Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kutna Hora and Prague

I didn´t want Terri to feel like she wasn´t getting the proper experience of travelling with us so after one day of rest in Warsaw, we took off on an overnight train (sitting all night with no sleep of course) to get to the Czech republic. My body has definately become super confused with weather now as it is August, apparently the coldest wettest month so far of the year. How can August be the worst month? At low 20C in the day and damp, all of us (with the exception of Terri of course) are freezing. Itś too cold for a T-shirt and too hot for the sweater all day, grrr.
We are now staying in Poděbrady. It is a small town off the map about 1 hour due east of Prague. We are staying with Michael, an American guy that has been living there for 4 years teaching english. We met him 2 weeks ago in Gdansk and (poor sucker) he invited us to come visit. He has a nice sized flat that he shares with another teacher (who is currently away) so we are crashing on the living room floor and in the guest room. It's been awesome. Movies at night. Cooking good food (I want to steal his kitchen knife as I haven't seen anything so sharp and nice to work with since Chefi's) and all those other domestic comforts, including Scruffy the dog. No, this does not mean we are wanting to settle down.
Our first day we did a little day trip to the small town of Kutna Hora. It's south west of Prague and a popular day trip as it is yet another UNESCO world heritage town. It has the 2nd largest cathedral in Czech (I personally love the Gothic style) and was once a very important trade centre some 3-700 years ago. If you ever have heard of "Groschen" it's here that they were produced. Groschen are the silver coins that were the main currency of central europe during that time and were minted here right beside the mines where the silver was extracted. Only in the early 18th century when the mines dried up did Kutna Hora lose it's importance.
There is also a very strange monastery just outside of town too. The sedlec ossuary has been around for a very long time but in 1870 a local woodcarver was brought in to do something with all the bones lying around. What he did was amazing.... Chandeliers, pyramids and other decorations and designs are on display in the underground rooms. There were about 40,000 people's worth of bones to play with and it's just a crazy (beautiful rather than creepy) thing to see.
The following day (yesterday) we went to Prague for a day trip. Michael accompanied and guided us on this one and we spent the whole day walking all over town to see the whole thing. I was in Prague 6 years ago on my first trip abroad so it was a little wierd to be doing it all over again. A few things have changed, like the number of tourists (it is so so busy now) and the prices. Czechs are having a rough time of it as the prices in the country continue to rise in response to EU demands to fall in line "western" rules and economic conditions. I'm having a hard time seeing how this is supposed to be entirely beneficial for the population. We were so used to paying 10-15 cents for a metro (subway) ride in the ex-Soviet republics that paying over a dollar now seems like cruel and unnecessary punishment. The fact that this is the result of a recent doubling in price makes it even harsher. But such is the way in all of eastern europe as we've heard the same thing in Poland and Ukraine. I just hope the wages are also doubling, but I fear that in most cases, it is not.
Prague is a beautiful city. Yeah, it looks like the old towns of other European capitals but honestly, it just has that little bit more that makes it special. The sheer number of pretty buildings and the setting are just amazing and if anyone is planning a european trip and is within 2 countries of Prague, put it on your itinerary. Everyone else is......
Actually, it's too busy in Prague so go in the offseason. For us it is probably the most touristy place we will get to on the entire trip (as the Vatican, Paris and Disneyland are out) so hopefully we won't have those kinds of crowds again. So like India and yet totally the opposite. I don't know how to explain when a crowd is a crowd and when it's not, you just have to experience it. Crowd dynamics and characteristics is a whole new science..... I'm just glad we didn't have to try to find a room.
The highlights of Prague are it's old town square with it's famous astronomical clock (Don't ask me why as I've seen more exciting clocks but the square is really nice), the Prague castle (on a hill across the river and the largest castle complex in Europe), and Charles bridge. The most interesting part of Prague castle is the Cathedral (largest in Czech and another Gothic monster wall) and the views over the city. Charles bridge is the old historical bridge and was the only crossing over the river until some time in the 1800's. It's a pedestrian bridge now with lots of statues, souvenir hawkers, bands playing and sightseeing boats underneath. Very touristy. It was hard to imagine the floods of 2002 when the river came up nearly to the top of the bridge. The whole old town must have been a total mess.
It is interesting to note that although the countries are getting smaller, we are still noticing differences in the people and look of the country upon crossing the borders. Czech is different from Poland. You see it very quickly in the houses and fields (yep, a field is not just a field like all others either) and even the people too (if you can figure out which are Czech and not tourists.
Today we are just hanging out seeing the local area (Nymburk and Podebrady) and will probably get some more movies. These girls are seriously deprived....
Ammon

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