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08.10.2009

High and Low in Prague 

It’s our last night in Prague, and since neither of us felt like drinking we went back to the hostel a little early (midnight) and I’m going to use the next few hours to write about the trip.   

The most important thing we wanted to do in Prague was to take the free tour offered by New Europe, the same tour we took in Berlin and Hamburg.  We found their meeting place outside a Starbucks in the Old Town Square shortly before 11:00, and waited around until the tour began. 

Our tour guide was a Welsh guy who seemed a bit shy in person bus was totally animated during the tour.  He was really funny and made the whole thing very fun and interesting.  As expected, we got a nice run-down on Prague’s history, all the way from medieval times, through the 30 Years’ War, and of course the Nazi and Soviet occupations.  It’s a pretty interesting city, and because it wasn’t targeted for bombing in the war, most of it has survived intact unlike German cities, which allows it to preserve its old and beautiful atmosphere. 

The tour ended by the Charles bridge after Huw, our tour guide, told us the story of the end of the Nazi occupation and how civilians kept up the resistance while waiting for the American soldiers who never came, and how afterwards they got only 3 days of peace until the Soviets came and forcefully “liberated” them into their oppressive regime which lasted another 40 years. 

It was 2:00 when the tour ended, and while we could have then gone on to take the Castle Tour we decided to save that for the next day and instead just do a little more looking around.  We crossed the Charles Bridge and checked out the Lennon Wall, which is basically just a big wall with John Lennon-inspired graffiti all over it (the funniest piece of graffiti says “Ringo is better”).  Then I asked Krissi if she wouldn’t mind checking out the Jewish museum we’d passed on the tour, as it sounded like something I’d really like to see, probably out of my strange twisted tendency toward emotional-massochism. 

To my surprise, she agreed, and we went back to the Jewish museum and lined up to buy a ticket.  Of course you couldn’t just buy a ticket for the museum—you had to get a ridiculously high-priced day pass to every single place in the Jewish quarter including several synagogues we had no interest in going to.  But we coughed up the money and went inside. 

The first few rooms were simply of walls with the names of all 70,000 Czech Jews who died in the Holocaust, a pretty overwhelming sight but nothing I haven’t seen before.  The upstairs room was what I really wanted to see—a display of drawings made by children in concentration camps who were allowed to undergo a kind of “art therapy” whereby they’d be given crayons and other materials and told to draw how they felt.  Most of those kids were later sent to Auschwitz and gassed, so seeing those drawings was an unbelievably heart-wrenching experience, especially the ones where the kids drew things like holding their mommy’s or daddy’s hands as they left the camp with smiles on their faces.  Some of the drawings were incredibly dark as you’d expect, but a lot of them made it clear that they really believed that eventually everything was going to be okay and life would be better for them.  The drawings themselves were hidden in floorboards by their teacher when the shit went down and the Nazis tried to destroy all records, and while the names of the kids were erased their drawings survived as the last indication that any of those kids ever existed on this planet.  It was just an amazingly powerful experience that nearly overwhelmed me, and at some points I had to concentrate so as not to break down crying in front of everybody else at the museum. 

After doing that, then walking through the Jewish cemetery which some believe was the inspiration behind the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin which we’d also seen, we just went back to the hostel and got our things together to finally do laundry, which badly needed doing.  The closest place, as recommended to us by the front desk guy at our hostel was a place called Laundryland about fifteen minutes away.  We took our stuff and followed the directions on the map, had a hard time finding it until we realized it was actually a place in a shopping mall, and when we got there were surprised to find that of the 10 washers and 3 dryers in the place, all but 2 washers were out of order and only 1 dryer was functioning.  Luckily both washers were free but the dryer was occupied and there was a line of 3 more loads of laundry waiting to be dried before ours, so it took way longer than it needed to buy since we didn’t know of any other laundry place we knew this was our only option. 

