Friday, November 30

praha :: day 4 :: hot dogs and pakistani food

of course, i only call them "hot dogs" because i'm being american. they're not really hot dogs. that would not do them justice. they have these stands everywhere and these things are the most delicious, succulent, greasy sausage sandwich things you could ever eat. my favorite part is the "mustard" they give you. it tastes more like a sweet combination of mayonnaise (?) and mustard.

i'm not sure which one i end up eating. but it is soooo good.

eating is not the only thing we do on this day. there is also some drinking and productive sight seeing. we get up at 3:30pm because of the late night on the charles bridge, and take the metro one stop away to see the "dancing building", a famous piece of architecture in prague.

after a quick stop where we stand on the tiny island in the middle of this busy intersection taking pictures of this building in the dark, bleak, gray sky, we leave in search of food. we only end up at the sausage stand after 2 failed attempts at finding "vegetarian" restaurants listed in my lonely planet book. one had been abandoned - or maybe it moved, who knows i can't read czech, and the other i never found until too late because we walked in the wrong direction (it seems that this city does not bode well for those who dare to cater to vegetarians in a big meat-eating population).

(metro stop, namesti republicky)

by now we are completely sick of the typical heavy goulash/meat plates that when, combined with beer, induce major food coma. i must eat something different for dinner.

my friends and i end up at a pakistani restaurant called mailsi. it's a little out of the way in a neighborhood called "zizkov", which i had read was the up and coming middle class neighborhood of prague (in my mind, i equated this to silverlake/los feliz/eagle rock so i instantly gravitated towards it since the beginning of the trip) inside, the space is unassuming and warm. it's 9:30 already and there's no one else in the restaurant except a small group of 3 in the back, speaking english in low voices. ex-pats?

the owner (?) greets us; his english is great and i think we feel more at home here than we have been this entire time on the trip. a small boy runs around the restaurant helping him with our orders (his son?) we settle on our drinks (i choose the "budvar") and begin to ask him questions about the food. he graciously explains the differences in the curries. there are some on the menu i have never seen before, obviously because i've only ever had indian food.

like bread on the table: papadams accompanied by assorted pickles, yogurt, and something like chutney

we each order something a little bit different so we can all try everything.

first, we start with appetizers.

fried potato, samosa, and something like onion rings. delicious

fresh naan for the table

delicious rice, and so pretty. i like to call it christmas rice.

creamy yogurt-y curry. this one is very sweet.

curried spinach with lamb -- absolutely amazing.

similar to a beef keema sort of dish. i love anything with potatoes.

tomato-based curry with chicken. i love tomatoes also!

my absolute favorite of the evening - the "mailsi" curry recommended by the owner. very creamy and heavy but like nothing i've ever tasted before.

i love that everything is placed on these heating trays.

behold! the glory of my pakistani feast

i don't even know how but somehow we manage to order some dessert (mango ice cream and rice pudding) before dragging ourselves back to the tram and going home to finally sleep at a decent hour.

Saturday, November 24

praha :: day 3 :: street food and protests, ghosts on the charles bridge

due to a late night and jet lag preventing me from getting more than 3 hours of sleep, destructor and i go back to bed after breakfast and do not wake up until 4:30pm. it's already dark when i wake up, and i jump up exclaiming, "@#$%?! it's 4:30! let's go let's go let's go!!"

but go where? i didn't care as long as we didn't end up wasting the whole day. we frantically throw on all our layers, and promptly jump on the 9 tram so we can "get off somewhere random" and explore. we end up on one of the main streets by stare mesto (old town), and the first thing we do is buy a random pastry looking thing with a sausage in the middle. all i know is that it starts with a "b" and the rest of the letters are something like "zcljiewaiijklzjljfdjalslkjfd"...??

we go inside a nearby tesco so we don't have to eat in the cold. it's very greasy, and is like biting into a giant thick hash brown with a sausage in the middle. yummy.

then, we see several people waiting in line at this little stand:

so we get in line too. it turns out she's making some sort of delicious pastry.

