Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 3: Prague...and train adventures

Day 3...time to stuff those suitcases, haul them down three flights of stairs, and roll off to Munich's main train station, Hauptbanhof, to meet Megan and catch our train to Prague. There was a McDonald's along the way, so after a stop for Trinity to pick up a McToast (which curiously was not made of toast at all...more of a flatbread with bacon and cheese. Trinity's assessment? "Not bad, but it could have used some eggs"), we grabbed some bottles of water for the ride and made it onto our clean, shiny, awesome German train with a few minutes to spare. Please notice my glowing assessment of the train. I think we took it for granted at first. Well, not anymore, my friends, because we are to embark on the Great Train/Bus/Ghetto Train Station Adventure. Most of the announcements on the train were just in German, and with our extremely limited knowledge of the language, we just happily rolled along for a few hours. We did have a quick visit from the German police to inspect our passports, and Diana, Megan, and I nearly didn't make it to Prague when we stopped in the club car for a (failed) attempt to get some coffee and tea, not realizing that the train was splitting. Fortunately, after the ticket lady yelled at us, we jumped off, ran down the platform, and successfully made it back onto the appropriate car. Phew. Our adventures were just beginning, though.

I still have no idea what random Czech town we were in when EVERYONE had to get off the train, roll through a rather dilapidated little station (sheets of plywood = accommodation for rolling suitcases...awesome), find our way onto a sketch bus with a rather unhelpful driver, share said bus with drunk Germans who spilled a mini-keg of beer while on the bus, cross our fingers that we were actually going to the train station on the other side of town and not to the middle of nowhere, roll through another dilapidated little station, and haul ourselves onto a somewhat rusty hunk of metal that was going to take us the rest of the way to Prague. Eeeekkk! Now, Mom & Dad, don't panic too much. This all would have been a little less disturbing had we just known that we were going to have to pull this whole switcheraoo. When you don't know this is coming, it can freak you out a little bit, especially when your fellow passengers (including some middle-aged peasant-ish ladies who I wrongly assumed were somewhat local...the poor things were just as confused as we were) similarly have no idea what's going on. You know what? We ended up in Prague, so all's well that ends well. I also now have a greater appreciation for German trains. However, the "snack cart" that rolls through on both trains is strikingly similar - it did provide Trinity with some Czech beer along the way, but I was definitely scared of those sandwiches. The cooling mechanisms did not seem entirely reliable.

We made it to Praha! We rolled our suitcases over the beautifully cobblestoned streets and intricately tiled sidewalks (beautiful to see, not too shabby for walking on, less than ideal for rolling suitcases) to Hotel U Medvídků, where we encountered friendly staff and a ginormous room. They also have their own microbrewery (pivovar! A little Czech for you) and restaurant, and since we were somewhat ravenous from our train adventures, we immediately headed out to the patio for an extremely tasty meal. Trinity and I both had the roasted boar, potato dumplings, and creamed spinach (omg, an actually vegetable!!), and it was just awesome. You know I love the food. Diana and Megan were both pretty excited about their roasted chicken, too, since we had journeyed in from the land of pork and sausage. Seriously, this meal was amazing. And CHEAP. And the beer was great, too...and CHEAP. The Czech Republic is a part of the European Union, but they're not on the euro yet - all about the crown/koruna here, and while prices look ridiculous in the triple digits ($1 = approx. 20 crowns...much different than thinking in euros), food and beverage are remarkably affordable in this city.

With full and happy tummies, we headed out in what I thought was the general direction of Wenceslas Square. My navigation skills were not fabulous. Trinity bought a detailed street map, a kind stranger pointed us in the right direction, and then we headed off in the more-correct general direction of gorgeous old buildings, an impressive statue of King Wenceslas (I had Christmas carols in my head for a decent chunk of the afternoon), Coffee Heaven, and a little bit of shopping. Coffee Heaven provided Trinity with something kinda resembling iced tea (remember that 28% of his body business?) and the girls with a delightful coffee beverage involving a little Kahlua. Come on, Starbucks, get with the program. Oh, and while H&M is still awesome, it's not any cheaper in Prague - rats. It has lost a little of its intrigue now that I live five blocks from one, but it's still fun to explore and see what you might find.

For our first night in Prague, we walked from our hotel over to Charles Bridge, which connects Old Town to the Castle Quarter and is certainly the most scenic way to cross the Vltava River. It's solely a pedestrian bridge and currently under renovation - fortunately, they're renovating in chunks so it's still accessible. The bridge is lined with statues...and tourists. Even though it was a little crowded, it was still beautiful and had fantastic views of the castle side of the city. Prague is just an absolutely beautiful city to explore. Unlike Munich and much of Europe, it wasn't heavily bombed in World War II. Therefore, a lot of the "old" stuff in the city was actually old instead of reconstructed. It was great just walking down streets and checking out the intricate architecture and beautiful buildings. We crossed over into the Castle Quarter and wandered through the lively streets for a little while - Prague stays hopping into the later hours, which was nice for us on our first day. We had a brief encounter with the Grim Reaper...and we also found a new friend! Trinity spied a stuffed Mole, a rather adorable little Czech cartoon character, in a shop window, and while the store was closed, we made our way back...and into many other search of Mole paraphernalia. He is a cute little know, for a mole.

After our bridge exploration, we went off in search for a late-night meal/snack...but this time something that didn't involve large hunks of meat or dumplings of any kind. That's right, it's time! We found this great place not too far from our hotel where we all ordered enormous pizzas and enjoyed every bite. Oh, and more beer, of course, although Diana the rebel ordered a glass of wine. After eating a just a little more pizza than we really needed to, we walked home through the chilly night and fell into bed...although Diana and Trinity could have used just a little bit more mattress on their bed. It was a touch on the thin side. We were in need of rest, though - another castle exploration coming up on day 4!

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