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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
St. Charles Bridge, Praque, Czech Republic
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 10,235,455 Area: 78,866 sq km Gov't: Parliamentary Democracy Religion: 26.8% Roman Catholic, 2.1% Protestant, 59% Unaffiliated View Map
St. Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic, September 25, 2003  

Czech Republic Flag CZECH REPUBLIC


September 23. PRAGUE  Indulging in one last cream lathered coffee during a peaceful early morning on Rynek Główny, we said "good-bye" to Krakow.  The train ride to Prague required one transfer after we crossed the border into the Czech Republic.  Our cabin companions were a Kiwi Sheep Farmer who was working in Ireland and a Polish co-ed on her way back to school in Vienna.  We had some good conversation to kill the time.  The fellow from New Zealand had already been to Prague during his travels and told us being accosted by prostitutes right in city center on Wenceslas Square, in view of the local police.  Traveling as a couple being approached by unsavory characters was less of a problem, fortunately.  It exists everywhere in the world but the story somehow tarnished my storybook image of Prague.  We hadn't seen anything of that in Krakow but the young Polish woman assured me that even Poland had its oldest profession.  Just coming from a city that just teemed with religiosity it was hard to image but apparently the Polish "professionals" didn't work the cities so much.  They lingered along the roadside in forested areas outside the cities instead.  The out of sight, out of mind tactic, I suppose. 

The border check was non-eventful as we passed into the Czech Republic.  The train was running late and we were getting concerned about making our transfer.  The station signs were vague as well, no pre-announcements. I tracked down a train attendant and he directed us to get off at the next stop.  It was one stop before the transfer point on our ticket but he said our next train would stop there first and it was a smaller station.  The time for our next train was nearly past when we pulled into the station.  We decided to trust the train attendant and got off of at the smaller station with loads of other people not destined for the city of Bruno, capital of the Czech Republics eastern province of Moravia.  I showed our tickets to the attendant on the platform and she motioned that the train was late and to wait on the platform.  We waited with some uncertainty.  It ended up being a good half hour late, which was certainly better than having missed it due to our late train arriving from Krakow.  A young German woman standing near us looked uncertain as well.  She turned out to have a seat in the same car we were in so we asked the station attendant which area of the platform that car would stop at and she pointed us towards the front.  The train finally pulled in and we hopped aboard an empty carriage that had a large one on the outside.  The seats were a bit nicer and newer than our last train but still the same setup with three seats facing three seats in one compartment.  The German woman found some sheepish girls in her seat and we began to wonder if we were in the wrong car.  Second class cars typically had the number two on the outside but the attendant had told us to get on this carriage.  Rob went back to look in the other carriages and reaffirmed our suspicion but the cars were so crowded and he was unable to reach our assigned carriage.   At the next stop a couple got on and took the seats we had been sitting in.  We moved next door and resigned ourselves to just waiting for the ticket attendant  to come by and sort out our situation then.  The man spoke little English but didn't have trouble understanding our situation.  He indicated that our car was at the complete opposite end of the train and agreed that we would never get there through the crowded train with our bags.  We were instructed to get off and change at the next stop, conveniently a good half hour away. 

We enjoyed our first class seats and stretched out a bit.  The German woman had also visited Prague at the beginning of her travels and had found herself disillusioned with the changes since her first visit many years earlier.  Yet another disappointing view of what was supposed to be Europe's most beautiful city.  It seemed to happen anywhere that became a "hip" tourist spot, it became a bit cheapened by culturally disinterested partiers looking for cheap beer and titty bars and tourist groups too big to even notice they are in a different country.  Of course the local people were eager for foreign exchange so it was hard to blame them for catering to whoever would pay.  And the "western" tourist who does travel to encounter different and less trodden destinations is often unrealistic in their expectations that a country will stay a poor and undeveloped place just to provide them with a unique cultural experience. 

When it came time to make the carriage switch we hoisted on our backpacks and made a run for it.  It was a long train and those packs were feeling a bit heavy.  We had sent back a bunch of stuff in Lithuania but somehow a pamphlet here, a new shampoo bottle there, and some small souvenirs had added weight again.  Out of breath we jumped on the second to last car and walked through a more modern second class cabin with rows of seats all facing forward.  Our cabin, however, was an older version of the first class carriage.  It was crowded and our seats were comfortably occupied by others.  We claimed the seats and settled in for a few more hours of train travel before we reached Prague.

The sun was just going down as we entered the city but by the time we reached the station it was dark outside.  The station wasn't one of the charming old varieties but a utilitarian building with tacky money exchange booths and various tourist agencies trying to pose at tourist information booths.  Only one of the money exchangers would take our Polish złoty and at a pretty bad rate. Some investigation got us to the train information center where they provided us with nice print outs of the train times to Cesky Krumlov, our next destination in the Czech Republic.  The nearby tourist office had just closed and the person inside pretended not to notice when we knocked on the window to ask for a map.  Already a tourist veteran Prague was set up to accommodate tourists but seemed already tired of them.

Anticipating a tourist bombed city we had made a hostel reservation.  Finding the trolley to get there was the challenge.  We found ourselves at the bus island but there were no sign of trolleys.  Yet another tourist accommodation office was positioned on the island and we sheepishly poked our heads inside to disturb the man playing a guitar at the desk.  He was very helpful and told us how to find our trolley, after a passive inquiry into whether we needed a place to stay.  The trolley tracks we across a dark little park that ran the length of the station, a hangout for dodgy elements according to our guidebook so we moved quickly and found ourselves in front of the trolley stop with torn up tracks and road construction.  This hostel that had billed itself as only minutes from downtown hadn't been entirely truthful and without the trolley we were left with going to the end of the subway line and figuring out the buses or a taxi.  Frustrated, we returned to our man with the guitar and had him set up with something a bit more expensive but really not far from central Prague.  A couple of subway stops and a bus ride down hill and we were there.  It was sparse, roomy, clean, and comfortable.  We had the corner room on the top floor in a decent area with convenient transport. 

As we walked back to the bus stop we noticed pathways in the park lined with small candle lanterns.  They gave the wooded park such a romantic and warm feeling on what was becoming a wet and cold night.  Back in central Warsaw we found another kebab restaurant for dinner before returning to our camp ground.

POLAND Warsaw Sept 16-17 Krakow Sept 18 Sept 19 Sept 20 Sept 21-22

CZECH REPUBLIC Prague Sept 23 Sept 24-25 Cesky Krumlov Sept 26 Sept 27-30

AUSTRIA Vienna Oct 1 Oct 2

HUNGARY Budapest Oct 3 Oct 4 Oct 5-6