Czech Republic: Day Five

Posted: under 2011/04 - Czech Republic.

Our first day trip out of Prague…and of course its raining.

First off I get Abe set for his trip to the Terezin concentration camp. In the beginning I had planned on going with him, but the schedule just would not let me. I know it would have left me mentally drained too. When I visited the Holocaust museum last year in DC I felt numb for a couple of days afterward, I can only imagine what going to an actual concentration camp might do to me.

I had hired us a car to take us to the town of Plzen and the Pilsner brewery. The drive was nice in the morning rain and took about an hour to get us to our destination. Watching the countryside go by certainly gives you a bigger sense of where you are in the world. I would have just as easily been driving in Missouri or California. Trees, farms and little hills dotting the horizon. If it wasn’t for the iconic red roofed medieval buildings every now and then, I would have felt duped and still in America. The traffic was certainly better here though. Not only less, but when we came upon a construction zone people just normally moved to the shoulder and kept going. I could get used to this.

We arrived at the gate of the brewery and I was impressed. First off the gate is an actual gate…like what you would see at the opening of  a movie studio. The complex sprawled behind and you could tell it is vast. I have toured many breweries around the world, but most were just one maybe two buildings, very self contained. This looked far more like a factory complex.

We were a little early for the tour so we checked out the gift shop and then the onsite restaurant. Figured before we start our 2 hour tour it might be good to have a meal.

Their restaurant is quite nice and very large. Bier garden style with long tables for groups. I had the Gulasova polevka & preclik with a Koval beer. The Koval is dark and delicious but this was my first time with the Gulasova polevka. Its a thick beef soup/stew that was AWESOME! And the preclik is a big Bavarian style pretzel. Perfect for the setting.

At the beginning of the tour there is  a nice exhibit area where they show how they used to make beer onsite in the old days. We had some fun with the section showing a man enjoying his beer and sausage. Great photo op area, if you go then relax and take advantage of the surroundings. It seemed like we were the only ones doing so while waiting.

The tour was interesting, I won’t go into much detail because one brewery is very much like another. Some interesting sites were the old water tower, which looks more like a fortification tower, the old railroad train and car which they used to use hauling in materials (hops, wheat, barley, etc) and taking out fresh brewed beer. They had two different ‘breweries’, one was the old building with the big copper vats and a little education area on the brewing of beer. The new one is all glass and steel with stainless steel vats.

Shared between the two is the entrance to the underground storage area. This is where they ferment the beer in huge wooden casks and store it before bottling it. We only got to see a little bit of the huge complex, most were off-limits to the tour groups. It was neat seeing the old ice room, a big 4 story tall room where they would dump ice in during the winter and then through the year it would slowly melt…the icy water would then run in groves made in the floor throughout the whole complex. The closest I ever came to something like this was visiting the Yuengling brewery in Pennsylvania.

We got to sample the Pilsner Urquell straight from the giant kegs. Unfiltered and unpasturized..boy was it good! I had tried this same beer back in Prague and wasn’t to impressed with it, but the unfiltred version certainly hit the spot. After the tour we had a proper lunch and then caught our ride back to Prague.

Once back we meet up with Abe and hear about his trip. It was not to rosy, but I think he got what he needed out of it. His camera ran out of battery power just over half way through his trip, but he doesn’t feel like he missed anything. After awhile taking pictures of such a grizzly place gets to even the most steeled of men.

Allison had a destination for us this evening, she wanted to check out the Art Nouveau cafe in the Municipal House. Someplace I had not heard anything about but apparently my rock is quite comfortable and I live under it well.

The Municipal House is a sprawling complex standing on the grounds of the former Royal Court palace. This building was built in 1911 and at the height of the Art Nouveau craze. It houses a large hall used for concerts and balls, there are also numerous other halls and rooms made up of restaurants, cafes and conference rooms. We looked around but did not partake at any of the establishments. This will be a must visit for another Prague trip.

After that we kind of all went our seperate ways. An early night with only one more day left before heading home.

Comments (0) Apr 05 2011

Czech Republic: Day Four

Posted: under 2011/04 - Czech Republic.

Today we head to the Jewish quarter first off then continue the tour we started yesterday.

This is an interesting part of the journey to me since two of my party are Jewish I get to learn more about their heritage and history. Our first stop is the to get our pass to the ‘Jewish Museum’ in Prague. This is actually several older Synagogues and the cemetery complex combined into a walking tour of the quarter.

We bought our pass and immediately I started hearing all the grumbling ‘why are we having to buy tickets to our Synagogues?!’ I had to restrain my laughter. Our pass included admission to the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Maisel Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Klaus Synagogue and the Ceremonial Hall.

While they still held the honorific title of Synagogue, these were museums now, not houses of worship. Which was good for me as I always feel a little odd wondering through functioning churches (etal). But our first stop was the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The cemetery was not a large one in square footage, but they made up for it in depth (no pun). There are over 12,000 gravestones stewn about with a small path winding through them. I took tons of pictures as the cemetery dates back to 1478. Oh, and you had to pay extra for a photo pass for the cemetery.

