Monday, December 3, 2012

Well, it has been just over two weeks now and I have been pretty busy. I have also had some time to explore the city and notice differences and similarities, at least on the surface. So here is goes, I'll try not to ramble too much.
So far people are just people and the world is pretty much the same. I could do with the words being a little shorter, but I'll figure that out it's just tricky with words like Českomoravská and they get longer.
Českomoravská is a metro stop by the way. I think it is a neighborhood.
The metro is really the easiest way to get around town and there are three lines. It's less complicated than Washington D.C.'s or New York City's. I've spent a good amount of time on it so far and the other night I was lucky enough to ride the Prague version of the Polar Express.
As I was waiting for a green-line train to take me to Staroměstská the PA buzzed and an announcement in Czech blared through the platform. I heard a few people near me chuckle. Then the tell-tale wind rushed into the station and a retro metro train which looked like Pullman-style cars pulled up. There were paper icicles on the top of all the windows and green garland with ornaments hanging off of it strung up on all the side windows. On some of the windows were drawings made by school children of what I assume to be traditional Czech Christmas figures. There was a devil-looking character and and angel. I'm going to find the train again and get some photos, it's pretty cool.

This is not the super-cool Christmas train I talked about. This is a normal one.
They really like their Christmas here in Prague and not in the same way as in the U.S. Here there are decorations, but there aren't sales being advertised all over the place, although I don't have a TV so I can't be sure about that. I've been in a few stores and it's not consumer Christmas mania like I'm used to. In fact the only Christmas music I have heard so far is from carolers and street performers in the city center.
When I got off my train I headed out to try a burrito place someone told me about. I know, I know why would I want a burrito after living in New Mexico for so long? I had to try it, it was passable. Better than any of the burgers I've had here. I thought a burger would be difficult to screw up, but I was wrong. Anyway, I needed to go through the Old Town Square to get to where I was going. That was a HORRIBLE idea.
Turns out I was just in time for the annual lighting of the super-important Christmas tree in the Old Town Square. I can handle myself in crowds ok, but they aren't my favorite. The square is usually pretty crowded with tourists, I suppose I'm to be included with them, and this night I swear 80% of the population of the Czech Republic was crammed into the square to drink over-priced mulled wine and watch a tree turn on. So I beat it out of the square as quickly as possible, which was about thirty minutes because it was so packed full of people who had no clue where they were going. Turns out the tree is pretty beautiful and in a scenic setting. I went back Sunday night to see it without 100,000 of my closest friends.

I don't really know how tall this tree is, maybe 30 feet tall. In the background is the Old Town Hall Tower, it houses the Astronomical Clock. I don't have a photo of the clock yet, later.
 As you can see it's a pretty scenic thing to see. Everyone likes a nice Christmas tree and this one doesn't disappoint. I did make it back to the square for the tree lighting, but by the time I arrived there was no way I could get close enough to see it happen. The only way I knew it was happening was because all the lights in the square were turned off. So I wandered away to find a bar with some friends and as I was leaving someone tried to sell me some drugs, ahh Prague.

This is the view from the tower in the background of the first photo. The completely awesome church in the background here is the Church of Mother of God before Týn and if I can find the door I'm going to go inside someday, maybe even to worship.
Stopping by Old Town Square to see the tree, and Christmas Bazaar was the end of my day though. I was diligent and completed a lot of my work the day before so I could have some time to explore. My travels took me all over the place and I ended up missing my aim of taking the Castle tour. There will be time to do that later. I just wandered about. I discovered a monument to the victims of communism that was really quite stirring, especially if you consider the perspetive many citizens in the U.S. have that the U.S. will be communist very soon. The memorial moved me, but I can't really express it in words so I'll just show you and let you make up your own mind.

I'm usually a little slow when it comes to extracting the meaning from art, but I understood this on right away. I can't wait to go back and see it at night.

Graffiti is a pretty common thing and some idiot decided to mark up the statue, but it's bronze so that paint will buff right off. This isn't the whole memorial, it is a large set of stairs and this is the end of it. The bronze strip you see going up the middle runs the length of it and has something I don't understand written on it. And just in case you're too thick to get that the Czech people didn't really enjoy communism there is this explanation nearby.

