Prague
 

   I left for Prague straight from work on a cold and wet Thursday evening (8 Apr).  My buddy Marco "The Dutch Hammer" was kind enough to drive me from work to the airport in Brussels.  After hitting a wee bit of traffic, we made it to the airport with enough time to wolf down some chow and a beer at one of the airport restaurants. 
   I arrived in Prague around 10:00 PM and after visiting an exchange booth to grab some local currency (they don't do dollars or euros there, they have Czech korunas), I hailed a cab and started straight for the hotel.  The days leading up to my trip proved to be more work and fun than sleep, so I was dire need of some shut-eye so that I could enjoy the rest of the weekend.  The cab ride over was amusing if nothing else for the fact that the cabbie gave me a hilarious city guide book.  The city guide book appeared normal enough, but a quick flip to about the book's 3/4 quarter mark yielded numerous escort service ads.  While these ads are normal for many big city guidebooks, I've never seen a section dedicated in an official guidebook to detailing which hooker services, er, escort services are the best for "privacy and making sure that unwanted videos are not taken of you in compromising situations."  Seriously, the book detailed which ones to call and which ones to avoid.  Europe never ceases to amaze me.  Don't worry though, mom, I didn't call.
  
On Friday morning, I began the day struggling to understand the subway system.  Unfortunately for me, the Czech language is about as far removed from anything resembling English as any language that I've encountered over here.  So, after spending several minutes battling what I thought was a Czech subway instruction sheet, I went back to the hotel and they were more than willingly to send me off in the right direction.  Apparently, I was reading a bus schedule.  Oh well, you probably would have done the same thing so don't laugh. 
   My first stop in the city was at the National Museum.  It sports what has to be the largest collection of stuffed animals and preserved insects in the world.  I saw one extremely grotesque critter in there that resembled a cross between a goat, a bobcat, and a vampire.  I can't even begin to pronounce or write its name on a standard English keyboard, so we'll call him Goaty McVamp for short.  The museum also offered a huge collection of rocks for viewing.  I'm sure that had this museum been near me when I was at TCU I would have certainly passed those stupid rock identification tests in geology. 
  
Anyway, I decided to spend the evening with an Italian opera called Nabucco.  An English-language Prague paper highly recommended it, but I really didn't find it all that captivating.  The singing was merely ok, and the production was hindered (for me at least) by the lack of English subtitles (they were all in Czech).  I can understand a few words of Italian here and there thanks to its close relationship to Spanish, but I'm doomed when the words are sung out so laboriously. 
   However, I had an ace up my sleeve for the night because I found out that a Nirvana cover band was playing in a nearby club.  After the opera, I ducked out and made it over to club Vagon just in time to catch the last half of a Pearl Jam cover band cleaning up the stage.  During the wait for the Nirvana cover band to come on, I sampled one of Czech Republic's most famous beers - Pilsner Urquell.  I'll be honest, I wasn't really all that impressed and I didn't really care for its heavy wheat-flavored aftertaste. 
   While debating the merits of Pilsner Urquell, I happen to notice that these people are Kill Bill fanatics.  I saw several folks with Kill Bill shirts on, and I had also observed Kill Bill posters peppering the city (in anticipation of its imminent arrival).  After speaking to a native, she informed me that the Czechs just adore Quentin Tarantino.  I guess these people aren't too bad after all.
  
The Nirvana cover band delivered one of the best concerts that I've seen.  They didn't really know all of the lyrics, but they got all of the refrains right... well mostly.  I guess Nirvana lyrics aren't too important anyway because heck, even Kurt Cobain himself didn't always seem to know them either.  Nevertheless, they savvied the chords of each song and did a kick butt job of throwing the club into a moshing frenzy.  They played many obscure Nirvana songs, songs that only a guy like me who grew up on the stuff would know.  For a 200 Kč (about $6) cover charge, it was good solid entertainment and a throwback to the 90s hey day of grunge rock. 
  
