Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Kutna Hora

Prague Blog
On our arrival in Prague, Lins and I floundered as usual in our efforts to get to the hostel while navigating the new language, transportation network and culture- BUT - this time with the very reassuring knowledge that our dear (now especially dear) friend and eloquent Czech speaker Joel would be waiting to meet us back at the ranch. Though jet-lagged and modest, he came through with the mad language skillz we'd been looking forward to, and made it all a breeze. Even the rrrzzz's and trrch's. Prague is as lovely as everyone says. It has a kind of classic, genuine feel, due to the fact that so many of its historical buildings have survived the years and European wars unscathed. 
However, my Czech Republic city of choice for this trip was definitely Cesky Krumlov. The architecture of the whole town was medieval to an extent that I didn't dare dream still existed outside of fantasy novels. And speaking of which, I got to try hot mead! It was always my favourite imagined fictional drink, and the reality didn't disappoint. Truthfully I'm kind of glad it's not all that common around here or I'm sure on my return I'd have become Toronto's most idiosyncratic drunk. 
I'll leave it to Lins to tell her Prague tales-of-woe-that-are-actually-quite-funny-in retrospect, and there was a certain "picnic" that ended with our backs against a stone wall trying to edge our way down a steep hill in the pelting rain, but overall it was a blast and a half. Watching Jaws from the loft section of the hip Globe Bookstore cafe, camera wars to nab the best shots of the obsession-worthy scenery, ice-cream-based desserts with random garlic... and for the rest, let's get on with the pics. 

Czech crystal. I think? I know Czech crystal is famous but I confess that I never totally figured out what it is. 

Lins and Joel surprised me with this adorable marzipan pig. It was extra-special because I remembered my mom telling me a strikingly similar story of her friends surprising her with a Marzipan pig on her birthday during a trip to Provence. I was so tickled by the coincidence- until mom told me that none of that ever happened. So one or both of the mother-daughter team are a little loopy. Or forgetful. Or both. So no surprises there. Good thing this one's been documented. You see it, right? Right?!
The Golem... he's the robot-monster of Jewish lore you definitely want on your side. I like that he's brought to life by a word  (usually one of the names of God, or truth) that I think in this case is inscribed in the middle of his forehead.
This was during our spook-tastic ghost walk, which turned out to a personal tour for the three of us. (In other news, sorry about the underlining, its a random blogger bug. )
We sat down here and our guide Carmilla proceeded to tell us of Ulrich, the over-zealous ghost whisperer who was murdered in this very alley by a horde of spirits who'd been inconvenienced by his conjurings over the years. 

We'd been such a good audience for her tales that Carmilla brought us through a series of courtyards and passageways to her local watering hole. As you can see, it was single-naked-bulb authentic. 

The night wore on, and I was confronted with that question every traveller must someday face while drinking in exotic locales: Should I try the flaming absinthe? But- Did You Know That- the flame is actually involved to make the whole experience less hardcore? While absinthe isn't made with wormwood anymore, it is 80 proof, which for someone like me means it might as well be. So, you burn some of it off to make for a refreshing anise-flavoured nightcap. Now You Know!

Flame in spoon
Flame in glass
The ossuary of Kutna Hora. It was OK I guess, but there wasn't really enough crazy bone furnishing for my taste. 

For future reference, this isn't how I would prefer to be immortalized. 

Cesky Krumlov
This must have been that time we ran into a hookah-smoking caterpillar and Lins ate some of his mushroom. Oh, she was bumping her head and out-growing rooms all day. Good times. 
This is what my old Oxford Street band apartment looks like now that I'm not around to take care of it. 

It looks like I was using a fish-eye lens. Seussian. 

Bike Beauty

Cruisin' the Vltava

Sometimes it's the simple things.. Paddle-boating is so cheap and easy to do, but this time the view was so stunning and the ride so relaxing that it was way more memorable than many of the pricier things we did. 
Lins of Arabia