I'm not feeling to warm and fuzzy about communism after reading this. Not that I was before.
 Ironically enough, shortly after I found this I found the U.S. embassy. I didn't go in. I just saw the flag and a large sign on a fence telling me it was U.S. Government property and not to trespass. I was more distracted by a building that was very close to the embassy wall, in a park the wall marks a boarder of. I'm not sure what it is, but I think it is a mausoleum of some sort. There were some renovations being done to the grounds around it and it was roped off, so I didn't get too close.

I did duck under the rope for just a moment to take a photo of the door. I'm pretty sure no one saw me, even though this does provide good evidence of my trespass.

   What can I say. I have a thing for photographing doors. Anyway, this park waas large and basically consisted of a hillside that started a few blocks from the river and ended at the Petřín Lookout Tower. There were a bunch of people walking up the tower, otherwise I would have too, so I opted to save my $5 admission and walk over to the castle. 
On my way to the castle I stumbled upon the Strahov Monastery, which evidently has had monks in it since 1138. They took a few decades off in the last century, but monking is hard so you can't really blame them. This is a place I want to come back to as well. I guess there is an amazing library and I wasn't going to get in to the church because they were celebrating mass. I did sneak around a corner though and find my favorite frame of the day.

Then I wandered over the the castle, which really isn't that far and considered taking the tour, but figured it was too late. The tour is supposed to take about three hours and the castle closes at 4 on Sundays and it was something like 3:30. Also the I have only been to the castle on Sundays and there is always the prospect of mass in the cathedral messing up tourism, so I opted to go back early in the week.
St. Vitus Cathedral  really is amazing. It dominates the skyline. The inside is nice too, but cold. 

St. Vitus is on the left there. The river is called the Vltava. You can't see it but the National Theater is on the right across the street.

St. Vitus is top center here.
It is pretty inside. Like I said, just a little cold. It must cost a fortune to heat.
Around the outside of St. Vitus there are a bunch of random iron doors and iron pipes. I know the pipes were not part of the original construction, but I have no clue what the doors are about. Maybe when I take the tour I will find out.

It was after I left St. Vitus and started making my way through the castle complex back to Old Town that I saw just how serious the Czech people are about Christmas.

If you're posting an armed guard at a Christmas tree you aren't screwing around.
I made it to the square after dark, duh you can see the photos, because I stopped to have lunch. I wandered over to Wenceslas Square because it was the easiest metro home and saw my favorite street performer. This guy rules. I'm pretty sure I'm more Native American than this guy, but he's out there every day slapping his belly, beating his drum and doing the "woo woo woo" thing with his hand in front of his mouth every damned day. If  I were anywhere else I'd say this was offensive, not in Prague.

And this brings us back to the things that are taking a little time getting used to. Like I said, things really aren't that much different. I haven't seen a single Czech person with three arms or three eyes.
What is weird is that the change in your pocket has value. In the states you can't even make a phone call with one coin. In Prague you can buy at least one beer with the right coin. All that change adds up and gets heavy. I'm used to tossing change in a bucket and turning it into cash once every two years, not so much here.
The other thing, and this is pretty exclusive to where I staying, is the absolute stupidest invention on earth. I'll start with a photo and let you figure it out from there. Spend a good minute looking at the photo and thinking about what is different.

Figure it out yet? This device is called a "shelf toilet" and it is the absolute stupidest thing I have ever encountered in my life. I'm told it was invented by a German, I guess a coprophile at that. I realize there are many things which can be determined about one's health by examining feces, but I'm not living in a doctor's office. There have been a few times when I have thought I might need to do some googling after going to the bathroom, this is not normal. When you live in a society eating mostly sausage and potatoes this type of toilet is a bad idea. Seriously, a salad in a Prague restaurant consists of four slices of cucumber and a tomato wedge. Eat like that for two weeks and tell me this thing is your best friend.  This changes your entire vocabulary: The courtesy flush is now a necessity. Now consider the tank size and the courtesy flush situation. That thing is nearly seven gallons, so it becomes a beday and toilet in one. At least a beday had a focused spray. Anyway, I digress from middle school toilet humor and get back to it.
This city is beautiful, it is amazing when the sun comes out, which has been for a total of about ten hours in the last two weeks. Fortunately, I ventured out when the sun was out a week ago and I'll leave you with two photos from then.

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