Backfilling the blog!
Wed June 1
Flight to Prague via Barcelona. The travel gods have seen fit to bestow upon me an extra piece of luggage! After agonizing over the three distinct sets of rules from three different airlines, I packed one suitcase, one backpack and one carry on (and sent one suitcase and two small boxes home). My flight out of Spain is with Iberia, but operated by Vueling. Why do airlines do this? Just to frustrate the masses I think.
So I approach the Vueling counter to check in and heave my suitcase onto the belt. I loathe the tension in the air at the boarding gate when low cost airlines make their passengers shove bulging backpacks into a tiny box. Humiliation hovers the group as fellow travelers try to shove absolutely everything into one bag. You curse the low cost airlines for their rules and questionable fees, but you take them anyway. I for one keep my backpack strapped on my back, a book in my hands, my nose in said book and avoid eye contact at all costs.
At the check in counter I decide to inquire if I can take both the backpack and the carry on onboard. His answer almost causes me heart failure, as he tells me to put the backpack on the conveyor belt since it looks “un poco llena” (“a little full”). I grimace and say yes, but how much will it cost? He tilts his head and looks up at me: “no hija, es gratis.” Free, you say? I drop the backpack like a hot potato and hope like hell both bags will follow me to Prague.
They do. Even more, they are the first off the belt! Small joys on traveling days such as these. I rearrange my things and hear the telltale click of canine claws on linoleum. Looking up I see a gorgeous German Shepherd, and then I register the handler is not a civilian but a police officer. While I stand there dumbfounded, the officer prompts the dog to sniff my bags looking for bombs, drugs or who knows what else. Welcome to the Czech Republic!
I meet my Czech friend Blanka in the lobby and can’t stop remarking about the weather. She wears a fleece and I am in short sleeves, practically drooling over the cool breeze that is a welcome relief from the Sevilla sun. We ditch my monstrous bags at the central train station and spend a few hours wandering in Prague. The old city is beautiful, and we join the crowd at the astronomical clock to watch a miniature display of mechanical figures. A much needed cup of coffee and a snack follow at a nearby cafe in the aptly named Bethlehem plaza – Blanka and I met while studying at Moravian College in Bethlehem PA. The adjoining chapel is quiet and simple, with paintings and script on the walls.
The train takes us to Hradec Krakove where Blanka is from, about two hours from the city. I am charmed by the mere sight of it as we sit in Harry Potter style compartments. The warnings on the windows are written in Russian, French, Italian and English – showing the age of the train and revealing a whole lot of history i know nothing about. Arriving at 10pm the streets are empty and the silence is deafening to my Spanish ears. She sees my expression and laughs, explaining that most Czechs rise early and don’t stay out late. Stores are closed, people are in bed and I am thinking of late night Spain and 24 hour America.
Thu June 2
The weather is uncertain so we do not embark on the bike ride we hoped for, instead choosing to explore the town of Hradec Krakove. Walking for a long time we wind our way out of the suburbs and into the center of town. As with all impressive things in Europe, the old city sits at the top of a steep flight of stairs. Climbing to the top of the clock tower some 300+ steps we pass a massive bell and a clock mechanism which have surely hung here for ages. The view from the top is marvelous, and Blanka points out all of the buildings and parks. The houses have red roofs and some are stepped in the style of the Dutch. On the way down I hear the strains of a wedding march and we catch a glimpse of the couple on their way down the aisle in an empty church just before a grouchy old matron shuts the door in our faces.
We take a break in a park at the convergence of two rivers and joke about the siesta in our future. I try a local beer (Pilsner Urquell) and think of another Urkel (my America is showing with this Family Matters reference). Sure enough after a (Mexican) lunch and a perfect strawberry ice cream, we board the bus and roll back out to the apartment for a snooze. Later that night we pack our bags for Vienna and set the alarm for a very early 5:45am. Blissfully, I will leave my mammoth suitcase here and travel light from Vienna to Salzburg to Budapest and back. Hallelujah.