Saturday, April 16, 2011

Semana Diez: Prague: Earth's Hellhole

1 April ~ 7 April 2011

I left off last at yet another failed attempt to use public transportation in Zurich. Our next step was to make it to the bus station to catch our overnight bus to Prague. This was definitely not a bus to miss or a time to get the wrong bus. And I use “bus station” loosely; it was more or less a parking lot designated for buses. We went to the stop/curb and sat down next to our two drivers. It was practically time to leave and the bus and the rest of the passengers had yet to show up. We, reasonably, fantasized about having the bus to ourselves on the 7-hour trip and being able to spread out. If only that were anywhere near what actually went down. The bus pulled up already full from the origination point of the bus, Zurich was just a stop.

We walked on the bus to be greeted not only by the absence of two free seats, but an overwhelming fart aroma. I walked toward the back of the bus and Elissa toward the front. We stood at either end of the bus looking at each other confused as to what to do. These assholes were sitting one row apiece with their bags on the adjacent seat. Did anyone offer to move up next to someone so we could sit together? Nope. Most of them were French so God forbid I ask them to do such a courteous favor. Even more irksome was that most of them were with a friend who was sitting in front of them! I sat down disgruntled and let out an audible "Je deteste le monde" (I hate the world). This fartmobile was going to be a nightmare.

I tried to sleep on the bus and failed to do so. Our first stop was Swiss border patrol. I didn’t know we were going to need our passports as mine was down below in the cargo hold in my backpack. The officer got on, and for some reason, could have cared less if I were an illegal immigrant/terrorist as he took Elissa’s word for it that I was studying abroad with her in Spain. We got into Prague around 5 a.m. and headed straight to the Charles Bridge for sunrise; this was the beginning of all extremely creepy and rather unfortunate events that tarnished our Prague experience so badly that we thought there were two Pragues, and we went to the wrong one.

As we got off the Straometska metro station there was a very shady old begger man that was trying to get our attention as they usually do. We ignored him, again, as you usually do. What is not usual is for the man to follow you all the way to the bridge! In the process of trying to avoid him, Elissa dashed across the street and got honked at by two cars that apparently thought she was stupid and was going to walk out in front of them. Our grand plan to once-and-for-all ditch the creeper was to stand directly behind an artist we saw sitting on the bridge sketching the city skyline. Our plan worked as the hobo walked up to the artist and was cast away. We had been there for maybe 20 minutes and I was ready to get the hell out of there.

The sun took its grand ol’ time rising and it was bitterly cold—not to mention the wind which was at least Category 2 hurricane strength—and I was in the early stages of frostbitten hands. I had never in my life ever thought I would want be wrapped up in an American flag Snuggie with a giant mug of peppermint mocha watching a documentary on Heidi & Spencer or a dramatic Mexican telenovela, but I was so there.

Eventually the clouds cleared and the sun rose and we snapped our National Geographic-worthy photos.

Now it was time to head to one of the few things I had on my Prague list—BakeShop. Any time I travel, the first five things on my list are always places to eat, with the top two normally being bakeries. After having a -2 on the scoreboard, BakeShop took Prague back to a level 0 score; there were so many things to choose from: breads, muffins, croissants, cupcakes, coffees, cakes, brownies, and more! I was in a heart attack paradise and seriously took about ten minutes to order; I took so long that the worker behind the corner got fed up with me, rolled her eyes, and walked into the back. I eventually decided upon a ham and cheese croissantwich, a chocolate espresso muffin, and a mocha with a shot of almond, the latter turning out to be the most amazing coffee drink I had ever had. The mocha was so good that by the end of our three days there I had three, two of which being on the same day.

You know things are a little awry when you’re in one of the timeless European capitals that is extolled by the world and the highlight of your trip thus far has been a cup of coffee. Did I mention by this point we also had nowhere to stay for the night? Yeah, we had sent out a message on the emergency couchsurfing board for Prague and nothing was coming through. We soldiered on after breakfast to the next important attraction in Prague—Starbucks. Finally I get to have my first Starbucks in 4 months! But really, we just used it for their free wifi to plan the rest of our day and possibly find some rather safe parks to sleep in for the night. Maybe that guy from earlier had availability at his place…

After my delicious Chai latte, which is the best I have ever had at a Starbucks, we decided to go to Prague Castle—this should certainly be exciting. Ok, now my patience with Prague was reaching a shaving-my-head-á-la-Britney crisis level. Prague “Castle” is simply a large Gothic church (nothing new in Europe) with a village wrapped around it. Where the hell are the towers, dragons, moat, and drawbridges? Where are Belle and Gaston? This was especially depressing after we climbed a damn mountain to get up there in the first place—we had to take a breather when we got to the top. At least the view from the hill was spectacular, that is, until dumb Asian woman decided to ruin that too. I was standing in between two brick columns looking out over the city when this woman walked up beside me and took a picture. Apparently she was dissatisfied with this photo and decided to move horizontally into/in front of me for a better view/my view. Ok, yeah, awesome, just push me aside. No need for ‘excuse me’ here. Take you and your nasty black dandruffed hair away from me—don’t make me play the Godzilla card! They’ll clear out real fast then.

Unlike my first priority (BakeShop), Elissa’s was a little more normal, Lennon Wall. After our downer of a day thus far, we decided to go see the graffiti wall dedicated to John Lennon on Kampa Island. Again, we’re beginning to think this was to prove another disaster as we searched the entire island and could not even find the wall. In the meantime, we passed some large, black sculptures of babies with smashed faces—what the f*** is wrong with this place? We found the wall which, let me say, is NOT on Kampa Island as it is said to be. I don’t know if we need to lecture the Czechs on what is/is not an island, but it was clearly on the opposite side of the bridge. The wall proved to be one of the few highlights of Prague and we spent a good bit of time there. 

The best part of the day was soon to come: Cantina! The following thing on my list of to-do’s was a restaurant called Cantina which happened to be conveniently located near the Lennon Wall. This place was simply incredible—best Mexican food ever! I never thought I would find such great Mexican cuisine in a hellhole like this, but my, oh my was it ever good. We started off with tortilla chips con queso which were so ridiculously cheesy and yummy. For my entrée I got a chicken steak with a creamy cheese sauce, corn, tortillas, rice, jalapeños, and a cheese quesadilla.

Our lives almost ended after Cantina, which wouldn’t have been too bad considering we would have had a wonderful last supper. We ventured to our a “3-star hotel” that I managed to find on Hotwire while at Gloria Jean’s (yes I'm aware that's 3 coffee joints in less than half a day, but I have a problem) for $15 apiece for the night. When we arrived to the ghetto where our luxurious resort was located it was already completely dark. We walked up the main street trying to find our street but to no avail. I stopped in one of the convenient stores and asked the clerk if she knew where the Hotel Jasmin was, but she did not—of course. Not knowing where to go, we saw a tall hotel in the middle of a random industrial area and decided to go ask the reception area for directions to our hotel. 

We followed their directions and when we arrived to our street we could still not find our hotel. We walked the entire expanse of the street and had no clue as to where the hotel was. There were random groups of guys that kept passing us and we were both a little uneasy. I began to walk in one direction of the street only to dead-end into a parking lot with barbed wire fencing—definitely not it, I hope. Elissa walked in the other direction into what seemed to be a group of small apartment complexes. Turns out this was the hotel and the reception was a small building in the middle of all of the other buildings. I’m not asking for much, but maybe a lit sign on the street with the hotel name would be helpful—just saying.

After having a mild battle with the receptionist who was telling me I needed to pay for the room even though I already did, we made our way to the room to relax and forget all of the day’s missteps. Our wonderful room featured a TV from the 1930’s with about ten channels, three of which were the same, a floating creature in toilet, the absence of a shower curtain, a chair that looked as if a psycho cat attacked it after finding a stash of catnip inside, water that took ten minutes to get hot, a shower that I had to place my head at a 45-degree angle to fit in, and oh, a third bed. We were slightly skeptical as to the presence of the third bed—was a roommate going to be showing up at some point? To prevent this from happening, I took the war-damaged chair and propped it under the door handle. The only good thing about the room was the ever-present Bible that I used to prop up my flipcam while it was charging. Thank you, Jesus. Side note: we also believed the carpet was the same material used for pool table tops—such a nice touch. 

The next day we tried yet another castle, Vysehrad. Yet again it was deja vu: a church in a field with a town around it. At least this castle had a “watch tower” wich, not surprisingly, was maybe fifteen feet high and also functioned as both an art museum and a gift shop. After the castle we did some more mild sightseeing before we made our way to Ariana for dinner (the third thing on my to-do list). Ariana is an Afghan restaurant and our dinner was plentiful and delicious. The last thing on the day's agenda was a show at the Krizik Fountains. The theme for the show was the music of Metallica and The Scorpions by an orchestra and I was quite pumped for it. As I was starting to learn, everything outside of the Historic Quarter was automatically creepy, carnie, ghetto land. Under the bridge, past the barbed wire fences and large abandoned warehouses, through a damn carnival, literally a carnival, we went—and guess what? No show; the sound was malfunctioning. Good night Prague. I hate you.

For our last day in Prague, we decided to take a day trip to Kutna Hora to see the bone chapel. Of course things would not be easy—why would they? We arrived at the train station in Kutna Hora without a hitch, but it was getting to the chapel that was the issue. We were told by a local to take the small, public train to get there since it was too far to walk, so we did. However, she did not tell us where to get off, and I couldn’t find her again. We thought we saw the chapel at the edge of the city due to the presence of a large gothic church and would get there in no time. There was one stop after the train station, but we didn’t get off because the church still looked pretty far up—wrong move. When the train continued on after this stop, it kept going, kept going, right past the church and further out. We were now in the middle of the Czech countryside on a train full of beer-guzzling hillbillies at noon. Completely stunned and confused, we were then confronted from the conductor who wanted to see our tickets. Our tickets apparently weren’t valid for the leg of the train we were on and he kept scolding us in Czech as if we understood. The couple next to us then stepped in and tried to help us out—in Czech—by hand signaling to get off at the next stop and take the train back four stops.

Long story short, we took the train back to where they suggested, we walked ten minutes to the bone chapel which turned out not to be the bone chapel so we walked some more and waited close to two hours for a local bus to take us to the bone chapel. We finally got to the bone chapel and enjoyed it and all of its creepiness—of course there is a chapel filled with the remains of 40,000 humans in the Czech Republic. Getting ready to leave, we did a quick spin around the cemetery that encompassed the chapel to find a couple that appeared to be unearthing a grave? Maybe the large trash bag and the woman raking at a grave gave it a way but we were a little concerned. Should we notify there are some psychos outback digging up graves? We didn’t have the energy to do so and instead booked it to the train station and rewarded ourselves with Cantina again for the hard day we had.

The next morning we were off to Berlin—thank God! I must also note that we joked while in Prague that Saw I-V, Hostel, and any other horror movies were probably filmed in Prague only to find out that Hostel actually was—go figure. 

Un saludo,


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