in Prague.

When the devil shows up to your tram stop it’s time for a selfie.IMG_4665

When the devil gets on your tram and looms in the back, you might consider getting off at the next stop and seeing if Jesus is on the next tram. You never know in Prague.IMG_4666

Sometimes shorts and pants have to meet somewhere in the middle.IMG_4447

If you stop in for a dessert and coffee in an Art Deco wonderland café you may never get your dessert. That’s okay, I’m sure there is a reason you didn’t get your apple cake…like the waiters suck.IMG_4573

If you are trying to decide whether you should get a Trdelnik in Budapest or Prague, it is no contest. In Prague, they put ice cream inside it. In Budapest, when you ask if you can get some ice cream inside the Trdelnik they say, “No,” and then ignore you like you are a Gypsy beggar. Get it in Prague.IMG_4585

There is never a bad time to be on the Charles Bridge.

Sometimes advertising for hot dogs is tough.IMG_4604

There is a very small and cool 9/11 monument next to the southwestern side of Charles Bridge.IMG_4605

Monks make good beer.

I’ll never get over seeing these little monuments all over Europe. These are located outside apartments and homes of people who were killed during the Holocaust. Look down as you walk the streets and you will see them.

The Vltava River can flood big time.IMG_4610

The Czechs have set up these floodwalls to prevent further damage. They have metal walls they can connect to this base when the waters start to rise.IMG_4611

The stained glass in St. Vitus’ Cathedral is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I’m sure there are lots of good times to see the glass, but during the summer go as soon as the doors open (9AM) and move to the southwestern side of the cathedral. Most tour groups arrive around 9:30 so you’ll have some great alone time with this.

It isn’t hard to find the Lennon Wall and it is worth finding. I saw lots of people who were close to it and looking at maps. It’s right across from the French Embassy so follow your wine diviner and you’ll find it.IMG_4621

This sign means something: 1. Watch out for houses on sleds when you are driving on a soccer field, 2. Adults in Prague have tiny heads, 3. Your hands will be chopped off if you play soccer in Prague.IMG_4556

The best garden in Prague is hidden but worth finding. You will have to work to locate it, but once you do you can wander for about an hour and pretend to be someone special. http://www.vrtbovska.cz IMG_4633

Kafka’s Head is the greatest piece of public art ever! I could spend hours watching this thing.

There is no better city for taking pictures with statues. Even if your wife thinks you are an immature idiot, it is worth getting a few gems for your FaceBook profile picture.

This does not mean there is an illuminati worship center in the airport…but it could.IMG_4693

Beer is inexpensive and really good in Prague, but this is just playing with fire.IMG_4694

There are lots of statues that are supposed to bring you good luck when you touch certain parts of them, but this is the kind of luck I’m not interested in.IMG_4544

This suit of armor is called The Draymond Green protector. (This is a joke that only .005% of my readers will get, but I’m okay with that.)IMG_4536

David Cerny created the Kafka Head and many other pieces of public art in Prague. This one is outside the Kafka museum. When it was first introduced you could text a message to the peeing guys and they would spell out your message in water. Yes, that is a map of the Czech Republic they are peeing on.IMG_1907

When you are trying to buy tickets to get into the Kafka museum and the machine printing the tickets breaks, and the guy who was selling tickets leaves his post to look at Kafka postcards without saying what is going on, and a tech guy shows up to fix things but can’t explain anything because he doesn’t speak English (which is okay because it is the Czech Republic), and the other cash register is for “T-shirts, posters, and books” only, you are permitted to say, “This is Kafkaesque,” three times.

Prague is a magical city. It is a city where men who are 5’3” can wear pants with these measurements. Yeah, even if it is metric his inseam is 10 whatevers longer than his waist.IMG_4474

This is what 80% of the food in Prague looks like.IMG_4661

Some people don’t take their jobs too seriously. “Did you mop the courtyard? The whole courtyard? Wow, that was fast.”

I’m glad I didn’t see this in Budapest. IMG_4587

 

Goldilocks in Prague

There is something perfect about Prague. I cannot put my finger on it. I don’t mean that the city is perfect, because it isn’t, but there is something about the city that is just right.

IMG_4458

When we arrived in Prague we had visited seven pretty interesting cities but each of the cities had their flaws: Oslo and Copenhagen are expensive, Amsterdam’s weather could be better, Munich was too hot, Vienna was a little too opulent, Bratislava was a little small, Budapest was a little too Soviet Block, and then we arrived in Prague and it fit like two year old Birkenstocks.

IMG_4462

Our hotel was in the Mala Strana (Little Side or Lesser Town) and will remain unnamed (Golden Star) because I don’t want you taking my room (33) next time I’m in town. One of the best things about Prague is that you would have to try pretty hard to overspend on a hotel. You could do it, but you can also find 300 hotels for less than $50 a night and I’m not talking about hotel rooms that are located next to the airport or near the meat packing district, these $50 rooms are going to be clean, well-located, and have free breakfast.

 

The next thing that is great about Prague is that you would have to try pretty hard to overspend on a meal. Czech meals are meat and gravy extravaganzas that are best washed down by the cleanest, freshest, cold beer you can find in the world. A platter of meat, potatoes, dumplings, slaw, and gravy and two beers will set you back about $10. (If you eat like this for a lifetime you’ll probably die by the time you get to the age of 50, but you will die fat and happy.)

