Country 14: Czech Republic – 1st visit, May 2006

25 May – Prague

Leaving Austria on the Contiki bus, we reached the Czech Republic and as they had not yet abolished their border control we all had to present our passports at the border, which took about 20 minutes to process however it took slightly longer as one idiot left his passport in his bag underneath the bus. That idiot was me. Just over the border was foreign exchange, as up until this point we’d only needed Euros and now we needed to score some Czech Korunas so we got into groups of about 4 each while one representative swapped our money over. Then probably the most exciting thing about our border stop, if there is such a thing, was the service station just over the border. After dealing with some fairly large spending in Euro-dominated countries, we were pleasantly surprised to find out everything he was significantly cheaper. We were able to score a sandwich or two, drink, and packet of chips for all up about 3 to 5 Euro! Not that we bought any at this stop, but beers were only 1 Euro! However nothing was printed in English so sandwich fillings were a guessing game. I think I had a beef and salad roll, and a chicken nugget roll with mayonnaise. It still tasted pretty good.
I was pretty excited about arriving in Prague as I heard it was one of the only major European cities not damaged by bombs in World War II, so everything would still be intact. Ben stopped the bus near a bridge and Tash lead us into the main town square which was fairly large, and was surrounded by tall buildings on all sides. We were wondering why a large crowd was gathering around this one clock, called the Anatomical Clock, so as the hour struck we all stood and stared, then out came all these little puppets which did a few dances and made strange sounds for about a minute before going back into their little hiding places. It was very cute but I somehow felt like someone had just played a practical joke on us or whether this was put in for tourists to laugh at. I was different, I’ll say that much.
I didn’t do much that night. I wasn’t really in the mood to go out, so I walked around the suburbs as our hotel was about 5km out of the city, grabbed some KFC and crashed in bed.

26 May – Prague
Accommodation: Hotel Patanka, Prague

Today was the day I’d been waiting for, a walk around the sights of Prague. It was an overcast day with a bit of casual rain here and there which didn’t seem to detract from the day at all. Tash led us through the streets of the Old Town which had some magnificent old-style buildings. Unfortunately my camera wasn’t working and I’d had no time to get it fixed so I just had to observe, which was probably better in a way as I wasn’t distracted from listening to Tash’s historical talk of Prague by trying to position myself for taking the best photo. A highlight in the middle of Tash’s walk-through tour was a little cafe that was selling a few cakes, and to my enjoyment, meat pies! Corey and I both got excited at this and scored ourselves a yummy pork mince pie each with beautiful fluffy pastry. It was my first real meat pie since being in England in late April and it was awesome.

After leading us through the Old Town, Tash led us down to the most famous bridge in Prague, the Charles Bridge. It was very nice but was swarming with tourists with a handful of people selling postcards and paintings and tacky souvenirs, and a few buskers were trying their luck also. It was at this point that I somehow lost the group. I went into a net cafe with the four MacMaster Canadian girls and took the opportunity to burn all my photos to CD, the whole 1gb of them, and it was taking longer than I expected. It was a slow CD burner, and by the time it was done and I’d left the net cafe I couldn’t find anyone. I wandered around searching for a while then figured I shouldn’t waste anymore of my day looking for people when I could just enjoy the sights myself.

My first stop on my self-guided tour was a place to get my camera fixed, if this was at all possible. I wandered into the shopping area of the city on a search for a camera store and had to walk around a few streets to find one. The lady at the first shop couldn’t speak English and understand what I wanted, but the next shop I found had a camera technician who was able to fix my problem. Apparently my obsolete Samsung camera could handle my 256mb memory card but can’t handle my 1gb memory card. I don’t know if this had anything to do with getting it soaked at Niagara Falls or whether it was just a crap camera. So he basically took my memory cards (which I only half an hour ago had burnt to CD) and formatted them using a store camera, then I was able to take photos again! So that’s what I intended to do. I guess I was very lucky that this was the only problem with it. Having missed out on photos earlier in the day I made my way back to the Old Town, however along the way I came to a fork in the road where I could either go to the Old Town or a lookout along a paved walking track surrounded by forest. I figured I’d check out this lookout first and give myself enough time to see the Old Town again before having to be back at the bus. The walk was very peaceful and while I passed a few people here and there it was still very nice. Not too many people were around here, probably because they either didn’t know how to get here or were too occupied by the more touristy areas down below. So after half an hour I reached the base of the observation tower on Petrin Hill and I started to climb the steps. I didn’t even realise how many I was climbing because I was too busy looking at the but it must’ve been at least a few hundred, but there was a halfway viewing platform so that was alright for a rest. Still, the most spectacular view was from the top. I took some awesome photos up there and it’s something that anyone who goes to Prague just has to do because the colours of all the rooftops of the buildings and houses combined with the river running through the city and the bridges passing over the river is just too spectacular to miss!
So after having a good look and a rest up the top, I came down and scored a huge and sausage on a roll for about AU$2 and walked back towards to the Old Town. Along the way back there I came across a little restuarant that lured me in with a blackboard advertising homemade beer, so I had to try it. I sat down for a meal, scoured over the menu, and something caught my eye. A quarter of roast duck, a Czech sausage, roasted ham, potato dumplings, and cabbage, and a pint of homemade beer it was about 300 Koruna all up (about AU$17), which is a damn fine deal. It was probably the best meal I’d had and would have on my whole time in Europe, probably even better than the meal I’d had in that Austrian roadhouse a few days ago. The beer was really smooth as well. It was the perfect meal and it’s a shame I wasn’t able to tell anyone else about it as they really would’ve enjoyed it. It was a rare find.

