Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Well, there it is. After 4 surprisingly long days of studies, finals are finally over. The flu-like symptoms didn't help much. How'd they go?

German: Basically, I think I aced it. That means I probably didn't and will be rudely surprised
Fine Arts: Confidently filled out every question (just like the midterm), hopefully I won't be derailed by questionable grading methods (just like the midterm)
Religion: Had some trouble with the "random facts about the church in Denmark in 1871" section but it went well otherwise...
History: Easy, baby! If you spend enough time reciting the history of Austria in your head all you have to do is write it down. Hurrah for short term memory!

Quite a relief, now we can relax and try to enjoy our last few days in Vienna. It's nice here. Sadly, I was talking to a Viennese kid earlier and he was flabbergasted that I liked it here and reiterated over an over how much better America is than Vienna. Sad! He lives in one of the coolest cities in the world and doesn't even care. I hope I never take America for granted like that, lousy food or not.

I'm so excited to get back to dollars. You have no idea. Food at a restaurant for only 10-12 bucks? Amazing! So cheap! Movies for less than 15 dollars? Great! I'll watch two! Exchange rates are lousy when you're at the wrong end. It was all fun and games in Thailand buying dinner for $1.25 but now things are serious.

mmm....Vanilla Kipferl are tasty....

If anyone has any tasty European chocolate orders you'd better put them in now. As in now. I'm leaving soon. Who knows, maybe Santa will be nice to ya!

Did I tell you about Frankfurt? It was great!!! We spent almost all our time at the temple but did get to go into town once. They had a lego store!!! Whoohooo! I immediately reverted to a 9 year old.

The temple there has a guesthouse (like a hostel) and a cafeteria so we were pretty much self-contained there for the 2.5 days of the trip. Oh, and the two 9 hour bus rides? WAAAY too much fun. Sleeping on a bus leads to temporary insanity, it turns out:

While in Frankfurt, we went to an activity that involved gingerbread houses. While people made beautiful chateaus, replicated historical landmarks and so forth, I designed...

Gummy bear hell

27 individual methods of death and dismemberment!!!

Notice the lovely cubist design. Notice the suffering. Notice the European snobbishnish. You bet I've learned something about art!

Oh, and at the stake center in Frankfurt they had drinking fountains. Understand, that was the first fountain I'd seen in Europe since the old mosque in Granada. In August. AMAZING

Went to Cafe Sperl yesterday. Cafes here are SO cool. I am going to desperately miss them. Are there any good European style cafes in Provo? SLC? I need to find one to fritter my time away in and become a true turn-of-the-century existentialist. hmmm...I'll need to take up smoking and wear black clothes too...maybe I'll settle for hot chocolate and a hoodie. Martin, our destiny as useless philosophers calls!

Tasty treat of the week comes from a Frankfurt market:

Ok, gotta go. Wien calls!

P.S. On a slightly more menacing note, the gummies have started to revolt against my tyrannical rule...

...silly gummies...

This is WAR!!!!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

More smatterings from Vienna

Today was pretty crazy, we got up early and went to hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir sing for Mass at the Hofburg Capelle. We were only able to stand in the doorway, which was a bummer, but they were quite good. We were watching them on a TV screen and even though they are world-class singers they’re still just little boys. They fidget, pick at their shoes and almost fall asleep. Funny little fellas!

I went to church in my German ward (for the last time) and had a temple interview with the bishop afterwards that was in German! Fortunately, I’ve had enough of those that I know the questions pretty well. Anyhow, to make a long story short, we’re going to the Frankfurt temple this weekend. I’ll tell you how it went when I get back (it may take a while, finals are next week. Bleh!)

We went to Wagner’s Kirche Am Steinhof, a Jugenstil church here in Vienna. It’s a modern architecture church, very different and cool.

We couldn’t get in on Thursday but we saw there was a concert there on Sunday. So we went back today and saw the concert. It was awesome! Organ, choral and violin concert.

Earlier in the week we went to the central cemetery. Graves there include Amerling, Schubert, Schonberg, Brahms, Beethoven (!) and Strauss. How crazy! They also have a Jugendstil church called the Dr.-Karl-Lueger kirche with a beautiful interior. Check out the inside of this dome!

Went to the Albertina museum this week which featured a exhibit on Impressionism called “From Monet to Picasso”. Loved it! My favorites were the paintings in the “Pointillist” style. Here are a few examples:



The Monet stuff was also beautiful. I especially like his gardens.