We exit the cemetery and enter the Ceremonial Hall. Nice museum with a ton of artifacts (in a small place). It was also crammed with about 40 Italian kids on a tour. I got to play the ugly American and push them around since they had no sense of personal space.

Our next stop was the Klaus Synagogue then to the Maisel Synagogue. Both had very interesting displays of historic relics for the Jewish community. All the Synagogues did not allow photography. Which was a shame as I would have loved to taken some close up shots of the silver work. All these sites I would recommend to anyone interested in history as they are fascinating.

Hungry…time to find a place to eat before joining up with our tour this afternoon. There are a couple of places nearby so really we just pick the first that we come to, the restaurant U Golema. Obviously in theme withthe neighborhood with the Jewish Golem. Lunch was fine, but the bill came and upset us all. Even though we were warned by our tour guide about places like this, I guess we had gotten complacent since we hadn’t encountered any yet. First off they charged a ‘setup fee’ of 15 crowns per person (about $1) and then they dumped a 20% tip on the total of the check. And the general rule for the Czech Republic is that tips are not something that is commonly done, but if you do get good service then 10% is acceptable. I disputed the charges, but both were listed on the menu…we had just missed them. Needless to say my Yelp review is pretty scathing.

Our tour group was meeting at 1:15pm and sure enough Monika was there to meet us again. Glad it was her as she had been a delight the previous day. She will lead us through part of old town, the little quarter then on to the castle.

First stop was the old Jesuit college best known as the Clementinum. A sprawling complex built/expanded between 1556 and 1723. This area definitelyhad more a feel for the 1700′s in the architecture, unlike a lot of the town that felt much older. One cool little thing that was pointed out was the statue of the school girl sitting on the wall with her book.

Next onto the Charles Bridge to cross the Vltava river. On this side of the river is the impressive Old Town Bridge Tower. It is a large Gothic tower from the 14th century that has some impressive statues on the side of it, including St Vitus, Charles IV and Wenceslas IV. There is also a viewing gallery that we chose to pass on but I hear you have a great view of the river area from that height.

The Charles Bridge is pedestrian only and handles a ton of foot traffic everyday. There are dozens of large statues along the bridge dedicated to various saints and other biblical characters. Many of the statues over the centurieshave been replaced with copies due to people damaging them or even taking parts of them home as souvenirs. In the center of the Old Town side is an ornate 17th century Crucifixion. There is a gilded date of 1692 and the Hebrew words ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord’. Apparently it was paid for by a Jew as punishment for blasphemy.

Along the bridge are a number of street performers including a blind accordion player, painters and a puppeteer. They were good folk though, didn’t bother the crowd just did their thing and had a place for ‘donations’. There were also a lot of people hawking various items. Some were crafts made locally and of course plenty of touristy souvenirs.

On the east side of the bridge is the small island of Kampa. There are several art museums here that we skipped but perhaps I will get to do when I come to Prague next. We cross a small bridge and very soon find ourselves in front of the Lennon Wall. That would be the John Lennon wall. Seems that when Lennon passed, local youths graffitied memorials on the wall. Of course the communist government felt this was quite subversive and would repaint the wall almost immediately. Needless to say this went back and forth for awhile until finally the graffitiartists won out. Now its more a free form design that stays up for a month at a time before it is painted over.

We spent about 30 minutes in the Little Quarter checking out the sites before starting up the hill to the Castle. Monika said that she would keep a slow pace as the grade was a little steep on the hill. I thought she was doing an okay job but apparently others in my party thought she was going fast. As it turns out, they were probably right. Some of the tour group today were  marathoners from yesterdays race and she was trying to keep them in site…thus they broke the curve for the rest of us.

The way up Nerudova street was quite picturesque. There were residences, shops, restaurants, embassies (Italian and Romanian at least) and churches. We will definitely have to come back here to investigate later.

Once we reach the top of the hill we are presented with the Prague Castle. This is still a working building which includes the President’s office. It is the largest castle in Europe and is made up of churches, chapels, halls, towers and gates from various eras of the countries history. The castle is an interesting place, but I really wanted to get onto our next stop at St Vitus’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral is actually made up of 4 different complexes. Each from a different era, 10th, 11th, 14th and 19th century. The architecture outside is AMAZING! And to top that off its even more so on the inside. We spent about 45min inside just wondering around. I was of course was enraptured by the Alfons Mucha stained glass window. It was one of the latest additions to the complex in the early 20th century. I almost felt like I was going to weep when I stood before it, the beauty was that overpowering.

After that we went over to the Sternberg Palace to the west of the castle. It is an old palace that has been converted into an art museum. This huge collection of art was enjoyable but frankly I did not recognize many of the artists hung on the walls. There was some nice pieces by Goya, Rubens and Rembrandt…but otherwise it was all ‘new’ to me. There was also a nice collection of statues that I enjoyed and a large collection of icons that I did not. Everyone has their taste in art, but I have never really had any appreciation for icons…except maybe in their original churchs, but only barely.

