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Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

But mine especially are worth a billion.

Just kidding, I'm so not a photographer. I figured that my photos were better eye candy than absolutely nothing, though, so here are Prague photos!

One of my favorite places to visit was Charles Bridge. It was a pedestrian bridge with a lot of little booths set up where folks would sell homemade crafts such as paintings, hair ornaments, ceramic flutes, etc. There were also musicians who would play on the bridge. The above picture features The Bridge Band, and they were there every time I went on Charles Bridge, and I went on it at least twice a day. The top two photos just picture Charles Bridge from different points on the bridge.

These pictures are all of Lennon Wall. Even though The Beatles never played in the Czech Republic, it was a wall where people would write Lennon-inspired thoughts, or that's how it started in the 1980s. Apparently, people came here to write grievances, much to the annoyance of the communist officials. The original start of the graffiti has been painted over ages ago, but it's still cool since it's a living mural. While I was taking pictures, a girl actually mentioned how it had been completely different the week before. (I think she said all the white graffiti hadn't been there). 

Here's my contribution to Lennon Wall! "Chandrie Cook 07/11/11, I'm low-fat and boylicious!"
5 pounds to the first person to accurately describe the meaning of that quote.

Speaking of graffiti, here is another, less pleasing example of graffiti! My goodness, the whole city was covered in graffiti. It's quite a shame, to be honest. Prague would be a gorgeous city if it weren't for the graffiti and pot-smokers. It's funny, for a city where I couldn't find many English-speakers, a lot of businesses and graffiti are in English.

The city is quite artful, though. You can find statues, memorials, and orchestral concert advertisements all over the place. The above is an example of the many memorials, and the one that stuck out the most in my mind. It's a memorial to the victims of communism and totalitarian despotism. The hill that this particular memorial descends down actually leads up to my next few pictures:

The first picture is a picture of Petrin Tower. Holy cow, that was one massive hill I had to climb to get up there. It was ridiculous! They actually had a cable car going up and down the hill. I was too cheap to take it, though. Plus it was a nice walk. Anyway, I got to the top of the hill, found my way to Petrin Tower, and then proceeded to the top where I took the other pictures. The first picture from Petrin Tower features Prague Castle and the others are just random shots. It was a beautiful view.

This map was the only map displayed in order for visitors and tourists to find their way to the top of Petrin Hill to get to Petrin Tower. It was all in Czech, absolutely no help to me at all.

So another place I went to visit was Prague Castle. It's not really a castle, but more of a small town. This picture is of the chapel within the gated castle.

This is just a picture of the gates to enter Prague Castle. 

This is a picture of a gargoyle hanging out on the chapel at Prague Castle. I just liked how it was sticking its tongue out. How cheeky!

This is Prague Castle at night. I was walking back to my hostel at the end of a long day, and was struck by the beauty of the castle at night, so I had to take a picture. It looks much better in person. Haha.

Right, so, to get to Prague Castle, you have to climb a massive hill. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Everything in Prague is on top of some hill or another. Anyway, there were a lot of stairs.

I absolutely love this restaurant at Prague Castle. No, I didn't eat there, but I really loved how they have "Since 1360" over the door. Where in America would you come across that with a chance of it being true?

Ok, these pictures are just shots of the buildings. My first impression of Prague was that it was the ugliest city I had ever seen. Graffiti, pot, and now multi-colored pastel buildings? Gross. The more I saw it, though, the more I appreciated it. It really adds to the eclectic atmosphere of the city, and they are really old buildings. By the end I found the buildings to be quite beautiful.

For such a sinful city (just kidding), it has a really strong religious background. Everywhere you go you're bombarded with churches, synagogues (as seen above, with the blue gates), statues of religious figures, etc. I'm really not used to this at all. In America, everyone's suddenly taking offense to anything Christian, and in the U.K. there's not a very strong religious presence. Yes, there is one, but not nearly as prevalent as in Prague. I found the contrast to be really amazing. In America, most people have some sort of religious belief, especially in the Bible Belt (south), but there isn't a strong obvious presence if you were just walking down the street other than the church buildings. In Prague, it didn't seem to be a city where most people affiliated with a church and attended regularly, yet there's a religious presence everywhere you go. The second to last picture above, with the cross, is actually right in front of a hotel.

Speaking of America, Ron Paul anyone? American politics are discussed everywhere.

