Thursday, August 7

Steve: We said goodbye to Cesky Krumlov (and the Hotel Dvorak - the kids are in the very top left window in the picture) today, and ended up seeing much more of the Czech Republic than we ever imagined. Our little bus trip ended up being quite an adventure… 3 ½ hours on a crowded hot bus that was advertised as being "direct", but ended up making at least 15 stops throughout our journey. The good news is that we saw got to see a good deal of the Czech countryside along the way. The land is hilly but not mountainous. There is a fair amount of farm land, and we also saw several lumber processing facilities. The towns we passed through all looked clean and comfortable - we saw very little evidence of poverty or poor living conditions. We drove right by a huge nuclear power plant that we've since learned is the subject of a bitter dispute with Austria who is concerned about the safety of this aging facility. Given how close the facility is to the road, we also wondered about the risk of terrorist attack on it…

We finally arrived at the bus station, and were thrilled to find a subway station right there. There was no one at the ticket window, so we struggled to understand and use the automated ticket machines that they have in place. We bought 4 tickets, had them validated automatically, and went on our way. For 2 of the tickets, we pushed the "discount" key because we assumed that the kids would be cheaper (as has been the case everywhere else…). Well… when we arrived at our stop and went up the stairs, we were stopped by an inspection agent who obviously takes pleasure in singling out foreigners (we kind of stood out with our back packs and roller bags!). He was a big, gruff guy, and definitely not the forgiving type. Anyway, he demanded (literally) to see our tickets. After a detailed examination, declared that 3 of the 4 were not valid (we're still not exactly sure why, but now realize that we need to simply pick the highest possible fare - it's only about $.35). We started to explain our difficulty in understanding the automated ticket machine, but this was obviously going nowhere. You'd think that we'd get credit for at least trying to buy the right tickets, but not with this guy. We were told that we had to pay a 1,200 crown penalty on the spot (roughly $35). Deciding not to object any further (this guy meant business, and we didn't really want the first place we visited in Prague to be a police station), we turned over the cash, making our little extra contribution to Prague's economy. In return, we received 3 hand-signed "penalty receipts" that have gold stars and look very official - we'll definitely be saving these in our scrapbook! Some welcome to Prague…

Anyway, we checked into our little city apartment (unfortunately it's much smaller than we wanted, but it does have a kitchenette that we'll definitely use for meals this week), and made our traditional late-afternoon exploration that we always seem to do whenever we arrive in new cities. Our apartment is right on Wenceslas Square, which was been the site of many historical events in Prague, including the mass gatherings of people in 1989 and Havel's declaration of the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia.

Prague is extremely beautiful, and looks to be more active than any city we've visited so far. People fill almost every street, and there are unbelievable amounts of cafes, restaurants, shops and street performers. The city stays open until late at night - we were told that the shops and restaurants all stay open until midnight.

Prague was not damaged during the war, and has become one of Europe's top tourist destinations. The contrast between the impressive ornate buildings that seem to be everywhere and the bustling commercialism along the streets is fascinating. It's interesting to think about the history of this place - it's been the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, the first Czechoslovak Republic, the Nazi occupation of Bohemia, the Communist Republic of Czechoslovakia, and now the modern Czech Republic. We found ourselves imagining what the people in each of these times would say if they could see it now!

We walked through the Old Town and Old Town Square. There is an amazing amount of history here (apparently the Warsaw-pact tanks drove right through here in 1968), including hundreds of executions that have occurred through the years. The collection of buildings, churches and statues is the most impressive we've seen so far, and this will be the place that we'll start our guided walking tour tomorrow (we've decided that hiring private guides is the absolute best way to really get a good introduction to a new city). From there, we had dinner (we were starving since we hadn't eaten since breakfast), and crossed the Vltava River on the 600 year-old Charles Bridge. The bridge is packed with artists, vendors and performers, and it was fun to stroll and take in the whole scene. The Prague Castle sits high across the river, and the view from the bridge is fantastic.

We continued to the Mala Strana area, which means "Little Quarter". We had arranged to take a look at potential apartment here, and we had been told that this was a quieter area of the city. As we searched for the apartment, we came into an area filled with foreign embassies. Several Czech policemen with machine guns were patrolling the area both on foot and in jeeps that cruised through the streets. After looking at the apartment, we decided not to rent it. The building was somewhat rundown and dark, and the kids were a little spooked by the police in the street, the appearance and mannerism of the owner who lives upstairs (the silver mascara she used on her eyes probably did her in!), and even the several black cats living in the courtyard. So…our first experience of apartment living outside a city-center probably won't come until Italy.

Finally, after another very long day, we retraced our steps and returned to our "apartment" on Wenceslas Square.

Distance Walked: 4.67miles














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