Wow…a lot going on today. We head back to the hotel for a quick moment to chill out and take our shoes off. For dinner tonight we are actually planning on going to a Mexican restaurant. I always find it interesting to experience a culture that I know through another cultures eyes. I certainly have fond memories of a German restaurant that I ate at in Beijing. Tonight its fine dining at El Hombres!

The meal was quite excellent and the beer flowed as normal. But the real beer flowing will start soon enough, we are off to U Medvidku. This place is awesome, even if we didn’t get to stay to long (they closed early on Sundays). Its the only hotel in Prague that has a brewery in residence. In fact, it was originally a brewery but it got converted into a hotel/restaurant/brewery. This building has been the site of brewing and serving beer since 1466. So basically this place where we are sitting has been making beer since before Columbus found the new world. Kinda puts the whole trip into perspective.

Comments (1) Apr 04 2011

Czech Republic: Day Three

Posted: under 2011/04 - Czech Republic.

Our day started pretty typically and we had a plan to take advantage of a free walking tour today. As a bonus to us for booking the car service to/from the airport we received a 4 hour tour going from the old town Center Square up to the Castle. Josh decided not to join us today something about the heat and the distance walking. So he went off on his own today.

We took the Metro to the Mustek station near the Center Square. On the way to the square we ran across a weekend street fair. Lots of cool local crafts and foods mixed in with the typical tourist junk. Some of the handy crafts were pretty cool, including a lot of marionettes of which the Czech culture is apparently known for. Also some nice art prints of which I picked up a couple for home.

After shopping around for awhile we headed toward the Astronomical clock tower to meet our tour guide for the day. This is an amazing piece of mechanics as well as architecture. The Clock is actually multiple clocks in one, one giving the Old Czech time, modern time, another the phases of the sun and moon (astrological sign), and another showing the official Czech Name Day. It is facinating and beautiful. On the hour a skeleton, representing death, rings the bell and several animated figures come out of two doors above the clock.

The clock tower is part of the old town hall, where they apparently hold several weddings every day. Since this was a Saturday we got to see about 3 couples come out after their service and get some picures taken. The whole square here is rife with beautiful buildings and history. Plenty of little sidewalk cafes and rooftop ones also. And it being the weekend there were also several street vendors on hand to ply wares or sell something to eat/drink.

We met our tour guide for the day, Monica. Lovely Czech girl who’s English was quite good. We had a group of about 16 dutifully following her around Prague. She gave us a lot of the history on the clock tower and the weddings going on. After that we headed around the square, looking at the gorgeous Saint Nicholas church and the church of our lady Tyn. That was probably one of the most distinct images from Prague with its twin steeples.

After the square we winded our way through a lot of the small alleyways and streets that make up the Old Town part of Prague. We got to see the Estates Theater where Mozarts fans flock to see the original showcase for Don Giovanni of which Mozart conducted. After that we found ourselves at the Carolinum, the seat of education founded by Charles IV in 1348.

Next up was the Church of St. James. An amazing church from 1689 that we were able to go in to. The walls must have been very thick, as outside it was pretty warm, mid 60′s but inside it had to have been in the upper 40′s at best. It is a working church, but no services were going on today. It really isn’t possible for me to put a description here in words, but I did sneak a couple of photos while in the main hall. I am certainly not a religious person but its places like this you almost get an otherworldly feel.

We headed toward the Jewish Quarter where we are planning to break after the first half of the tour. Since it is the sabbath, none of the Jewish places were open, but we still got to walk around and check out the buildings. The Spanish Synagogue, the Old-New Synagogue and the old Jewish cemetery were pointed out to us by Monica. We will be coming back tomorrow to investigate the sites more thoroughly when they are open.

Our last stop before break is at the New Town Hall. Monica gave us all 30 minutes to grab some lunch, but that just wasn’t a practical amount of time. This was an area of sit down restaurants, not street vendors. The pace in Prague is very laid back anyway, so we decided to have a leisurely lunch and catch the second half of the tour tomorrow. We found a place for lunch at the Parlamentu Restaurant. Good typical Czech food and I got to try a new beer, Kozal. A nice dark beer that is very smooth…and boy was it refreshing. Bob split off from us and headed back toward the town square.

With it being Saturday it is only to be expected that some activities were going on in town that were not tourist related. Today there is a marathon going on along the river front. We saw the finish line as we headed toward the Museum of Decorative Arts (free entry with Prague pass). This was one of the museums that Allison recommended and it was quite interesting. Lovely crystal and glass collection and some amazing clocks. There was also a wing full of textiles and dresses…not as impressive to me, but I can appreciate the craftsmanship none the less.

Now we are off back to the town square to meet with Bob and tour the old city hall. We get to catch another hour change and see the Astronomical clock chime. LOTS of people in the square to catch this happening, glad we got to see it again.

