Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thoughts from Places: Prague

For once, this travel story does not start with "I woke up at a ridiculous hour of the morning to go somewhere." Instead, it begins in a leisurely fashion, waking up at a normal hour last Saturday, packing, exchanging money, and hopping on the Tube, thus beginning our spring break adventures and our survey of European public transportation (after this one-week trip we had traveled on the underground of three different cities, two trains, three (!!!) airplanes, four buses, one tram, one vaporetto (water taxi) and one gondola. The gondola was, of course, the most fun).

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I am really, really not a fan of flying. I think my irrational, historically-minded self simply refuses to believe that it is safe or possible for me to be several thousand feet in the air without plummeting to my death. The more rational side of me, of course, severely dislikes it because it really affects my ears quite badly; for hours after a flight, I still feel like I'm underwater, and when it's really bad, I get all dizzy and miserable. Sigh. But the flight to Prague was uneventful, and we stumbled into the city by bus and then by metro. My first experience of Prague was in the dark, in that unpleasant underwater-can't-hear-anything bubble, but I could already tell that our stay there was going to be lovely.

We found our hostel and had a nice chat with the girl at the front desk - who, like pretty much everyone in Prague, thank heavens, spoke very good English - and we signed up for breakfast in the morning and a walking tour the next day before going up the stairs to our room.

Guys. This was the most glorious hostel room I have ever been in. I have stayed in HOTELS that were not as nice as this place. The breakfast was also amazingly delicious; they had a buffet of fruit and bread and cereal and they'd also make you whatever you wanted in terms of eggs or crepes or pancakes. Oh so very tasty.

After breakfast, we napped for about half an hour (what? It was morning and we're college students) and then we trooped down to the lobby in order to meet our walking tour group at 10. Except... there was no one else in the lobby. Well, okay, fine, there are other hostels on this walking tour, perhaps they're just late picking up another batch of people. At about 10:15, we asked the receptionist, and she looked all worried and called the tour people and started speaking rapid-fire Czech (Czech, by the way, is an impossible language. There was a list of helpful phrases on the map from the hostel and none of us could manage any of them). She then told us that somehow, they'd forgotten to stop by Miss Sophie's (our hostel) and that someone would be coming to get us if we could wait another five minutes. Hooray!

We finally met up with the tour group, and we talked a bit with two other American girls from Chicago and an Australian guy, as well as Aoife, our lovely Irish tour guide (yes I asked her how to pronounce her name). We spent four hours walking around the city, listening to Aoife as she told us what seemed like everything: this monastery was built in such-and-such a year by these people, and this castle was refurbished by this woman, and this is one of the three locations of the defenestrations of Prague.

The location of the third and (so far) final Defenestration of Prague, in 1948. They sure do like to defenestrate people in Prague.

Other than being a place where people are thrown out of windows and speak a language where the letters don't make any sense, Prague is just an amazingly beautiful city. What I've told everyone about it is that it feels like walking through a fairytale, and it really does. Everywhere the streets are a little bit narrow and all paved with cobblestones and every street, especially in Old Town and the Castle District, is just filled with beautiful old buildings. It's a city so lovely that neither Hitler nor the Communists wanted to destroy it, so from a historical standpoint it's probably the most intact of all Eastern European cities.

This is an average street in the Castle District:

And this is the view from near the monastery (complete with our lovely faces, of course):

And this is a bit of St. Vitus' Cathedral, which is inside Prague Castle:

On Sunday afternoon, after the walking tour let out, we walked over to the National Theatre and, even though we simply walked into the box office three hours before the performance, we got tickets to see that evening's production of Benjamin Britten's Gloriana. We meandered our way back to the hostel then and got a bit fancier (it was the opera, after all), and then headed back towards the theatre. We ate dinner across the street and then went up to discover that our seats, even though they came to about twelve dollars, were fantastic, and that the theatre looked like this:

Gosh I love old theatres.

Gloriana, which is about Elizabeth I and was written for Elizabeth II's coronation, will probably never be my favorite opera - there's too much recitative and not enough aria for my liking. It was, however, incredibly fun to go to this production. The singers were all excellent, and the music is very pretty, if not particularly catchy. It was also quite visually stunning, with period costumes and stark, modern sets, with lots of excellent visual symbolism and the oddest ballet I've ever seen before. I was really happy that we got to go and do that - it isn't everywhere that you can walk into a theatre that late in the day and get such good seats, and I've never really been to an opera on that scale before, so it was a lot of fun to see that.

Monday was spent doing a lot of wandering. Our plans for the morning were thwarted, as we discovered that the National Gallery is closed for five years for renovations. So instead, we spent our time meandering through the streets, stopping in stores or touristy shops or street markets now and again, and finally finding a museum to visit - an exhibition on Alphonse Mucha's art nouveau posters and sketches (very cool!) and an exhibition of Salvador Dali (very weird). We also went back to visit Charles Bridge, one of the places we'd been on our tour and one of the most iconic of Prague's landmarks, at night, which is quite lovely, with lots of dimmer-than-you'd-think streetlamps and shadowy statues hovering over you in the dark.

After that, continuing in our newfound tradition of eating in places where famous people have eaten, we had dinner at the Cafe Louvre, where Einstein and Kafka apparently ate (presumably not together :P), and then, even though Tory wanted to go on a pub crawl, we headed back to the hostel and packed our things and went to bed because the next morning, we had to, of course, get up at a ridiculous hour to start the next leg of our wonderful European journey.

I hope everyone in the blogosphere had a good week last week! I'll be posting again tomorrow as well, as the tales of spring break will take up three posts, I think. Talk to you soon, blog!


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