The last wonderful thing about Prague is that there is always something to do. This is a city that opens early and stays open all night. The parks are vast, the collection of museums spans interests, and history oozes from every corner. Want to do an idiotic bar crawl? Well, hang out in the central square around 10 PM and look for the guys wearing the shirts that say, “The Greatest Night You Will Never Remember.” Want to see work by Mucha? There is a small Mucha museum and his great work The Slavic Epic is on display in one of the major museums in town. Like Kafka? Go visit his tiny house on the Golden Lane next to St. Vitus’ Cathedral, or drop into the Kafka Museum and learn about one of the world’s most interesting writers. Even if you are flat broke Prague is a town where you can have a great time. Wander the streets, get lost (which isn’t hard), watch people, hang out on the Charles Bridge, sit in a park overlooking the city, sneak into St. Vitus’ Cathedral with a tour group, and eat street food for a fraction of what it costs anywhere else in Europe.

IMG_4623

Our visit to Prague wasn’t perfect, but it was just right. Maybe it wasn’t as great as I think, sometimes things seem better in the moment than they really were, but someday I’ll find out when I get back to Prague.

 

 

 

Prague Exchange Rate:Two hours of Hell, for Four days of Bliss.

The first two hours of our visit to Prague were the worst hours of our 28 day trip. We landed, moved onto the bus, transferred onto a metro train like travel pros, and then emerged from the underground with the problem all travelers face in new to a town, “Which direction do I go now?” Good thing I have been in this situation before, I know that underground travel has a way of getting you turned around so I looked at my path to the hotel using Google Earth the night before and knew that we needed to head uphill on the street outside of the metro station. It is a valuable lesson I have learned by making mistakes in the past. I told my wife that we would be faced with an uphill walk of about three or four blocks on cobblestones. (I travel with a backpack/suitcase thing and my wife does the rolly carry-on suitcase thing, so uphill on cobblestones is harder for her.) Here’s the part I didn’t anticipate, the metro station where we were and the trolley station where I thought we were are not the same place.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 5.36.00 AM

I think these metro stops need a name change. Someone like me, an idiot, might mistake them for the same place. 

So we walked uphill and it was a long uphill slog, much longer than three or four blocks and steeper than expected, and it was hot and humid…really hot and humid. We tried to escape the sun but it was close to noon and the sun bore down on our poor pale Pacific Northwest skin. I was sweating like Patrick Ewing in the fourth quarter of a summer league game. About halfway up the hill, I began to realize that we were off trail and heading in the wrong direction, in fact I knew right where we were–in the castle garden about two blocks too far east and 100 feet too high in elevation. We could look over the castle wall and see the road we were supposed to be on, but here’s the thing, a castle wall is intended to keep people from breaching them easily so there were no stairs down to where we should be walking. I suppose they could add some stairs now that the chances of a siege is not very likely, but hey, I’m the moron who didn’t know the difference between Malostranska and Malostanske namesti. (This is when I also started feeling pretty bad for my wife, so I started dragging her suitcase too, not because she isn’t a strong and capable lady, but because I felt guilty for adding five miles to our three or four block walk.)

There were two options, cut our losses and turn around and head back downhill and then head back up on the correct road, or continue uphill until we reached a point where we could find some stairs downhill. When presented with a lose lose situation I usually pick the option that has the most downside. The one that only a stubborn person would pick. The option that indicates that it was somebody else’s fault. So, we continued on the path that I knew was the wrong path because when you think about it, all roads are connected…eventually.
Then it happened, I knew just how to get to our hotel. I knew the path we were on and the path to the castle had a connecting road just up ahead. (I know these things because I spend too much time planning my trips instead of doing things like mowing the yard and planning for my retirement…and I remembered that Tom Cruise ran down the connecting street in one of the Mission Impossible movies.–Yes, I have seen all of the MI movies even though each time a new one comes out I say, “I’m not going to see that garbage. I hate Tom Cruise.” And, then, two weeks later I’m in the theater watching a Tom Cruise movie and feeling a sense of self-loathing like when I say, “I’m going to work out and eat well today” and then by five I’m still sitting on the couch eating another bag of chips.) I had a burst of energy and we climbed the rest of the way with renewed hope…and that is when we ran into a closed gate that had a note that said, “Closed for Security reasons.” Was the security reason, “Tom Cruise ran down this road and we can’t have that?” I don’t know what the security reason was, but I do know that I will never hate a gate as much as I hate that gate. If I knew I had three months to live, I’d travel back to Prague, rent a car, and then drive it down the road and through that gate. Then they might have a real security reason to protect the gate. (I would do this at night when the gate is completely unguarded so I wouldn’t hurt anyone else, or get shot in the head.) I walked up to the heavily armed guard and asked him a question that I knew the answer to, “Can you open this gate and let us through?”: Nope. I asked him how I could get to the road five feet beyond the gate, “Walk back down to that stairway, climb it, walk through the castle and then take ten turns to get back to the location ten feet away.” (His English wasn’t really great, but I translated for you so you wouldn’t have to tolerate a Czech guard not knowing English as well as I do.)  So, I admitted defeat, I tucked my tail and added another moronic two kilometers to my three or four block stroll.