Speaking of museums, we also went to Belvedere palace a learned about 20th century art. I’m not a fan of Gustav Klimt. Not at all. I liked some of the expressionist stuff I saw and I loved a piece by Max Oppenheimer called “The Philharmonic”:

Anyhow, I’ve finally found some painting styles that I really like…

A small group of us went to Baden, a small town near Vienna, on Saturday. Baden means “baths” and it is aptly named. There are loads of natural heated baths in the town. We went to one called Romerthelle and it was great! 4 different pools of different temperatures and most of them had fountains and jets, etc. The large cooler pool also had underwater music and a reflective roof that you could look at and watch yourself swim around if you were on your back. It was like a video game as I maneuvered myself around, staring at the ceiling, trying to bonk into my friends’ heads while they weren’t paying attention. Hahahahaha! I was quite successful.

Oh! Cafes! We went to some great cafes this week! First was Café central, a old school, famous café in Vienna. We had dinner there and some cake. It is very stately, expensive and nice. It’s the kind of place that you can just sit all day and read, talk and listen to the piano player. They have free newspapers from all over the world that you can read and they’ll never kick you out. Perfect for itinerant philosophers!

We also went to Café Hawelka, a very different experience. A dark, extremely smoky place with tiny tables and tons of people. They serve fresh jam filled buns after 10 PM which we sampled. We also had dark hot chocolate which made the whole experience seem all the more gritty and fantastic.

As you can see, it was a brilliant week. Another one coming as I pack it all in before the end!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bumbling around Vienna

Snippets from what I've done recently:

- I played basketball with Austrians. I didn't really know what to expect going into it, having heard mixed reports on the quality and style of basketball in Europe. First impression when I arrived: These boys are BIG. Seems like half the guys on the court were 6'4", 220 lbs. of muscle. Ridiculous. Anyhow, the game was extremely competitive. I loved it! They were about as good as some of the better non-team guys at BYU. The game is a little different. They shoot a lot more (and are WAAAAY better shooters) and they have a real post game, but there is far less slashing and driving and physical play. It was really fun to play, with better passing and fundamentals. I got killed at first but eventually figured out the pace of the game and did much better.

- Watched the BYU-Utah game last night. What can I say? So our receivers can't catch. Big deal! Collie catches 'em when they count! Game MVP: Utah players who can't stop fouling.

- I went to Schonbrunn palace, which is a huge, ornate baroque palace. We took the "grand" tour and saw most of the rooms. Just an absurd amount of money went into that place. It housed 1500 people during its heyday. 1500! Each room was decorated differently. There were porcelain rooms, walnot-wood paneled rooms, exquisite parquet flooring and the like. The usual European fare. I'm excited to get back to Utah and get to enjoy the great architecture and design of buildings like the Clyde Building and the MARB. Shoot me.

- Allyson and I went to the ballet "Coppelia". I hadn't been to a ballet in years and years and was curious to see if I'd like it. I did. Who would have thought that people dancing could be funny? It is a very lighthearted ballet (unlike many of the others with people dying right and left) and the music, although unfamiliar, was very nice.

- My host showed us how to make Apple Strudel last week, so we made some and devoured them. There was one whole strudel for me and I ate the whole dang thing in one sitting. Tasty...

- Yesterday we went to a very fancy international grocery store. They had things from all over the world! Black tomatoes, Nectricots, 20 pound toblerones, they had it all. The highlight? White Truffles. Only $7500.00 a pound!

Well, that's all you get for know. Sure, we did more, but that's all I remember.

Lainzer Tiergarten Pics

Once there was a snowman, snowman, snowman....Sissy French Buffalo thing


Fallow Deer

I touched it! I touched it!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Well, our crazy traveling slowed down a bit and now we're here in Vienna for about 3-4 weeks without leaving. Honestly, it's been fairly nice so far. We've been able to catch up on some of the museums and other things that we haven't seen yet here in this city. Honestly, there is waaay too much to do in Vienna. There are so many museums, concerts, operas, historic places and events that it's impossible to ever do them all. I have a calendar laid out with all the things I want to do before I leave and it's getting to the point where I have 1 or 2 things planned for just about every day! It doesn't help that the weather has turned cold and rainy/snowy lately, making all of us a lot less ambitious to go out and do things. Honestly, I'd just like you find a recliner and some hot chocolate and read some Philosophy.

Last week we went to a museum called Neue Berg. In it we walked through the musical instrument display and the armor and weapons exhibit. Amazing stuff! They had pianos from Beethoven and other famous composers, armor from the Turkish sieges of Vienna in the 1500s and more. There's a lot of history in this continent.