With our Prague Pass we got free entry to the Town Hall and access to the top of the clock tower. The view from up here is amazing! Not only is the square all open to us but we can see miles in every direction. It was a perfect weather day and the fluffy clouds just made the scenery that much better. I love how the red rooftops stand out against the white buildings. And how these little streets wind through the buildings just make me want to stay and explore every knook and cranny. But I think my compatriots are running out of steam, so for now its back to the hotel for a break before dinner.

We went to a small pizzeria called Pizzeria Amfora. Based in an old cellar I think the ambiance was better than the food. We did not tarry long, just ate our food and headed to our next stop.

Allison recommends we check out the Pivovarsky Dum, a beer hall with a brewery on site. This is a very popular place and the first that we actually had to wait to get a table. With a party of 5 that isn’t to surprising I suppose. They had a sampler of their beers on site so I had to try it out. Here is my review on the different beers, needless to say after this all I wanted to do was head home and sleep…long day after all!


Svetle (light) – a typical lite pilsner, better than the light beer in the US but still lite beer.
Tmave (dark) – good stout beer, very smooth.
Visnove (sour cherry) – a strong pilsner with a nice cherry aftertaste, definately a beer that I could drink all night.
Kavove (coffee) – Allison says it tastes like Canfield Chocolate Soda. Since I don’t like coffee it tastes like crap.
Penicne (wheat) – This is my beer of choice when I drink so I found this one very palettable.
Hop – Very surprised by this beer. Its an unferminted wheat with a nice hippy taste. Much tastier than I imagined.
Koprivove (nettle) – Sometimes I think brewerers get bored thinking of their next brew. Nettle looks like a wheat grass beer, translucent green. The taste is slightly bitter and reminds me of pine needles.
Marzen – This is their special of the month. Its an amber with a nice aftertaste.

Comments (0) Apr 03 2011

Czech Republic: Day Two

Posted: under 2011/04 - Czech Republic.

And a good night of rest is all that was needed!

Thank goodness for travel packages that include breakfast. I am not shy when it comes to venturing out to try the local foods and customs, but sometimes in the morning all you want is a quick bite to start the day right. The Ibis hotel has a great buffet too, local things like chicken salami cold cuts and apple strudel. But plenty of fruit/bread/egg dishes to keep you fortified.

Today we try out the mass transit system here. We purchased a Prague Pass which is a city pass that allows entry into a multitude of venues and comes with 3 days worth of all you can ride mass transit. And like most European countries, they have an excellent system to get you around town. Their Metro system (subway) is fast and efficient and BOY do their escalators haul ASS! Serious, it was almost like being launched off of them at the end. They have a tram system (cable car) that goes all over town. And buses that run 24/7.

We are right next to the Andel station which is a major hub for all transit in the SW corner of the city. It was interesting coming from a major city like DC where you don’t really see many ads around the subway to a place where they plaster everyplace with ads. I think they may still be in the honeymoon stage of capitalism. That may pass, but in the mean time seeing cat food adverts all the way up the escalator was interesting.

Our stop was the Mustek station near Wenceslas Square. Yeah, the one from the Christmas song, Good King Wenceslas. We have two museums near by that we want to check out.

The first museum we went to was the Mucha Museum. Bob decided not to go in with us and headed out to the streets to check out the area. We will meet up with him at our next stop. 

This was one of the things I just had to do while in Prague. Many people may not know the name, but everyone is aware of his work. He was a guiding light behind the Art Nouveau movement in the late 19th century. But he was a practical artist that worked not only on lovely paintings and illustrations, but also did work for advertising agencies. The museum is not large, but it is well packed and has a very informative film at the end. Seeing his work up close in very large format was a treat. No pictures were allowed, but here is one of his illustrations so you can get a feel for who he was.

Next stop is the Communist Museum. Seemed only appropriate that we check out such an establishment while we were here.  The bemusing thing about this museum was its location. Bob had looked for it while we were in the Mucha museum but couldn’t find it. There was a large entrance to a building that was all boarded up which certainly looked like it could have housed the CM, so there was some thought that it had just shut down. But with a little more time investigating the area we found it was now housed up the same staircase where one of the Casinos was located.

No discount from our city pass, but everyone wanted to see it. It was a good museum and certainly captured the spirit of the time. It was seperated into different areas, one for schooling, industry, agriculture, etc. They also had a film about the Velvet Revolution near the end of the museum. This was the time when the Czech people finally kicked the Russians out of their country and became a democracy again.

Ahh…street food! They have some nice kiosks on the square where there was wonderful selections of sausages and beer. I do love a country where I can walk around and drink a beer. I kinda sound like a lush there but that isn’t the case, just like the ability to do things I can’t back home (except maybe Vegas). And speaking of Vegas, the entire Wenceslas Square area is a big ol’ tourist trap…and of course we loved it. Plenty of high end shops, low end souvenier shops, casinos, bars and restaurants. And definitely one treat that we had to try out later on.

