Tuesday, February 12, 2013


12/22/2012: From the village to Chisinau

As usual when I go to Chisinau, I got up at 5:45 and was at the bus stop by 6:30. However, this was no usual morning. The roads were covered in a layer of snow and there were fewer cars than normal. More importantly, the mini-bus/rutiera was late. It was so late that I had started to think it wasn't coming at all and I started to walk to the next village over. Luckily, I hadn't walked too far before the replacement rutiera came. It turns out it was late in part because it was stuck behind a snow plow tractor. Once I was on the rutiera, the trip to Chisinau was as usual, although maybe a little longer. After an unusual morning, the whole rest of the day was pretty normal.

12/23/2012: Onward to Prague

I woke up to light snow falling outside the window of the hostel. I was worried  that the snow would impact the taxi ride to the airport, so I had the cab come earlier, and had to forgo my usual cup of tea. I needn't have worried though because the taxi ride only took about twenty minutes and I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check-in, grab a quick lunch at Sbarro, and clear security and customs. I waited in the gate area for about 15 minutes before I got on the shuttle that would take me and my fellow passengers to the plane. It was a fairly small plane, not small enough to have propellers, but small enough to contain only about 25 rows of seats and a small overhead bin. We took off a little late so I arrived in Munich with only a short amount of time ot make my connecting flight in Prague. Since the plane was fairly small again, I took another shuttle to get to it and boarded by way of a staircase instead of a causeway. The flight took off pretty much on time, and 55 min later I was in Prague.
When I landed, I grabbed the bag I had checked and headed towards the exit. Because I had gone through customs in Munich, I didn't have to go through them again in Prague. On my way out, I stopped at an ATM to pick up some Czech crowns and after a stop at information to buy the ticket, I boarded the airport shuttle that would take me downtown. The ride went smooth enough, although I got off one stop later than I should have, so I walked from the train station to my hostel in the rain.
When I arrived  it was rainy, but not that cold. Upon reaching the hostel, I checked in, put my stuff in my assigned locker, and chose a bottom bunk. I met some people at the hostel, including one visitor from Kenya. He said he was from Riruta Satellite, the place where I did my month long home-stay back in 2008. I also met a man from Greece and a woman from the US.
After waiting  for the women to finish getting ready, the four of us set off for the Old Town Square. On the way there, we passed some interesting sites that I wanted to return to once it was light out. When we got there, there was some music playing, and I purchased some mead from one of the many booths. In the square was a Christmas market with people selling food, drinks, and souvenirs. We lingered in the square for a little while before heading off to meet some friends of the Kenyan. He works in Prague and so had some local friends from work. After stopping to chat with them for a bit, we went to a shopping center to find some dinner in the food court. Feeling deprived of Asian food while living in Moldova, I bought food from a Mongolian barbecue restaurant. I ate a substantial portion of beef, rice, and vegetables.
Afterwards, the four of us went to join his friends at a bar/restaurant near a different main square. We were unable to stay however, because there was no table that could accommodate all of us. So, we left and walked to a different bar. The one we chose was comic book themed. The walls were covered with pictures from what I imagined what a Czech comic book. At this bar, I took the opportunity to try Prague's hot wine. It was okay, but I think the mulled wine I had in Bucharest the previous year was better. We enjoyed our drinks in the basement level of the bar. As we were leaving, a bunch of people from a pub crawl were coming down. Our next stop was another bar. This one looked like a traditional bar on the first floor, but the lower level. was a series of passageways made of stone, or at least fake stone. It was getting late, so I just had water, unfortunately carbonated. After that, we made our way back to the hostel. I went to sleep when we got back. I had a day of wandering around planned for the following day and I wanted to be well rested for it.

12/24/2012: Christmas Eve in Prague
Christmas Eve was my first full day in Prague. However, because of the holiday, many buildings were closed or had reduced hours. After a breakfast provided by the hostel, I set off to explore the city and see the sites that I could. My first stop was the old-new synagogue located in the Jewish Quarter of the city. After paying way too much for admission, I walked around inside. The area I could see was not very big which is why I concluded that it was overpriced. It was, however, very nice. I could also tell how old it was because of the architecture of the building and the decorations within it.