Yesterday we went to the "Lainzer Tiergarten". It is a large nature reserve on the outskirts of Vienna where they walled off a large area for woods and animals. We were able to see Fallow Deer, Mouflon and European Bison. Pretty nifty. The Fallow Deer were sort of like a small cross between a elk and a moose. There are also wild boar at the reserve but we didn't see any of those. I was horribly disappointed. I want wild boar, dangit!

I'm all signed up for my classes for winter and honestly, as much as I'm dreading leaving Europe, I'm pretty excited to get back to friends, family and school. Weird, eh? Somehow I desperately want to both stay here AND go back. Maybe I can figure out a way to do that in the next 3-4 weeks.

It's snowing today, the christmas lights are up, the chestnuts are openfirishly roasting away (smelling amazig, BTW) and the Christmas market opens tonight. Such excitement. You should see the girls in our program. They're about ready to wet themselves out of excitement. It's like they've never seen Christmas in Austria before. Silly.

I haven't played basketball in months. I realized the other day that this is probably the longest I've gone without basketball since I was 11 or 12. Pretty wild. I need to play soon. Not want, NEED. I've found a few Austrian guys who play and we have a tentative appointment to play next Saturday. Cross your fingers!

Anyhow, there's the boring old didn't-travel-all-over-the-world update. Ciao!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Decisions, decisions

So I'm finally going to actually apply for grad schools. And if I get in, I think I'm going to go. I don't have the anxiety that I used to. I don't worry about it; I can always fall back on something else if things don't work out. The real question is what grad school to go to? English Lit/Comp Lit, Philosophy, Religious Studies, or even Mormon Studies? I think I'll apply to them all for the moment and see what opportunities I even have. Eric, we should apply to schools around each other. By the way, sign up for PHIL 501R for Kierkegaard independent reading. You'll have to type in 3.0 credit hours. This will be fun. I think I'll try to audit writing for religion too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Got back from Dublin last week. Talk about cool. I had no idea that I would end up in Dublin when I started this trip but lo and behold, there I was. Pretty crazy. It was a long and tiring but overall fantastic!

We met at the school on Wednesday at about 11:30 and headed for the train station. Our flight was actually out of Bratislava, and so we needed to catch a bus/shuttle to there. We found the bus without and mishap and jumped on it. The bus left at about 1 and we got to Bratislava around 3ish. Our flight was at 5:45 so we had plenty of time to sit around the airport and discover some of the beautiful intricacies of discount European airlines. For instance: If you aren’t a EU citizen you cannot do online checkin and are therefore required to pay a 6 euro fee. Also, if you want to check luggage? 12 euro. A seat that reclines? 9 euro. Ok, the last one is a lie. They don’t have seats that recline. Honestly, everything worked surprisingly well, considering all the busses and shuttles and planes we were involved with over the week. The plane ride was about 3 hours. No significant barfing to report. Our attendants were a couple of funny guys from Ireland that made fun of each other over the intercom and generally spent the flight making jokes with the passengers, etc. When we started to descent into Ireland, things got crazy. It looked like there were fires all over the city! Honestly, I had no idea what was going on. Was it terrorism? Had a citywide fire broken out that they were trying to contain? And then we saw the explosions. Lots of them. All around the plane. I knew Northern and Southern Ireland fought with each other a lot but heavens, now I was right in the middle of it! Actually, it wasn’t terrorism or natural disaster.

I’ve been here in Europe long enough that I forget about American holidays like Labor Day or Thanksgiving, replacing them with things like All Saints’ Day. Well, I didn’t know that Halloween was NOT only an American institution. Dublin celebrates Halloween! We were flying right in the midst of all of the Halloween celebrating! There were fireworks all around the plane and huge bonfires all over the city. Very cool looking. Who would’ve thought that I’d spend Halloween in Dublin? Never in a million years. Now we were all excited to get off the plane and see what was going on down there.

We landed, got over the oddness of all the signs written in English and trekked across the airport. (When you use discount airlines your gate is usually waaaaaay out there.) On the way we walked through a long hallway with pictures of faraway exotic places on the wall. Paris, London, Budapest, Prague…it was about halfway down the hallway that I started to realize that I’ve been to them all. Crazy! Eiffel tower? Check. Sagrada Familia? Check. Charles Bridge? Czech. I’m like a freaking world traveler all of a sudden! The only place in the entire display that I hadn’t been was Johannesburg, South Africa. Maybe I’ll put that next on the list!

