Thursday, 10 November 2005

Mid-Semester Break I: Prague

Prague has gotta be one of the most beautiful cities in the world! I returned to Milan Tuesday night from my way-too-short trip to Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria) and Bratislava (Slovakia). We (Julie, Nadia, Wouter and me) spent 2 days in Prague, 1 day in Vienna and about ½ a day in Bratislava…that is not counting the time we spent traveling from place to place.

We left Milan 3 November to catch the flight to Bratislava in the evening coz Ryanair doesn’t fly to Prague and landed in Bratislava at around 6.30 in the evening, only to find that we had missed the bus to Prague. That’s one of the problems with flying with a low cost airline…you get flights at inconvenient times and to small places, but hey it’s way cheaper (€40 for a return trip). Anyway, this left us with no option than to catch a train to Prague which was about 4 ½ hours away (5 hours by bus). Getting to the train station from the airport was another story altogether….we ended up taking a cab and got entirely ripped off. My advice to those who wish to travel to Bratislava: Don’t take a cab!! One would expect it not to be so expensive since the Slovakia isn’t exactly a very developed country, but the cab drivers really rip tourists off!

We had to switch trains to get to Prague and it was kinda scary coz they didn’t speak English (only Czech) and for quite a couple of stops we didn’t see the name of the station on the stations so we were quite afraid we would miss our stop. The other worry was that we’d miss our connecting train as our train was late and there were some problems along the way. Julie was pretty worried and kept telling us not to worry; Wouter’s Dutch so he was cool throughout (I never seen him worry before…); Nadia and I were kinda in-between. But as Wouter says, it all works out in the end and we did stop at the right place (nearly got off wrongly though!) and we did make our connection.

Arriving in Prague at midnight, we then faced the problem of getting to town, or rather to our hostel. The train station was kinda dodgy with bums lying around and scary-looking people. I can’t figure out why Wouter said he felt safe there…honestly “safe” didn’t come to mind when Nadia, Julie and I looked at the train station. We ended up taking a cab and getting ripped off again. The Czech Republic is also not a good place to take a cab!!

Day 1 in Prague was spent at the Prague Castle, with its gothic cathedral and numerous museums. The cathedral was definitely impressive…I’d say it was on par with the Duomo here in Milan, but scarier looking…the gargoyles looked quite evil… It was cold in Prague though, which made the grog (hot spiced wine) we had in the afternoon much welcome. Food isn’t too expensive in Prague, although having to convert from euro to Czech crowns to evaluate prices was rather tiring (1 euro = 30 Czech crowns).

Night time found us wandering about Staré Mesto (Old Town), with its cobbled streets and alleys and the stores lining them. The buildings looked gorgeous lit up at night and the view from Charles Bridge was totally breathtaking, with jazz buskers playing at certain points on the bridge. We had dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants which had decent prices and wonderful food. I had pork medallions in port wine sauce with potato purée which was simply divine. Ended the night in a jazz bar recommended by the Lonely Planet but the book gave the totally wrong address…thankfully we found the right place by accident. The band playing that night was good and the saxophonist was female (a nice change from the usual male players!), the bar was warm and the drinks were good….a lethal combination to put you to sleep coz you’re so relaxed. When we got back to the hostel we met these 2 Belgian chicks who were staying in the same room. They assumed we didn't speak French though and were talking about Wouter and whether he was 'dangerous'...probably coz he was the only guy in the room. They kept glancing at him throughout talking to us...and about us. We didn't tell them that Julie, being Canadian, studied French as a 2nd language coz it was compulsory in her school and Wouter, being Dutch, also had to study French among several other languages in school. For me, my French has gotten really rusty so I only managed to pick up certain things. It was funny though.

Day 2 was spent wandering about town and visiting the Jewish part of the city as well as the St Nick's Cathedral and the Child of Prague Church which were really impressive. We also visited the Charles Bridge in the day...and it was awfully cold and rainy. Still, the view from the bridge was great! At night we found ourselves having dinner at the same place since the food was so good there and the prices were decent. Then we headed back to the hostel which had an underground bar for drinks...and an early night since we had to get up at 6.30 the next morning to catch the bus to Vienna.

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