                                                  An interesting statue I passed on my way
                                                  The museum and entrance to the cemetery
When I was done with the synagogue, I headed towards the Charles Bridge. Before crossing the bridge, I made a pit-stop at the museum of medieval torture. Some of the instruments were disturbing, but fascinating, and it was interesting to see all the ways that people used to torture a person to extract information. When I left the museum, I crossed the bridge. and stopped for lunch at a nearby cafe. 
The gate on the old town side
                                            Some of the many statues that decorate the bridge
                                                         Another statue on the bridge

The gate on the other side of the bridge
I took the chance to relax before deciding on my next destination. Instead of a destination, I elected to wander around the area I was in. It was an old town district, so many of the buildings were interesting to look at. In my wanderings, I came across a bridge covered in locks. Apparently, when people get married or want to show how long term commitment, they put a lock with their names on it on the bridge to symbolize their connection. From the bridge I saw a statue in the water which I later found out was supposed to be a water spirit.
                                                        The Water Spirit on the river
There were so many, many locks
In the same area, I found a wall with a picture of Lennon on it. When he was killed, some Czech person painted it as a memorial. The picture later became a form of protest against the communists because people could get arrested for painting such things and when the government painted over it, someone would just repaint it. People also wrote and continue to write expressions of love on the wall. 
There was so much graffiti, I couldn't see the wall underneath
After wandering without purpose for a little while, I wanted to use the funicula to get to the top of the hill. At the top was an open space sort of like a park. One could either go right or left but I decided to follow the crowd and go to the right. One of the more interesting things I saw were reliefs depicting what seemed to be the stages of the cross. I also saw a big tower, which reminded me of a mini-Eiffel tower. I did not go in because unfortunately it was closed. 
The park area had a statue in the center
                                               I then walked through a medieval style town wall
The entrance to the tower, I think, I especially liked the crests
 There was an old church on top of the hill as well
I only took a picture of one, but there were many similar ones
After the stages of the cross, I continued following the path until the end and got sort of lost as a result. Because I did not know where I was on the map, I went left instead of right. When I figured out my mistake, luckily all I had to do was head back to the right. As it was getting dark, I reached Prague Castle and was able to take some pictures before it got dark and my camera battery died. I walked around the castle which to me resembled a palace more than a medieval castle, and then headed down the hill. 
I passed a church on the way to the castle
 The palace entrance as it was getting dark
From the outer wall, I could see the towers of the church
When I reached the bottom of the hill, I stopped for a fried cheese sandwich. It was served in a hamburger bun with lettuce. On the way back to my hostel, I stopped for dinner at a Thai place. I also stopped at a wax museum. In Prague, there were a lot of small museums like the wax one. After that, I continued to my hostel to relax and go to bed. 

12/25/2012: Christmas Day in Prague
Christmas was probably my longest day in Prague. Interestingly, while most things were closed on Christmas Eve, they were open on Christmas day. As it turned out, for Czechs, Christmas Eve is much more important and is when most celebrations happen. The main thing I did was a walking, boat, and tram tour of the city. We walked to different sites and I learned more about the history of the city. For instance, one of the churches we saw was tall, but otherwise not very big. Apparently, the church's construction had begun in the 14th century, but was interrupted first by the 200 year long civil war, then by the resulting lack of people, and finally by World War II. As a result, only part of the original building design was actually constructed. I also learned that when a building in Prague was damaged or partially destroyed, part of it would be rebuilt in the old style, but newer styles would be added as well, with the result that many buildings in Prague are built in many architectural styles. 
The main street where we started the tour
David Cerny's upside down horse
The church that was only partially completed
After walking around for a couple of hours, we made our way to the river for the boat tour. One of the main landmarks we saw was a metal metronome on the hillside across the river. The pedestal hand contained a statue of Stalin when he was alive, but after his death, it was torn down. The only politically neutral thing people could think to replace it with was a metronome. There were also other nice buildings along the water. While we were cruising, we were served complimentary tea or coffee. After walking in the cold outside air, it was nice to warm up with a cup of mint tea and relax as our guide told us about the buildings we were seeing. 
The bridge from the water