however, while waiting in line we hear several police sirens and are alarmed by a mob of people marching down the street towards us. everyone is in heavy jackets and some are in ski masks. what is this? i try to take pictures but at this point feel a little vulnerable getting in people's faces and snapping photos when i don't even know what this protest is about.

one of them yells, "tesco!!!" and many follow and pour into tesco. we had just been in there moments ago. what was this??

it is finally our turn to order the delicious pastry. i ask the lady if she knows what they are doing, and her english is suprisingly good because she says in a very annoyed voice "they are @#$%ing anarchists"...something something "nazi".

did she say..."nazi"?

we get our pastry - i don't know why we only order one but it is sooo delicious.

we slowly head down the street but stop in our tracks when we see an entire van of police jump out and trot in single file through an alley, presumably into the next street.

hmm. we decide to figure this out later and continue our lovely evening walk, despite the apparently politically charged demonstration we just ran into.

(it turns out that this is an antifa demonstration because november 10th is the night of kristallnacht. we later piece this information together from photos of subway stickers promoting the rally and researching on wikipedia. to find out more click here and here - very interesting)

i find this amazing, quaint little nook hiding in the back of a building that is an "original souvenir" shop. the store is full of hand painted easter eggs, floor to ceiling.

eventually we go back and meet up with the rest of the group. before heading out again for dinner i ask the front desk if they know anything about what just happened near stare mesto. they give me some sugar-coated answer and say "don't worry, the police are out tonight so is okay."

that's nice.

at dinner, i have goulash that is made with completely unchewable beef. that's okay, because our beer orders make up for it. i attempt to order a half blonde half dark beer and feel pleased when the waiter actually understands and confirms "half half?". auspiciously, our beers - when placed next to each other - make up a nice spectrum of light to dark beer.

beer spectrum photo courtesy of bitesize

after dinner we go to the charles bridge for the view. this is a very famous bridge and is stunning at night. despite the cold, i can't help but be charmed by the experience of walking on this bridge, everything around me dark except for the interspersed lamps and the prague castle in the background.

before we go to lavke, a club recommended to us, we go back to the friendly bar we discovered the other night. i have a velkopopovicky kozel; i get the "cerny", a delicious dark beer. (the wikipedia entry for this is in desperate need of an update)

anyway, the club is interesting but thus far my experiences have felt like i was back in the ex-pat social scene in beijing. the night before, another club felt very international/ex-pat-ish mixed with a little bit of santa monica. not so exciting.

minnie mouse and i had planned a "charles bridge at dawn" moment a long time ago, so after clubbing and eating a second dinner, we all walk back to the bridge. it's about quarter to 6am and freezing cold, but we think the sun will rise soon. we had heard the views were beautiful. we pass the time by taking pictures of belvedere looking like a headless ghost. (he has a long coat so that if he pulls the collar above his head, it works)

i also pose like a gargoyle.

then, 2 drunk dudes show up and ask us if any of us are from prague and when we say no they ask if we would be offended if they threw this bench (which they had been dragging for some time, it appears) over the bridge. we say no and offer to take a video for them. they scream something like, "1234 woohoo new york!!" and heave the bench over the bridge into the river. what? drunk americans.

however, soon it became clear that no amount of goofing off would make the sun rise faster. i had previously thought about checking the sunrise time but the demonstration had distracted me. by 6:30, it is still dark. finally, we decide to head back to the hotel. at least by now the metro is running again. how sad! nearly an hour in the dark and cold and no payoff. but the experience was still beautiful, because there is no other time you could stand on the charles bridge like that, surrounded by only the darkness and glowing yellow light from the lamps, and no people.

back at the hotel breakfast service has already begun. we eat and then crawl into bed just as the sun finally begins to rise.

Wednesday, November 21

praha :: day 2 :: kutna "horror"

kutna hora is a quiet small town an hour or so outside of prague. it's famous for its "bone church". actually the bone church is in small "town"/area next to kutna hora called sedlec. the church is decorated with the bones of 40,000 people, which were found at the site.

this is our little adventure on our second day in praha. and, this entry is not titled kutna "horror" because of the bones, but because of our quasi-misadventure (and also because i'm corny).