 

IMG_4461

The view from our hotel. The offending gate is near the big tree to the left. 

When we arrived at the hotel life became magical: Our room was upgraded, champagne was served, and ten minutes later we were sitting in the hotel restaurant overlooking Prague, I was drinking what the lady in a nearby table described to her husband as “a really big beer,” and my wife was drinking a Lemonchello for the price of a stick of gum in Oslo.
Our terribly stupid walk was the only negative thing that happened during four wonderful days in Prague, my wife didn’t want to leave, and neither did I.

 

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: An Interview with Myself

I sat down with myself, as I often do, in a chair in front of my computer and asked myself a few of the questions people have asked me since returning from TSOJ. This will be my final blog entry for a few months because I have a couple secret writing projects I am working on.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

How did The Summer of Jon come about? 

TSOJ happened through a series of fortunate events that I will not detail here in fear of boring everyone to death, but the main reason I was in Europe on my own was because I am not an understanding travel companion. My wife has endured a few of my trips and did not want to spend her vacation on a forced march across Europe. I am aware of my “problem” but I cannot help myself. If I am somewhere new I want to see everything, and, sometimes that leads me to avoiding things like food, rest, and bathroom stops. For example, when I did the Norway in a Nutshell and got on the wrong boat I did not eat for about 13 hours. I refused to pay for a boat hotdog and decided that I just wouldn’t eat. A personal decision like this is not always popular with my family members.

How did you plan your trip?

I have never used a travel agent and actually enjoy planning trips so I spent a great deal of time putting the pieces together for my trip. I always start with my airline ticket. I spent about a month watching airfare and trying to estimate when rates for the summer would drop. Flying from Seattle to Europe is not cheap, but Icelandair usually has the best rates and there a few oddities about the airline that made me finally go with them. The first oddity is that all of their flights go through Iceland (not that odd considering the name of the airline). You can chose to fly right through after a layover in Iceland, but why would you do that? A few days in Iceland is a great way to shake off the jet lag and there is no stranger place to visit. You can extend your lay-over and the airline ticket cost is the same as if you stopped for an hour. Iceland is expensive, but it has the best hotdogs in the world and has the world’s only penis museum.

The second oddity about Icelandair is that it is cheaper to fly open-jawed. My flight went: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Munich–Iceland–Seattle. Had I gone: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Oslo–Iceland–Seattle it would have been more expensive. I knew that I would start somewhere in Scandinavia and end somewhere in Southern Europe, so I went to the airline website and began plugging in dates and different flights until I hit one that would be as cheap as possible and allow me some flexibility in planning.

After I had the flight booked, I decided where I wanted to go in between my arrival and departure. This part of the planning is the most fun for me. I knew I wanted to go to Oslo, Prague, and Vienna, and I wanted to go back to Copenhagen and Berlin. All I had to do was connect the dots. Then I looked for the cheapest and most efficient way to go from point to point. (Fly if in Scandinavia, train if in the European main land.)

The final piece was then hotels. There are lots of affordable spots to stay in Europe, but I found that I could save a ton of money by staying in places with shared bathrooms. Some people may not like this, but here is a little secret: Most of these hotels have only a few rooms that share the bathroom, so it isn’t too bad. You will also have a sink in your room. I also make sure that breakfast is included in the price. You can get an inexpensive breakfast in Europe, but I like being able to pig out in the morning and breakfast restaurants are not on every corner.

If you were to re-plan your trip, what would you do differently? 

I would trim a day off of Reykjavík and add it to my time in Prague. I would also take one of my Munich days and add it to Vienna. All of the places I went were wonderful.

Logistically, I would take earlier trains, or reserve a seat. Trains leaving after 10AM are filled with college-aged-backpack-wearing EuroRail users so there is always a battle for seating and the trains are crowded. An early train is less likely to have those EuroRail folks because it is before they are awake.

What were some of the highlights?

The Vigeland statue park in Oslo. Getting on the wrong boat on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. Eating Thai food in Berlin. The evening bike tour in Prague. Vienna…just all of Vienna.

What was the loneliest moment?

Good question. I can tell you exactly when because it was strange. I was walking along the waterfront in Copenhagen. There is a nice wide path that leads all along the waterfront to the Little Mermaid statue.  It was a beautifully clear day and I had been on the road for about a week and a half. I was listening to my iPod and a Macklemore song came on. The song reminded me of my family and wished they were with me. I recovered by eating some ice cream.

When were you the most lost?

I don’t know. In Norway if you count distance, Copenhagen if you count time it took me to get back to a familiar place, and Munich if you count directional sense. I still have trouble understanding how I got so turned around in Munich.

Why do you get lost so much?

I have decided the reason I get lost when I travel is because there are no mountains around. Where I live it is easy to get oriented by looking at the mountains or ocean. Flat land confuses me.

What scared you the most? 

Climbing the church spire in Copenhagen. I really did want to turn around and go back. I don’t know if I could go back and do it again. The afternoon bike tour in Prague was not for the weak-kneed either.

What was the strangest thing you saw? 

