Yesterday Farhana had offered to take me to Petrin Hill. I had to see the Prague palace and so much more. Being sick wasn’t on my itinerary. Caroline wakes up and I ask her if she wants to come see the palace with me. She had to go meet her step mom who was in Prague too, so we decided to go have breakfast together. The hunt begins again. For a place which won’t take away my half a day’s salary.
After a while we zero in on a cafe which had continental breakfast for 10 Euros on its menu. We realize that, that’s the best we are going to get and settle down there. We order the breakfast and sit chit chatting about Hamburg. The breakfast comes. Two slices of bread, a cube of butter, a spoonful of marmalade and piece of dry dead cake. Oh. Sorry. I forgot. Also, a glass of bottled apple juice. That. That is supposed to be a continental breakfast?!!!! Are you kidding me???!!! We are too shocked to even react. We decide to order an omelette and share it. Another 10 Euros for a damn omelette. A group of German women sat on the table next to us. Caroline discreetly told them in German that the food wasn’t great and to not eat here. After a very disheartening breakfast, it’s time to part. But, let us a take a picture! All the locals are in a hurry and just brush us away. We realize, we should ask a tourist who would understand our plight.
|You call that a continental breakfast?|
After goodbyes, I move onto the bus stop Farhana and I were supposed to meet at. She is so bubbly and full of energy. I try to remember if I was like that in my early twenties. We walk up Petrin hill. It’s so beautiful. Greenery all along. Spring is late this year but there were a few flowers around. It wasn’t too steep but I was huffing and puffing. The combination of late nights and sickness wasn’t working too well. Farhana was carrying breadsticks and fruits. She always does that, specially while travelling. Saves a lot of money. I thought it was a great idea but eating something special everyday is a big part of my holidays. At the same time, the rate at which I am spending money here, I would have to soon live on water and bananas.
We took a lot of pictures on our way up. Some beautiful views. Finally!! I had some pictures of myself! At the top of the hill, there is a replica of the Eiffel Tower called Petrin Tower. The queue was too long and I had no patience. We decided to move on. A few more stops for pictures. We took a picture of a group and asked them to take ours in return. Barter system, the best system while travelling. I was going to move into Farhana’s place in the evening, for now she went to work and I went towards my next pit stop.
The Czech transport office. Remember how the visa office forced me to buy all my internal travel tickets before I even submitted my application? Well, now I had to go to their office and pick up the physical tickets. What a dumbf******!! Who asks for physical tickets in this era??! Anyway…. Once that was done and I was walking around, a wedding party passed by me. 5 cars honking and creating as much ruckus as possible. Heads out of the windows with a little signboard directed at the car with the couple. The couple in an open top car dancing to some music. Absolutely loved it. Started a mental checklist of all my single friends and hoping I could have some fun at one of their weddings.
Finally, it was time to move on towards the castle. On the way I came across the president’s abode, one of the complex’s of the castle. Obviously couldn’t go in there. There is a beautiful monastery right after it. The Loreta. It was way too expensive to go in and now I had to pick where I wanted to spend money. To get a good angle to take the picture of The Loreta, I had to climb a set of stairs. There was a strong wind blowing, which kept flipping my dress up. I didn’t feel a bit like Marilyn Munroe. I wanted to just get out of there as soon as possible.
As you walk ahead, you would get the Schwarzenbersky Palace on your right. This is an early renaissance building, it’s facade decorated with the unique sgraffito. This place is a mix of bohemian renaissance and Baroque art. Used as a residence in it’s early days, only to be used as the military stable and later as the National Technical museum in the 20th century.
It has a collection of various artifacts, just like any other museum.
The queue to enter the main castle building was stretched as far as your eyes could see. I had one more day left in Prague and I decided to try my luck with castle tomorrow. As I stood contemplating my next move, some street artists who were replaying a medieval scene called me out to be their beautiful queen. As always, I smiled and walked away.
|My royal court|
There is a big stall of food and trinkets right outside the castle. Do stop and eat if you are there. There were multiple stalls of various varieties of potato dumplings. They sell it based on the weight. So, you can buy just as much as you would like to eat. I tried the dumplings with cabbage and bacon. Some fat on fat on fat.
As the castle was struck out for the day, it made sense for me to cover all the other things today. (Obviously not all) I took the subway back to old town. My soccer mate Swathi had told me to take the train for sure, as you could see the effects of the communist history.(Look at me saying Soccer mate like I even know how to play Soccer. Ball control – only for 5 mtrs) As I had mentioned earlier that the subway stations doubled as bunkers, these stations were way more deeper underground than I had seen in any other city.
|I am going deeper underground|
Out of the station, walking towards my first stop Klementinum, I came across some beautiful houses. I just stood soaking in the sun, enjoying the view.
Klementinum or Clementinum is a complex of buildings which housed a Dominican monastery in the medieval times and was a Jesuit university in the 18th century. This was used as an observatory and a library and a university. Tourists are given access to the Baroque library hall, the meridian hall and the astronomical tower. They have guided tours for specific times of the day and one should make sure that they are there at the right time.