(view from our window)

we wake up to a rainy day. breakfast is included with our hotel stay, which is nice since it's more than just the typical continental breakfast. the spread includes tons of bread, various types of deli meat, strange watery scrambled eggs, soft boiled eggs, and a salad bar consisting only of cucumbers, tomatoes and bell peppers. not too bad at all.

after breakfast we figure out that we need to get to the main prague train station, so we get on the tram right next to our hotel. i love our location. it's right next to the "novy smichov" mall, which has everything anyone could possibly ever need (including the Tesco and a Vodafone where we got our SIM card so we could have a cell phone on us, and H&M, Zara...everything!) it is also right around the corner from the Andel metro station, and a tram stop. fantastic!

too bad we did not check the train schedule before we left for the train station. we get to the train station and get completely distracted by a photobooth. many of us cram into it and start putting random coins into the slot. in the end, the photobooth eats our money (for reasons we did not understand because it was in czech). still despairing over the 50 crown coin i just lost, we head towards the ticket booths to face the daunting task of How to Get to Kutna Hora.

by the time we finally purchase our tickets and figure everything out, we realize that the train we should have taken just left 10 minutes ago. had we not been sucked into the photobooth we might have made that one. the next train isn't until noon, which is 2 hours later.

(note very confusing train schedule above)

so we leave the train station and wander into nove mestro ("New Town") to explore. by "explore" i mean that we manage to find a pub that is pretty authentic/local where we kill time. the pub is called "u stare posty" or something like that, and when we see a local crowd and strange looks, we know that we're in the right place. i proceed to have my first morning beer in praha. we simply order "pivo" ("beer") since there is no menu and they bring us .5 liters of gambrinus, which is delicious. destructor and i want potato dumplings but again, there is no menu. he takes out my lonely planet book, looks up the word for "potato dumplings", and shows the waitress. they are confused and ask us, "...goulas?" somehow we manage to communicate that we want ONLY dumplings (which i guess is very strange because dumplings are always given as a side to goulash, etc), and 10 minutes later they come out, plain and simple on a white plate. these are the best i've had so far, and will become the best i have my entire time there.

eventually of course, we make it onto our 12pm train. we have to split up and join strangers in compartments like in harry potter. the ride is pleasant and quick - just a little under one hour. prior to arrival i decide i really need to check out the bathroom. it is remarkably clean.

this map is right outside the kutna hora main train station. it turns out that it is upside down; i think the south arrow is actually pointing where north should be, which is really confusing when we try to navigate around the area.

we follow signs and other tourists in the general direction of the church. it is a good 15 minute walk.

in order to take photos inside, you have to pay an additional 30 crowns (the admission is 40 crowns); i think this is sort of an honor system, because no one really checks once you're inside. i definitely get my 30 crowns worth of photos.

this is the chandelier made out of every single bone in the human body. i have not yet identified all of them but i believe it.

after the bone church, we decide to head towards town to see a church one of my friends really want to visit. supposedly, there is a bus we can take for 30 cents. since we fail to find the bus and my lonely planet book advises that the walk to town is 20 minutes, we decide to just walk. ha!! 20 minutes my @#$. the walk ends up being close to 45 minutes. although we did stop a few times to take pictures, it really was not a good idea to walk.

by the time we finally reach the town we are all close to passing out (having only had breakfast and no lunch). what they say is right. the town is not much. it is so quiet the silence is deafening.

but! we press on and endeavor to eat chinese food. we thought it would be fun to try chinese food here.

(kung pao chicken - surprisingly tasty but too saucy/salty; but exactly as an americanized version would be)

(some sort of chow mein with pork and mushrooms - really weird and just doesn't taste right)

(my friend's sweet and sour pork - this is NOT sweet and sour pork. it tastes like krispy kreme donuts with pork inside)

after "lunch" which takes nearly 2 hours (we were the only ones in the restaurant and it took them nearly 45 minutes to cook everything fresh, plus it was 3:30pm when we got there), we head towards st. barbara's church. by now it is dark outside, about 5pm.

the church is absolutely stunning but sadly, it is closed! had we done our research beforehand we would have known that it closes at 4pm. but alas, we were too busy stuffing our faces with czech chinese food.