An old dam?
An interesting building across the water

After we finished the boat tour, we were guided to the Jewish Quarter. The population shrunk considerably as a result of World War two, and numbers only in the thousands today. One of the highlights was the cemetery. The tombstones are placed very close to each other because many people are buried on top of one another because the space was small.
The Wall and Entrance to the Cemetery

The back of the Old-New Synagogue
The Tombstones built close together
After some time for photos, it was time to have lunch. We ate a traditional Czech food at a 17th century origin restaurant. I had pork with sauerkraut and dumplings. The dumplings looked more like pieces of bread than what I normally think of as dumplings. On the tour I also had a chance to learn more about the Charles Bridge, the lock bridge, the Lennon Wall, and the Prague Castle. We took a tram from the base of the hill to the castle. Before entering, we stopped to watch the changing of the guard. It was not as unusual as the one in Athens though. We walked around the castle while our guide told us about it. When we reached the steps that led down to the bottom of the hill, our tour ended. In all, the tour lasted about 6 hours, and was well worth the money I paid for it. 
The Inner Courtyard of the Castl
One of the Guards, before they changed
One of the Entrances to the Cathedral within the Castle
The Church at Night
A night view of Prague
Afterwards, I stopped and bought my train ticket to Berlin, had some food from part of the Christmas market, and then went to a Mozart and Vivaldi concert in a nearby concert hall. It was then time to go back to the hostel, relax, pack, and go to bed. 

12/26/2012: Finishing Prague and Onward to Berlin

On my last day in Prague, I set my alarm for 9:00 am so I could see some more of the city before I had to catch my train to Berlin. My first stop ended up being the chocolate museum, since it seemed interesting and was on the way to the ghosts museum. The museum was interesting and had exhibits talking about both the history of chocolate and the process of making it. There was also a demonstration of how to make a certain type of truffle which included a free sample. The free sample was a ghost shaped, hazelnut filled, milk chocolate truffle. Despite being milk, and not dark, chocolate, it was delicious. Like many museums, the tour ended in a gift shop, but unlike most museum shops that are filled with useless souvenirs, this one was filled with many different kinds of chocolate. I bought some dark chocolate and a bar of chocolate that was supposedly made based on an Aztec recipe. It contained spices and honey among other things and was very tasty. I then continued on my way to the ghost museum the tour guide had mentioned the previous day. Apparently, Prague is haunted by many ghosts. The museum described many of them on the top floor. Below there were representations, giving the museum a creepy, as well as informative, nature. I then headed back to my hostel to pick up my things, stopping on the way to see the clock at noon. The clock tower in the Old Town Square has wooden figurines that move, a rooster that crows, and a boy who plays a trumpet every hour. I watched the display for a bit while eating a Czech dessert. It was a spiral of bread with sugar on it. When I arrived at my hostel, I picked up my things and headed to the train station. I had to wait a bit before my platform was listed, but as soon as it was, I headed to it. I had to wait again for the train to arrive. When it arrived, I boarded and was on my way. I took some pictures and looked at the scenery until it got to dark to do so. 
Scenery from the train ride
A hill with a building and the moon(?) in the distance

Five hours later, I arrived in Berlin's Hauptsbanhof Train Station. One guide book said that some people describe it as a mall with trains, and that description proved to be pretty accurate. The building was enormous and there were three levels that each contained many shops. One contained a small food court although there were food stands including a Dunkin' Donuts interspersed on the other floors. After taking a moment to look around, I went outside and got a taxi to take me to my hostel. The hostel I stayed at was more like a hotel that had some rooms with bunk beds. The room I was in consisted of four areas. The first area was a room with three bunk beds and a window. To the left as you walked in, off the main area, was a small area that contained lockers. At the end of the first area was a doorway that led to a second room with a table, a bunk bed, and more wooden lockers. To the left of this room was the bathroom. The room had its own key like you would expect to find at a hotel. I don't know how many of the rooms on my floor were part of the hostel and how many were part of the hotel. Either way, after relaxing for a bit I went to bed, ready to get up the next day and explore Berlin. 

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