January 21, 2004

It's Prague, it's Prague, it's big, it's heavy, it's wood...

...it's Prague, it's Prague, it's better than bad, it's good!

We're actually back in Vienna right now. (Ahem...more on how that happened later.) As is typical, I'm really behind on what we've been up to, so here's another long entry to read!

Toli's last entry covered our general activity in Budapest, so I'll skip over that and fill in any details later.

After Budapest, we headed for Prague with a quick one-night stop in Vienna to catch the Blumenball ("Flowerball") that takes place at the Vienna City Hall. I think we were a little too ambitious trying to fit squeeze that in as we were pretty rushed getting everything together (finding a hotel for just one night in Vienna, arranging transport to Prague the next morning, etc.) That, plus the weeks of constant travel were starting to wear us down, and we spent much of the evening being snippity with one another and then lounging on the stairs trying to sort out the lines of communication. Still, it was an especially beautiful ball, and in my starry-eyed way of seeing things, it's much more romantic to have a lover's quarrel in a flower-filled ballroom (dressed in an evening gown and tuxedo no less) than anywhere else.

We managed to kiss and make up and soothe one another's egos by the time we got to Prague the next morning and were able to thoroughly enjoy the next few days together with Toli's friend Myrto. She had the brilliant idea of renting out a two-bedroom apartment during our stay in Prague, which really made the whole experience much more homey and relaxing. The flat came with a kitchen and some bare cooking tools, and anyone who knows Myrto knows that she has a special touch when it comes to food, so we were all soon in a drowsy state of sated happiness.

After a long nap, we did a Prague-by-night walk and then explored more of the city the next morning. Prague is a beautiful jewel-of-a-city, with noteworthy architecture and a thriving old town area. I had been to Prague back in 1997, though, and for me, it was disappointing to see how tourist-oriented the city had become. Back in the day, Prague was a backpacker's mecca, where everything from hotel rooms to restaurants was easily affordable (especially on a student budget) and the city seemed relatively untouched.

Nowadays, it's still relatively inexpensive compared to Western Europe - but not always. (For example, the two Internet cafes that we've used in Vienna are surprisingly cheaper than the ones in Prague.) Every shop in the old town, it seems, is tourist-oriented, and they find ways to charge for everything, from using the public toilets to looking inside a local church. This is understandable - they've caught up with the supply and demand cycle of tourism.

What's disconcerting, though, is the number of chain stores and sex shops that have popped up. Prague has at least four McDonald's, a Marks and Spencer, as well as the Hermes and Louis Vuitton stores that usually are the mark of an upscale Western European city. I guess this is all a part of the city's growth, but the whole appeal of going to Prague in the first place was for something less...westernized?

Still, none of this negates the fact that Prague is a charmingly beautiful city, and we definitely enjoyed ourselves with Myrto. We walked through the town at least half a dozen times, saw the castle area, enjoyed several homecooked meals, enjoyed several meals out, and we also saw two shows. One was a marionette performance of "Don Giovanni" that would probably make my opera-loving in-laws cry "blasphemy!" The other, a black-light theater performance called "Cats in Prague". I'm going to have to let Toli describe that to you, as the words fail to describe my impression of the musical. It was well worth the money, but for reasons different than you would assume.

But, good things come to an end, and Myrto (and her cooking talents) had to go back to Athens. It was in our plan to head for Krakow and Warsaw to see Poland before heading to Berlin, but Toli and I decided that we were too tired to try to squeeze in another country in the three days. Especially one as cold and snowy as Poland.

We pulled out the guidebook and the debate began. Should we spend a few quiet days in a small Czech town like Cesky Krumlov or Karlovy Vary? Should we head for Dresden or Leipzig to see eastern Germany? (It actually occured to us to post these options as an online survey and have you all vote to decide where we go next, but we didn't have the time for that unfortunately.) Then, Toli came up with the suggestion of coming back for Vienna to do, for the third time, another Viennese ball.

Was this really my Toli suggesting *another* Viennese ball? I had to make sure that he realized he'd have to wear a tux yet again. But he made the very good point that we're not going to be in this area of the world during ball season any time in the foreseeable future, so we might as well.

Still, I was unconvinced, and we finally decided that we'd just take the bus into Berlin and arrive a few days early to relax and have more time to explore the city. We didn't know when the bus would leave for Germany, but we figured we'd set the alarm bright and early and get to the bus station to catch the bus to Berlin.

So this morning, we were both up before 6:30am. We had a quick breakfast and packed up and left for the bus station. And then found out that the bus had already left. Just 20 minutes before. And it was the only bus for the day. But...we were in time for the bus to Vienna. So the debate began anew - go to the train station and take the train instead to Berlin. Or go back to Vienna. In the end, we just couldn't decide, and it was a Czech krony coin that decided our fate. Crown-side up to Vienna, animal-side up to Berlin. We tossed it once. Then another time. Both times - Vienna.

So here we are!!! Now the big debate is whether or not we're going to try the Viennese ball a third time. What do you think?

Posted by Christine at January 21, 2004 09:26 AM