so, after this photo op, we decide to hurry back to the train station so we don't miss our 7pm train back to prague. who knows how we would get back there? one thing for sure is that we were not going to walk.

we drag ourselves into the main "town square" passing by a museum of alchemy on the way (there are so many random museums like this all over prague/kutna hora). there's a hotel and thankfully, the kind gentleman at the front desk speaks english. he tells us to go to the train station down the street, which will take us back to the main kutna hora station.

you mean, this whole time there was an easy way to get from the main station where we arrived, into the town center???

we make our way there through the dark, silent streets (with some of us repressing the urge to mention "hostel" - which i have not seen but know what the general reference is about). i officially decide that this is really creepy.

finally we get to a tiny station shrouded in darkness; there is a "train" on the tracks. but this train is really some weird little cart. it reminds me of one of the cars from a toy train set i used to have. maybe this is what the lonely planet book meant by "bus". i need to write a complaint to them; the walk from the church to town was not 20 minutes!!! also, how come there is a secret shuttle between the main station and town?

when we get to the main station, it is only 6pm. some of us sleep, but destructor and i kill time by playing with a water bottle we have. it has one of those sport tops with a valve that squirts water. if you pump the bottle just enough, you could shoot out a drop of water fast enough to surprise someone. we're so bored we take videos of us squirting each other.

our train is scheduled to arrive at 6:59pm. on the platform, we ask a very annoyed lady, "praha?" and point to the first train we see pull up (at 6:50). i think she says "ano". (which means "yes"! but we think this means "no"). the lights in this train shut down. then, another train pulls up on the opposite platform. there are no signs anywhere. we point to the new train and ask, "praha??" she nods and prints out a mini-schedule for me showing that the praha train is at 6:59.

we get on this train. after an hour, we look outside and are puzzled when we don't see the "praha" train station sign. where are we? shouldn't we be in prague by now? we re-group, wondering out loud if something was wrong. some of us want to go back to sleep in the cozy compartments. at that moment the train conductor comes to check our tickets. he looks at the first one, frowns, and says disappointingly, "no praha."

"no praha???" we all jump up, panicking. since we are at a station, he points to a train next to ours and says, "praha.". we throw ourselves out of the train and through the underpass, racing to the other train which happens to be stopped. we get on and stare at each other in disbelief. the train conductor approaches us and we ask "praha?" and he nods. he looks at our ticket and barely suppresses a sigh/look of disgust. he rolls his eyes and uses a special hole puncher to mark our tickets. i ask desperately, " long?"

he pauses, then slowly reaches for a pen in his pocket. then he takes my ticket and writes: "22:00"

i have to take a fraction of a second to subtract 12 to understand the time. then i sadly wail, "10 o'clock??" by now the girl sitting in the seat next to us feels compelled to jump in and help. she and the train conductor start speaking to each other rapidly in czech. she tells us that we had been on the train going the opposite way, to brno ("bruno").

so, we had gone an hour the opposite way, but were lucky enough to hop on the train going back to prague. but from here it would be 2 more hours. we were supposed to have arrived in prague at 8pm, but now we wouldn't get there until 10pm.

this is really sad, as the time needed in kutna hora was really no more than 3 hours, but somehow we managed to spend an entire day on this trip.

at least we are well rested by the time we arrive in prague. determined not to let the day go to waste, we venture out to stare mesto ("old town"). it is midnight and everything is closed! this is the strange thing about prague. a lot of places shut down so early (mostly pubs). finally we find a friendly little bar where we warm up with beer and the local absinthe. the bartender is nice and shows us how to light it on fire.

we imitate the train conductor to amuse ourselves: "no praha!" we also hate brno now.

at the end of a long day, we manage to find a cab (although we can't find the first two we call, which kept sending text messages in czech to destructor's phone). we tip the driver 50 crowns on a 180 crown fare. (especially since he didn't try to rip us off like all the warnings say they do here) he looks at us incredulously and asks, "is for me? ...really??". we insist. when i know someone truly deserves and appreciates a gesture like that, i feel happy. the day ends well.