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Dwanollah's Travel Diary, or, What I Did On My Summer Vacation, 2.0
June 2005

June 13, 2005, 6:30 AM

Dobré ráno! Day Five of the Chocolate Duran Tour.

Our train for Munich leaves in a few hours, and it’s ungodly early in the morning, but I’m already up and packed and whispering under my breath things like “Ich bin, du bist, er ist…”and trying, for the life of me, to figure out how to pronounce “Pinakothek,”a question which has persisted ever since my first reading of Betsy and the Great World. It’s no real hardship, being up at daybreak, mind; Prague is glorious in golden early-morning light, and I can hear the low hum of the tram nearby and see the first few commuters walking to work. If only I could score another one of the insanely delicious cups of horká ĉocoláda they serve here…. At any rate, I’ve tiptoed past the concierge, who’s snoring on the couch in the lobby, to sit out on the back patio before the restaurant opens for breakfast.

Yesterday, THTM and I went on a full-out touristy tear, up early, back late, and walking over every possible corner of the city that we could. We walked over to the Charles Bridge, stopping first for brekkie at a little creperie, then climbed dozens and dozens of steps up the hill to Prague Castle. Lots of ubiquitous tacky-tourist stores on the way, filled with so-called “Bohemian”crystal flowers and knick-knacks and slightly-creepy-looking marionettes and nesting dolls of every possible variety, including a set of…um…the Chicago Bulls. At Colette’s suggestion, we took time to poke around a few of the galleries, and in one small shop on the way to the castle, off the main drag, I spied a tiny painting of peaked red roofs…the view from the hill. The image of it stayed with me all afternoon, and on our way back down the hill, after gardens and fountains and buttresses and stained glass, we stopped into the shop for a closer look. The owner, a voluble Ukrainian man, was thrilled when I pointed out the painting in the window. “That is my wife’s,”he said. “She is such a beautiful painter!”He showed us around the shop, and almost all of the work there was done by either Viktor or his wife, Anna. “See, this is hers, and this is mine.”His face glowed as he pointed out his wife’s canvases…not in an “I gotta sell this stuff to these dumbshit tourists”way, but just beaming with pride that we liked Anna’s work. “She is …so good,”he said to me, struggling with his limited English to express himself, just delighted. So yeah, it was our pleasure to buy the Red Roofs of Prague painting, and arrange for two more to be sent once we’re back home!

We had lots of opportunity to observe Prague, and often took advantage of a bench or sidewalk café to sit for fifteen minutes and people-watch. One of the things I noticed is that beggars here place their empty cups in front of them, and then bend prostrate on their hands and knees behind it, waiting for someone to drop money in…a poignant sight. We also saw lots of advertisements for “black light theatre,”which seems to be a big (and I’m assuming touristy) thing in Prague and marionette shows. Another thing that I wished we’d had time for is that people are constantly handing out fliers for chamber groups or choral groups performing at the various churches here nightly. Instead, we stopped for cheese tousty [sic] and headed back to our room to pack.

But perhaps one of the nicest times this afternoon was when, in the sun-drenched garden, we parked it by a fountain filled with fish, gazed up at the twin spires of the cathedral, and off in the distance, heard a group of people singing some kind of raucous folk songs. That’s one of the images I’ll remember most when I remember Prague.

Ah! Restaurant here is opened, and I get to be the first one settled at my table, obscure disco tunes blasting on the sound system while I scarf a couple rashers of thick, fatty bacon and possibly-powdered eggs before sneaking back upstairs to wake THTM.

Anyway, back to Prague Castle…which was, predictably, overrun with tourists, but still worth visiting. The cathedral there, built in the 1300s, was a Gothic masterpiece, and we contentedly cuddled for a while on a bench outside and watched the pigeons flying in and out of various niches. It’s amazing to me to watch how many tourists visit places like this without really looking…. They just kind of wander in, take a picture, glance around, and wander out. I think they spend more time really looking at the aforementioned nesting dolls!

More soon…there’s a cute, snoozy boy upstairs whose shoulder I have to kiss.

* * * *

Several hours later

It turns out, train stations here in Foreign can be intimidating when you don’t speak or understand the language. If it wasn’t for a kind porter, we might still be Fred-and-Ethel-ing all over track 3. But, with the help of a few “prosim”s, we’re settled in our Eurail compartment, about an hour outside of Prague, on our way to München. The car is quite comfortable, all considered, with six-seat compartments and big windows, and it’d be the perfect way to travel by rail if we didn’t have to share with a frowsy, obese, slightly smelly woman. I don’t know how many stops there will be on this journey –thus far, none –but I keep hoping maybe Slightly Smelly Lady will pack up her Czech tabloids and disembark at wherever the next one might be.

The countryside is a beautiful, deep-seeded green…nothing, though, like the greens in Ireland, Mommy! Mostly a few small, industrial towns in between meadows and groves of trees. The weather couldn’t be more gorgeous, and even though we’re on a train and passing through industrial areas on occasion, the sun and the fresh air is pouring in the open window. Not bad…especially considering we have about five more hours until we get to Munich.

THTM’s breaking into our stash of snackies; we hit the local Tesco’s yesterday because (remember, Ben and Kelley?) one of our favorite things to do in Foreign is to inspect the fun stuff at different grocery stores. Besides, THTM wanted to quest for “crazy-flavored Czech potato chips…like communist or something.”

Don’t ever doubt why I married the man.

Hey! Smelly Lady’s making motions like she’s leaving! Yes! She’s put on her sweater (which means the stench is somewhat abated) and has collected her bags and, oh yay, she’s leaving! Now if only we don’t have any other people booked in these seats…. *fingers crossed*

Naturally, I’ve been reading a butt-load of stuff now that school’s done. Plowed through another volume of Reynolds’s Hemingway bios, this time Young Hemingway. Before that, I devoured the first three of Colette’s Claudine novels, and, in a somewhat similar vein, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Now, in avid preparation, it’s Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice, and, while I’ve never been a big fan of Ruskin, there’re some great tidbits in here, which ain’t bad for a 150+-year-old text! And as soon as he’s done chowing his pizza (i.e. non-communist-flavored) potato chips, THTM might read me some more Douglas Adams essays…if our compartment stays empty.

In the meantime, I’ll end with some Ruskin that seemed particularly applicable:

Much of the value both of construction and decoration, in the edifices of men, depends upon our being led by the thing produced or adorned, to some contemplation of the powers of the mind concerned in its creation or adornment. We are not so led by divine work, but are content to rest in the contemplation of the thing created. I wish the reader to note this especially; we take pleasure, or should take pleasure, in architectural construction altogether as the manifestation of an admirable human intelligence (Ruskin 31).


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