We hopped a bus into downtown Dublin, dumped our stuff at our hostel and headed out into town to take part in the festivities. Dublin strikes me as a very youngish town. I don’t know if it was just the weekend we were there or if it really is a vacation spot for lots of youth, but it seemed like a great deal more than half the city was under the age of 30. Bars, parties, puking in the streets, it was all on display that night. Everyone was dressed up (we saw at least four guys in mini-skirts. Ouch). One of our number had a tour guide that pointed out one of the best places in the city to get fish and chips and we decided to get off on the right foot by going there.

Once inside the fish and chips place, we started to order. There were two varieties left at this point in the day: fresh or smoked. Allyson, unsuspecting of the renowned Irish wit, asked “What’s the difference between fresh and smoked?”. The guy behind the counter looked at her a bit funny and without missing a beat leaned over and in his hilarious irish accent said “Well dear, one’s fresh and….one’s smoked.” We all died laughing. Apparently Allyson’s question hadn’t been answered because she followed with “Well, yeah, but what makes the smoked one different?” Again, the guy behind the counter saw his opportunity and countered with a dry “It’s smoked.” Hahahahahaha…we still laugh about this incident.

Bus seriously, the Irish are pretty funny folks. Many times we were just doing something, minding our own business and some random person walking by would say something funny, usually at our expense. As we sat and ate our grease-laden fish and chips, some random dude shouted out “They’re full of cholesterol, ladies!”. So random! The next day, as I stared at my map in frustration, I said, in exasperation “Where the heck ARE we?!?” to myself. A man in a business suit walking by said, without even looking in my direction or slowing down, “You’re lost” and continued on his way. Hahahahaha! I loved it!

After the fish and chips we all felt pretty gross, honestly. We found a grocery store and went in to get something, anything, healthy to eat. I was looking for fruit and then I saw it. The holy grail. They have this lovely fruit smoothie stuff in England called “Innocent”. It comes it rather expensive (tiny) bottles but is fantastic. Nothing but fruit, smashed and put in a bottle. I had completely forgotten about it, but there it stood, in a liter container on the shelves of a Dublin grocery store. Like a gift from heaven. I bought one as quickly as possible and guzzled it. I thought it might have been a mistake to buy it right before bed because I couldn’t finish it but that turned out to be a moot point. No problemo. We went to bed for the night, in my case in a dormish type room with 11 other guys. Snoring? Smelly? Oh yeah…

Thursday was our “see Dublin” day. We wanted to get out of the city on Friday so we decided to try and hit all the sights on Thurs. We made a plan and headed out for a long day of walking and sightseeing. First stop was Phoenix Park. It’s a big park in the west part of the city. Not a whole lot to it, just a big park.

I mean, it was cool and all, but what can you say about a park? Trees, grass, squirrels, the usual. The oddest part was probably the incredibly green grass. Even in November the grass was VERY green. “Emerald Island”, I suppose.

After the park we went to a part of the National Museum and saw exhibits of Irish applied arts. There were some dishes, some metalwork, some furniture and some clothing. Didn’t have a lot of time there but it was cool to see things made in the different art styles and particularly the “Celtic” style. Betcha didn’t know there was a celtic style, did you? Yup! There was also an old Viking longboat on display there. We took some pictures, pretended to pillage a few places and moved on. Toughest part of these short trips to cities is that you can’t linger at cool places with Viking longboats.

We walked south from the museum to visit the Guinness brewery.

They don’t allow people into the actual brewery part any more, but you can get a tour of the storehouse. We went in but decided to forego the tour. If it were the actual brewery and one was able to see the actual process I would have done it, but that wasn’t the case. Even the free pint of Guinness offered didn’t sway me to take the tour. It was cool to go inside for a minute or two, however. Guinness is a pretty big deal in Ireland. There are signs everywhere for it and there’s quite a bit of national pride behind the beer. I didn’t dare share with the locals that I had been in Prague (supposedly the best beer in the world is in Prague) for fear they’d beat me up. Some of those drunken Irish rugby players are rough-lookin’ dudes! I was really tempted to get a Guinness rugby shirt but they were a tad on the pricey side so I passed. 45-75 dollars is a lot of money for a shirt, no matter how cool the beer advertised. Plus, I didn’t know how our director would react to me returning from Ireland with a Guinness shirt. Oh well, maybe I’ll get one next time I’m in Dublin…right…

