Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Prague Trip Report, Part 8

View from near Prague Castle.

Saturday, May 7 –
Changed from hotel to an apartment near the American Embassy in Malastrana (the “lesser side”) on the west side of the Vltava and near Prague Castle. En route, on a tram headed north, Carol Anne was amused to hear the chatter of a French couple; the lady commented on how nice it was that in Prague the natives would carry a cello on the tram. So, at least a couple of tourists thought Gerald was a Praguer. Got a bite of pizza while waiting to hear about plans. Our apartment, Vlašska 14 byt no. 2 was really nice, though we felt out of communication without a phone or cell phone. The apartment had a Bosch washer-drier so Gerald and Phil got to use their German to help decipher controls. The place was very nicely furnished and set up with full kitchen, elegant hardwood floors, bookshelves, and full facilities. Lots of tourist facilities and pizza places in this area, plus glass (sklo) shops and souvenir places; lots of beautiful stuff for the tourists and some of the souvenirs available are actually very classy.

Phil tried hard but couldn’t find a pay phone that would take coins as we anxiously awaited contact with Philee; our vague impression was that the phones seemed to want to read special phone cards or at best charge very big bucks for accepting a credit card. On a longer trip, we would very much want to be able to rent a cell phone so we could get in touch as needed and not feel cut off. (We are told that it might be possible to buy and later sell a European cell phone in Prague and temporarily activate it, so we might try that one a future, longer trip, though we don’t know now where or how to do that.)

We strolled more on Charles Bridge, and visited with shop keeper near west end of bridge where there was a good deal on money exchange and some pretty painted ceramic egg thingies. As often happened when I attempted to use Česky words and phrases, I would say something in Česky to a Czech that was more or less intelligible, and the Czech person would often try to talk back to me in Czech – which I would almost invariably not understand. Then I would explain in Czech that I understood very little Czech, at which point my Czech conversationalist would typically suggest we switch to English. Sometimes I encountered Czechs who spoke little or no English, but that usually worked out okay.

Checked back in at the apartment. (We didn’t learn until later on how to use the buzzer so Phil & Barbara left a back window open so we could holler from the back street when we returned.) Encountered convoy of WWII re-enactors on motorbikes with sidecars en route to castle. Visited Prague Castle but the great cathedral was closed to prepare for a big symphony concert and we didn’t want to pay 220 crowns for tour rights that included the closed cathedral, so we didn't do much indoors. Gerald got pictures of gargoyles and stuff. We also got some cards and books as souvenirs before walking back from the castle in the rain. Interesting view of a “grotto” in the distance from above the castle gardens and many other sights from the ramparts. The castle isn’t the dreary, fortified sort of strong place that word “castle” usually connotes, because it has been remodeled over the centuries so as to impress visitors with its size and luxury.

Took river cruise, dodged rain which did have virtue of reducing tourist density. (Actually tourists were probably about as dense or bright as before but there weren't so many of them around).

We learned more about Prague and Vltava during river cruise, passed under a couple of Prague’s 17 bridges, saw the Metronome (which replaced the monumental Stalin statue) and many buildings from the water, saw marks from the year (roce) 2002 and other historic floods. River cruise was on a relatively small boat, about 35’ long (from hidden mooring almost right under the Karlovy most), so we could go behind part of Kampa ostrov and see the mill race, water wheel, and water marks from floods. Also saw underside of remaining portion of the ancient bridge that preceded the Karlovy most. Ado, skipper Jaroslav, and guide Barbara, of the cruise boat company, also seemed amused by my little bits of Czech.

We strolled on the bridge, visited Jan Nepomuk and friends again making sure to touch the statue properly this time, bought a little painted picture of a cat on glass for our cat sitter. Took long walk around Kampa ostrov (island) and watched 5 river cruise boats squeeze into the locks, which rise and lower about 8 feet. Passed by the “hunger wall” (built on Petrin hill as a sort of a baroque Civilian Conservation Corps project to provide jobs to starving peasants hundreds of years ago) and the national music museum, which was closed at this hour of the evening. Dinner at restaurant in embassy neighborhood with generous pizza and pizza bread portions. Phil & Barbara had dinner with Marianna’s dad. Gerald showed cello off to some fellow wedding guests who were staying in apt. 7. Returned cello to Philee for return to music school as he collected Phil and Barbara for a dinner. Enjoyed spectacular view from top-level apartment 7, where the loft has a window with a spectacular view of Praske Hrad (castle).


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