Well, whadya expect?

Czech Republic

A Step Away From the Crowd

Olomouc, Czech Republic

October 4, 2007

Olomouc for you and me…but not for the tourists. Yes…that’s right kiddies…i managed to avoid the camera-happy, fanny-pack wearing, hotel-staying tourists! And remember i am surely not a tourist…traveller fits much better. ahh yes…there is a difference indeed. and one certain difference between a traveller and tourist is the uncertainty of our journey…able to change at a moments notice…that’s the excitement in it! where am i going tomorrow?  hmm…let’s see what sounds good from these guys sittin next to me at the bar. very cool to wake up and think…where shall the world take me today? so it just happened that in my hostel in Vienna a hanging newspaper article caught my eye simply because it was from the Los Angeles times. the woman who owned the hostel saw me and began raving about this small town in the Czech republic and how it hadn’t been “discovered” yet. i sadly explained i had just come from Czech and regretted not hearing about it before. but the more i chatted with people and thought it over…i thought…well why not! so the next morning i completely changed my plans, called up the hostel to make sure there was a bed, and hopped on the next train to Olomouc on a sudden instinct and smiling recommendation!

Town center...remember when places used to have a center? that you can walk to...beautiful

I journeyed by various trains weaving through untouched countryside, farmland and tiny towns that both intrigued and intimidated me had i suddenly been asked to get off the train there. only through broken english and hand motions did i hope i was on the right train. and let me tell you that although a ticket will say 2 transfers apparently this means 3 transfers! after going on a main train line i had to hop onto a local train in czech. it stopped about every 5 minutes for over an hour…and it let you know it was stopping…the screeching, literally ear-piercing hault it came to was brain numbing. haha…it was so bad that even though i knew that wretched sound was approaching i couldn’t help but curse under my breath and try to conspicously cover my ears trying not to look like too much of a foreigner.

so i’m not quite sure when my stop will come so i’m practically leaping out of my seat each time the train starts to slow just in case i have to make a run for it (i don’t know why i even tried to look normal…) turns out that the train came to it’s last stop…i guess i didn’t notice that EVERYONE but me had left the train and i’m just sitting there patiently wating. the conductor comes on and is rattling on in czech. but he was very helpful and pointed me in the right direction…which was off this train and onto another! haha…the end of the line and i’m takin out my book thinking it’s another long stop. haha. so enough about the journey…i did make it to my cozy little hostel in Olomouc and was happy to be in a warm, friendly, english-speaking home. and that’s literally what this hostel was…someone’s flat converted into a hostel. loved it there. and before i go any further may i point out this city is pronouced Olomoots (natural mistake…don’t worry about your previous mispronounciations).

walkin round the Botanical Gardens...most of the stuff was dead but still a nice wander

So perhaps i shall talk about my actual time there! long intro…sorry bout that. well actually it fits because this town was not so much about “doing everything!” but instead was a place to walk around, hang out at local pubs and take in the small city. it’s a college town and fills with tons of young students. and beautiful like so many of the places i’ve visited. the architecture…when you take the time to look up above the modern stores you realize the sheer work and art that went into all of these buildings…sculptures above every doorway and window. there was also a great park where you could see the remains of the city walls that used to surround Olomouc. and there were definitely things to sightsee all around. An amazing Trinity Tower in the center of town, churches, modern art museum, old palace where Mozart once stayed recovering of sickness when he was only 8! he wrote a thank-you symphony in return for the hospitality…what a nice little boy he was! and thank you to that doctor that helped him recover!

artwork all part of the astrological clock in the town center...yep...another one!