This is where we say our goodbyes to Ben. He had arranged to meet a woman he had been courting long distance and as of this writing he is off with her. Supposedly we will see him when it comes time to head home but otherwise he will be enjoying himself elsewhere in Prague.

We ran across a shop that sold artistic eggs. I had read that the Czechs had certain crafts that were very unique to them, one being eggs that are decorated and used around the house year round. Using simple egg shells of various types (chicken, duck, goose, etc) they would drain the contents through a small hole and either paint on them or sculpt them into various designs. Some look like pieces of art and some look like an Easter egg your child might decorate. It was neat looking around an entire shop full of them though, and we even got a photo op with a giant egg out front!

But for now we headed toward the National Museum at the end of the square. A giant structure that houses the oldest museum in the Czech Republic, dating back to 1818. We figured that this is where we could find some real history of the Czech people. And with our Prague Pass we were able to get in for free. I think we were all surprised with what we found inside as it really reminded us of the Natural History Smithsonian back in DC. While there was some history of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia it was mostly a museum of mineralogy, palaeontology, anthropology and zoology. Which was all cool, but frankly it was much like things we had seen before.

What really struck us about the place and made us look around was the building itself. The fresco’s and statues found throughout the structure were simply amazing. One ballroom we just wondered around for 10 minutes just craning our necks up to check out the lovely ceiling. That and the various bronze busts and statues made it well worth the visit.

Just outside of the National Museum is a grand statue of Wenceslas. Who, regardless of what you learned growing up singing the Christmas song, was not a king after all. Turns out it was all a PR campaign to change the image of the Bohemian area. Wenceslas was actually a Bohemian Duke but word spread around Europe in the 10th century about all his good deeds that he his status in the tales got escalated to being a King. Not bad even if not exactly true. Many people consider him a Saint though in the area.

This next part may disturb some people, so feel free to skip if you like.

One of the things that we saw on the square was a Thai Massage place. But not only did they have traditional Thai Massage, but they also had Fish Reflexology. Never heard of it? Well it is banned in several US states, but usually for really stupid reasons (like Virginia because you share a fish tank with others and that is not allowed). They take Turkish (or sometimes African) spa fish nibble on all the dead skin from your feet and lower legs. When me and Bob saw this we just had to try it out!

They washed our feet so that the water wouldn’t become contaminated (and probably best as we had been walking around all day). Then we got to place our feet in the tanks in the front window of the shop. Slowly lowering our feet into the tanks the little minnow sized fish started feasting on our feet. Mine got more attention but it was probably due to more volume than anything else, though I did tell Bob I was obviously better tasting.

It was quite nice actually, no pain or anything like that…just a tingling sensation kinda like you get when your foot falls slightly asleep. We were supposed to stay in the tank for about 30 minutes but we were there for closer to an hour. We were drawing a lot of attention to the shop and several people came in to enquire about the procedure. We had TONS of people gawking at us…bemused, confused, disgusted looks from all people. We also got TONS of pictures taken of our feet. I am sure we are now internet wonders around the world! Well, our feet anyway. I took pictures of a bunch of the surprised people too!

Next we headed back to the hotel for a short time before dinner. I have found that these little breaks in the afternoon/early evening make the trip much better and you are not wiped out at the end of the vacation, or crashing someplace before the end.

Allison has that Top 10 list of Prague bars for us to try out. Tonight we are heading to the Potrefena Husa brand-named pub of the Staropramen Brewery. Luckily it was a short walk from the hotel and I was really looking forward to the Staropramen line of beers. And their slogan was quite nice too, “Our objective is to create a place that will renew one of our country’s favorite traditions-  the beer drinking culture.”

Several of us feasted on the house special Yeast Beer, an unfermented wheat that was very tasty. Traditional fair was had by all, though I opted for the grilled vegetables platter as it seemed like I was just eating meat left and right.

Afterward we dropped Abe off at the hotel and headed on a tram toward the Prague Castle. We did not make it all the way to the Castle, but did find ourself at the Charles Bridge and enjoyed the city at night. I even snuck down to the waters edge to photograph a working water wheel all to the lamations of my companions (no adventure). The photos for the evening came out pretty well but we will be back this way later to see everything in the day time.

I do love the Castle at night. We may make the tour of it tomorrow and if not it will be the next day. Can’t wait!

Comments (1) Apr 02 2011

Czech Republic: Day One

Posted: under 2011/04 - Czech Republic.

I am writing these reports at the end of each day to hopefully summarize my trip.

Today is actually more like 1.5 days as it started on Wednesday at 6pm Eastern time and ends on Thursday 10pm Czech time.

This trip is a bit ambitious for me as not only do I have several of my regular traveling companions (Allison, Josh and Bob) but also two new additions to the group, Ben and Abe. And by new, I mean not only that I haven’t traveled with them in the past or really know them (Ben I knew well back in grade school, and not at all since High School), but also that they have never traveled over seas before. Thus we have a learning curve as well as an unknown personality profile to deal with.