Now, of course, it was time to get a little lost. What’s a European city without getting lost? I’ll admit, I purposely take random paths to desired destinations secretly hoping to get hopelessly lost and spend the day wandering around the back streets of these places. It didn’t work out exactly like that in Dublin, but we did get to see lots of cool little townhouses and found a lovely bakery selling Irish goodies. I got a loaf of bread called “Barm Brack” (Spotted Bread). It was a light bread with chunks of fruit in it. Unbeknownst to me, it is also a tradition to bake a ring into the bread and whoever finds it is going to be married in the next year. Well, being the only one eating the loaf, I inevitably chomped down on something hard and, well, I guess I’ve got less than a year. Look out ladies!

We finally emerged from the land of the lost and took refuge in Christ Church in the center of town. Ireland’s Christians are predominantly Catholic, but oddly, all of the big churches in Dublin are Protestant. I dunno why. Christ Church was cool.

They have a mummified cat and a mummified mouse that were found in the organ when work was done on it. I’ll tell you one thing, going to all these famous cathedrals and churches in Europe I’ve really wanted to play one of their organs. Sadly, they don’t let visitors (even good looking organ players from Montana) play them. Sad, eh?

After this we went to St. Stephen’s Green (great park) and walked up some famous road of which its name escapes me currently. Starts with a G, I think. Or a Q. Something like that. Lots of expensive-looking shops. The street led to Trinity college.

We checked out the college. I think it would be very weird to go to school at a tourist attraction. Maybe that’s just me. Trinity is home to a very cool exhibit called the Book of Kells, basically a really old Irish book made by Monks and such.

After Trinity College, we attended a evening choral service in St. Patrick’s cathedral. It also happened to be All Saints’ Day and they were having a special service for the holiday.

It reminded me of the service we attended in Westminster Abbey back when we in London. Beautiful cathedral, amazing singing, good service. A few of the girls in our group went up and took communion. I really enjoy going to services in these cathedrals much better than just walking through them like a tourist. It’s nice because they kick all the crazy tourists out for the services so the cathedral is peaceful and you get to see what it is really for instead of fighting your way through mobs to read pamphlets and eavesdrop on tour guides. We needed somewhere to eat after the cathedral so we stopped a place called “delish”, where we ate meat pies. They weren’t exactly authentic, as I realized that it was basically Irish fast food, but they were tasty and they got the job done. I think that was it for the night - back to my room with all the other gentlemen and off to sleep.

Friday was “leave Dublin” day. First, however, we wanted to do a little shopping. Everyone was looking to get something from Ireland. I wanted a rugby shirt and a Irish cookbook. As we travel Europe I’ve tried to pick up a cookbook from everywhere we’ve gone so I can cook the fun things we’ve eaten back in the states. We found a great bookstore where I was able to buy a cookbook and an English philosophy book (Hallelujah! They’re impossible to find for less than 40 euro in Austria). I never did find a rugby shirt for a reasonable price and so I came home empty-handed in that department.

After the shopping we hopped a train to take us to a little village north of Dublin called “Howth”. The train ride wasn’t long and it dumped us on the coast, looking at ocean, a harbor and a beautiful little village.

We hiked up the hill through the village to find a vantage point on top of the hill.

We never found it. Walked around for hours and never saw a bit of ocean from any hilltops. Just as we were in a suburb and about to give up, one of the ladies suggested that we turn right and continue and no more than 3 minutes later we arrived on huge cliffs overlooking the ocean on three sides. It was breathtaking!

We walked around on the cliffs until we found a place to climb down and went to the beach.

We spent some time dinking around, playing on the rocks and wading in the water. We hadn’t thought to bring swimsuits to swim in the Irish sea (silly us) and so I contented myself with a cozy spot in the rocks to read Bentham while the girls went ahead and went swimming.

