Sunday, March 24, 2013

Prague, day 2...lost in translation

My intention this morning when I left the apt was to head to Prague Castle, but I never made it.  Yes, this is becoming a theme...not ending up wherever I am headed.  In Amsterdam, that was mostly intentional; I loved wandering around and never minded that I hadn't made it to my destination.  Even when I did finally get to The Hermitage Amsterdam, while the Van Gogh collection was vast and interesting, all I could think about was getting back outside to see more of Amsterdam.

Today I didn't make it to my destination of Prague Castle because I got lost.  It wasn't ecstatic reverie at everything I saw, but rather a lack of understanding about directions and transportation.  That happens to me a lot here.  The tram/train/metro (subway)/bus system is terribly confusing.  In most cities, all different modes of transportation can be caught at the same station or at least within the same block.  Not in Prague.  Although each mode of transportation has only 1 stop in Hostivar, they aren't anywhere near each other.   The train station is 2 blocks uphill from my apt and the tram stop is 1 block downhill in the opposite direction.  The Hostivar metro station is so far away that you need to take a tram 2 stops to get from there to the Hostivar tram stop.  And I've yet to see the bus stop,  but apparently you can climb down a steep, rickety old set of steps into what looks like a ravine from the train station to get there.       

The fact that the language is difficult, nothing about transportation is in English, and not as many people speak English only adds to my dilemma.  This poor woman who works at the train station in my neighborhood tried desperately to put me on a bus to God-knows-where this morning because she was convinced that's what I was asking for.  She didn't speak any English,  but talked my head off in Czech (as if I might have some clue as to what she was saying) the entire time she was walking me to the decrepit stairs down to the bus stop.  She seemed disappointed that I wouldn't go down to get on the bus, and I felt truly bad about that, but I was just trying to find out about the train stops.  And here's why: yesterday, I left my apt and walked the 2 blocks to the train station called Hostivar.  From there I caught a train directly into the city center.  When I was ready to return home, I caught a train that went back to Hostivar.  Much to my surprise, it was a completely different place than where I had gotten on in the morning.  Turns out one station is for the train and the other is for the metro/subway...which they also call the train and which sometimes runs above ground looking for all the world just like a regular train.  As stated previously, the stations aren't anywhere near each other, and this is how I learned that Depo Hostivar (for the subway) is 2 stops away from the Hostivar tram stop which is 3 blocks from the Hostivar train station.  Very confusing.  I was trying to ask the station attendant about this when she decided I needed to be on a bus.

I have no idea what I said or did to give her that impression, but I'm finding that my mastery of the language is woefully inadequate.  While at the same station, waiting for the train and trying to avoid the woman who sincerely wanted to put me on a bus, I saw a young woman waiting with a dog.  I took out my index card, practiced my "may I pet your dog" phrase in Czech several times and then walked up to her to try it out.  Her response: she laughed and said "I can speak English."  Not only is my Czech bad, but apparently I speak it with a American accent.  Her dog's name is Joy and she said it is a very appropriate name as the dog finds joy in all things.  Joy was adopted by her from a pound, a fact she seemed very proud of.  When I told her I had two pound dogs at home, she was instantly warm and friendly towards me.  She was very nice and helped me understand the differences between the subways and trains, and made sure I understood which train (only the S9)would bring me back to my original starting point.  It worked...I got back home easily and without incident. 

Where I went wrong today was in thinking that I could find something as large as the biggest castle in the world (according to Guinness World Records) without help.  I mean, it's way up on the top of a hill and you can see the thing from everywhere I had been in Prague.  How could I not find it?  So, after carefully studying my tourist maps (which aren't in English either), I took the metro to the stop called Hradcanska which is the neighborhood where Prazsky Hrad (Prague Castle) is located.  After going up the longest, steepest escalator I've ever been on (I swear it took about 2-3 minutes to get from bottom to top), I got to the street level only to find that I could no longer see the castle now that I was up on the big hill.  I walked for blocks in every direction, unable to find anyone who spoke English, before I finally gave up and decided I would try again tomorrow with better directions.  How, you ask, could I have missed a castle complex that is, like, 80 acres large?  Well, it turns out you don't go to the Hradcany stop to get to the Hrad (castle), even though they are shown together on the map.  Of course not.  You take the Malostranska stop and then the #22 or #23 tram from there to the castle.  Why didn't I think of that? 

Since finding something specific was turning out to be problematic, I decided to spend the rest of the day just going for general areas...the old town (some, but not all, of which I saw yesterday) so I could see the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, and the Jewish Quarter, called Josefov.  These, thank goodness, I found easily.  I also wandered across a bridge and into an area just below another large hill called the Petrin.  I may try to go to the top of it tomorrow.  There is a large tower up there that is supposed to be a replica of the Eiffel Tower and offers great views of the whole city.  I'll be sure to get exact directions online, in English, before attempting to get up there.  There is a Petrin tram stop but, from experience, I'm sure it doesn't get you there. 

Here are some pics from today...

I realized last night that although I had posted pics of the inside of my apartment, you might want to see the outside.  So, here it is.  You can see the skylights of the attic apartments.  I've made a mental note to make sure the next attic accommodations I rent are in a building with an elevator (or lift, as they're called here).  This building doesn't have one, so I climb lots of stairs when I get back at the end of each day.

This is Joy and her human.  Dogs can ride all public transportation, but they have to pay a 16Kc fare (about 80 cents). 

This is inside one of the large, connector Metro stations...the only one with a name that is anything close to familiar to me.   

This is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world, and the very oldest one that still works.  Every hour on the hour, figurines pop out and do a little dance, then a skeleton (Death) comes out and moves the dial.  So very, very steampunk! 

These towers of Our Lady Before Tyn Church appear to rise right out of the surrounding buildings.  In fact, they do...the newer structures were built right up next to the façade of the church.  See next pic...

You enter a walkway from the side of one of the buildings and go through a little room to get to the entrance of the church...which is in the middle of the newer buildings.

This is a trdelnik stand and they are everywhere.  See next pic...

And these are trdelnik...a sweet pastry wrapped around a wooden stick (the trdlo) and cooked over an open flame. 

This was in the Old Town Square.  It's still freezing here ('s high was 31F) so those are fake blooms.  Hmmm...I just explained the falsity of a tree playing a musical instrument.  Please forgive the irony.      

And this is in the Old Town Square...a festive staircase that goes nowhere but over a trdelnik stand and back down the other side. 
This is Klausen Synagogue and part of the wall around the ancient Jewish cemetery in Josefov.  Only a handful of original sites remain in the Jewish Quarter.  Around 1890, much of the Jewish district was demolished to create an area that resembled Paris.  The few sites that remained were, oddly enough, later preserved by the Nazis because they planned to create a themed area for German tourists that Hitler referred to as an "exotic museum of an extinct race." 

This is another original synagogue in Josefov.

And directly beside it is this gigantic, but stunning, example of the Parisian look Prague wanted to imitate at the turn of the 20th century. 
This is the Rudolfinum, a concert hall and home of the Czech Philharmonic orchestra.  It sits right on the edge of the Vltava.

And here is a side view of the Charles Bridge from an adjacent bridge using my telephoto setting. 

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