We all met at the Dulles airport and made it through to our gate with little or no problems. Josh got profiled as usual and had to have himself swabbed for explosive residue. I blame his big ass beard. And Allison once again got ‘randomly’ selected for the back scatter machine. Frankly if she ate a few more sammiches like me I doubt she would be chosen as much.

Our first leg of the flight was to stop in Amsterdam. It was to take almost 8 hours, but due to a massive back wind we were able to make it in under 7 hours. We flew KLM, my first time on this Dutch carrier. The flight was smooth and pleasant. I had a problem getting comfortable as my leg room was halved due to a metal box under the seat in front of me. Really wish I could have gotten some sleep, but at least I got to catch up on some movies. They have great in flight entertainment on KLM.

The Amsterdam airport was just as I remembered it from my last visit 2 years ago. Very well maintained airport with a great selection of restaurants and shops to choose from. Our lay over was for 2.5 hours so I was able to avail myself of a Sausage Roll and some Apple Strudle while I was there.

Our next leg was only an hour long and we got to fly on Czech Airlines. Nothing really to note here other than the flight was a good one and no complaints from any of the passengers.

Arriving in Prague we quickly made it to the baggage terminal and picked up the bags from the three that checked them in. Still no clue why they made Bob check his as his bag was a little smaller than mine. Perhaps it was just easier for the gate agent to confront him. At least they didn’t charge him for the check in.

I had already arranged for a car service to take us to the hotel, which is fortunate as there is no train service to the Prague airport. You can take a bus and then a tram to the hotel, but the passes get convoluted due to the need for passes for your luggage also. So the car service I found (Prague Airport Transfers) gave us a reasonable rate since there were six of us.

The ride to the hotel was exciting for a couple of reasons. First we had an excellent driver (Carmine?) who picked us up in his bright purple van. And there is a reason I make note of the van’s color, because shortly into our trip a white worker van tried its best to run us off the road. The other driver did not look at all and did a quick 2 lane change. Certainly gave us all a scare but the driver navigated us well and kept his cool about him. After that the rest of our 15km journey was uneventful, but we did get some good local information on the drive. Lots of communist era buildings were pointed out, and how they have left them up but painted them in bright colors…they reminded me of the ugly grey apartment tenements found in the US built for the working poor. but they were for everyone.

We arrived at our hotel the Ibis Mala Strana. Ibis is a chain of hotels in Europe that would be of the same quality in America as a Holiday Inn. We all checked in and relaxed for a few minutes before heading next door to the mall to get SIM cards for me and Josh’s phones. While there we decided to grab some lunch at one of the local restaurants. It was good Czech food of which most of us tried out. I had the Beef Goulash with bread dumplings, it was quite rich with fresh onions but very tasty.

After that the jet lag kicked in and we all crashed for a couple of hours. The rooms at the hotel are quite small, but efficient. I am rooming with Josh’s father Abe, who I am just now meeting. We would have gone 3 to a room but it would have been very cramped at that point.

So we are refreshed and out on the streets enjoying a nice cool evening and investigating the city. We walk along Palackeho most toward New Town and cross the Vltava river. Its quite scenic here, looking north toward Old Town and the Prague Castle in the distance.

After we cross the bridge we walk along the river to the Dancing House.  This is a facinating building that resembles two people dancing. Originally it was called Fred and Ginger but later came to be known as a simpler title of the Dancing House.

Along the river here is two converted barges that have been made into a hotel and a restaurant. Very cool looking but we did not go down to check out the dinner prices. Though by this time we are all thinking dinner so I figure its time to find a nearby beer hall for the evening.

After a quick search I find we were near U Fleku, a beer hall that has been serving since 1459. After a few miss turns on the back streets I orient myself and we settle down for dinner. It is true beer hall style with long tables and benches to sit on. The clientele seemed to be a mix of tourists and locals. We were definitely touristy with our cameras out and I think the staff capitalized on it. They greeted us with a tray full of shots of Carlsbad Becherovka, a local Cinnamon shnaps type beverage. Quite tasty and invigorating. Next up came the dark beer, plenty of it. And as soon as your mug was empty they had another one out for you. But even in that case I think we only had 2 each, with a couple having 3. The beer is brewed on the premises and not available anywhere else. VERY smooth and tasty.

Our food was good Czech fare. Josh had the Pork Neck which was neat (and pretty tasty) and everyone else had a mismatch of different things. I got the sausage and found it very good. There was also some excellent accordion music accompanied by French Horn. Abe got into this and sang quite loud when a song was played that he knew. And this was the guy who WASN’T drinking!

After dinner we headed back to the hotel taking a slightly different route this time crossing the Jiraskuv most instead. We got to see the Prague Castle lit up at night and it was awesome. Its been a long but great day…now time to catch some sleep!

Comments (0) Mar 31 2011

2010 Photos Are Up

Posted: under Out and about.

