Thursday, April 5, 2012

Czeching In to Praha

          I left Germany Wednesday night and took a veryy long overnight train- City Night Line 495!- to the Golden City of Prague. There was a small ordeal with getting my train reservation since I had a Eurail pass...basically Sarah and her dad saved my butt from not having a train to Prague at all. I am extremely grateful to them for their help, and eventually I found myself safely on CNL 495. I had the second cheapest sleeping option with six bunks in one little cabin. And it was extremely little, there was barely enough room for one person to stand in the space between the bunks! See what it basically looked like here- but that picture is actually nicer than my train was. You couldn't sit up in bed either, so the whole time you're forced to either lay on your back, lay on your stomach, lay on your side, dangle one leg into the space between bunks, or pace in the aisle outside the cabin. I choose mostly options 2 and 5 since I really wanted to see the countryside pass by (since I'd never seen Eastern Germany) and a giant Chinese man and his mail order bride had pretty much laid claim to option 4. Well I made it through the hot, sweaty, suffocating, clausterphobic night without too much discomfort and arrived in Prague just before 11 am. I was thankfully able to leave my backpack at my host's work place in the city so I could roam burden free. And roam I did! I walked almost the entire city, my first day I did the East bank of the Vltava which includes the two quarters Staré Město (old town) and Nové Město (new town). Staré Město is where a lot of touristy things are such as the Powder Tower, one end of Karlovy Most (Charles Bridge), the Astronomical Clock and all the other delights of Old Town Sqaure, and Josefov the old Jewish district. Nové Město has a cool mall...haha it's not very touristy but Wenceslas Square and the long, broad boulevard that leads up to it is nice. (I have pictures of everything that will be on Facebook!) 
The next day I did the West bank with Mala Strana (the lesser quarter) and Hradčany (loosely "Castle town"). I saw a lot of great sites here like Prague Castle, Strahov Monastery, "embassy row", St Nicholas Cathedral, and Karlovy Most. 
I think I did much too much to talk about it all but it was a good time for sure and exhausting. 

I walked so much. Honestly, I walked everywhere and traversed more ground than I thought possible but it was a wonderful experience just exploring on my own! 
  • There was a constant cold wind and on and off raining...I saw the sun once
  • I have zero pictures of myself in Prague since I was alone and had no one to take pictures of me!
  • It was admitedly a little lonely, especially while eating
  • KGB Museum! 
    • For the price of approximately $10 I got a personal tour of the one room "museum" from the die-hard Soviet owner. The highlight of the museum was undoubtedly the collection of KGB photos in the Czech Republic taped to a sheet hanging on the wall. $10 well spent and I definitely recomend it for the benefit of meeting the owner alone.What a character!  ;)
  • Prague Castle
    • I didn't get around to it the last time I was in Prague, but I think despite the rain and the arduous trek up the MOUNTAIN it sits atop that it was worth it. The castle itself is stunning and really quite imposing and the area around it is facsinating, filled with "palaces" that were once the residences of courtisans and aristocrats. 
  • Speaking Czech
    • I really love the language and it was great to have the opportunity again to practice with native speakers
  • Mala Strana
    • I think my favorite quarter in Prague, I got to really explore it on this trip. It actually reminds me a little of San Francisco. Kind of edgy, lots of university-type hang out spots, and the river is visible from lots of hilltops.
So basically, Prague was wonderful! I think for a solo trip I had just the right amount of time there, and as always the food was delicious- I actually tried sauerkraut and didn't absolutely hate it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


First of all, I apologize for not posting in so long! If you have ever tried to write a blog, you might understand, but it just kind of gets in the way sometimes. You come home late from a long day of touring, shower, eat something, collapse exauhsted into bed, and the last thing you want to do is go over the day again by typing it out on a tiny touch screen keyboard. However, due to popular demand, I have returned! I am cuurently in Helsinki waiting for the train to St Petersburg and will now reverse a little and give an account of my trip to Strasbourg! Sarah and I decided to take a little excursion to France since she lives just 10 minutes from the border, and we travelled to the lovely metropolitan city of Strasbourg. With the two of us combined we had about 32 words of French and 15 of them were it was a challenge. But we made it to the city, and the drive through rural Alsace was so beautiful! I often think of French people with a very specific stereotype- wearing ruffled sweaters and berets, strolling along the bank of the Seine, a baguette in one hand and the leash of a precocious poodle in the other, swishing about and throwing disdainful glances at anyone without a perfect French accent. WELL this drive let me see a very different view of French life. We saw a lot of men on tractors, women (in non-designer brand clothing) pushing stollers and carrying bags of groceries through small towns, just a slow, honest, hard working life in general and it was good to see that side of France. When we got to Strasbourg we did all the typical touristy things. We saw the Parliament of Europe and all its satellite buildings with very interesting architechture. The city is wide and open, and the weather was perfect for enjoying all the parks and boulevards. We ended up walking in the opposite direction from the city center for like 10 minutes before realizing that our surroundings were getting less urban rather than more...and the adventures in French began! Surprisingly few people spoke either English or German so we resorted to hand gestures and bribes (okay, only one bribe). We managed to wrangle a bus back into the city center and bought our token choco-crossaints, saw several gorgeous churches and city government buildings as Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, and then we "met" that guy. That Guy Sarah and I found a really sweet mini-park in the city center with cherry trees and blooming bushes and lots of pigeons! We strolled for a while, and all the time there were bikers zooming around us in every direction, all moving at light speed and kind of nerve wracking to be honest. We were constantly monitoring the ground in search of bike paths to avoid. One guy, however, seemed to be enjoying the trees and sunshine as Sarah and I were and just stood with his bike a few meters from us. I didn't pay him much attention until maybe 10 minutes later when we crossed the street to see the old university library that was under construction. Because of the construction work we couldn't go inside and were forced to walk around the corner down a smaller street. It was not an alley exactly but maybe a kind of residential street and no one else was there...except the man with the bike from the park. About half a block behind us, I realized it was kind of odd that we were seeing him again, that he would be on this little street, and that there was nothing to stop and see yet he still was riding very slowly on his bike. I mentioned it to Sarah though and she didn't seem concern so I just quickened our pace a little and got out into the full sunshine where other people were. We saw another church, went around a corner, crossed a bridge, and through all of that the guy on the bike was still behind us...always lurking just in the corner of our vision, riding his bike in circles or back and forth if we slowed down. We were getting pretty nervous at this point and decided to test our stalker to see if he reslly was following us so we stopped to take pictures for like 5 minutes and when we looked back to where he had been across the street- he was gone! Maybe, we thought, it was just our imagination running wild? We crossed the street to get a better view f the river and THERE HE WAS AGAIN! Definitely following us. With this absolutely creepy smile on his 30-something fave. I snapped a picture(I will post it to Facebook) and then we hopped on a bus and finally lost him. Close first experience with a stalker. I guess I'll stay optomistic and say at least it was exciting! We stopped in Hagenau on the way home for some ice cream and then I packed for and (with ample help from Sarah and her family) I boarded the train that took me to Mannheim where I boarded the sleeper train that took me overnight to Prague! Which I will gush about in the next post...if I get around to blogging again before I get home)) But that was Strasbourg! Now to St. Petersburg. Better get all my smiles out on this side of the border. =))))))))))))))))))))))))))))