I saw a lot of odd things, but in Copenhagen I saw dwarves ( not little people, but like Lord of the Rings dwarves). I don’t know how else to explain it but I went into a store in Copenhagen and there were people dressed in felt tunics and felt pants. The tunics and pants were embroidered with fancy designs. They had those pointy shoes with a bell on the tip and had little deer-antler knives tucked into their belts. They were not dressed up for some party, I could tell that this was the clothing they usually wore. It was like a time machine had dropped them into Copenhagen and they were trying to figure out what the hell happened. I wanted to take a picture so badly, but refrained because I didn’t want to get stabbed to death by a dwarf in a supermarket.

What is the dumbest thing you did? 

Aside from getting on the wrong boat in Norway? Probably eating the sandwich in Prague that was “Mexican flavored.” Really, really bad choice. Oh, buying my day-glo shoes in Berlin could be considered pretty dumb, but I kind of like them now.

What is the smartest thing you did? 

Before I left I would have to say buying my backpack/carry-on bag from EBags. It is a great suitcase thingy. Once I was on the road I think most of my choices were pretty good.

What’s the deal with bike tours? 

There is no better way to see a city in my opinion. The bus tours are okay, but bike tours allow more freedom and it is a great way to meet people.

Will you ever have another SOJ? 

I hope so, but who knows. I think people need to do their own Summer of ______________.

Don’t you think it was a waste of money? 

Travel is never a waste of money. I will quote Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”  

Let’s end the interview like they do on Actor’s Studio. 

Okay.

What is your favorite word?

Euphony

What is your least favorite word?

Cacophony

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Words

What turns you off?

Conflict

What is your favorite curse word?

I don’t really swear. (I have just been informed by family members that I do swear.)

What sound or noise do you love?

Laughter, specifically the laughter of my family.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Techno music.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would like to get paid to write. I wouldn’t mind being a tour-guide.

What profession would you not like to do?

Anything where I have to sell stuff.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

That was funny.

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.

IMG_1871

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.

TSOJ: Prague–Aussies, Bike Rides and Dealing with Being Sick

Twenty minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive from Hamburg I knew there was going to be a problem. Piles and piles of young backpackers with Eurail Passes were already crowding the platform. This was not good. I did not have a reserved seat and there were many, many more people than there were going to be seats, but I figured since I was traveling solo it would be easier for me to find a seat than most. When the train pulled up and a few people exited, the mob climbed aboard the train like we were attacking a castle fortress. My plan was to look on a car near the back and if nothing opened up, jump off the train and head toward the front looking for a less crowded car. Most of the kids were clustered around the middle of where the train would arrive and I wanted to avoid that mess if at all possible. I jumped on the trailing car, looked for a moment, almost all the seats were reserved, I jumped off the train and kept going until I could hop directly onto a car. I jumped, moved my way around a few folks, looking for any seat that did not have a reserved marker near the window, it did not look good, but suddenly I noticed an open spot that everyone was passing right by. I looked closely and asked the old man next to the open seat if it was taken. He moved his bag and I sat down. I scored a reasonable seat, and began to enjoy my new found home. There was no space to put my bag anywhere so I did my best to shove it under the seat.

"Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!"

“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”

I relaxed and for about 10 minutes, enjoyed my luck, then…I heard Aussies. I like Aussies. Aussies are great. Australians are fun to be with, informal, open, and generally great company. There is one caveat to enjoying Aussies…groups of Aussies fall back on their prison boat past. Groups of any nationality can be annoying because mob mentality is real. I can be a very quiet and reserved person, but put me in a foreign land with a handful of my countrymen and suddenly I’m every American stereotype in the Book of Stereotypes (available at Amazon in the Reference Section.) These 10, young (between 20-25, I figured) Aussie blokes (not gentlemen) were loud, obnoxious, and had only seven seats. They talked loudly about their sexual encounters, their drunken exploits, and their embarrassing moments. (I doubt the train ride from Berlin to Prague will become part of their repertoire because they were suffering under the impression that English is a strange tribal language only spoken by a few surviving people. If you speak only English, assume people near you will understand what you are saying and act accordingly. Just because you don’t understand them doesn’t mean they don’t understand you.) There was a young lady stuck in the corner with her reserved seat amidst the sea of “AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE!” I felt terrible for her. She sat there the whole trip. It was a long five hour ride.

Hmm...Which ticket do I want? Do not pick the wrong one, because they check tickets in Prague's underground.

Hmm…Which ticket do I want? Do not pick the wrong one, because they check tickets in Prague’s underground.

When I arrived in Prague I took the underground (one of the easiest systems to understand as long as you know how to buy a ticket) to my hotel and was pleased to find out that I was no longer staying in a total dive. I had to work out a problem with my bike tour for the next day so I went back to the center of the city and talked to the bike shop owner. I was the only person who had reserved the full-day tour. (What? People don’t want to spend 7 hours on a bike?) He refunded 200 CK and I decided to do a morning tour and an evening tour, it was a good choice and I got ten bucks back. I took my new-found wealth and had dinner. I went to bed wondering if I had a scratchy throat or if I was catching something.

In the morning I knew I was coming down with a cold, so I did all the right things to prevent the cold from getting worse: took six hours worth of bike rides, drank three beers, and stayed out well past midnight. In my defense the evening bike tour finished around 11 and I had not eaten since I purchased very bad sandwich from a store the size of a walk-in closet next to my underground stop, so when our group asked if I wanted to join them for dinner I accepted. (For the record a sandwich that is labeled as “Mexican Flavored” does not mean the same thing in Prague as it does in the US.)