Well…that took more time than I thought it would. All of my 2010 photos are now posted in their full uncompressed glory. Just navigate to the gallery, enjoy!

My 2010 Gallery!

Comments (0) Jan 23 2011

End of the World?! Not as I know it…

Posted: under Out and about.

What a wild and crazy time we live in. For the most part I am happy that this is the time I was born into, but somedays you just have to question when the people around you should (or shouldn’t) have been sprouted.

This post is all about the recent animal die offs around the world. Not an answer as to why, but perhaps some information that you can use to educate  yourself.

First a quick run down on whats been happening:

What When Where
100′s of Snapper 1/5/2011 New Zealand
Thousands of Fish 1/4/2011
50-100 Jackdaw Birds 1/4/2011 Skovde, Sweden
500+ Black Birds 1/3/2011 Pointe Coupee Parish, LA, USA
Dozens of Black Birds 1/3/2011 Gilbertsville, KY, USA
100,000 Drum Fish 1/3/2011 Northwest Arkansas, USA
Tens of Thousands of Fish 1/3/2011 Kent Island, MD, USA
700+ Doves 1/3/2011 Faenza, Italy
100 Tons of Fish 1/3/2011 Coast of Parana, Brazil
100′s of Fish 1/3/2011 Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
Scores of Fish 1/3/2011 Peterborough, England
200 Birds 1/3/2011

Ore City, TX, USA

100′s of Fish 1/2/2011 Abergavenny, England
5000+ Black Birds 12/31/2010 Beebe, AR, USA
Dozens of Fish 12/29/2010 San Antonio River, TX, USA
70 Bats 12/28/2010 Tucson, AZ, USA
Scores of Fish 12/27/2010 Lake Azuei, Haiti
10 Tons of Fish 12/23/2010 South of Kawau Island
Various Fish 12/17/2010 Michigan City, IN, USA
Thousands of Fish 12/17/2010 Cebu, Philippines
Thousands of Fish 12/15/2010

WOW…that is a lot of animals in a short period of time. You can even view this on a handy Google Map if you like, with all the corresponding articles on the incidents.

So far none of the situations have any funny business behind them. The scientific and medical community has explanations for most of them. A lot seem to revolve around the colder winter we are experiencing. But some don’t even try to give a reasonable explanation, just a pat on our collective head and a ‘nothing to see here’ attitude.

But we also have respected prophets (who knew?) like Cindy Jacobs who is preaching that these sudden bird die offs stem from the President repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. In fact, her newest book also claims that the world is going to hell in a hand basket (my words) “From Pokemon cards and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to Marilyn Manson and psychic hot lines, this nation is under siege.” Also on the religion front, we have Pastor James Manning who speaks of the Apocalypse that is coming. After all, its in the Bible.

Also on the possibility list we have Saul Relative claiming that perhaps the birds ran into a UFO…perhaps it was cloaked. Or maybe its all BP’s fault for the deep oil drilling its been doing in the Gulf, which just so happens to coincide with the New Meridian fault line that runs through that area (MI, TN, KY, MS, IL, IN and AR). Perhaps its mass suicide, I am sure birds get depressed as well. And who knows, maybe its just the magnetic line of the Earth that is adjusting each year.

So there you go…believe in what you will as there are plenty of crack pot conspiracies and religious doom sayers out there. Me, I think its all related to the weather. Don’t scoff at Global Warming, those icebergs aren’t shrinking due to them wearing snuggies. Just don’t take the whole pill and believe its because of your car emissions either.

Comments (0) Jan 11 2011

Costa Rica – Day Seven/Eight Houston and Home

Posted: under 2010/02 - Costa Rica, Out and about.


Yeah, sleeping last night was not a treat. The beds are nice here at the Hotel Balmoral, but my sunburned back made it nigh impossible to sleep well. Never have been a stomach sleeper and I can sleep on my sides but eventually I turn on my back…ouch.

Anyway, our wakeup alarm was not to early so while the sleep was sporadic there seemed like enough. Upon waking we saw that DC and most of the NE had a major blizzard going on. So even before we got to the airport we figured we would make it to our first stop in Houston but that would be about it.

Our last bit of fun driving was getting the SUV back to the rental agency, the 12km trip took almost an hour with all the crazy traffic. The agency was very efficient and we were on their shuttle to the airport in no time.

Once there we confirmed that pretty much all airports in the NE part of the US were shut down. Our flight to Houston was on schedule so that went easily. We met up with several of the other Gate 1 package people at the airport and started exchanging stories. For the most part everyone had a great time and couldn’t wait to come back. One couple did have their rental car broken into and one of their passports stolen, but they were very happy with how quickly the US Embassy got them a new one.

The flight was uneventful, it was a new 757 that had the video screens on the chair backs with multiple movies, tv and games to choose from. Certainly made the flight go by quickly.

When we arrived in Houston we spoke to Continental and they got us a distressed traveler voucher that allowed us a cheap hotel rate nearby. So we were able to stay at a Marriott Fairfield for $60.