Once that annoying task was finally finished, we went out for dinner and then to the Astrological Clock in the Town Square (Europe’s oldest working machine) where a Pub Crawl that our tour guide had recommended was gathering.  The pub crawl took awhile to get started, but soon enough we had paid our dues and were in the first place of the night for “Power Hour” which meant an hour of free beer and shots of vodka, rum, or absinth, all of which were significantly watered down with something else.  I just drank about three beers, took two vodka shots, and one little half shot of absinth just to try it, but at the point I’m at now that was hardly very much.  It just did the job of getting me buzzed enough to open up and talk to people. 

I met a few random people from Canada, Australia, and Sweden, but spent the most time talking to a German guy (with a particularly beautiful girlfriend) about politics, both in the U.S. and the recent German election.  He saw the movie Sicko so he knew how fucked up health care is in the U.S. and he doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for us to fix the system.  But I was more interested in what he had to say about the German election, because unlike most of the people I’ve talked to about it, he was significantly liberal and quite disappointed by the election results.  He wanted a coalition of the SPD and the Green party, but instead they got the more conservative CDU and business-friendly FDP, the very group of people who he sees as responsible for the financial crisis.  He also pointed out to me that the head of the FDP, who will now serve as the Foreign Minister (in Germany the Vice Chancellor is also the foreign minister) is an open homosexual, which he thinks will hurt the image of Germany in some Eastern countries where they won’t take him seriously.  He insisted he had no problem with homosexuality but some Eastern or Middle-Eastern countries probably won’t take Germany as seriously as they might otherwise do with a woman and a gay man running things. 

At any rate, it was soon time to go to the next pub, which was more of a music club and it was still a bit too early for any of us to feel like dancing.  I felt myself getting a little depressed there and I didn’t talk to anyone but Krissi continued chatting with the Australians we’d met at the first place.  Luckily we were gone soon enough, and at the next place Krissi and I just sat at the bar and for some reason got into a little talk about the meaning of life and what was the point of everything.  I just gave her the whole existential spiel about how the point is whatever you decide it is, and that I was perfectly content with my point—just to have as many experiences as possible while I’m alive.  Getting my head back into that deeper mind-space actually cheered me up a little bit, and I felt as we got to the last place that I was indeed having a worthwhile experience. 

But the last place was a big dance club, and as such my mood steadily sunk as I danced in close proximity to, but never with, a bunch of hot girls who had no interest in me, one in particular who was unbelievably smoking hot drop-dead gorgeous but seemed only interested in dancing all sexy just for the sake of dancing and rebuffed almost every advance any guy made on her.  Now completely drunk and once again stricken with sexual frustration, as dance clubs always fucking force upon me, I told Krissi I was finished and I wanted to go, but she wanted to stay and I ended up just sitting down and watching the hot girl rebuff a bunch of guys, which somehow made me feel slightly better. 

Then at one point the weirdest thing to ever happen to me at a dance club happened, as I turned my head and noticed a relatively cute girl (super hot body but only a decent face) actually looking at me and smiling in a kind of inviting, “why don’t you come and dance with me?” kind of way.  Now I’ve spent a lot of time—way more than I would have liked—in bars and clubs just waiting to notice a woman who might be interested in me but it just never fucking happened.  Suddenly it was actually happening.  This cute girl was actually interested enough in me—me—to give me the eye.  I couldn’t fucking believe it.  So naturally I get up and go up to her and start dancing, but for some reason I open my mouth and ask her if she speaks English.  She said no and followed it up with some completely incomprehensible language which might have been Czech but could also have been Spanish or Italian for I know, and the next thing I know she was laughing and walking away.  No idea what went on there—perhaps after getting a closer look at my face she realized I wasn’t worth it, or maybe I just wasn’t forceful enough, as judging from the looks of things it seems that guys at dance clubs are supposed to grind up on girls and shove their dicks right against their legs, which of course I would never be able to do even if I was shit-faced beyond imagination. 