The first bike tour was centered around the historic downtown. I ate an entire bag of Halls fruit flavored throat lozenges during the ride so I was taking in something nutritional. The actual bike ride was very informative, but I don’t remember much about it, my mind was preoccupied with: 1. Not being killed by a car, 2. Not being killed by a fix object, 3. Not crashing into a pedestrian, 4. Not crashing and getting a bad case of road rash, 5. Wondering if anyone had died on this tour, 6. Wondering if it was a fever I was feeling or the heat of the day, 7. Thinking about what I was going to do if I got really sick, 8. Wondering if the bike company had ever been sued by Americans who had lost their ability to reproduce because of the cobblestones, 9. Wondering whether I should have a beer during lunch, 10. Thinking about whether I should go to bed or do the second tour later in the day.

How do you want to die on the bike tour? Car crash, Trolley, Wall?

How do you want to die on the bike tour? Car crash, Trolly, Wall? Oh, that is one of the Opera houses in the background.

The Astrological Clock. The builder of the clock was blinded after construction was completed so he could not make another.

The Astrological Clock. The builder of the clock was blinded after construction was completed so he could not make another.

Jan Hus was the leader of a reform movement against the Catholic church. Things did not go his way.

Jan Hus was the leader of a reform movement against the Catholic church. Things did not go his way.

The Art Nuevo architecture in the city was amazing.

The Art Nuevo architecture in the city was amazing.

When the tour was finished I had three hours to rest up for the next tour. I thought I would walk back to my hotel, take a two hour nap and be fresh as a daisy for the second tour. This was a good plan, unfortunately I got lost, really lost. How lost, you ask? Lost enough that I ended up walking through what I will call a “needle park” filled with homeless people and prostitutes. Lost enough that by the time I found my hotel I had enough time to take a 30 minute nap. 30 minute naps are like getting a bite of dessert, you pretend it is enough but it isn’t. I was not a fresh daisy when I started back to the bike shop, I was a wilted avalanche lily. Along the way I picked up more lozenges, the bad Mexican chicken sandwich, and an orange juice. I did my best enjoy my tour. It was beautiful and strenuous. We climbed hills, looked at the panoramas and took pictures. We were a small group: an American dude from Tennessee, an older couple from Israel, an Aussie lady, our guide from Mexico, and a younger Aussie guy who wore a shirt that read, “Pull the trigger Bitch!” I’m not sure where you get a shirt like that, but maybe there are “Misogynist R Us” stores in Australia. When I heard Tennessee and “Pull the Trigger” guy talking about signing up to do a Prague tour where you get to shoot machine guns I decided to spend most of my time talking to the Aussie lady and our guide. The climb to the top of the ridge was okay, but it was difficult for the older couple and for Tennessee since he had just lit his second cigarette of the tour. This was not what I will call good planning. Having a smoke in Prague is perfectly okay, but smoking while riding is questionable, toss into the equation that you are going uphill and that the smoke you are blowing out is coming right back into your face and you have made a series of bad choices, but Tennessee would become the touchstone of bad choices on our tour in my opinion.

(This paragraph is dedicated to the things Tennessee said during the tour: “I want to retire in Chechnya.” “I am the bad things that happen in Chechnya.” “I work security.” “I haven’t fired a AK in at least a month.” “That’s why I’m still single.” “That sounded like a 45 being shot.” “That usually scares the women away.” “I like your shirt.” “Let’s go fire some guns tomorrow.” “I’m an adrenaline junky.” “I doubt I’ll ever get married.”)

The rest breaks did give us lots of time to wait and gave me the chance to shove lozenge after lozenge into my pie hole. Prague from the hillside, looking across the river was beautiful. From where we stood on the ridge, the downtown area looked untouched since 1700. Prague is a strikingly beautiful city covered in two inches of historical grime. The Charles Bridge, the two remaining city towers, the Old Town Square, the Jewish quarter, and the organically-grown twisting cobblestone streets cannot be described without taking another 2,000 words, but let me just sum it up by saying, Prague is lovely.

The Vltava River cuts through Prague.

The Vltava River cuts through Prague.

Prague looking good from here.

Prague looking good from here.

Pretending to feel fine.

Pretending to feel fine.

Prague's castle/cathedral.

Prague’s castle/cathedral.

Look at me, I feel great.

Look at me, I feel great.

I almost crashed once on the ride down the hill, there were lots of switchbacks and I tried to cut one to sharp and nearly ended up gathering a collection of small rocks under my skin, but my half-asleep-cat-like reflexes saved me at the last moment. We took a longer break waiting for the older couple on the way down the hill and this is where I made a mistake in judgment. “The Pull the Trigger” dude asked the Aussie lady if she wanted to have dinner after the tour, she looked at me and said, “Dinner sounds good, let’s all go.” Now I took this as, “I don’t want to be alone with this guy, please come along so that I don’t end up being a story told loudly on a train some day.” I said that I could do a short meal, what I should have said was, “I don’t feel well, I think I need to get some sleep. You kids have a good time.” Anyway, this is how I ended up eating dinner at 11:30 in the evening in a smoke filled restaurant in Prague pretending;I was having a good time. (The term “smoke filled” is really redundant when it comes to Prague restaurants, but for those of you who have not been there it might not be apparent.)