One of the things I did in Prague was a ghost tour in Old Town. It was alright (I went on a much better on with my family in San Francisco), but one thing the guy did that was pretty cool was had us take pictures in order to find orbs. According to him, all the spots are orbs. I find this conclusion to be dubious.

I also went to the Museum of Medieval Torture. It was awesome. Totally grotesque, but very interesting! Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the museum. In Prague, you either couldn't take a picture inside of these tourist places or you had to pay for a photography license/photography fee. Ridiculous, right?

I am obsessed with World War II, so of course I had to go to the Jewish Quarters. It was dead depressing, needless to say. One of the synagogues I went into had a memorial sort of thing set up for the children who died in concentration camps. You never think about what the children when through when you learn about the war, just the hard facts, but it shouldn't be forgotten or overlooked. That was probably the saddest place I went, learning about the child victims. The Jewish Cemetery (seen above) was the most interesting cemetery I've seen so far (confession, I love cemeteries). Living in the ghetto, space was limited, so once the cemetery was full, graves were placed on top of each other with only a few centimetres of dirt in between. This led to the placing of gravestones so crammed together. Technically pictures weren't allowed in the cemetery, but I was already paying so much money to get to Prague and explore that I didn't care.

Here are the last three photos to share for this blog entry. The top one is of the Church of Our Lady Victory, the second one is Old Town Hall, and this last one is just a street view. I did take more photos, but these were the best, in my opinion. If y'all want more pictures, just let me know. I don't mind posting more!

Right, well, that's my update on Prague! My conclusion? Great to visit, wouldn't want to live there, and I don't really want to go back either. I did love seeing a new place, and traveling on my own was a class experience, but there's more to see in the world! I would never trade this experience for anything in the world, though. Traveling on your own really helps you build character and courage. It's a scary thing at first, but then once you get the hang of it the whole experience is the best. It also helps you build problem solving skills... like trying to figure out how to get your train when you don't speak a word of Czech. Haha. 

Back in Wales, nothing too exciting is happening. Just loving life! I'm heading into week 10 of classes, which means only 3 weeks left until Christmas Break. Not going to lie, I'm really excited to go home for Christmas. I love it here, but I'm ready for a break from studies and to see my family. I also have some pretty big news if all goes according to plan... so stay tuned! I should know in the next week if my big plans are going to fail or succeed. Pray that they succeed! Haha.

Well, I'm exhausted. Friday night I had a mock Thanksgiving dinner with my English friends over in Prestatyn. It was a lot of fun! One thing that sucked was I couldn't find any pumpkin anywhere, so no pumpkin pie. That was a bit depressing. I did get to make sweet potatoes, though! We had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, veggies, rolls, bannoffee pie, umm... gravy, and potatoes. I think that's it. Either way, it was the best. I love my English friends! They're amazing. Saturday I hung out with them all day as well, and we went to the Fun Centre in Caernarfon. Oh man, that was insane. I'm all bruised and battered! It really hurts to sit down. Haha. Great fun, though. They had these massive slides, a ball pit, and just this huge jungle gym, I guess is the best way to describe it. It was class.

Alright, I'm going to head out now. Hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving! Nos da!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Aha? Praha!

Bore da, ladies and gents! I am currently sitting in the Brno Airport... in front of security... waiting for the staff to get here so I can drop off my bag and sit in the terminal. That's right, I'm pretty much the only one here. And it's 13:39. To be fair, my flight doesn't take off until 19:05. I can't help it, when so many things can go wrong, I worry about missing a train, bus, etc. and give myself way too much time.

Way too much time.

But hey, the benefits? I'm warm, I can update my blog (not going to lie, I've got so much to say that I've been procrastinating it!), and I can defeat Spider Solitaire. With two different suits. Hey hey!

Alrighty, so my last week has been amazing!

