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Prague, Czech Republic

Stepping off the train in Prague was like stepping out of a time machine 15 or 20 years back in time. Or rather, it was a mosaic of old and new tiles pieced together somewhat haphazardly in a manner which is not too terribly pleasing. Until then, every train station I’d encountered had been ultra-modern and clean as a whistle. Not so in Prague. Everything was just a little bit more rickety, or shoddy, or dirty than one might come to expect in Europe. A wall that would be splendid in marble would be fashioned from simulated marble panelling in Prague, and it would be faded, broken, or missing.

All of the public transportation is left over from the communist regime — busses made in Hungary, metro cars made in Russia — with loud buzzers to warn of closing doors which could not sense your presence. I saw many an old lady get hit in the ass with a bus door.

On the other hand, everything in Prague was wonderfully cheap. The first thing I did when I disembarked was to buy 50 DM worth of Czech crowns, and I didn’t nearly spend them all, even with coffee an the train back to Germany.

A full-day bus pass was my next purchase, along with a map of Prague, which sucked, unfortunately. I then walked outside and had a picnic breakfast of bread I bought in Munich, Nutella, and peanut butter. I washed that down with my last Coke. (Yuck!) I then took public transit over to the university-dorms for a hostel room, but because they had been full the night before I couldn’t check in until after 3 p.m., so I made a reservation and left my heavy bag there.

I was dead tired but I decided to see some stuff anyway. My morning excursion was a bit of a disappointment, but it gave me a feel for what I did not want to do later that day. I started at mo. Nam st¡ Republiky and proceeded to head down the same street because they had almost the same name. Although I saw no Prague landmarks, I did find a good size supermarket where I stocked up on spring water and sugar vanilla wafers, and a McDonald’s where I got a Big Mac extra value meal for less than it cost in the U.S. (68,0 CZK).

Still puzzled at noon, I decided to look at the map, which is when I discovered my street name error, and I metroed back to my starting point and went the right way. I walked down Nam. Prikope, and turned onto Václavské Namesti, which is Prague’s version of the Champs-Elysées, but smaller and cheaper. This left me at the Muzeum metro stop, so I boarded and headed for Malostranská, where I walked through some beautiful gardens and parks, but I was still at a loss for all the beautiful sights you see in books and on postcards.

I decided to hop on a street-car and ride it as far as it went — after all, I’d paid for it. It got me a view of a Prague suburb and another fifteen minutes of sleep.

After 2:00 p.m. I headed back to the hostel, where every student traveler in Prague was waiting for a room. Some of the truly foolish were standing at reception trying to check in while their passports were in their bags in storage. (Personally, I don’t walk around a city without my pass unless it’s necessary, like when the hotel needs it overnight.) After about a half-hour, I got my turn; I was told I could take a single room at 1.5 times the per-person rate and I took it gladly, paid with cash, went upstairs to the fifth floor, showered, and crashed for about three hours.

That night I finally found what I had been looking for. I took a bus to And l, then another to Malostranske Nam. and walked down to the Charles Bridge. I arrived at a good time, just before twilight, and finally saw why Prague is called the city of a thousand spires. The bridge itself is covered with statues, all of which, I noted, were covered with cobwebs, making me wonder whether the statues were ever cleaned and also when was the last time it rained.

The bridge was home to an artist district, and the west end had a number of merchants. (The east end did too, but they were a little further away from the bridge itself.) I bought a beer in a convenience store, something they don’t have in most European cities, and a big slice of pizza from the shop next door, and I walked to the bridge again to enjoy the view. From here one could view all the noted sights of Prague, and watch the boats pass below. A speedboat zipped under the bridge, which is sort of an unusual sight on a European river. I then noted that it had a Florida registration, and I wondered how the boat got there.

Thus ended my sightseeing in Prague. I turned in early and got a good night’s sleep, swearing I would not do a night train in a coach seat again the rest of the time I’m in Europe.