We climbed back up the hill and watched the sunset over the ocean from the top. As it got dark we thought we should get going. I suggested an alternate route back to the train station, which everyone foolishly agreed upon and we got quite lost. Several miles later we found the train station two stops down from where we started and headed back to Dublin. Hahahahaha…

That night dinner was in a good old-fashioned Irish pub. Our waiter was flabbergasted when he asked what drinks we wanted and the whole table was a selection of fruit juices and sodas. We all tried to choose Irish foods (All except Sharolee. Lasagna. Really? Lasagna? In Ireland?) I was quite pleased to be able to order Bangers ‘n’ Mash. Anything called Bangers ‘n’ Mash has to be good in my book. It’s right up there with Toad-In-The-Hole! I was not disappointed in my expectations. A pile of mashed potatoes replete with sausages, smothered in gravy! Oh, good ol’ gravy. The English/Scottish/Irish do love their gravy. In fact, on all the tables there are ketchup packets, mustard packets and gravy packets. Just in case you happen to order the one item that isn’t already floating in gravy. After dinner that I night I was given the special treat of staying in a mixed dorm. Not only 12 people, but some were women! That was a first. Actually, it was rather anti-climactic. I got in when everyone was still out and left in the morning while everyone was still sleeping. Apparently I have a different sleeping schedule than others vacationing in Ireland. Imagine that!

Saturday we hit the streets early to get our fill of the markets and bakeries. Ate a few pastries for breakfast and visited the very small markets in Dublin. We were particularly excited to visit the “Book Market” we had seen listed. It was supposed to start at 10 but apparently that means that people start to set up around 10:30 and who knows when it actually begins. Anyway, we had a plane to catch and had to abandon our designs on the book market. We made it to the airport without any mishap and armed with our quickly-growing reservoir of knowledge on European travel made it home safely and much earlier than anticipated.

Honestly, after weeks of travel I was pretty exhausted. I don’t have any trips planned for a while, possibly a month, and I’m actually looking forward to a slightly less hectic schedule and being able to see some of the amazing things here in Vienna that I haven’t been able to see.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Czech please!

Ah, Prague, the home of basically every European action movie ever. James Bond, Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne; they’ve all spent time in Prague. I was excited to go there, see the explosions, witness the hostage situations and participate in the gunfights. Ok, not really. But I was excited to see Prague without any idea what to expect or what is there.

We left for Prague on Wednesday morning at about 10:00. We were taking the train from Sudbahnhof and everyone seemed to make it on time. The train ride was about 5 hours long. I was able to sneak in a few awkward naps and listened to a few tunes between edifying conversations with my car-mates about headless chickens. (Turns out I’m the only one who’s had personal experience with headless chickens and their acrobatic ways…go figure.) Finally arrived in Prague at about 2:00 and were met at the station there by our tour guide, Vlad. Vlad was an older, skinny, balding Czech man with a deep gravelly voice that sounded like he had some sort of serious throat cancer going on. He was hilarious! Best tour guide ever. We had tours from him almost every day we were in Prague and everyone in our group loved him. First stop was our hotel where we could drop off our luggage before heading out into the city. Our hostel was called A+ Hostel, which of course immediately leads one to believe that it is improperly named. The hostel wasn’t too bad, actually. There was a decent breakfast every day and we were able to get plenty of exercise living on the “third” floor (keep in mind that in Europe the numbering of floors doesn’t start until the actual third floor.) When we were ready, Vlad took us out into the city to show us some of the major sights. Prague is probably one of the most architecturally interesting towns in the world. Because it is very old and wasn’t bombed out during the second world war, there are loads of beautiful old buildings. We visited churches in the Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic styles, art nuveau coffeehouses and cubist restaurants. It is the only place in the world where walking down a single street you could probably see buildings from every century since about 1000 AD. We saw the Powder Tower, the Charles Bridge, the Old Bridge Tower, the Prague Castle, St. Vitas’ Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, Wenceslas Square and more. Such a cool city! Oh, and there are some pretty cool museums there too, from the national museum and the Dali/Mucha museum to the medieval torture devices museum. Everything you could possibly want and more!

Prague is known for its beer. The local favorite, Pilsner Urquell, is widely known as some of the best stuff in the world. So, one would assume that such a famous place would be rather soggy, eh? Oh yeah. The place was absolutely dripping in beer. Drinking is the national sport of the Czech republic. Every meal consists of beer and things to eat with beer. Our first night in a restaurant our waiter was completely and utterly smashed. He could walk straight, kept repeating himself and broke just about everything in the place. Water pitcher: dropped and shattered. Pepper shakers: dropped and smashed. Our plates after our meal: dropped and destroyed. They had a lady working full time following the waiters around cleaning up all the broken glass. Hahahahahaha…
The food in Prague is very…heavy. Not exactly diet eating. In fact, one of the restaurants had this listed on the menu:

Light calorie options -
- Fried chicken with bacon
- Roast beef and mushrooms in gravy
- Sausage and butter fried potatoes

Sure sounds low-calorie, yeah? Well, that sums it up. First night I had lamb, wonderfully tender and cooked in gravy. They are all into dumplings there: I had dumplings with just about every meal. Also on the plate was some sort of spinach mash. Good food, very filling.