If I were at home, I would have taken some NyQuil, drank ten gallons of OJ, and taken a hot bath. Instead I drank a liter of beer, ate some little pieces of mystery meat and spinach (not fresh tasty spinach, but frozen and reheated), and then I took a shower before hitting the old hay. I slept for about four hours before the sun was up.

Here is the great thing about being sick on vacation, you spend very little money. I ate nothing all day, watched Django Unchained again, watched Inglorious Bastards, watched No Country for Old Men, and moved in and out of consciousness for about 12 hours. I killed the cold by drowning it in sweat. My room on the top floor was a combination sauna/heat collector for the rest of the guests downstairs. For some mysterious reason my AC was not working, I turned the little knob toward the number 15 but nothing happened. It was the only hotel on my entire trip that had the luxury of cooling air, but it was not working. Had I been in a coherent state of mind I would have called downstairs and asked why my room was 115 degrees, but instead I thought about writing a short note about how I had died in Prague from the Black Plague. “Dear Loved Ones, I’m sorry I died during TSOJ. Thanks for letting me go. I had fun until I died in Prague. Love, Jon…PS. Isn’t it odd that Prague and Plague are almost the same word…”

I found out as I was checking out the next day that if you want the AC on you have to request it downstairs. This is good information to have after you leave.

Anyway, around 5PM I started to think that I could sneak out and see the Mucha Museum that I very much wanted to see. I got up, showered, and went outside and decided to eat something instead. Choosing to eat verses going to a museum is something I never do, so this was a real moment of weakness for me, but in the end I decided that I will have to return to Prague and see what I missed.

Let The Summer of Jon Begin: Top Ten

 

Top Ten things I am looking forward to during The Summer of Jon 

 

 

10. Eating three hotdogs each day while in Iceland at Bæjarins beztu pylsur.

 

 

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the b...

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the best hot dog stand in Reykjavik.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. A full day at the Blue Lagoon. (Slippers and robe included.)

 

 

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)

8. Seeing Munch’s The Scream.

 

 

Munch The Scream lithography

Munch The Scream lithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Spending some time in the Danish Design Museum

 

 

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Kl...

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Klint at the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Visiting the Carlsberg Brewery

 

 

English: The "Elephant Gate" at the ...

English: The “Elephant Gate” at the Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5. Taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour.

 

 

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm (Photo credit: TXMagpie)

4. Touring Potsdam on bike

 

 

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineya...

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineyard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Walking though Vigeland Park (Froger Park) in Oslo.

 

 

Vigeland Children

Vigeland Children (Photo credit: Will Cyr)

2. Vienna’s outdoor evening concerts/movies at city hall.

 

Vienna's Town hall (4)

Vienna’s Town hall (4) (Photo credit: Elena Romera)

1. A full day bike tour of Prague.

 

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed ...

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed from Petřín Lookout Tower. The view is approximately 180 degrees, from north on the left to south on the right.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Top Ten Concerns/Fears/Obsessive thoughts

 

 

10. The exchange rate. There is going to be some weird money on this trip. The Icelandic Kroner’s current exchange rate is about 125 to 1. This sounds good, but I don’t want to have to use skills from my Algebra 1 class in 1850.

 

 

9. Angry German bakers. I could avoid German bakers altogether but then I would have to avoid German baked goods…not gonna happen.

 

 

8. Being on time. I will show up to the airport three hours before my flight just like I am told, but once I am on the road I don’t want to spend time waiting.

 

 

7. Italians walking slowly.

 

 

6. Italians cutting in line. Okay this can be anyone cutting in line. Getting off the ferry in Victoria last week I purposely stepped in between a family that was cutting in line knowing that they couldn’t pass through customs as two groups. There is a line people! Get in the line or I will get all Clint Eastwoody on you. (Not the talking to a chair Clint Eastwood, but the Clint that stares into the sun and spits on stuff.)

 

 

5. Heat. I am a delicate flower and heat will make me wilt.

 

 

4. Not being able to speak the primary language of any country I am visiting. Yes, I am going to assume everyone will speak to me in English. My multiple years of Spanish class will probably not pay off in Iceland. Actually, my Spanish is only good for laughs these days.

 

 

3. Being stuck someplace where they play Techno music.

 

 

2. Being stuck on the plane next to someone who wants to talk too much.

 

 

1. Gypsies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portland: Still weird after all these years.

Summer is in the air and a young man’s mind turns to thoughts of Powell’s City of Books in Portland…in this case a middle-aged mind turns there also. My annual sojourn to Portland, Oregon took place this past week. I’m not sure when my friend Peter and I began these yearly trips, but we must be approaching 10 years at this point. A decade of Portland visitation makes the trip officially a Tradition with a capital T and should be penciled in on everyone’s calendar as a national holiday. I will call it Bookstore Day and everyone should spend a few hours in their local/independent bookstore on a sunny Friday in May.

This year we decided to add a couple of wrinkles to our usual path. This year we started our Portland stop at Voodoo Doughnuts.