Last Friday (04/11/11) I went to Alton Towers with a group of friends from church. It was loads of fun hanging out with mah peers, but readers beware, I have a pansy for a stomach. Now, the amusement parks I'm accustomed to are as follows: Six Flags Over Texas (Arlington!), Sea World (San Antonio), Disney Land, and then the Lagoon in Utah. I'm not the type of girl who does the crap spinning you around; my stomach's too weak for that, I guess. I do, however, thrive off of the roller coasters. The Titan at 6 Flags is pretty much the most amazing thing in the world. I would ride that sucker all day if given the chance. Alton Towers is nothing like Six Flags, though. I swear, all the rides were designed to make you vomit. Twisting, turning, they're not that steep or that fast... the biggest drop I encountered was on The Oblivion, and it pales in comparison to The Titan. Well, ignoring my weak stomach and desperate for some adrenaline, I went on a few rides even though they are all about twisting you about. They're the type of rides where you're strapped into a car seat and your feet dangle. Then they take you out, spin you upside down, do some cork screws, ughhh. I felt like I was going to throw up after two goes, but pushed my luck and went on a third ride. That did me in; I seriously thought I was going to vomit all over the place, and I'm not one who ever gets to the point where the vomit actually comes out. So... for the rest of the day, I hung out with one of my friends, Sarah, who wasn't too keen on the rides, either. I did go on Oblivion later on in the day, but that's it. It was great getting to hang out with Sarah and the others, though, so not regrets! Oh, I was stupid and I did do the log flume and the river rapids. Holy fetch, I was so bloody cold after the log flume. I thought I was going to die. Unfortunately for me, the main purpose in us going was the view the fireworks show (awesome!) at 19:30, and we had gone on the log flume around 15:00. I was constantly hiding in the shops, absorbing the heat. Yeah, I'm a wiener.

Alton Towers = fantastic. I think I got back to my dorm around 1am, and then I had to be up at 7:30 for...

That was pretty much the highlight of my weekend. I had get up so I could do laundry and get everything in order before meeting Susie at 11:30 to catch a train to Manchester. Right after the concert I was catching a bus to Stansted airport so I could head to Prague, so laundry was do or die.

Alright, so up, showered, laundry, packed, and met up with Susie. I had been a real idiot earlier that week and bought too many groceries... so I had granola bars and peanut butter sandwiches to get me through my travels. It worked! So Susie and I caught the train and got into Manchester about 15:00, I think. When we arrived Susie took me to this Sushi place that she liked. I was a bit hesitant, because the last time I'd had sushi was in Fort Worth when I was about 17 (I'm 20 now), and I had thought it was absolutely appalling. I was keen for an adventure, though, so I gave it a shot!

Thank goodness I did.

I officially love sushi. I don't know what happened during the last three years, but sushi is amazing. Thank you, Susie!

After sushi, Susie and I headed to Academy 2, the venue where Flogging Molly was going to be performed. We were about 3 hours early... the concert doors didn't open until 19:30, and we'd gotten there about 16:00. Yeah, I'm an early bird.

What to do? Susie and I hung around the main floor a bit (turns out the venue was inside a sort of student's union for the university), and made friends with the roadie. He was a great guy, and absolutely hilarious! We had a bit of a conversation about California vs Texas (he was from LA, gross) and just chilled with him. He called me Texas the whole time, it really cracked me up. While chilling with the roadie we met the band manager and another roadie who happened to be from (drum roll, please) TEXAS! Heck yes! At about 18:30 security started pushing people who came inside back outside to stand in a queue, but since Susie and I had been there so long, and I had a suitcase, they never told us to leave. California didn't rat us out either. Needless to say, I was first in line to get our band merchandise, and Susie was first inside the concert hall. We got front row! Right in front of the stage! AMAZING.

Once the doors opened, the two opening bands performed (TMS and The Minutes; I really liked The Minutes). It got really crowded once Flogging Molly was on, and the crowd was pretty aggressive. I got a bruise on my arm, but hey, front row! The concert was incredible. Flogging Molly was so energetic and hilarious. After the concert, Susie and I were persistent and


Curse you bus to Stansted Airport. Anyway at the end of the concert, George (drummer) had thrown one of his drumsticks into the audience. Susie and I fought with a few others and won the drumstick. After it broke. But we got the better half.

Susie, I freaking love you!

So, I took that sad drumstick and got the four autographs of George, Bob, Nathen, and Dennis. Dave and Bridget didn't come out after the concert, but to be fair, Matthew did come out and visit the audience at the end. I just wasn't able to get to him before he left. George was amazing. I really really really wanted to meet him the most, but he'd gone backstage before Susie and I got the chance. Guess who was on stage? Texas! So we talked to Texas and Texas went backstage and got George for us. Security was ushering us out, but we were like, "No! George is coming for us!" We don't think security believed us.

But alas, George came running out and stopped security from kicking us out. Ahh, I love George! We got to talk to him a bit and he signed my drumstick.
My life = complete.