But my timing couldn’t have been better. I arrived right in the middle of a poetry/art festival happening throughout the town. the first night i went to a bizzarre puppett show in a bar of all places. i really can’t even describe it…so weird…wish i could have understood…probably would have helped….it only seemed like half the people were paying attention anyway. also went to a drunken poetry reading from some guy that is apparently a big deal as he managed a band that was banned during the communist era…but that continued to play and make political statements in the underground. The Czechs are also big on their ice hockey!! and i was able to see two games while i was there…the rink was practically right next to the hostel! was great to watch…the fans there are nuts…drumming…chanting…yelling…the ENTIRE game. man…really made me miss playing…wanted to get out there so bad.

hockey game!

because this place is a bit off the beaten path i met some really interesting travellers and just enjoyed the ability to chill out in a great little university town. no tourists…you know you’re in a good place when the only place to buy postcards is in the city information office and all the stores close on sat. at noon and always on sunday…or maybe if the owner decides not to come in that day. had some great time at small little bars, meeting locals, eating fried cheese and potatoes (and if you’re wondering…yes…it is just a piece of cheese, battered and fried…this is why they need lots of beer!! ha). And i did find a vegetarian restaurant here…who thought i’d ever be eating veggie meat in the czech republic?? I also love the tea houses they have hear…just a place to chill, read, write, chat, maybe smoke a shisha pipe and sample one or two of about a hundred teas. People were saying you kind of get sucked into Olomouc…and i can attest to this as i had only planned on 3 nights and ended up staying 6. luckily my stay did pay off as i got to see a ska show by a band a girl in Prague had recommended! awesome! skanked (this is a ska dance for those not in the know) the night away and then played foosball (they love it here!) with some locals for about an hour. just a fun place with a great atmosphere.

when i did decide to hop onto a new place it was tough to leave and no one in the hostel believed i could do it. again…oh a whim i decided on a tiny place recommended by Greg, one of the hostel owners, after i explained i wanted a completely untouristed little farm town. and as i said goodbye to my friendly Australian hosts who moved there 5 years ago to open this hostel, i realized the amazing life of a traveller and smiled as i embarked on another adventure into an unheard of place filled with awaiting opportunities.



Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

September 25, 2007

there's a reason the tourists flock

From Prague I headed to a smaller destination still within the Czech Republic, Český Krumlov. I really had no idea what to expect but had heard good things. When i arrived at the hostel i knew i was going to like this place…it was literally  a two-story cabin of sorts in the middle of a quaint, quiet town that really sent me back in the past a few hundred years plus some. one big city after another gets tiresome after awhile…that’s not to say the big cities are not interesting and welcoming in their own right…but…you just need to break them up. i’ve definitely found this along my trip and often end up staying longer than planned in the small towns where you can walk the entire place, see all the sights, try all the “hot spots” with ease and not feel overwhelmed. i love being able to go out at night and know i’ll never be more than a 10-15 minute leisurely walk home to my cozy hostel.

winding cobblestones. notice the Budvar sign on the left...the real Budweiser!

these buildings are painted to look like stone! apparently a 16th century trend

While in Krumlov i took full advantage of the ability to walk all day long just allowing myself to disappear in the twisting, turning, cobblestone alleyways and tiny shops, bars, cafes and homes. in another incredible turn of events…there was a vegetarian restaurant in this town!! sitting right on the river i sat outside with a couple of friends and ate some delicious traditional czech food which must always contain something fried and potatoes. a staple is fried cheese. yes…i had the same reaction when i first heard those two words uttered together…especially when i knew this would make up the main part of my dish…but…it is amazing! and for dessert…blueberry dumplings with yogurt and honey, which really was an entire meal in itself. sooo good. as you may have guessed i happily returned to this restaurant.

view of the castle grounds...cool bridge eh?


oh hello ther

The town has an incredible castle dating back to the 14th century and has one of only two original baroque theatres left in Europe. i mean…if i had a palace i think i’d ask for an attached theatre.  Knew i had to take the tour…no question…i was not disappointed…it was incredible! i walked in and my jaw dropped…i had only seen this in a texbook before! only lit by candles i could hardly make out the stage until my eyes adjusted. and everything in there was original…we sat on the benches (the audience seating) while listening to the guide. it was eerily fascinating. we also got to go below the stage to look at the mechanics they used for changing the scenery facades…so cool. wish i could have taken pictures for ya! the grounds of the castle were beautiful as was the view from the top of the hill it sits on looking down into the town center.

