Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two Conversations. Wien und Praha, XIII

My summer's been a bit of a doozy. After polishing off Wien und Praha, I'll let you in on some of that. I have a backlog of baking, traveling, running (and lack thereof), and cooking adventures to share! Amongst it all, I promise that I've been working on my thesis research and even looking for jobs while I'm at it.

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April 13, 2011

The day after my guided tour and opera trip, I was exhausted. My sniffly nose in Vienna turned into a full-blown Cold of Death. The skies over Prague opened up and drenched us. The perfect storm of a situation to keep tourists inside. I couldn't do that, though! I mustered the strength to slowly wander my way from coffee shop to bookstore to mulled wine stop.

In the Staré Mĕsto, I sauntered back by the Astronomical Clock and through the Easter Market. The Old Town was much less crowded than the day before.
Astronomical Clock and Me.

Loved this market

I will not attempt to remember how many trdelniks I ate that day.

Main square

I found another gigantic Easter egg:
Easter Eggs!

Intending to find a museum on the castle side of the river, I crossed the Charles Bridge.

Just after passing the not-weeping, yet still kind of creepy, angel...
Not weeping, but still scary... started pouring again. Sigh.

I ducked into a charming, empty cafe and promptly bought:
Cafe on the castle side of the Charles Bridge


Their free wireless and beautiful view of rain on cobblestones kept me entertained whilst I dried out and warmed up.

Alley up close

Though I consulted the map several times, I kept getting lost on the twisty roads and eventually gave up trying to find the museum. My nose needed Kleenexes every couple of minutes, which increased my apathy and decreased my willingness to spend money.

However, a charming, hole-in-the-wall bookstore caught my eye. A darling little old lady, of the pink cheeked and soft white haired variety, was the only person in it. In Czech, I greeted her and asked if she spoke English or German. She said, "Both! Which do you prefer?" I requested we try German. For the next while, we had a wonderful conversation in German, English and even a little Spanish! Her husband was a journalist in South America when they first got married. She showed me practically every book in the store (mainly books about Prague, in several languages). I bought postcards, a lovely little book on Prague in English for myself (the German ones were too expensive), and one in Spanish for my dad. As we said goodbye, she complimented me on my language know-how and was surprised that an American had even my meager skills. ;) Her parting gift to me was a travel pack of tissues. Bless her soul.

Alley Farther Back

Conversations like that are partly why I love traveling alone. Would we have chatted so much if I was with friends? Maybe...but this next one, most likely not!

To save money, I decided to try out a cafeteria-style restaurant. The price was certainly right (~$5 for a smorgasbord), and the quality was to be expected. This cafeteria was clearly for locals and not tourists--when I didn't figure the line/order card/food station etiquette quickly enough, a server suggested I find a cafe. Sigh. Eventually, with my tray of overflowing borscht (turns out: ew) and goulash (looked like the day before's...but definitely tasted like a cafeteria version) in hand, I searched the crowded restaurant for a seat. My guidebook said joining tables was normal in this situation. I found a very old, nice-looking gentleman sitting alone and asked with minimal Czech and hand motions if I could sit with him. We ascertained that he knew no English and I knew no Czech. However, we found common ground in German. His German was even more broken than mine, but between it and charades we had a lovely lunchtime. After sharing where we were from and what our families were like, our conversation turned to Japan, as the earthquake and tsunami had recently hit. He then pointed out (with grand gestures and and explosion noises) that the US made Japan sad once. We were quiet for a moment. He broke the silence by saying that my hair was pretty.

"Is it real?"
"Um, yes!"

Next, he wanted to know if my teeth were real.


Lastly, he motioned, "are THOSE real???"

He received a glare and a chastising, which he took while giggling heartily. Cheeky fellow.

At the end of the meal, he offered to pay for my lunch. I thanked him profusely, but said no. Should I have let him pay?

Wiped out, I retreated to my pension for a short nap. I found a wonderful cafe just minutes from the pension (check out Al Cafetero if you're ever in Praha) and spent an hour or so reading and drinking delicious espresso. After adding milk to the first shot, I followed the guy's advice and tried it black. It was creamy and smooth. Using their free wireless, I blogged, too.

Fortified with caffeine, I returned to Old Town. I found a wonderful stand in the market selling mead from Slovakia. This honey wine, in fact! The sweet bearded man gave me a warm sample--just the thing for the increasingly damp day. I bought a couple of small bottles and stuffed them, clanking, into Berlin Bag.

At the edge of the market, very brave, freezing young folk dancers were entertaining the crowd:
Wonderful folk dancers!

I watched for a while, until I started shivering. Popping into a restaurant off the square, I bought a glass of warm mulled wine and read some more.

So adorable

For dinner, I had a hot dog from the market and grilled cheese. No, not a sandwich. It was literally a big slab of cheese that had been cooked on a grill. It was INCREDIBLE.


After shivering with my gooey hunk of cheese and watching more tireless dancing, I re-visited the mead stand and, much to the burly man's delight, bought a couple more little bottles and one big bottle. He thanked me with another utterly amazing cup of hot honey wine. No beverage has ever been so warming.

While I considered using my free ticket for the Prague Ghost Tour, and possibly seeing my names-forgotten British friends from the tour the day before, in the end I couldn't fathom staying out in the Old Town that long. Once back at my hotel room, I packed. Remember the five bottles of mead? Yeah, I didn't think that through. I wrapped them in plastic bags, clothes, and prayer.

Around 4am, I left the pension. I was pleased that the unmarked van I boarded indeed dropped me off at the Prague airport. Due to barely-awake-daze, I lost my boarding pass in the five minutes it took to get it and go through security. The security guard made me walk all the way down the terminal to an exit to baggage claim to get back to the check-in booths. Exhaustion made me frantic and irrational, but the Lufthansa associate was quite calming and simply reprinted my boarding pass. Whew. Back on the other side of security, I spent most of my remaining Czech crowns at a candy and coffee vending machine. Then, I was on my way to Frankfurt.

My layover was a few hours long. I happily hung out in the bookstore, drank espresso (though many of my fellow airport cafe patrons opted for large 9am), spoke German, and read.

Ensconced in my aisle seat, ready for the long flight, I experienced conflicting emotions.

I was realllly sad to leave Europe, because I adore it:
I'm sad to leave Europe!

But I was reeeeallllly glad to be flying home to see my kitty, sleep in my own bed, and not live out of a suitcase:
But I'm happy to see my kitty!!

Writing Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic on my U.S. Customs form was awesome. That's the most countries I've ever visited in one trip!

I couldn't bear to check in baggage claim or on the shuttle, but at home: SUCCESS. My Easter Market mead stash miraculously survived Continental's baggage handlers:
My Honigwein stash.

And no, it was not all for me. I shared. Specifically, with my cat-sitters.

Said fluffy cat was SO thrilled to see me:

Overall, this was an amazing experience. I'm so glad physics has given me the opportunity to TRAVEL. As much as I often (ahem, currently) dislike grad school, I'm quite grateful for my life.

Thanks for sticking with my travel logs, dear readers. On to new topics!

Tschüss and na shledanou!

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