Line up and get the old mouth watering.

Line up and get the old mouth watering.

Now if you have not heard of Voodoo Doughnuts that is okay, the line is long enough already. Stay away and keep going to Dunkin Doughnuts, but if you want to cut your mouth open on a doughnut covered in deadly Captain Crunch then this is your place. The line outside the shop wasn’t too long, but I started having German Bakery flashbacks and was worried that when it was my turn to order I was going to get yelled at for doing it wrong. Like a German bakery, Voodoo Doughnuts is a cash only establishment, but unlike Germany you don’t have to know what you are ordering a full week before arriving.

I'm confused.

I’m confused.

The menu is a bit overwhelming, but I managed to look in the rotating jewel case and find two doughnuts that I could identify. “I’ll take one of those bacon numbers and the thing covered in Oreos,” I said.

“Do you want the peanut butter, chocolate, or regular Oreo doughnut,” the Voodoo lady asked me. I felt a little panicky and wondered if she was about to break into German and begin to berate me for not knowing which doughnut I wanted.

“Regular,” I blurted out. In the end it didn’t matter which doughnut I ordered because I could only finish the bacon one.

Bacon...do I see Bacon!

Bacon…do I see Bacon!

Captain Crunch on a doughnut?

Captain Crunch and Fruit Loops on a doughnut?

I had a chance to look at a few of the other doughnuts while I waited and began to wonder why someone would order a Captain Crunch doughnut. Eating Captain Crunch is a lot like eating hot pizza, you know you are going to damage your mouth and you should slow down, but you can’t help yourself and end up burning or cutting your mouth because you are such a pig. (I guess the “you” in these sentences is actually me.)

12 Oreos on a doughnut? Yep.

12 Oreos on a doughnut? Yep.

After getting our doughnuts we went out to the doughnut garden (a sort of beer garden for doughnuts) and began eating. I looked at my two options and started having thought about dying of diabetes and loosing all my teeth. I thought the bacon doughnut was probably healthier than the Oreo one, so I ate it. Yes, it was good. I then considered eating the Oreo one, but there were a lot of Oreos on the doughnut, so many that I thought I would eat it and go into some diabetic coma. So I opted for saving it for later.

The PC police have not visited this place yet.

The PC police have not visited this place yet.

The doughnut garden.

The doughnut garden.

Hopped up on 4,000 calories of straight sugar we headed back to the car and then over to Powell’s.

The red brick building containing all of those books is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is the only place in the world where I don’t mind shopping for an extended period. I could spend a whole day in Powell’s and I think on one visit we spent seven hours there. Our more recent visits the bookstore have been more efficient.

Powell's!

Powell’s!

For people who have never been to Powell’s it can be overwhelming, but don’t worry books can’t hurt you…unless they are thrown at you, and then some of the larger books at Powell’s could hurt you. The good new is that I have not seen a single book thrown at Powell’s so I believe it is okay to say that you are safe to wander around without fear. The floors are coded with different colors: Yellow (sci/fi fantasy) Blue (Fiction) etc…  We usually start on the top floor: Drama, Art, and Music. The top floor also has the rare book room, which looks like it has had gastric bypass surgery. The rare book room is about 1/5 of the size it used to be. Now the rare books are spread out throughout the store which I just don’t like. I like going into the quiet little book room and feeling like I am someplace special. Now I feel more like I am visiting an old person’s attic, which can be interesting, but there isn’t the same reverent quality as when all the rare books were in one place like the good-old-days.

The top floor.

New arrivals.

This year we started in the Travel section. I have tried to find a good, small map of Vienna and one of Prague. I don’t like the big floppy maps, I like the little book looking things. My favorites are the Knopf  Map Guides that have little sectioned off maps. The Map Guides look like little books and when I am lost in a foreign city (which happens frequently when I travel) I can find a tiny corner to hide in and then figure out where the hell I am without drawing too much attention to myself. I always feel bad for anyone who has a full tourist map. They stand there on some street corner, blocking foot traffic with the wind blowing their pathetic map around, and looking confused. I cannot walk by confused people without asking if they need help finding something. (I do this most often in Seattle, but there have been a few times I have intervened in Paris.)

I found my Knopf Map Guides and then fought with the temptation to buy more travel guides. I have a problem with buying guides, right now I have four guides for Scandinavia. Why do I need four? I don’t, what I really need is five.

Fiction.

Fiction.

After meandering through the top floor we dallied through the Purple floor where I managed for the first time not to pick up a book. My partner in crime did manage to find a few historical books. Soon his basket was overflowing with big, fat books and his right arm was getting stretched to its maximum length. He wanted to do some studying on Chaucer over the summer and there really aren’t very many short, pithy books on Chaucer. There are many, many Chaucer books that weigh over five pounds. If someone ever tossed Canterbury Tales at your head they could be charged with attempted murder.

IMG_0558

My bounty.

I was saving up my basket space for the fiction room. I had a list of about 12 books to check out and before long I had chopped off a few items from my wish list. Dorothy Parker is someone I know very little about, and I wanted to read something by her or about her, but after looking through the books by and about her I decided that I no longer wanted to know anything about her. I did grab the new Salman Rushdie novel Joseph Anton and have already fallen in love with it. Before I knew it, my basket was overflowing and our visit was nearly over.