castle gardens

The town sits in the middle of rolling green hills and a winding river. there were opportunities to go rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking etc. i was all up to do all of these of course but it rained a couple of days which made me think twice. a group of kids decided to test the weather conditions and go rafting…i though…ahh what the heck…could be fun…so i suit up with the most waterproof outfit i could find without sacrificing some sort of warmth (which means bathing suit and a beanie…basically). i walked half way there, saw the looming dark clouds and my mind started battling itself…rational decision or risky adventure? then it started raining…a very cold rain…and i thought…what am i doing! anyway…decided to make it a readin’ relaxin’ day. those kids came back literally frozen…hahaha. sooo glad i didn’t go.

i have a thing for dilapidated buildings

unfortunately the word has gotten out about the awesomeness that is cesky krumlov and many tourists descend upon the town by busload every day. but if you avoid them, the place is still well worth it. i actually ended up staying longer than expected and had the pleasure of experiencing the towns cultural festival happening that weekend. it was great! everyday i’d go into town and feast on many a greazy treat. potato pancakes, cabbage pancakes (so much better than it sounds!) and this dessert roll thing that is just incredible…and all accompanied by czech folk music and one day there were children dancing in traditional costumes! haha  some of the music was great though…i have some new stuff to check out online when i get home for sure. rockin out in krumlov, eatin local food, drinkin local wine…can’t get any better. so glad i decided to stay.  and another good reason i decided to stay…i had an appointment with a horse the next day, that’s right!

Horseback riding in Czech: I definitely need to start a new paragraph for this one…oh yes. Even the walk up to the ranch was well worth it because the countryside of the Czech Republic is just breathtaking. few minutes out of town and wonderful views. But let me tell you…do not tell a Czech person you know how to horseback ride unless you really know how to horseback ride…hahaha. ohhh man. so here we go… the lady says “you’ve ridden before yes?…we trot and canter??” and i say “oh well…i have but it’s been awhile ya know…uh…ya…i don’t think…” and we’re off! grab a helmet, hop on…here we go. once i got up on my horse and i realize how much i don’t remember…let me tell you it’s not quite like riding a bike kids. and this horse surely feels my anxiety and lack of confidence. struggling just to keep my balance i realize this is going to be interesting, especially considering it’s me and two “guides” who work the ranch and are probably happy to have someone who “knows how to ride” so they can do more than walk the trails for an hour.

at least it was a glorious day to be out and about, even if the horse had a death wish for me (damn tourists)

After 10 minutes we hit an open field and she turns around and says “ok…we trot” then just takes off…my horse of course follows and i am literally bopping all over the place…again the realization of “hoooly crap..i do not know what i’m doing!” i start reciting the “just don’t die” song. and THEN…my horse decides it wants to go faster! i am clinging on for dear life at this point. there is really no attempt at technique…i’m just clinging to the horse. mind you i’m behind the guides so they have no idea whats going on…not that it would make much of a difference as i discovered. i go flying by them yelling “wooh.wooooh” but of course the horse doesn’t know english! finally i stop and  go “what just happened!!” she says “oh…that was canter…you just stand when that happens, ya?” ohhh jeez. right…just stand…of course!! so easy when you put it that way. didn’t she see my heart pounding out of my chest and the look of terror on my face??! apparently not. i quickly state again “it’s been a really long time”…her response: “oh…it doesn’t matter”.

we continue to walk along and again… the next open field she turns and says…ok…this time we’ll trot, and then canter. i wanted to scream out…”wait…that’s what just almost killed me!” but we’re off again. it actually was a blast…you really feel like you’re flying. i was half in a state of euphoria, half in a state of panic. all rational thought is gone…at this point my only focus is staying on the horse…i’m sure it was comical. i just love that at home i took lessons and it wasn’t until about the 3rd or 4th lesson that we did any cantering…and that was in a ring, fully supervised. here…we just went! haha…guess it’s the better way to learn…just throw you right into it. and i did manage to stay on…even later when my horse got spooked and took off faster than i’ve ever gone. it was an interesting ride. but beautiful.  hahaha. when my face wasn’t frozen in a concentrated panic i was marveling at the countryside, which was quite nice.