After my yummy meal I had just over an hour to rush through and take photos of the Old Town so that’s exactly what I did. It had just started to rain also so I had to put my hand over the camera to stop the rain from falling on it. The buildings still looked good in the rain, and in front of one of the buildings the wet ground gave a really effective photo as it gave a good reflection of the building. I even got to see some marching guards come out of one of the buildings and march around, so I took a photo of them too and that wasn’t something I saw with the group in the morning or expected to see.
Eventually I made it back to the meeting point in the town square where our group was slowly gathering. Just around the corner from the square was the Sex Machines Museum and I had half an hour to kill so I thought I’d check it out for a laugh and out of sexual curiousity. As soon as I got inside I saw a closed curtain with lots of giggling coming from behind it, so I took a peek and there were about 30 or 40 people sitting watching a porn movie from the 1920’s. They were laughing at the strangest things like the guy not being able to find the hole to stick it into straight away (if you know what I mean), a woman’s facial reactions to getting eaten out by another woman, and other things you wouldn’t expect people to be laughing at let alone be something you would expect from a piece of film over 80 years old. It was bizarre, but going upstairs I found there was more of it to come. Bondage gear, a 4-way dildo, a wooden box with peepholes for ladies to climb into so men can look inside, and all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. It was definitely worth the visit.

Back in the town square I saw a few small tourist shops and various stalls, and one was selling hot red wine out of a large metal urn which I thought was weird so I decided to buy a cup and try it out, as did a couple of other guys, and it actually tasted pretty nice.
Earlier in the day Tash had found out that one of Europe’s most popular DJs Paul Van Dyk was playing in the city tonight for a mere 550Kr for general admission or 750Kr for VIP admission with unlimited alcohol (about AU$33 and AU$45 respectively). Well I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this! I bought myself a ticket on impulse as we were going back to the bus, and I was a bit lucky not to lose the group who kept walking while I was standing in line to buy my ticket!
Suzanne, Kurt, Tash, and raver girl Emily had also bought tickets so we all caught a taxi over to the T Mobile Arena, wherever the hell that was, and got in. Unfortunately they’d bought VIP tickets and I only scored general admission so I had to go into a different door than them and we got separated, but it turned out great anyway. Later that night I found out they spent most of their time in the VIP area just having drinks while I was out with the crowd so I was happy with my choice. I squeezed my way through the crowd to be close to the front of the stage and had enough room to be able to dance for a good 3 or 4 hours or so, but I felt like a break about 2am but couldn’t find the other four inside so I went outside but realised I couldn’t get back in, so I waited around for the four of them to surface but they didn’t so I tried to find a taxi which was difficult. Then my taxi driver didn’t know where the place was that I was going, but eventually he understood me when I said the Hotel Patanka, but instead he took me to the Hotel Pitonka. So after driving around for ages and consulting his street directory, I had to locate the hotel on the map after only being in the city for a day so this took me ages also. Luckily we negotiated a set rate when he picked me up so I didn’t get charged extra for my driver’s incompetence. He finally found the hotel an hour after I’d left the venue, then when I got there the front door was locked and I knocked on a window and got Corey’s attention as he was sitting in the hallway, although before this I was contemplating climbing through an open window. So while I was waiting for Corey to come the other four from the concert turned up in their taxi, but one of them had a key. So after all that fuss I was finally able to get in to bed at 3:30am, and we had to get to the bus 3 or 4 hours later. Well, I guess I’d be sleeping on the bus tomorrow, or is that later this morning?

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