Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Prague :)

There's something unmistakably charming about Prague which you just cannot pin down. On the surface, there seems to be nothing. But there is something indeed, which makes you feel comfortable and yet bewitched by the old-world charm of this magnificent city.

Right : The Astronomical Clock in Old Town

I got off at the Florenc Bus station on the nippy morning of the first of May. A quick visit to the loo made me realize that it was essential to change my Euros into a few Kroner if I didn't want to pay a 20-30% premium for anything. My couchsurfing contact in Prague, Lydia was supposed to meet me at 6.15 here, and I had half an hour to kill, which I did by roaming around and taking wild guesses about any random female being her.

6.30, and still no signs of anybody looking even remotely interested in me, and I decided to send her a message. Well, she'd overslept, and were meeting at 9. That was fine with me, I could wait for the currency exchange to open at 7 and then drop off my stuff at the hostel. I had used the subway system in Paris and Vienna, so I thought this would be easy too, but the Prague subway takes a wee bit more careful attention. It is not too tough, but they dont have so many signboards and notices and arrows as the other ones. In Paris and Vienna, you would have to rather dumb or compete with a bat for blindness to really miss something, but here, they probably thought that it was not too bad an idea to let the occasional bunch of tourists see the Prague castle rather than have yet another round of shopping at Palladium. Maybe they'll change that, with the way the recession is biting, and make it the other way round for a while...

Right : One of the ancient Jewish synagogues

So I wandered out of some rather tough-to-pronounce-for-my-non-Czech-tongue railway station, and tried to proceed towards a similar tram station. Unfortunately, the council probably tries to keep the tourists off the trams - there are so many of them, or maybe I should say us - it's not a bad idea if you let a few of them rest for a while in the zillions of parks and benches they have everywhere rather than fill the trams. So there was nothing to indicate where I should be heading. I wandered down a street, and found a man walking along. He stopped when he saw me, and a hint of a smile covered his face. I offered a hesitant 'excuse me', to which he his face lightened up with a genuine smile and he went 'How can I help you?', and then proceeded to tell me just where the tram station was. Wow.

The Hostel was seemed rather nice, although I believe they had forgotten to put up a board outside which announced that this, indeed, was HostelOne, so I had to bear the risk of ringing a random bell and have a rather cheesed off Czech fella hollering at me for ruining his public holiday slumber in a language which I couldn't even read, forget understand. What they do with so many consonants and so few vowels kind of beats me.

A quick bath and dumping of my luggage in the luggage room later, I left for Winceslas square where Lydia was going to meet me. We were going to meet under the large horse, which seemed like a good idea, until I saw that the place was swarming with half of Prague's tourist population. A bit more of the guessing-whether-she's-the-one game, na she's looks a tad too old, na she's way too young, na, oops, she's actually a he, later, she walked up to me and introduced yourself. Sometimes it helps to be the only person who looks a fair bit different from the rest. It would have been jolly fun if I was also a white westerner, we would have played catch me if you can around the horse for a few times before realizing that we both had mobile phones and could call each other.

And so we roamed around, all over the place, seeing majestic castles and towering, err, towers and ancient clocks, and really ancient synagogues and a whole lot of a lot else. As usual, we discussed about a zillion things, the Czech Republic, India, Germany and since she was from there, Slovakia.

Right to Left : My right shoe, me, Lydia, Ondrej and Branislav

No, I don't have one exceptionally large foot... just an exceptionally awkward pose :|

It was 3 incredible days. The first one went in seeing the usual touristy stuff, which was rather beautiful, but a wee bit tiring because of so many
tourists. The evening was rather nice, at a Slovak students party, where they tried their darndest to get me drunk, by making me have 3 shots of some rather strong Pear liquor, neat, thank you very much, followed by Vodka and something else which I now find it tough to remember :P Unfortunately, just as things had started to get a wee bit wild, we had to leave to catch the last bus, since this place was somewhere rather far away from the city. We had a dozen odd Slovaks with us, all in different stages of inebriation, who proceeded to ask me anything and everything about India. They were incredibly friendly and nice, and there was never a hint of malice or a trace of superiority in their voices even when we talked about something about India which wasn't exactly nice. I really liked these guys, and it made me want to visit Slovakia a lot. I got off at my stop, and realized to my relief that I was in pretty ok shape to make the 5 minute walk back to my room :)

The second day was spent in sunbathing on the banks of the Vltava river, and soaking our feet into the water to remind us that it was rather cold, and it was not a very bright idea to have a dip in it. 2 of Lydia's friends joined us. They were really fun company and slightly crazy at times, which I believe is a very good trait to have, especially when I have it in abnormal quantities. We then went to this hillock which looked upon the entire city, and was surrounded by a small forest. It was a stunning view, and I wish I could just sit there for an entire day, taking in the sight.

Right : Moi on the hill-top

Sunday, and we had just a few hours left, for I had to catch a bus back to Germany in the evening. We went up the Eiffel Tower replica, not a bad effort, though I think they got bored of it after a while and decided that they needn't make it too tall after all. The view from the top is fantastic, though, and it's well worth the hike up the spiral staircase.

After a long walk down, Lydia decided that it was time to take me to a vegetarian restaurant. I was wondering what they would have in a veggie restaurant in eastern europe, when we walked into proper indian restaurant. A few bites and I couldnt believe myself... this was way better than what I would get in a few places back home! Superb food, and really authentic Indian stuff, not the rich, greasy stuff you tend to associate foreign indian food with. This was the stuff, seriously!

Right : Lydia and a rather zonked looking moi

Another hour spent on a park bench, soaking up the sun, and it was time to go. Prague and its people had left me enchanted and wishing for more. It was a beautiful place with really friendly people, and it left me wondering if I could change my travel plans for next week, chuck Zurich, and somehow find my way into Slovakia or Ukraine instead. I mean where else would some really, really nice girl troop around for 3 days with a twisted and strapped ankle (I realized the strapped bit later :| ) with some random stranger just so that he could see what was not even her native city? Oh, Eastern Europe!

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