Speaking of hundreds of korunas, that's one thing that I just could never get used to.  Everything sold there, with the exception of bottled water which is only 15 Kč, is priced in hundreds or thousands of korunas.  You end up having to continually remind yourself that something costing hundreds of korunas really isn't all that expensive.
  
I spent Saturday traveling to various points in the city, like the old Jewish quarter.  Prague is home to the oldest Jewish synagogue in Europe, a fun fact for all of you synagogue fans out there. It was interesting to see that in the cemetery of this quarter they buried bodies on top of bodies for years until the rest of Prague allowed the Jews to branch out more into the city and have other cemeteries for their use.  Apparently, like in many other places, the Jews were treated to lower class citizenship for many years until after WW II. 
   On Saturday afternoon, I discovered a beer worth writing home about.  It's called Staropramen and it's a lot like Guinness, but it's blonde and the whole thing is worth drinking, not just the head.  BTW, for anyone in America that I haven't told yet, almost all places serve beer with head over here (no not that "head," well at least not in the regular bars).  Beer head in Europe is actually worth savoring and enjoying, unlike the yellow crap water head they serve in America. 
   Along with several nice Staropramens, I dined on a traditional Czech meal.  The Czechs are really big on smoked meats, so I tried some smoked meat platter with dumplings and sour cabbage.  The meat was good, although I'm not 100% sure what animal, or even what part of an animal, it came from.  Heck, maybe it was from our old friend Goaty. 
   Saturday evening, I found a very modern cafe/restaurant that was structured both in service and in atmosphere like an American restaurant.  I must admit, Prague is nothing like I expected.  I was fully prepared to survive for several days in a country that was still living the the former Soviet Union's dreary shadow.  In reality, Prague is a complete tourist trap and is very, very modern. 
   After dinner, I made my way over to a salsa club.  I've been taking salsa lessons in Maastricht, The Netherlands each week and I was anxious to see how well I could do in a club.  Well, after doing ok for a while, I discovered that I'm at that awkward stage in salsa lessons - just enough knowledge to be dangerous but not enough to hold my own for more than a few minutes. 
   I guess I should mention now that women in Prague were not what I had expected either.  I truly thought that Prague was going to be the honey cove of hot, Slavic-looking Euro babes, but this wasn't the case.  The women there were average at best.  Germany remains my current favorite country for consistently beautiful women per square kilometre of land.  In Deutschland I guess they must breed girls pretty over there because, as the Dutch Hammer has informed me, the Fatherland always needs more soldiers.  Ok, that was an inside joke.
   Speaking of soldiers and women, I should make a quick note that Prague had the highest number of female police officers that I've ever seen in any one city. 
   Oh, and I should drop this other tidbit about Europe while I'm at it.  In Belgium, I'm typically not the tallest guy around, believe it or not.  That song from Men at Work about a 6'4 man from Brussels was no lyrical exaggeration.  Guys are just plain tall around here.  However, in Prague, it was like I was back in America, because they were all averaged sized guys over there. 
   I spent Sunday on the long uphill trek to Prague Castle.  Prague Castle was positively stunning, and remains a landmark that alone makes Prague worth visiting.  The church located on the grounds of the castle is also the most impressive church that I've ever witnessed.  The main hall of the church must go on for 350 metres (~350 yds), and the ceiling stretches upwards of 150 metres (~150 yds).  Combine those measurements with pane after pane of highly detailed stain glass windows and intricately carved stone figures and you've got what has to be the the Indy 500 of churches.  If God ever had to have an important meeting, I'm sure He would hold it in there. 
   One last note worthy of note is the fact that Czech Republic is a country of hunters and shooters.  They apparently are so into shooting, that they put their top competitors (in the type of shooting that I do) on postage stamps.  My eyes nearly popped out of my head with glee the first time I saw one of these stamps.  I can only imagine the liberal outcry if Jason Parker (a top US air gun shooter) ever made it onto a US stamp with a rifle in the same photo.
   Although not quite as mesmerizing as my trip to London, I still think that Prague was quite a picturesque and fun city to visit.  In retrospect, I probably would have left on Sunday as opposed to Monday morning, but you can never gauge how long it will take to discover a new city.

 


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