Our guide was one of the students of the university and I loved her accent and way of explanation. The first artifact we saw was a medieval clock. I can’t even pretend to explain it. Let me tell you, it was some complicated s***. It’s incredible how they used to know the time with it everyday.
You climb up one row of spiral staircase into the Baroque library. Actually not into the library directly. We were in a passage leading to it. On our left in a cordoned off area was a book which as told by our guide is the “Vysehrad Codex”, a Latin coronation gospel and most valuable manuscript kept in Bohemia. This was written in 1085. The book in front of us was a copy and the original was in a safer place.
You are not allowed to enter or photograph the Baroque library. But, it is a sight to see. The rows of books still in their places from the 16th century, the paintings on the wall and the beautiful globes made by the Jesuit scholars is all worth a watch. Please do google the Baroque library to look at the images.
Next we went up another flight of stairs to the Meridian hall. We had to stand in two rows as it was a very constrained space. A couple with a baby were in our group and the baby was understandably restless. The poor parents had to take turns to walk him around and keep him calm.
The meridian hall is a unique room, previously used for determining noon. The whole room turned into a camera obscura, due to ray of sunlight coming through a small hole up in the wall. The light falling on a string stretched on the floor determined high noon. The string is stretched across the room, during the summer solstice beam falls on it’s southern end , at the winter solstice on it’s northern end. It was so fascinating to see the whole demonstration and to know that this was used to determine the time for the whole city. Once high noon was determined, they would ring the bell which would be picked up and followed by all the churches in the city, letting it’s residents know it was noon.
After climbing another row of very narrow and steep stairs (A lot of older members of our group were struggling) we came out into the astronomical tower. You aren’t allowed to see the observatory but you are supposed to lose your breath for the gorgeous view. Any way you walked, it was the most beautiful view of my life. (I’ll say this a few times this trip) Again, I had no one with me to take my picture with the beautiful view as a backdrop. The wind was so strong, I felt I would drop my camera.
|View to die for!!|
From the Klementinum I walked towards the old town square where I stopped and took a few pictures of the Astronomical clock. I didn’t have the time and patience to stop and wait to watch as the next hour came in.
Some street artists called out to me in Hindi as I walked by. ” Princess, kaise hai aap?” (Princess, How are you doing?) It was so adorable. I answered them that I was doing good and hope they were too. A lot of people were just sitting around on the ground on the square. It was a beautiful sunny day and I sat down too. One of my friend had recommended a strip club which was somewhere around where I was now. The clubs obviously opened late in the night. I had decided to go to Farhana’s and was going to cook them an Indian dinner. I pushed it for the next day.
|Old Town Square|
I had shopped a bit (Ahem, I went nuts in H&M) and my stuff was barely fitting in my backpack now. I went looking for a small suitcase or a bag. No luck. everything was way too expensive. I took a walk around the Jewish quarter, once the abode of a community facing extermination and now is the place for all the high end fashion fix. Cartier, YSL, Gucci, you name it and they were there.
I went back to the hostel, packed my bags and left for Farhana’s place. I was supposed to go there in the night, but I was feeling sick and I wanted to get there soon. Farhana and Michal weren’t at home, but I was ready to take my chances. I had to change my trams and it was peak hour. It was exteremely crowded, the weather was cold and damp and I my head was spinning. I almost blacked out in the tram, but luckily held onto the pole and didn’t make a scene of passing out on the floor. But I guess, f I had, it would have made an interesting story about me sprawled out on the floor of a tram in a foreign country.
Finally when I reached their place, the entrance to the apartment was locked and they weren’t home. I stood shivering outside on the pavement. Luckily another resident of the building came and asked me if I wanted to get in. I thanked and sat on the stairs inside waiting for my hosts to come home. I had no sense of the time. I passed out a few times. Didn’t remember the last time I was this sick.
Finally Farhana came home and we went up. She offered me a few medicines. I kept refusing, as I generally avoid them, specially if I am not sure what they actually are. But, she kept stressing and I didn’t want to be rude. I popped a pill and went to bed. As usual I couldn’t sleep, but after resting for a while, we both got into getting our dinner ready. I had carried my red chilli powder and garam masala from India. We made some pulao, dal, potato fry and Chicken curry. Farhana was my sous chef, doing all the dirty work of peeling, chopping and cleaning. 😛
I was worried about making it too spicy for their liking. More for Michal than Farhana. Farhana is Malaysian and is used to a bit of chilli, not as much as Indians though. When Michal came home, we gave him a taste of the curry and it was so funny to see his face turn red. I wish I had recorded it!!
He kept claiming that he can take spice and well, he could. We had a great meal together. The first proper meal for me since I landed in Prague.