Czech Marks the Spot (X is overrated)

Prague, Czech Republic

September 22, 2007

In its heyday Prague was the central place for brilliant talents of all sorts. The city still maintains much of its beauty amidst the swarms of tourists who cannot help but want to frequent a place still so alive with music and theatre.  All i could think of while walking down the street was the past…and how to imagine myself there now: walking along the cobblestone…and only cobblestone. Not gasping for fresh air amongst the exhaust but gasping amongst the fresh horses manure instead (improvement?). Look up, away from the traffic, vehicles and pedestrian tourists alike, and you are in another world. Again…the baroque architecture just gets me everytime….can’t help but grab my camera. I’m seriously going to have 100s of pictures of the middles of buildings that look untouched from 200 years ago. Can’t wait to sort through those…

looking out to the old town in Prague

loving that ol' baroque archictural texture

But yes as usual i’m writing about 2 weeks behind and desperately trying to search my brain for what seemed so long ago. When you’re traveling it’s amazing how quickly time goes by and you’ve had about 20 more great experiences and 50 more stories to tell. hard to remember all the funny, in-the-moment details you hope to tell later in some lame blog. Lets see how i do. First day we arrived a bit later than expected because our bus driver couldn’t find his passport at the border of Germany and the Czech republic. yes…our bus driver!! on the bus they must have told us 10 times…remember to have your passport ready, in hand, open the curtains, sit-up straight, smile nicely and hand it over to the angry looking passport-taker man. so we’re all tensely awaiting his arrival, militarily perfect in our passport handing….then…i suddenly over here the bus driver say “oh…so you want me to get my passport then” i thought…no…he must just be joking. apparently not. after searching through his stuff, going under the bus into his luggage…still no passport. they basically escorted him somewhere to purchase a new temporary passport. who knew this was even possible?? and i’m still questioning how our bus driver who has knowingly crossed this border many many times not have his passport with him!! and seem so casual about it!! so we’re standing on the border, a beautiful sunny day…maybe we should have just run for it. ahh well.

Stavovske Divadlo - Theatre of Estates...oldest theatre in Prague where Don Giovanni premiered...conducted by Mozart! so cool, so cool

Anyway…that day was out of the question for seeing the city but at night a cool kiwi dude i met at the hostel and i headed to a club to see a ska show i found out about…it was great!! the bar is insane and is made up completely of car parts (use your imagination cause i really can’t describe it…) moving and spinning and basically just looking cool. car seats and everything…it was a maze in there…everyime we thought we had seen the whole place, we found another level or passageway. the show was great, some sort of ska/jazz genre. loved it…skanked around and just had a really fun time. also enjoyed the very cheaply priced czech beer!! also got to chatting with some czech girls exchanging cool band info. and i now have two new facebook friends…what a small world it is indeed. my jaw dropped when she said “so…myspace, facebook??” haha.

astronomical clock tower in the center of old town

Another incredible experience came 2 days later. I had walked all over the city by this time marveling at the architecture and the great vibrancy of the city. More importantly i saw an amazing theatre where Mozart was playing. well…his music anyway…Prague doesn’t have that kind of pull. Was tempted to go…it was pretty expensive, but i was convinced after my guided walking tour, where the guide explained that it was this theatre where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni. ok…i was convinced…i really didn’t care how much it cost at this point. So it turns out that instead of just Mozart highlights, i would get to see a full opera, The Magic Flute, and it only cost me 30k…the equivalent? about $1. amazing. i couldn’t believe it…i kept saying “are you sure…do i have a pole in front of me?? do i have to clean the bathrooms after the show?? 30k??! anyway…seat was great…show was incredible…the theatre itself…oh man…i was grinning the entire time. i just couldn’t believe it…gave me chills. i think i was sitting on the edge of the seat the entire show…just rocking out. people around me were probably quite confused…especially considering i looked like some ruffian punk kid off the street…which…well…i basically was. mozart wouldn’t have minded. and let me tell you…i don’t think anyone in there enjoyed it as much as i did. “pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pageno!!”

enjoying meeself in the city!