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Prague - first entry

I wrote this email to my family, but have decided I need to move it over here for my travel jounral. Thus you have... A travel journal!


Hi, all! I'm in Prague! Actually, I'm now in Cesky Krumlov (pronounced CHESS-key KROOM-loff), a small town with its own castle about three hours south of Prague. Having its own castle seems pretty exciting, but there are so many castles around here that to the locals it's just the way things are!

This is one of those travel emails that I skim through when people send me, so you're welcome to skim through it, too. Really, I'm just using you all to get my thoughts down. ;)
MY adventures started on Sunday night, when I realized my passport had expired a week earlier. We had to leave Tuesday. Totally frantic, I looked into things for about an hour before I learned that I could get a new passport the same day by going to the passport agency in SF. Yay! But their earliest appointment was Tuesday morning. Keep in mind we were leaving Tuesday night. I flew through packing and errands on Monday, got to the passport office on Tuesday morning, and walked from BART to the office, to Quin's office, to the wharf to find some thank-you gifts for one of the people renting to us (we asked if she knew of a horse rental place, but they're all closed. Instead, she talked to her riding instructor and her instructor agreed to take us out for an informal trail ride!), back to Quin's office, to the bank, back to the passport office, BACK to Quin's office, then finally got a ride to the airport. I walked 10 miles that day! Good thing SF is small, because I went from one end to the other. A couple of times. ;) But knowing it was all going to end up all right, and the sun was shining, and life was good... it was an awesome day.
We left SF Tues night, and (because our flight was delayed -- good for my passport issues) got into Prague Weds in the wee hours of the morning. I was able to tell the cabbie "We want to go here" and hand him a map. Wahoo! Quin said I was in charge of learning the language (my choice) and I said he was in charge of research. ;) Anyway, after getting in and getting settled (in a rented flat from a guy who rents out his flat on Air B&B -- kinda like rentals by owners) we slept, then got up and walked ANOTHER 10 miles through Prague. Mostly, I admit, because we got thoroughly lost. The city is built on bizzaro universe rules. I can't say it's built on a circle because it isn't, quite. I can't say it's old cart roads, because that's not quite right, either. Just bizzare. Even with a map, we got completely lost, many times. On accident we saw Wenceslas Square ("VOTS-loss-kay NAM-yes-tine" in Czech, spelled phonetically, a phrase that took me WEEKS to learn to say... and I haven't needed yet), three other places that Quin had wanted to see and I didn't really care about, and the farmer's market. (Marste, Mom, you'd have been in heaven.) I wasn't feeling so well; kinda queasy from sweet coffee and cake for breakfast (they have the BEST lattes here. Bar none. The cakes were sold in this tiny story by an awesome woman who didn't speak English, and so I got to practice Czech -- a language I've spent eight months learning the bare essentials for. I said "I would like that," "Yes," and "Thank you."), and of course tired from ten miles and the plane ride. We booked expensive dinner at a place called somethingorother Mozart, where you have a 2-4 course meal while listening to a live group play -- you guessed it -- Mozart. Quin LOVES music. I... love good food. ;) But I wasn't feeling well, and it came down to this: I could go home, nap, and go back out for dinner, or we could keep walking. We hadn't yet seen the things we'd been looking for, so in the end we decided to cancel dinner and keep exploring. (For the record, we're here in the tourist off season, and the crowds are still overwhelming.)
I went in to ask the guy to cancel, and he was Not Happy. It took about twenty minutes of me standing silently, refusing to leave, looking at him, before he finally found a way to give me my money back. I was too ill feeling to argue actively, and too stubborn to leave, so I just stood there.  Asshole Americans. ;)
We saw the astronomical clock, which tells you the time, what day it is in the year (not the week), which PART of the day it is (evening, afternoon, etc), what saint is watching over that day (or something like that), etc. We also went through the Jesuit monastary, where they figured out where the latitudinal meridian is in that part of the world, and used it to make sure the clock was always on time. Crazy stuff, and makes me feel like with all our computers, we've lost some brain power.
I don't remember much else of that day. I was overwhelmed. ;)
The NEXT day (it's okay! only two days left after this!) we went to Prague Castle. The castle itself (which we toured the next day for reasons I"ll explain soon) wasn't much. But the grounds were amazing. AND... wait for it... I got to hold and pet a Golden Eagle! Chelsea, remember that bit in The Great Mouse Detective Down Under where they ride the golden eagle? This bird was that size. Seriously. (Okay, no, but it FELT that size. Twelve pounds on my arm!) It was hooded because it's trained for hunting and if you take the hood off outside it hunts, and we all agreed that it hunting my face would be bad. But it was still awesome. (We have photos.) I sort of clucked/kissed at it at one point, and the woman was like, "No no no! Don't make that noise!" But it was okay if I spoke, so I thought that was interesting.