I hit the bed and directly woke up next morning. (If you know me, you know it’s a miracle. One of the most restless sleepers ever) It was a cold cold morning. Farhana had given me the directions to the nearest bus stop to go to the national museum. It was a long wait and it was freezing cold. This was supposed to be summer and the stores had bikinis in their display windows. I saw a pair that I really liked, but the thought of getting out of what I was wearing and trying a bikini on…. Nope. Not gonna happen. I got some sadistic pleasure in watching the locals struggle with the cold too. It was not just about me being an Indian, who isn’t used to this weather. It was genuinely, bitterly cold. After a 5 minute wait which seemed like a lifetime, the bus came and we all huddled in, hoping for some warmth. I would have hugged a hobo if I had to.
When I finally reached the museum, I realized it was under renovation and shut. A few of the artifacts had moved into the adjacent building. I knew that I didn’t want to go in anymore. The charm of walking through a museum which are usually historical buildings is different than just walking around looking at a haphazard collection of artifacts. But, I needed shelter immediately. It was drizzling and I was close to being frozen. The temp museum was warm and a bought a few gifts for my son in their souvenir store.
After a few minutes rest, I decided to brave the storm again. (Exaggeration much?) I was right at the Wenceslas Square. It was too gloomy and the pictures were coming out dark with no definition. I didn’t give two s*** anymore. Walked on, trying to keep myself warm. I came across quite a few sex toys shops. If you remember, I have been thinking of going into one since my last year’s visit to Germany. This time, I didn’t have to even wait to chicken out again. The rate at which I was going, I had serious doubts about having enough money to eat in the coming few days. And, I was just at the first leg of my vacation. A sex toy was not anywhere in my priority list now.
While I was waiting for a bus to the Castle, I remembered that my host at the next town, which I was leaving for tomorrow, hadn’t responded to me in a while. I contacted him a few more times and realized that it was a lost cause now. I quickly went on 99hostels.com and booked a hostel room in Cesky Krumlov. Thank god for smartphones and internet!!
At the castle it was a long queue again. But, it was my last day in Prague and I had to make it. I wasn’t sure if I was at the right queue and I asked the man in front of me the same.He said it was and after a while asked me if I was an Indian. When I confirmed it, he told me that his friend is an Indian too and there walked in his “friend”. I was introduced to Franck (Indian living in Paris for almost all his life) and Swan (French) I think they were playing with me with the name “Swan” They claimed that was his real name. Frankly, I am still not sure if that indeed is his real name. It started drizzling again and I stood shivering. Franck offered me his raincoat and so the base for our friendship was laid. I ended up spending the rest of the day with them. They were accompanied by another French couple who they had just met in the tram yesterday. We walked around the castle. Being a Sunday, there was a crazy rush and I decided to not go in the Cathedral. Thanks to having these guys with me, I got some good pictures of myself. One of them, my profile picture on FB right now. Thanks Swan!! (If that’s your real name)
There was a statue in the palace of a man with golden (let me put it as decently as possible) genitalia. Franck and Swan took some hilarious pictures with it, like most people around were doing. I obviously did not. I was content being the weirdo taking a picture of a naked man with a golden (ahem) genitalia.
As we were talking, I told them about my excess baggage and how I had to buy a piece of luggage today. They were extremely sweet in accompanying me on my futile hunt. We walked through the Charles bridge again as they hadn’t been on it. We were coming from the other side and I got a beautiful view of the river and the various river sports on it. I took them to the Kafka museum to show the peeing men. We were having such an incredible time together.
Next, we went to the Letna park. Such a gorgeous place!! A beautiful walk through it and a hot cup of hot chocolate. Bliss!! While talking we realized, we were staying a few minutes from each other. They invited me to their place to taste some REAL French champagne. They were staying in a gorgeous one bedroom flat. I didn’t stay to have the champagne but Swan surprised me by gifting me his suitcase. They refused to listen to my refusal and convinced me that they could fit their clothes in Franck’s luggage. Are all French men so wonderful? I am still in touch with Franck and we bond over our Indian-ness and the little knowledge of Tamil. I have friends in Paris now!!
|The French Connection|
|View from Letna Park|
We decided to get in touch and maybe meet in the evening again. After getting back home, I was thrilled to pack my bags (and a suitcase now) easily. Michal and Farhana cooked a meal for us and we sat over a few bottles of wine, talking about Czech, communism, India, rape. Sad that that’s what the world quickly associates us with. I told them how things really were. (I am not getting into that discussion here)
By the time Swan texted me, we were already half way through our dinner and I wasn’t going to walk out on my lovely hosts. Anyway, it was pretty late and cold and I was too exhausted to get into three layers of clothes again.
I love Michal and Farhana. Living worlds apart, brought together by their love for travel and adventure. Farhana the super energetic and quirky girl and Michal the solid, stable guy. I am so looking forward to seeing them again.
Despite my sickness, my ever dwindling cash pile ( Pile? Right! Wishes wishes… ) and the fact that I barely saw the things on my list, I was pretty happy with my vacation so far. I was proud of myself for choosing people over places. For letting go of my lists for experiences as they came by.
What else do you need? This is what travelling is for. Learn. Change. Love.