Prague - From Prague to Paris - CycleBlaze

May 18, 1993 to May 23, 1993

Prague

Preface

This is another transcription of the journal of one of our earliest tours.  As with many others like this, it's a pretty spotty record of the experience because at various points I (Scott) got behind or lost my discipline; and at the end I just lost it completely and quit maintaining the journal about a week before the end of the tour.   Until that point though, I'll just faithfully record it as written at the time (Ed: unless I introduce italisized comments like this from the present, to fill in gaps or add detail that I think I remember but didn't write at the time).

Why Prague and the Czech Republic?  They're pretty standard stops on the tourist circuit now, but at the time it felt like pretty adventurous terrain to us - the Berlin Wall had only fallen a few years earlier when we began planning for this trip.  For whatever reason, I had developed an interest in middle Europe at the time - I was inspired by Vaclav Havel and the Velvet Revolution, and Milan Kundera and Ivan Klima were favorite authors.  It felt like now, so soon after they had gained autonomy, would be a very interesting time to take a look for ourselves.

Arrival in Prague

This is my second attempt to record the first part of this trip, written after the fact several days later.  Version one unfortunately remained back in Kutna Hora, where we left it along with the books Rachael and I were reading at the time: Independence Day, by Richard Ford, and Cuba and the Night, by Pico Iyer - as well as all of our phone numbers for addresses we intended to send post cars to.  I'm starting up again here, writing in a notebook we found in a tobacco shop in Pehlrimov, writing in our hotel in Jindrichuv Hradec. 

(Ed: Let's stop right here, and reflect on the significance of this and how much has changed since this tour.  Back then in the stone ages, we carried a small library of paperback books with us to serve as reading matter for a month on the road.  We were avid readers at the time, and we put a lot of thought and planning into which titles to take so we could share them back and forth.  Losing part of our library was a consequential loss.  And, of course, there was no internet to use for looking up addresses and phone numbers; or of course to let us communicate with our friends and family by other means than phone and snail mail.

Also, I'd forgotten about Pico Iyer's book.  It reminds me that I never replaced it when we got home, and have never read beyond what ever I got through in these first few days.  I'll need to pick it up and try again.)

I haven't read it in ages, and had forgotten that it was a replacement for the original that was lost in Kutna Hora. I've puzzled a bit from time to time over why I bought one there rather than taking one from home.
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This is really an abbreviated record of these first days in the Czech Republic, mostly just of high points I don't want to forget.

The flight was not too eventful - we picked up our friend Lynn at 5:45 for the drive to Portland (Ed: we were living in Salem at the time; and Lynn was going to drop us off and then return home with our car) our 9AM flight to Prague, with stops in Detroit and Amsterdam, arriving in Prague at 11 AM Sunday.  We biked the 15k into the center of Prague to our apartment, two blocks off old town square, with no more than the predictable delays to get directions, double back to correct from routing errors, and so on.  We entered town by crossing the bridge from Letna, and then biked through Josefov through the finishing corridor of the Prague International Marathon. 

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Prague and the Vlatava (the Moldau)
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After several hours of sleep, we ventured out for a preliminary exploration of old town square and the corridor to the Charles Bridge. 

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The Tyn Church
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The astronomical clock
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On Monday, we took a walking tour of the little quarter and the old town; Tuesday was spent in Prague Castle; and Wednesday we visited the National Gallery and wandered through the new town.

There was some sort of state visit at the castle when we were there. We waited around for about 15 minutes to see what the excitement was about.
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Here's the excitement. Havel?
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In the new town
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In the new town. Reminds me of something I didn't mention in the journal - we were surprised by the beer drinkers milling outside a bar on our Sunday AM ride in from the airport.
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In the new town
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The view from the castle
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A meal inventory:

  • two breakfasts at a French café around the corner from our room, featuring a gaudy, risqué décor; milk for our coffee served from a white cow-shaped pitcher; and attractive, satisfying meals;
  • One breakfast at a bakery in old town square, where we ate standing up at a small table because there were no chairs;
  • Two dinners in a pizzeria;
  • One unappetizing Czech meal;
  • A better dinner (a whole fish for Scott, and chicken for Rachael) at the Jaz club U Stare Pani;
  • Three desert stops for palichinki's (desert crepes).

Entertainment: there was a lot to choose from.  We attended a string quartet performance (Dvorak, Janacek) in the Kafka museum, which was fine but difficult to concentrate on because the room was so warm; and outstanding performance by A Sei Voci, a French a capella nonet, in a cathedral in Josefov (this was part of the Prague Spring festival) and an enjoyable evening at the jazz club with the Prague Jaz Quartet - a Brubeck/Evens/Desmond style group with piano, bass, trombone and drums.

Of special note:

  • there is a very lively street scene here, especially in old town square and on the bridge.  There is always some form of entertainment going on - a Moravian folk group, individual musicians, mimes, jugglers - but the best was a funky jazz band playing on the Charles Bridge - with washboard, banjo, clarinet, saxophone, and vocals sung by a grizzled guy with a Dixie rebel cap singing through a sawed off trombone bell.
    In the old town square
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    On the Charles Bridge
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  • We encountered a man with a large boa constrictor, offering it as a prop for photo opportunities (Rachael declined the opportunity).
  • Prague is really stunning by night.  All of the major monuments and landmarks - the castle, old town tower, Tyn Cathedral - are lit up with a silvery-bluish light.  The illuminated castle in particular is wonderful when seen from across the river.
  • We embarrassed ourselves on our first night by being unable to get back into our building, and had to rouse our hostess at 10:30.  The keys here involve a learning curve, and I wasn't able to figure the trick out on my own.
  • We wasted a lot of time trying without success to find a different jazz club we knew of Wednesday, so we could find out if they served dinner.   When we set out for it again in the evening, we stumbled across a better looking one much closer to our room.
  • The climb to the top of the old town hall tower was rewarded by an impressive view over old town.
    The old town hall tower
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    The view from the old town tower
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    The view from the old town tower
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  • Rachael purchased a sweatshirt and skirt for herself, and earrings for Lynn from a vendor on the Charles Bridge.
  • On the way in from the airport I saw two very large hares in the fields surrounding Prague - one of which was being chased and harassed from above by a hawk.
    The Charles Bridge
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    On the Charles Bridge
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