I’ve done three posts now, I believe, about traveling by train, and I’ve probably said about as much about it in the last month as I need to. So instead, I’ll just jump past my train journey today, undertaken from Berlin after checking out of the hostel around 10 in the morning, and tell you that I arrived in Prague at about 6 this evening.
When I first entered France and then Germany, and stepped off the train, I had this weird moment of something like panic that came up. It wasn’t a panic attack or anything nearly that bad, but it was a few minutes of just disorientation — consciously, I knew I was going to enter a brand new country where I didn’t know the language, but unconsciously, I looked at the signs expecting to pick up meaning, and then was a little shocked when I didn’t.
In France, and then in Germany, I was surprised, after even just a week there and exactly zero actual training, at how quickly I picked up the language. Once you know what a few things in each of those languages mean, it isn’t hard to figure out what a lot of the rest means, just from context alone. But sure enough, when I entered the train station here in the Czech Republic, I had that same weird little moment of panic.
The biggest bit of confusion I’ve had here today has been the currency. Euros and dollars and pounds are all pretty close together — they’re only within one or two actual numbers, so I got along pretty well just by adding two or three to whatever I was buying. But one US dollar equates to 18.74 Czech koruny at the moment, so the prices here are all things like 23, 75, or 240 ck, not $1.20, $3.50, or $12.70 (which is what each of those approximately is). So I’ve been doing calculus in my head all day, trying to realize just how much things are worth around here. This beer I’m drinking right now, for example, cost me 50 ck, which sounds super cheap. It was just one coin, and I got change back! But it’s actually $2.70, and for the value and the quality of the beer I’m drinking, that’s not such a great deal.
As for the city itself, once I checked into the hostel (it’s the same franchise as the place I stayed in Berlin, because I really liked it and they had lots of fast Internet and a bar on the ground floor), I just decided to go walking and see what I could find. In the next few days I’m sure I’ll do a few tours and seek out a few sights, but tonight I just decided to dive in. I grabbed a free map from the hostel and started looking around.
I know next to nothing about Prague at all — originally, as you might remember, I was going to go to Amsterdam, and while I didn’t know much about Berlin, I at least knew it was the Nazi capital and the site of the Berlin Wall. Prague, I have no idea. I think there were communists around here somewhere? But I don’t know what happened to them? And just walking around the streets, I could see there was a lot of money in the architecture, so there must have been some sort of king or emperor or kaiser around here somewhere.
The architecture is probably the most phenomenal thing about the city — this truly is Old Europe. Berlin is also old Europe, but it’s been so ravaged by war that most of the buildings are actually pretty new. A lot of the buildings I saw there seemed built around 1950 or 60, which puts it on the same scale as Los Angeles, surprisingly. But Prague seems to have survived the centuries well — everywhere you look, there’s some sort of crazy fascinating old building, that was probably owned by a monarch at some point.
The problem I have with Prague so far, however, is that it’s almost completely a tourist-driven city at this point. At least in the places I’ve visited, I’m hearing way more English than anything else. It’s like the Vegas of Europe — everything is really spectacular, and looks terrific, but it’s all pretty fake, designed to just rake in the tourist dollars, not actually represent anything. Indeed, as I walked around, I saw mostly retail stores (a lot of American chains, though mostly higher end retail places), and a lot of familiar brands: Subway, TGI Friday’s, Burger King, even a Hooters. Honestly, I’ve seen all of these (except for the Hooters) elsewhere in Europe, but they’re usually not in the main town square — they’re sequestered in the tourist-only spots, away from the real history. Here in Prague, they’re right in the middle of it all.
That rubs me the wrong way a little bit, but honestly, I didn’t really come to Prague for the history so much. I just knew I had a few extra days here at the end of the month, and I wanted to try doing something really wacky and different with them. We’ll see what I end up doing.
Tomorrow, I think, I will probably do a few walking tours, and then maybe try to find some local Czech cuisine, whatever that is (I saw a few places trumpeting Goulash tonight, so maybe that’s it). I should say I did have a “fried cheese” sandwich this evening, because it was only 30 ck ($1.50) and I was hungry. It was interesting — like a mozzarella stick patty in bread that didn’t even come close to the bread I’ve had in the other countries so far. But that was just a cheap snack from a vendor. I’ll be sure to give the Czech Republic’s food its chance.
And then Sunday, I don’t know what. That’ll be my last day of touring around in this month — the day after, I fly back to London, and then jump on a plane back to LA. So I’ll have to come up with something good to do on Sunday to mark the end of this phenomenal trip.
Posted on Sunday, April 29th, 2012 at 3:11 am. Filed under general.