So, after the concert we caught a taxi (that Susie's parents were so kind to pay for, thank you!). I was dropped off at the bus station to catch my 12:20 bus and Susie was dropped off at the hotel we'd originally booked for two... until I realized that my bus was at 12:20.

So I'm at the bus station around midnight, wait a bit, and then I boarded when the bus came. That leg of the journey was about 2 hours to another bus station where I had to transfer for the bus that would take me to Stansted Airport. Holy cow, I was exhausted! I nodded off a bit, but was terrified of missing my stop, so I didn't sleep much. I actually dropped my glasses during one of my nods and accidentally stomped on them when I awoke. Thank goodness they didn't break! After that, I didn't hold my glasses; I stuck them in my bag. Good grief, sometimes I just don't have any common sense. Ok, a lot of the time I don't have any common sense.

I finally get to the airport around 8:30am, but my flight doesn't take off until about 13:00. To be fair, that was the only bus that would get me there in time for my flight! This time it was not my fault I was so early! Unfortunately, I couldn't check in until 11:30, so I spent my time playing Spider Solitaire. I'm a master at single suit.

Eventually I check in, board my plane, and head to Brno in the Czech Republic! Let me tell you, I was so shattered at this point. I could barely keep my eyes open, yet I just could not sleep on the plane. Talk about ridiculous.

When I landed I proceeded through customs and went to catch the bus that heads to the main train station. At this point, I was just like, "Oh my gosh, I am so screwed. Why did I do this to myself?!" No one spoke any English. When I originally chose Prague (or Praha), I thought, "English is supposed to be universal, surely someone will be able to speak it. I won't have any problems!" Landing in Brno and finding out where the bus stop was, I could only find one person who spoke English, and it was very fragmented. Luckily I was able to make it to the train station. Once I got there, though, it was a nightmare. I got my ticket, but of course I couldn't read anything that my ticket said, and I'm frantically trying to find my platform so I don't miss my train to Prague. I asked this girl at a little market, and she had no idea what I was saying so she asked someone else to help. This other girl didn't know what I was saying either! I finally found a police officer and asked him... but he didn't speak any English. He got his buddy cop to come over and help out, and I was able to make my train with a couple of minutes to spare. Phew!

This train from Brno to Prague was interesting. It was just like I'd imagined trains in England to be: just like Harry Potter. You know, with the compartments and the trolley lady (witch). At this point, I had to pee so bad, I swear I thought my bladder was going to just explode. There were 3 other people in my compartment, but I was pretty sure none of them could speak English since they were reading books in Czech. I eventually got desperate and asked the guy sitting across from me, "Toilets?" Thank the holy heavens above, he understood what I asked and pointed me in the right direction.
Random Czech guy, I am forever yours. I have never been so grateful to see a toilet.

So the rest of the train ride was silent and uneventful (about 3 hours long). I get to the main station in Prague and had to catch the metro to my hostel. I had exchanged for some money back in London, so I had money with me, but you had to have exact change for a metro ticket, and I only had bills. I was at a complete loss. I went to this one stand that said "Change" in big letters, but then there was a sign next to it that said "No change for the metro". Well, fine then!
So I went into a shop where no one spoke English and bought a drink.

Finally I get on the metro, get off at my stop, and don't really have any idea which way to go for my hostel. I asked a lady at the ticket booth, assuming she'd speak English since it's freaking Prague, and she doesn't really understand what I'm asking. I wrote down the name of the street and she pointed me in the right direction. I finally got to my hostel exhausted, stinking (hadn't showered or slept in over 24 hours), and freezing. What do I do? I immediately throw everything down and run to the shower. I didn't even text anyone to tell them I was alive. Showers are obviously more important.

Feeling refreshed, I turned on my laptop and told the world I was alive and well. I talked to my mom a bit, but was so shattered that it didn't really last long. I slept very well that night.

Now a word about my hostel. I stayed in Arpacay, which I'd found in I'm not trying to advertise, but it was excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a clean, friendly, and cheap hostel. Granted, it was a couple of miles from any of the big tourist sights, but it was impeccably clean, had free breakfast, and it had the best rates of all the hostels I'd researched. I actually had the room to myself for the first 2 or 3 nights (I'd signed up for the 5 bed room, but business was so slow since it's the off season that they upped me to a 3 bed room, and then no one showed up the first couple of nights). After that this PhD student from Germany showed up, and she was pretty nice. Then last night, this girl from Asia came after I'd fallen asleep... and turned on the lights... and made a lot of noise. I hope I woke her up this morning.