After dinner we found that our new flight to DC in the morning had been cancelled already. So after speaking with the airlines on the phone we were able to secure a flight later in the day. This allowed us to sleep in and I know Bob was certainly happy about that!

Today came and went very quickly, the flight was on time and even not very full. So we reached National Airport before 5pm and Sheila’s brother-in-law Rey came and picked us up. I was very surprised about the roads being so clear. I guess the news had gotten us pretty spooked as to what we were to find.

Even our cars in Dulles weren’t that piled under with snow. After just a couple of minutes we had them shoveled out and on our respective ways home. A great vacation with some great traveling companions. Next up, I will write a summary as to all the places and experiences in more detail. Can’t wait to go back to Costa Rica!

Comments (0) Feb 11 2010

Costa Rica – Day Six San Jose

Posted: under 2010/02 - Costa Rica, Out and about.

Last night was a crazy night. Its been to long since I have slept so near the ocean…all night I was hearing thunder and it woke me up…but it was actually the surf crashing on the shore. This happened about 4 times, each time with the same thought ‘oh no, thunder will ruin our plans in the morning’ then realizing it was the waves.

We had an early and busy morning ahead of us, and of course Bob was the last to be roused. Me and Sheila had a light breakfast while Bob copped a few more zzzz’s.

Next stop is Playa Flamingo and meeting the boat for our snorkel trip. The name of the company is Boos Adventures, pronounced Bose. Our skipper was Vincent Boos the owner. A local that knew the waters well and took us to an excluded area called Honeymoon Beach. Pristine sand with two long outcroppings of old lava flows in the water to snorkel around. We spent nearly 3 hours there enjoying the perfect weather and all the lovely fish.
Vincent carved up a Pineapple for us and we relaxed on the boat. Shame that we only have this short time here on the water, this afternoon we are off to San Jose for one more night before flying out.

Once we got back to Playa Basilito we had a little lunch at one of the local places where everything was in Spanish. Me and Sheila ordered the Arroz con Pollo but we were a little shocked when Bob ordered blindly off of the Carne section of the menu. But he was pleasantly surprised when he got basically a meat sampler with ribs, steak, wings and shrimp. It came with this brown sauce that he just loved.

On the wall of the restaurant was a poster for a festival that was going on in town the following weekend. One of the words that stood out for me was Torro. And after seeing the rather rudimentary ring and stand I put two-and-two together and figured the bull fights were coming to town. Still have yet to see one and we will miss this one as well.

Next up was the almost 6 hour drive to San Jose. Not a lot to talk about there, it was just a long drive over what seemed to be fairly recognizable territory. The roads are fairly well-maintained, but you can tell that the Pan American highway has major Semi Truck traffic…not only because we were stuck behind dozens on a two lane road, but the pavement was rippled from the trucks having hit their brakes over the years.

We got to San Jose after dark so the driving was even tougher to navigate…once again our GPS saved us. We made it to the hotel and by that time me and Bob realized that our sunburn from that morning was a lot worse than we thought. So the first stop after checking in was the Farmacia next door for some lotion.

For dinner we went back to Mama’s Place since Sheila was insisting she have the dessert again. We were so tired that after dinner we just headed to bed…its been a long but great day.

Comments (2) Feb 09 2010

Costa Rica – Day Five Playa Brasilito

Posted: under 2010/02 - Costa Rica, Out and about.

This morning started pretty typical for us, me getting up at dawn, Sheila waking soon after craving a cigarette and Bob sleeping till we just made too much noise (2 hours later).

Today we are winging it to the greatest degree…heading to the Pacific coast with no big plans other than snorkeling. We still have another night paid for here in Monteverde but with how far it is to the coast we just decided to find someplace there to crash.

Researching the areas in my Frommers guide I decided on Playa Brasilito. There are many beach areas along the northwest Pacific coast to choose from, but this one seemed the least touristy. It took us almost 4 hours to get there and we were all amazed how much the landscape changed. The northern part of the country is flat with occasional hills and hot with grassy plains and cactus. Quite the departure from the high altitude rainforest we had just left.

We reached our destination just afternoon. Our hotel turned out to be a beach flop, 13 rooms with very basic amenities, but also cheap at $58 with AC. Oh, and it was right on the beach. Yay! It is owned by an Aussie who also owned the bar/grill next door Outback Jacks. We had lunch there and the fish I had was amazing!

For the rest of the day we setup our snorkel excursion for the next morning and hung out on the beach. Me and Bob were both slightly under the weather so we took it easy, guess we got some local water the night before. Definately not the worst bout I have ever had but enough for me to cut back on the Casado’s (traditional platters) for the day.

That night after dinner we walked along the beach and marveled at the stars. There really is no town here, so no ambient light to spoil the night sky. The water was nice and warm on our feet. One of my favorite experiences of the trip was that night sky.

Comments (0) Feb 08 2010