So basically it was just a huge reminder that I have absolutely no hope with women whatsoever.  None of them are interested in me and even if they are, I can’t follow it up and seal the deal.  I sat back down, Krissi brought out a couple of other beers, and I just blurted out my violent emotions, just letting loose all drunkenly and saying how I really wished I was dead, how I felt like slashing my wrists open and bleeding all over the floor and whatnot. 

So Krissi’s response is to tell me that I don’t have it so bad—to think about the Jewish museum and all those kids who died in the concentration camps and how they had it way worse than me.  That was just about the absolute worst possible approach she could have taken, as I nearly lost it.  “Why the fuck would you bring that up?” I said, so loudly that I’m sure other people in the club heard me even over the blasting music.  I proceeded then to explain/rant about how that just makes me want to die even more, and to wipe out every last member of the miserable human race with me because Jesus fucking Christ what a fucked up species we are to do that to people—to fucking children.  And the absurdity of Krissi’s notion that making me think of murdered children is going to make me want to drink more and dance dance dance the night away!?  Fucking ridiculous.  After that I couldn’t even take another sip of my beer I was in such a god-awful state. 

So it was obvious to Krissi at that point that I was in fact completely finished and as long as we stayed there I was just going to be in this awful suicidal state.  So we left the club, hopped in a cab, rode back to the hostel and went to sleep.  Neither of us have any idea what time that was. 

But we got up the next morning around 11:00, surprisingly without much of a wicked hangover—mostly just feeling dehydrated, still drunk, and hungry.  We took showers and left the hostel by noon, got some breakfast/lunch at a pizzeria, then eventually wound up back in the Old Town Square by 2:00 for the Castle Tour.  This tour lasted about 4 hours and went through the Castle District of the city.  I’m not sure if it was the tour guide, the hangover, or just the fact that the history of this area was inherently less interesting than the others, but I found myself way more bored on this tour than any other I’d taken, phasing in and out of paying attention while the guide rolled out his facts and dates.  Some things were pretty cool, like the house they used as Mozart’s house in the film Amadeus, the house where the astronomer Tyco Brahe lived, and the kick-ass gothic cathedral in the middle of the castle, but for the most part the tour felt like it was dragging. 

Afterwards we looked for St. Francis church, where Krissi had read they had organ concerts every night and we wanted to find out about getting tickets because we were both interested in seeing some kind of concert.  We found the church but there was no ticket office or anything, so we went to the Tourism Information bureau and learned that the organ concerts were all over, but that there was going to be a Mozart/Vivaldi concert going on at the Municipal House at 8:30.  It was a bit pricey and we’ve both been spending way more money than expected, so at first we weren’t sure about it, but over dinner I put it quite plainly by saying, “How awesome would it be to see a Mozart concert in Prague?” and that pretty much sold her on the idea. 

So after dinner we bought the tickets and walked over to the building where the concert was held.  It was just a little place—not a big concert hall or anything—and it was merely a group of about ten musicians, all either on violin or cello, but the acoustics were really good and as soon as the first song was played, Pachabel’s Canon in D, I knew this was the best fucking decision we’d made of the entire trip.  From the depths they’d been in the night before, I suddenly felt my sprit soaring with the unbelievably lovely string music, topped off by knowing that we were hearing this in fucking Prague, the favorite city of Mozart himself.  A few songs later, mostly Mozart and Vivaldi as advertised, a solo violinist came out and fronted the group for the rest of the hour-long show. 

We didn’t do much after that—just walked around and popped into two different bars for two different beers, then came back to the hostel where I wrote this entry.  Prague is definitely a fantastic city.  It’s beautiful, fascinating, and there’s plenty to do.  My only complaint is that it’s so ridiculously touristy that you can’t walk down the road without hearing American accents every few seconds, which I find annoying but I guess it can’t be avoid.  As for my mood, I feel pretty good right now, but I’m sure those spirits will continue to rise and sink as the trip nears its end.  But at least I know for sure that we definite got the most out of Prague while we were here.