On the Charles bridge, there is a statue with a sculpted mural underneath. It illustrates the story of a saint (honestly, I can’t remember what he did to merit the statue but I think it was pretty significant). Next to this is a small relief of a dog. For years, it has been traditional to come onto the bridge and to touch the saint for luck. Oddly, however, it is also a big deal to touch the dog. Why? Noone knows. In fact, it’s quite amusing to ask people why they’re touching the dog as they do so. It’s completely pointless.

Ok, yeah, I touched the dog.
Why? I don’t know.
It’s just what one does in Prague.

We finished off our first evening in Prague with hot chocolate. We finished every night in Prague with hot chocolate. Hey! It was cold! We needed warmth! They had lots of good cocoa there. Once again, I was impressed by the culinary offerings of another European city. No surprise.

Thursday our tour guide met us in the morning and took us through the Jewish quarter of Prague. The Jewish section is very cool. We saw ridiculously old synagogues and got to walk through them, learning about Jewish life and religion. There is an old legend in Prague about a rabbi that built an earthen golem to protect the Jews from the Christians and the golem has made his way into just about every tourist stand in Prague. They thrive on that sort of stuff. The best part of the Jewish section, at least in my mind, was the inner town cemetery. Right next to one of the synagogues is an old cemetery. Since it was in the middle of the cemetery, they rapidly ran out of room to bury people. What did they do? Added another layer of dirt and buried some more. They continued this practice, in some places 12-15 times. The best part is that each time the added a layer they pulled up the gravestones from the lower graves to the surface along with the new ones. The result? The most beautiful cemetery in the world.

Back to the subject at hand: beer. They have beer flavored soap and shampoo here in Prague. Crazy!

Oh, and you know how Chinese restaurants sometimes translate things awkwardly? Imagine Chinese people in the Czech republic translating into English! The result is this – “Strange taste chicken”.

We were able to see the outside of the church where Jan Hus, famous Bohemian reformer, preached some of his sermons. I think one of the best parts of this whole European experiences is to visit the places where so many of the things I learn about actually occurred. The church where he preached. Not where the church used to stand or some ruins, the actual, honest-to-goodness church. Amazing!

Thursday night we went on a serious hunt for tasty goodies. We traversed the city, looking high a low for good pastries, yummies and hot chocolate. Mmm…love those kind of journeys. We had strudels, Czech crepes, honey cake, hot pears with chocolate sauce, fruit yeast dumplings and much more. There were several of us partaking, lest you think I was able to eat all that myself. I wish such was true but I fear the days of my eating everything in sight and asking for seconds have passed away with my teenage years. Alas, I’ll have to suffice with stuffing myself silly with three plates instead of seven; a sad day indeed.

Friday morning – tour of castle hill overlooking Prague. Our tour guide took us up there and we walked around, took pictures and froze our noog’ums off. The castle itself was rather nondescript (we weren’t even allowed to go in for whatever reason…some government thing going on) but around the back of it was St. Vitas’ cathedral. Oh my goodness! I’ve seen a lot of cathedrals on this trip (St. Stephens and Notre Dame included) but this place was easily the most imposing sight I’ve ever seen. A huge, brooding gothic cathedral with intricate carvings in dark stone, large bony towers jutting into the air, gargoyles keeping watch and massive buttresses that sits on top of a hill, overlooking the town and speaking volumes of the history of the catholic church and its influence on the town. I was totally blown away.

Right next to St. Vitas’ is St. George’s basilica, another catholic church but one built in the Romanesque style, giving it an entirely different feeling and look. Much more simple, St George’s seemed to focus less on the grandeur of God and his kingdom and more on pious worship. Almost an austere building with straight walls, small windows and much simpler frescoes. It was great to see the contrast. Later we visited a baroque church, St. Nicholas’ and I was met again with great contrast. St. Nicholas’ is in the baroque style with all of its pomp and pageantry. Baroque churches are very, very beautiful. They were meant to give the worshipper some idea of heaven and are warm and inviting. Lovely carvings, huge marble pillars, statues of saints and angels and frescoes of mortals ascending into heaven really give one the feeling of intermixing with angles and the divine. I loved seeing the three churches in shot succession, it really increased my appreciation of architecture and design in church buildings and the messages they send to the people therein.