So, anyway. Back up. We got off the tram and walked toward the castle. THen we saw the gardens (they ring the castle) and, thinking we'd departed at the stop above the castle, figured if we hung a left and walked through the gardens we'd reach the castle. There were these massive old trees, lush lawns, flowers and bushes and stone statues ranging from lions (lots of lions) to cupids to rulers. There was moss anywhere the statues had a little shade -- under the chin of one, on the belly of the lion, the underside of hawk wings, etc. Some of them were rough and chipped away, but some of them looked maybe a decade old. There were still pools of water with flowers I've never seen growing in them, and high hedges to block out the world. We found the castle wall and looked out over the city and the mountains, saw places below where they used to do various games (now more lawn, but clearly a game or resting area before) and a big, rectangular building that we still have no idea what it was for. Also, guards carrying AK-47s. We did not litter.
Then we realized to get to the castle we should have gotten off the tram and gone STRAIGHT. So, we walked back UP through all those lovely gardens and finally found the castle (after finding a coffee house within the castle walls, some odd room off the castle wall, and looking down at the deer moat. It doesn't have water in it -- I'm not sure it ever did -- but given the steep drop down, the narrowness of the bottom, and hte steep rise up... I can see how it would seriously deter an enemy. No way they could get cannons and things through, and it was likely too far for arrows to fly -- either across or up.)
We went into the information booth, bought a ticket for the things we wanted to see, learned the whole place was shutting down in thirty minutes, and spent thirty minutes in St. Vitrus Cathedral. St. Vitus was a big guy around here, because that isn't the only St. Vitus Cathedral. It is, however, the fanciest one. It's about 4-5 stories high, but with no actual stories -- just a massive vaulted ceiling. It was started in 1100, but only finished in the early 1900s. There's stained glass windows unlike anything I've ever seen before -- they actually look like paintings, instead of abstract art. Lots of alcoves, and each alcove had statues or, more often, tombs with elaborate statues/paintings/carvings/thrones/etc around them. St. Wenceslas is there, in his own seperate room. He was a big deal; a king around the 1200s (I think) who created humanitarian laws, improved the economy, and gave tons to charity. He certainly earned his sainthood! Then he was killed. The legend goes that he'll come out of the mountains when things are really bad, and help lead everyone to a better life again. It's a legend that many people here still believe.
Anyway, the cathedral was awe-inspiring. Its towers can be seen from pretty much anywhere in Prague; big Gothic structures with tons of detail, almost guady in some places, with creepy statues coming out of the side, horizonal to the ground. People or demons or animals with their mouths wide open and tongues sticking out. It's a wee bit disturbing, to be honest. Oh, and tucked into a couple of corners under one of the big round windows was a fresco of two guys in suits, looking over plans; the guys who finished it in the early 1900s. Hilarious, and a bit out of place!
Then the castle closed, and we headed down the street toward Charles Bridge (a bridge that connects the two halves of Prague, and other than it being cool and pretty and pedestrians only with a lot of statues, I don't know its significance). That was awesome. There were places to eat and peddlers and people juggling and doing card tricks and music. A great band doing 40's music and jazz, depending on their mood. The sun was starting to set, and the crowds were out in force. This was Thursday night, and the city came alive. All around there were houses built 500-1000 years ago, painted pale blue, pink, and yellow, with coats of arms and shingles displaying what they used to be -- how they used to do addresses -- so it was like stepping into the 1400s. The street was very narrow, and all cobblestones. I picked up a bag of delicious dark chocolate covered almonds dusted with cinammon. They lasted two days. ;) And wherever you looked, the sunset was splashing the towers of the palace, the castle wall, and the cathedral. It was -- and I know this sounds silly -- magical. I felt like I was in Disneyland. *laughs* (Marste, I made a video for you but had to send it through my phone, and for some reason only your Disney email address would come up. So I sent it to mom -- hopefully -- and she'll send it to you!) When you got to the bridge there were big arches to go under, with giant stone blocks holding up massive stone walls, and turrets on each side. All around were painters, jewelry makers, and musicians, having fun or peddling their wares. It was amazing.
When we got to the other side of the bridge... we got lost. We ended up walking home (we did finally find it!) in the dark, and all in all, we walked about 10 miles. So far, my back is holding up pretty well. ;) There's been a few days since then (my back is still holding up better than I expected!), but it's 11pm and... I walked only 5 miles today, but it's still time for bed. ;) I may or may not email you later about my trip. *laughs* Better hope not. ;) But it continues to be awesome!

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