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World on a Shoestring A beginnger's guide to traveling around the world...as written by beginners...

Czech Us Out!

CZECH REPUBLIC | Thursday, 12 July 2007 | Views [1816]

Welcome to the apparent Stag Party capital of Europe. Understandably so. With good food, good beer, large portions of both, and prices that would make cheap ol' Scrooge blush, I'm sure you can guess what we filled our days and nights with.

You'd only be half right.

It all started when two weary backpackers, bedraggled from weeks of camping on the hard ground, decided to splurge in a city known for splurging encouragement, and get a room.

It really is quite amazing how wearing being on holiday can be.

With nothing but our whits to guide us (well, maybe more my whits and Gen's creepy, but infallible sense of direction) we found the local accommodation registry with the hopes of procuring cheap but private (no dorm beds for us) accommodation.

The grumpy man behind the counter assured us that the room we were purchasing was conveniently located both in the city center and a short three minute walk from the what we thought was the main train station. It had struck us as peculiar that the main train station we arrived at consisted of little more than a few vendors selling an arbitrary assortment of wares (shoes, "fresh fruit", wigs, candy, etc), a few vagrants, a toothless woman selling large pretzels, and the pungent aroma of urine and meat. Mmmmm. It did seem a bit barren for a hauptbanhoff, but we were tired and gave it little consideration, focusing our thoughts and efforts on the prospect of a mattress.

Back to the grumpy man. What was amazing about this man was that he managed secure payment for our room from us, exchange our currency, and give us directions to our hotel, all without smiling...once. In fact, I'm not even sure he spoke at all, as his face registered zero emotion. Mind you, he was not angry, intolerant, or impatient; just absolutely void of affect. In fact, I think he was a Jedi, using the force to impart the necessary knowledge...but Gen disagrees.

But we made it to our hotel safely, checked into our rather nice digs, whipped out our map of the city and its surrounds, and set out. Turns out grumpy old man mislead us.

As it happens, we were neither at the main train station, nor in the city center. The former would later be confirmed upon our departure from Prague from the REAL main station containing all the appropriate shops and eateries one would expect. The latter would be firmly ingrained in our minds (and feet) each time we made the one hour hike from hotel to city and back.

Please do not misconstrue the recounting of these events as complaining, as it is anything but. This little displacement ended up being a blessing in disguise, for every time we walked the hour forth and back, we discovered a new sight to be seen, a new path to walk, a new restaurant to sample, or a new part of the city, all of which we surely would have missed had we stayed elsewhere. If you take only one lesson from this entry, let it be this: always hoof it. The trams, trolleys, buses and subways all turn a city into a passing blur. Walking through the city separates you from other tourists and makes your holiday into an adventure, as it typically takes where few tourists venture, and the native's English is on par with your grasp of the native tongue. So most of our time was spent walking (how else would we maintain our sexy feminine figures?) to, from, and around Prague.

If you've never been to Prague, go. If you've already been, go back. Again, and again, and again...and again. So many cities we've visited have several beautiful buildings, parks, etc. Prague itself is one large site to be seen; the whole city is an attraction. The city has such an appeal as to be magnetic; every building is original in its construction and picturesque. Untouched by any of the World Wars, Prague has sustained its postcard facades for generations, thanks in part to the aforementioned omissions from international conflict, but also thanks to its uncrossable borders until the Velvet Revolution in 1989, where not a shot was fired and not a drop of blood shed. These hermetically sealed borders have preserved the winding cobblestones, the countless spires and bohemian atmosphere unspoiled for centuries; every street is a photograph, every building a monument.

Our site-seeing took us all over the city, from the Prague castle, the largest castle in Europe, across the Charles bridge, and into the Old Town Square. All roads in Prague lead to its busiest and most breathtaking square, each of whose four sides are walled by Gothic and Romanesque castles that seem to touch the heavens. So magnificent are these that even a blind photographer could capture them with artistic flare. At the street level, dozens of outdoor cafes surround the large lunar clock that sits at the base of one of the square's castles. Every hour the throngs of tourists gather to see the show as the clock chimes the hour. Invariably the throng is unfulfilled by the clock's brief show, so to satiate themselves, the turn to any of the many restaurants and cafes in Prague.

Now let us get down to the meat and potatoes of Prague. Literally. We managed to find the cheapest restaurant around that offered beer for less than 1 Euro, and whole meals, including individual appetizers, for less than 6 Euro. Needless to say, we were return customers. And when my cousin Beth, her boyfriend Jeremy, and our new good friend Kara joined us, we took them too.

This joint serves the best meat and potatoes you have ever had. But they call it Goulash. A wise, but toothless and friendly Amsterdamian whom we met in our travels said it best: "You can wake me up for goulash". I couldn't agree more. Goulash, as best as I can describe it, is like the end of a pot of pot roast. The last few pieces that have been soaking the longest in the juices are served on a plate with all the remaining juices, as well. And along with all this juicy deliciousness, they serve dumplings, which are, I suppose, bread-sized gnocchi; somewhere between real thick potato bread without the crust, and gnocchi, but large and delicious. Another Czech dish sampled was chicken breast coated in cornflakes, then perhaps fried or baked, its debatable. You're gonna have to give this one a try when we get home, Lyn, its seems right up your alley. And finally, to add to the list of "sampled local dishes", I ordered Neck. No classification, no idea what animal. Just neck. Having seen it at several restaurants, I finally ordered "Homemade neck", whatever that may be. Turned out to be pretty good.

Prague's history, the country's as a whole, is plagued with the dictatorial rule and stringent confinement. This city really gives its visitor some perspective; until very recently, Prague was closed to tourism as well as any international influence, so many people seen walking the streets lived during these oppressive years of quarantine. As little as two decades ago, the Czech Republic's doors were opened to the international community, and its capital city has been a hit with tourists ever since. Sentiments we share.

Visiting Prague is a dream come true for both us. It was wonderful to sample the cities culture and cuisine, to see family after so long, to make new friends, and gain a little perspective.

From building perspective to redefining our appreciation for life, we head for Auschwitz.

Tags: Sightseeing

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