There is a road near the castle called the “golden lane”. It used to be the home of many apothecarists that got into a lot of trouble promising the king gold and not delivering. Now it is a lovely little lane with shops of all sorts of crafts and goodies. The best part was the short doors. Perfect for the altitudinally challenged!

Much to my delight, we were able to walk past the window through which one of the infamous “defenestrations of Prague” occurred. Apparently, at several times in history, it has been a particularly popular pastime for mobs in Prague to hurl government officials out of windows. Sometimes this resulted in death and sometime it didn’t (depending of whether or not the mob stationed folks with pikes outside the window…). Anyhow, we visited the famous window of the 1618 defenestration where two catholic lords were thrown out of a second story window, part of the buildup towards the thirty-year war. I have been a fan of the defenstrations for several years (Thanks to Mike for the introduction) and I was delighted to see one of the infamous defenestrated-through windows.

The fall colors in Europe continue to amaze.

Food update! Friday’s lunch was at a great little Czech place called “Bar bar”. (Many thanks to “cheap eats in Prague” for the tip). I had a Czech pancake filled with some sort of extremely salty cheese, very sour cabbage and bacon with mashed potatoes on the side. Very different, very good. Some probably wouldn’t like it but I’ve been encouraging my ability to eat pretty much everything edible. So far I haven’t found anything in Europe that I wouldn’t gladly eat again. And it’s not like I’ve been avoiding questionable foods, I usually try to get the most unusual and/or traditional thing on the menu. For instance, I’ve had liver at least three times prepared three different ways. Love it!

That afternoon we climbed the “mountain” overlooking Prague for a better view of the city (and because we all wanted to get out of the city a bit…we’re sort of country bumpkins that way). On the way up we saw a sculpture dedicated to the victims of communism. I liked it a lot; I’ll let you come to your own conclusions:

It got dark as we ascended the mountain and we walked past one of the creepiest buildings I’ve ever seen. It was a museum/store dedicated to magic/witchcraft/weird stuff and it was bizarre! They had decorated in a very fitting fashion with strange colors, things dripping and clinging to the ceiling and slightly creepy paintings of naked people. We hurried right along past that place. I felt no need to experience that part of the culture. Hahahahahaha…

The views from the mountain were gorgeous. Prague is known for it’s towers and lights and it didn’t disappoint. There was a large lookout tower on the top but it had closed 20 minutes before we arrived so we had to be satisfied with the pictures we could get from the ground. Ate dinner at a pub, surrounded by more beer. Woohoo!

Oh, that night we went to Wenceslas square, famous for its demonstrations against communism and the events of the velvet revolution that occurred there. On the way home we ran into a few friendly locals who seemed very intent on scamming us and taking all our money through various underhanded means. We skedaddled.

Oh, more beer stories: We stopped at a bar to get our hot chocolate one of the nights and while we were there I decided to use the potty. (In Europe free toilets are more of a privilege than a right and so it’s best to use them when you’ve got them. Same with drinking water. No drinking fountains ANYWHERE. I’ve seen a total of two in the last several months and one was broken) Anyhow, while I was in the bathroom I got in a lovely chat with several drunken Czech fellows. We talked about American geography (“Montana? Where the #%*@ is that? Oh, by Oregon?”), American culture (“This song [some random Bob Dylan song I’ve never heard before] is probably the most important song in America, yeah?”) and American clothing (“Great shirt, dude. Great shirt”). Friendliest urinal trip I’ve ever taken. We were great friends by the time we’d all done our business!

Saturday was our last day to partake of Prague food so we set that as the main agenda of the day. We had breakfast at the hotel, little snacks throughout the day at pastry shops and bakeries (including the absolute best bakery in the world. Yep, it’s in Prague.). Lunch was the climax. I had a quarter of a roast duck, several types of dumplings and some sort of beet sauerkraut-y thing in a restaurant where noone really spoke English. How great is that?

On Saturday the street musicians were out. We heard everything from a funky little 20s Czech jazz band playing English stuff to classical violin to a blind lady singing opera, “reading” her Braille script. Awesome stuff. I love the music in the streets in the cities we visit. Once in Vienna we ran into a lady that had dragged her piano into a main square and was playing Beethoven and Debussy. Lovely! This Europe place really does do some things right.

I really was quite sad to leave Prague. It felt like I’d barely had time to get a grip on the culture, the food, the drunkenness. And yet, leave I did. Made in back to Vienna happier and healthier (hahaha) than ever. I certainly plan to return to Prague sometime in the future, if only to return to that amazing little bakery. Why the heck not?