Frieburg, Berlin

Frieburg & Berlin

We were once again greeted by a familiar smiling face when we landed in Frieburg, a small city in the midst of the Black Forest. Frieburg is an ideal university town, not too big or small, fun night life (hillside beer garden= smart), arts, and hiking/greenspace within bike's reach. Some gorgeous walks, girls' nights in, an apartment move and a birthday later we drifted on to Anita's hometown, where her parents have lived for many decades. Unfortunately its long name is lost to my memory banks -please feel free to send a comment and correct the situation, Anita. However, I haven't and won't forget a lovely community, fields webbed with bike paths* and the elegant backdrop of huge white silent windmills always spinning in the background. As Anita's dad is fond of mentioning, the Champs Elysee's got nothing on it.
I think we've both been impressed with the planning in all the towns we saw in Germany... Generally the feel is of cleanliness, openness, plenty of greenspace, a focus on walk/bikeability... everything seemed geared towards sensible ways of making you and your movement comfortable. We have a lot to learn, Pickering.
And- oh yes- we experienced the legendary three-cake-a-day hospitality that my brother Dan (Den, to the Schneiders) has always raved over. Anita made sure we never went for too long at any point without a break for beer and incredible baked goods and cheeses, and Anita's mom's drool-inspiring hearty home-cooked meals couldn't have contrasted more with our usual slap-dash hostel fare. Of course, she would always respond to compliments with "Bah!", in what I'm told is typical German fashion. Other cuteness highlights include Anita's mom demonstrating how "Yo." is a common German greeting, and Anita's dad telling us stories (somehow with great success) in full-fledged German, insisting that our German was perfect.
Exercise, great food, beauty, warm welcome... am I raving yet? Maybe I should mention that as I'm writing this in a net cafe in London at around 8:15 local time the night before we head home and...
-We were in Galway yesterday, planning to travel to London today, and realized suddenly-under circumstances I'm willing to relate to you only after I've gotten home and had a long bath- that we needed to catch an overnight bus-ferry-bus trip to London... and we needed to catch it in an hour and a half if we wanted to get to the London airport on time for our flight tomorrow. Oh good.
- Then when we arrived here in that numb speechless state of exhaustion where you can only respond to more annoying news by staring dumbly and just hoping things will somehow resolves themselves on their own, there was a good 45 minutes of wandering with our huge packs tugging at our travel-sore backs to find the internet to find our hostel details followed by- no joke- two hours waiting and wandering in the rain and heaving rat race of a London crowd trying feebly to catch the confusing busses being mobbed by people on account of the Tube strike.
So if I wax a little sentimental about leisurely bike-rides with Anita through bright idyllic landscapes and otherworldly cakes, you'll understand! Anyhoo, on with the pics, and please do stand by for the rest of our blog... Because even though you can call us up and ask, how much more fun is it to have seen all the pics and stories online and ask about what you're into than to wait for our sieve-like memories to dredge up something interesting from our whole big trip? We won't be long, dear followers!
*Feel free to read on if you're in the mood for a mini rant: Why oh why don't we do that?! If we were to run some decent bike paths through Seaton and the Agricultural Preserve in Pickering, maybe the Pickering residents could actually use and see those spaces instead of the 5-minute blur of green on their 80k/hr way to somewhere else. I think such a simple physical change could make a big psychological impact and change the numbers and force of the argument against paving them over...Erg.
See? Smart.
Lots of nice rivers for a barefoot pondering of the big questions. Or at least pondering why that strange girl is taking your picture.

Anita's birthday goodies.

A beer with a view.

Train ride to incredible Black Forest hike. Lins and I agreed, it was an official Trip Highlight. Stamped and sealed.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I noticed that our little picnic guests were honest to goodness Wood Ants! Aren't you excited? This is my favourite kind of ant. I had no idea I'd be visiting their native lands. Unfortunately I didn't find one of their big forest mound nests, but still. The scene below is actually a bit of a tragic drama- the one ant's abdomen was smashed into the rocks and she's flailing to get up, and her nest sisters are trying to help her out, but there's no hope of it unless German ants happen to have evolved complex surgical methods. Wipe that look off your face... when you have your own blog you can rant on about your boring interests, but until then you just have to deal.
Black forest cake, designed to replace any calories you might have misplaced during your Black Forest hike.
A jolly bunch of what I take to be religious figures? On a related note, Germany is so beer-oriented that not only are you allowed alcohol for lent, but the Black Forest monks have a special seasonal brew for the occasion. I tried it- holy yum!
Ok, 10 minutes left in the net cafe, and I forgot to mention almost ANYTHING about Berlin. If you're curious, check back soon and I'm sure Lins will have thoroughly amended the situation, it being her fave city. Below... a random concert I wandered into... Boss Hoss?
Poignant pic of Checkpoint Charlie
We took an "alternative walking tour", read graffiti tour. T'was cool, for the most part.
Although we sympathized with this classic artist-commune about to be torn down for re-development, we didn't approve of the decor. The smothered in messy graffiti thing again, really? Still? It's just so homogenous looking- the same from room to room, country to country even.
Wow. A vending machine for the most evilly marketed, utterly-submissive-posing-as-rebellious, public-health-nightmare-for-no-reason corporate product...covered in The People's graffiti. Cynicism meter overloading- can't stop spewing dashed adjectives- cough, pretensious-payola-garbage, hack. Don't be offended my smoky friends... I just want you to live. I'll admit that perhaps my London mood may be kind of "shining" through in this post, but still. Point made.
Free store? Bonus! Erg, on second thought...
Lins in the Kensington Market of Berlin, Kreuzberg. The Kensington Market of Toronto of Berlin, to be more precise.
Yes, this is as crazy nice as it looks.