This is when we do what fiscally responsible people do, we head into the café, get a cup of coffee, and decided what books to keep. I kept all of mine and my friend disposed of about half of his, his basket was still full though. We checked out, I spent enough to get free parking and then we headed up to 23rd Avenue for lunch. We always eat at Kornblatt’s. It is not elegant dining, it is a New York deli kind of thing. I saw the Brooklyn Bomb was still on their specials menu and looked no further. The only problem was that they were out of the bread used to make a Brooklyn Bomb. I was sad, but the waitress suggested I try Pavarotti‘s Stomach. I know very little about Pavarotti (he is dead, he sung opera, he was Italian, he was a large man, in college we called the student from Italy Pavarotti) but I took the waitress’ suggestion and soon had this sitting in front of me.

"We don't have the Brooklyn Bomber today...but we do have this."

“We don’t have the Brooklyn Bomber today…but we do have this.”

My Voodoo doughnut was almost fully digested, so I dug in and destroyed Pavarotti’s Stomach. It was pretty good and probably healthier than my breakfast even though the sandwich was covered with about a half pound of cheese. There were “vegetables” under the cheese (onions and peppers).

After the lunch stop it was off to Cafe Yumm to find the mythological Yumm Sauce. I would go into detail here, but this post is already too long and if you want Yumm sauce you can order it online.

Once the Yumm Sauce was in hand, we crossed the mighty Willamette River and headed to East Portland and to Music Millennium. I bought embarrassingly bad music. I don’t know what wave of nostalgia hit me, but soon I found myself with a Pat Benatar’s Greatest Hits album, an Aztec Camera Greatest hits, and Son Volt’s new album that is either going to have to grow on me or I will have to start wearing cowboy boots and buying big belt buckles.

Music stop.

Music stop.

After Music Millennium, Tradition dictates that we go the East Hawthorne, sit in the Starbucks, and write poetry. I usually write bad poetry, and since that is a Tradition I stuck to my usual form. What we do is write three random ideas on little pieces of paper and then exchange the ideas. We then spend about 30 minutes trying to make a poem from the ideas. The quality of my poems usually end up somewhere on the poetry spectrum between 13 year-old-girl poetry and death metal lyrics…leaning towards 13 year-old girl poetry.

Time for me to write my annual bad poem.

Time for me to write my annual bad poem. An iced Chai tea? I might have to turn in my “man card” if I keep buying Aztec Camera albums and drinking iced Chai.

After we finish our poems we always stroll down East Hawthorne. East Hawthorne is a little like Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. It isn’t as hilly, or architecturally interesting, or historically important, or famous, but it is just as gritty. On a nice sunny day this gritty quality brings out the dirty hippies and they populate most of the street corners playing bongos. I like dirty hippies. I think dirty hippies are cool, but I really hate the bongo thing. Playing a bongo is akin to playing the cowbell; It takes no talent and very little rhythm. If you want to pry my valuable change from my pocket then it is time to learn a real instrument like a harmonica or slide trombone.

Oh, there is another Powell's?

Oh, is there another Powell’s?

After walking by the hippie scene, we found ourselves in a branch office of Powell’s. Where I generally walk around and look at books without the intention of buying anything. This “little” Powell’s is about the size of the largest independent bookstore in Seattle which is a little depressing. Seattle is a much larger city than Portland and should have a bookstore that is much larger than Portland’s and I’m not talking about Barnes and Noble, I’m talking about a bookstore with some character. Bookstores are a reflection of our communities and if the only bookstore you have access to is a chain, then I feel a little bad for you. I don’t want to sound too much like a book snob (okay, I don’t mind sounding like a book snob) but the reason independent bookstores are superior is because the owners care about books. They love books, and they thoughtfully buy and sell books. The really good ones introduce you to books you never would have picked up at your local B and N, because B and N only sells things that are already successful.

Okay, enough of that rant.

After our second book run we always walk over to Laurelhurst Park and take a two lap stroll of the park. We have had a couple rainy days in our ten years, but we are not made of sugar, we will not melt, and we live in the Pacific Northwest and if you live in the PNW and don’t like a little liquid sunshine, then it is time to pack your bags and head for Nevada.

Yoga in the park by law must be done without a shirt in Portland.

Yoga in the park by law must be done without a shirt in Portland.

Laurelhurst Park is a great little city park. The best part of Laurelhurst is that it gets used. People are running, playing frisbee, walking their babies, slack-lining, letting their dogs run wild in the wild dog area, and doing shirtless yoga. I even saw three little kids rolling in the grass which was adorable until I heard one of them say something about rolling in dog poop, but it is Portland, smelling like dog poop is not frowned upon like it would be in other places.

It was a glorious day, sunshine and 70 degrees. Portland is about the best place on Earth on a day like this.

We ended our day by eating Mexican food along East Hawthorne. It was another break with Tradition, but I don’t think either of us could handle the usual (a German restaurant with heavy food), so I sat in the sunshine eating fish tacos and mi amigo ate an enchilada.

The day was just about perfect. We found great parking, we ate good food, we bought books, but most importantly we spent time together. Traditions get slightly altered over time, and so do friendships, but sometimes things shouldn’t change.

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.

%d bloggers like this: