Praha (Prague); but Magyar goulash reigns supreme
I know that perhaps I haven’t quite updated this blog as often as I would have liked in the last couple of days, but that might have something simply to do with the fact that there is not much that goes on during the day. Blended together, we get lumped into a whole lot of nothing for the most part. And I wouldn’t want to bore you with infinite details about how I napped, ate, washed clothes, went food shopping, ad nauseum.
But I do know that today I went to buy the month passes for the BKV (transport system) and that the date of expiry is one day after we leave for London. Which means that there are now roughly 30 days left in Budapest. If you had asked me where did my time go, I’m not sure I could easily say. Certainly a week in the country will grind time to almost nothing, but somehow these slow days are starting to add up. And there is still so much to do and see!
Luckily enough, I bring with today’s post something about (yet) another country and another city. At the start of the week I gathered my kids (siblings) up and took the ten hour train ride from Budapest straight into the heart of the Czech Republic and Prague.
Getting there was an ordeal in and of itself, because while we left on the 16th, the train tickets we sold for the 15th. And while no one had much bothered to look at our train tickets, certainly the one man at our couchette car would come back our ticket in hand minutes before the train would pull out of the station and say that there was no way we were allowed for the sleeper. Only if we procured 30 MORE Euros would he allow us to stay, otherwise we would have to be bumped into the non-sleepers. Of course yelling at him telling him the lady made a mistake was to no avail because he only spoke Polish. Not being one to be extorted for 30Euros I told him to shove off in not so polite words and grabbing our backpacks went into the non-sleeper.
Now this in and of itself would have been terrible enough, if not for the fact that after our strange Canadian compartment partner left for Bratislava to see his girlfriend, we had barely nodded off before another ticket checker saw that we were supposed to be in the sleeper and so kicked us our of our private non-sleeper to try again with the sleeper checker. Of course this devolved into somewhat of a 2 car argument between the two checkers and myself at 2 in the morning, but saying he was sold out, we had yet again to find another sleeper car, and all of them were occupied, and quite smelly.
We chose well however, because within 20 minutes of us choosing a non-sleeper, the two men left, and we were left to ourselves. Pulling the seats as far down as they could go was some sort of comfortable, but my brother had accidentally kicked the thermostat control in the room to freezing, and so we spent the duration of the ride curled up and shivering. It was a train ride from hell, so to speak. And because I did not but a round trip ticket (although upon further reading it doesn’t seem to have mattered if I had booked in advance or not) to LEAVE Prauge was about 100 Euros MORE expensive than coming into it. I was not happy at being jipped.
When we arrived at 06:30 in Prague, and it was raining. It’s what we call a good start. The hotel would not let us check our rooms until 13hrs and so collapsing of tiredness (and perhaps a Starbucks coffee to start the engines) we may our way into the city center where we found a free walking tour of many of the historic places and sights in Prague.
Our guide for the next three hour tour, Karel, was a Czech Native and had majored in Drama Psychology (yeah, I don’t get it either) and so I would arguably say that we had the best tour out of all the possible ones, because he would spice up the tour with whistles, jokes, and various other sound effects. It is my understanding that the free tours give generally the same tour of the Clock Tower, Wenceslas Square, The Cubist House, The Opera House, the Kafka Statue, the three great (and strange architecturally) synagogues, and finish up with a view of the Castle from the other side of Prague. And even though it was raining on and off, it was perhaps the best tour I’d ever been on. And I learnt more than I thought I would have, even though I’m not too good with remembering the names of specific individuals.
Prague just as a way of example, is where the word ‘defenestration’ comes from, as well as ‘bohemian’. There were two political defenestration’s, late in the 14th century. It was also here that the precursor to Copernicus and Martin Luther were found, well before their more commonly known, successors.
The thing with Prague is that there is so much rich history dating back from the 11th century and that it is the most sterling example of what Eastern Europe was like, because it was the best preserved during World War II. Hitler wanted to retire to Prague and as such ordered the city not be bombed. For this very reason, Prague is at once an ancient old history with so many secrets and stories that the tour guides have committed to memory, and yet there is still a thriving culture and people speak more English in the city center than any tourist could ask for a glass of water.
But for all the strange accents that the Czech language has, it doesn’t sound ugly or harsh to the ears, or not like some other languages. (Magyar and German are quick to come to mind). Of course our stay was not long enough to pick up much of anything, but I am an avid fan of body language and so I think they understood when I said thank you when we found a small corner cafe for breakfast or at the mini mart where the mystery of the water bottles began. (We lost those bottles of water not 10 minutes after purchasing them, and Christina swears she drank out of one, so I couldn’t have left it at the counter, but beyond that we don’t have a clue)
Night would bring a beer garden and a sampling of the strong Czech beer. As well as an adorable conversation with the Korean hostelmate with we would share a room with, and we would talk about baseball. (How I love summer and the baseball it brings! The Bowie Baysoxs have my heart and I am sad that I will not be able to catch a game this summer, nor a moustache monday)
They claim that they are the highest beer drinkers in the world, (but I have heard this claim before) and that there’s is the best beer, full stop. (I have also heard this claim before too)
Nevertheless my brother and I would come to find the beer both strong and enjoyable, and even though Prague doesn’t seem to have too much of a nightlife, by the time we left around 00:30, there were still plenty of people in the pub.
Perhaps the best part of the entire trip – and I know what your thinking and no, it wasn’t the train ride – was that a college friend of mine had come to Prague for this exact week. And when I saw her pictures on Facebook, without hesitation I wrote to her saying that we would too be in Prague and to please let us have dinner. Having not seen her in about two summers and then a reunion in Prague is hard to beat. Sitting down for a wonderful and lively conversation between siblings and parents and friends is also hard to beat.
The heaviness of the ‘traditional’ Czech food stays in your belly long after the fact, and so walking downtown to see Prague by night, as well as some last minute photo opportunities, we tried to digest our food as well as whittle away the few hours that remained before we had to jump back onto the train to take us back into the city. It is also worth noting that Czech goulash is NOT Hungarian goulash, and I strongly prefer the latter.
My brother bought yet another sizable flag – and I guess it serves as good decoration for the flat here, but I’ve not a clue how he will try and hang all of them up in what will be his walk-in closest of a bedroom in college.
The train ride back into Budapest was perhaps more uncomfortable for this train was absolutely teeming with hippies and world travelers at the junctions between trains and not one compartment did not have at least 4 to 6 people in it. And so even if these seats did slide down into some sort of cradle like the other train – which they didn’t – we had to share the ride with 3 other Hungarian kids. Sleeping wasn’t too much of an option as the seats were as comfortable as airline seats.
The long week is almost over, and with it brings perhaps a Sunday day-at-at-the-beach complete with barbeque and football and swimming, Ros into Budapest for an extended weekend (yay!), and then my brother’s friend who will stay just over a week with us. It is with him that I hope we can go to the Balaton with, and Czech (get it?) out the Hungarian resort lake towns. The weather shouldn’t be a problem, as it is sunny and lovely at no more than 33 degrees typically.
Being that there is now a month to go between the end of this dream life – perhaps end of this blog’s life?- and the posting of this blog entry, I hope that the activities will keep us fairly busy and content and hopefully more blog posts to write about.