Conclusion: My first hostel experience was a good one!

While in Prague, I had a lot of fun. I'd never want to live there; it's too dirty, big city, and crowded. It wasn't nearly as bad as London, though, so I didn't mind it. There was graffiti everywhere, though! And sex shops too! I was completely thrown off. I thought, surely an art city like this had to be top notch. It wasn't. It was fascinating seeing such stark differences in the architecture and the city life. You had these old, magnificent buildings that were centuries old, but they were being used for things like pubs, Starbucks, McDonalds, and sex shops. Then the graffiti on top of it? It was really interesting. I'll post pictures once I get back to my dorm and can upload them.

So, I'd have to say, the most interesting thing I saw was a guy taking a dump in a bush. Yes, that really happened. No, he wasn't a hobo. Yes, it was in the morning, so I don't think he was drunk. Then I smelled marijuana all over the place. I think Thursday was the only day I didn't catch a whiff of marijuana somewhere. Music is huge in Prague, though; I think it may even be bigger in Prague than it is in Austin, and that's saying something! Everywhere I went there were advertisements for concerts, orchestras, and tons of people carrying instruments, usually a violin or guitar. Prague is also very hilly, more so than Bangor. There were also statues of saints, crosses, and Christ all over the city. It really shocked me how such a strong religious background yielded a city abundant in pot, graffiti, and sex. That's something I'd really like to investigate, actually.

What else to say? Oh, gosh, ok, so this is where the title of my blog came into play. I got lost at least once a day. The first day I tried finding my way via the sun... I knew I had to cross a river and go northeast to get to Old Town from my hostel, and my google directions said to go southwest before turning on this one street, so I looked at the sun, and I went southwest, the whole time thinking, "Where the heck is the river?" I ended up in the middle of some neighborhood on top of a hill overlooking Prague. I have no idea how I got there. But hey, I eventually made it down and into Old Town! I loved Old Town, by the way. Old Town and Charles Bridge were by far my favorite spots. Charles Bridge was like an extended version of the Hippy Mart on the drag in ATX, except they weren't hippies... and there weren't any hobos... on the bridge, anyway. There were definitely hobos in Prague. In Old Town, they would dig through the rubbish bins beside the food vendors constantly.
Anyway, I'd have to say that the worst case of "Where the heck am I" happened on Thursday. I had climbed up to Petrin Hill and gone up to the observation tower. That part of the day was a success. Afterwards, however, was not a success. I was trying to get from Petrin Hill to Strahov Monastery. I ended up in Prague Castle. From Prague Castle, I tried getting to the monastery, and I don't have any idea where I ended up. Next thing I knew, I was on top of a hill next to a circus tent. About an hour later I was able to find the stupid monastery and Loreta.

Oh heck, if you ever want to go to Prague, expect to pay for everything.
Admission to the Jewish Cemetery? You pay.
Admission to this lovely Bethlehem Chapel? You pay.
Admission to this monastery? You pay.
Admission to this castle? You pay.
Gotta pee? You pay.
Want a map? You pay.

Bloody flip, it was ridiculous! I'd just like to say, though, that I am a master at finding free toilets, no matter how scarce. Just walk into the nearest shopping centre and you (might) find a free toilet. I did have to pay 15 czk to get into the toilet at the shopping centre near Bethlehem Chapel.
Speaking of which, I was trying to find Bethlehem Chapel on Wednesday, and I managed to walk right by it without realizing it. It took me about half an hour to figure out where the heck I was... and get back to where I'd been. The Bethlehem Chapel.

The people also seemed to be lacking in friendliness. To be fair, if I were dealing with a tourist who knew nothing about anything (I don't even know how to say "thank you" or "hello" in Czech), I'd probably be grouchy, too. Still, if you are going to work in the tourist industry, you best be prepared! For me!

Well, I do believe that's all I really had to say. I can't wait to post pictures a bit later; the buildings really are magnificent! Oh, and tonight I get to spend the night in Stansted Airport because the next bus to Bangor after I land isn't until 6am tomorrow. Lucky me! I'm excited, to be honest. Now I'll be a real student traveler!

Well, more people are here now. I'm going to try to drop off my suitcase and head to my terminal... wish me luck!

P'nawn da!