Originally published 19 June 2013
The gang on the train
Today's comments are kind of a rolling commentary on our train trip from Vienna, a very western city, to Prague. I'm writing as we go...so the events and my thoughts are seriatim.
We arose this morning and headed to the train station.....we took the underground from near our hotel and arrived in plenty of time. A good thing as it seems with 3 weeks of travel plans banging around in my head, I was confused on our train time. Laurie caught my mistake and we made the train no problem. I will pay much closer attention next time and will not rely on my memory as much.
We boarded our train, which was quite crowded. Like most air conditioning in Europe the AC on the train is intermittent and of varying quality. Many seats were reserved and we went from car to car hunting for open seats. I thought I had made a mistake not reserving seats....but after a few cars, we found out this was not the case. In the cars away from the center of the train, there are many seats not reserved, and entire compartments with no one sitting in them. We spread out with quite a bit of room around us.
2nd class seating. EVERYONE sits in 2nd class.
We are not on a high speed train this time, so we make quite a few stops. We are also on an Austrian train as the Czech rail website was a bit difficult. You could click a button to have the site in English, but when you clicked to book, a pop up came up to enter the information and it was only in Czech. Not exactly user friendly. And my Czech mostly consists of curse words taught to me by a Czech racing friend. Thus, we are traveling with the Austrians to Prague.
If there are a bunch together, you can get a compartment.
I read from several sources that there are no high speed trains in the Czech republic, so I did not look for one. After we were already booked, and already in Europe, I read that there were high speed trains on the Czech railways. Then I saw a picture of one. It looked, for lack of a better description, "Soviet". Kind of like a bad 1970's carnival ride. I think sticking with the Austrian railway was a better choice.
Trams are how to get around in Prague. This is a new one.
After traveling for an hour or two, we entered the Czech republic. It was easy to tell as things were not in the state of repair they had been in the rest of Europe. We stopped in Brno to pick up passengers and the station, while quite serviceable, was a little unkempt. Old cast iron light standards were rusty with peeling paint, something one doesn't see in Western Europe, and the shelters were very basic and not at all ornamental. But it works and we took on passengers. I've also noticed that the train is "louder" on the rails than it was in Austria. This is usually a sign that things aren't installed to the tolerances we've become used to in Austria.
The passengers look markedly different than most of the people on the streets in the places we've been. Not bad or unkempt.....but more...simple. It seemed that in Vienna, all women had fresh manicures and painted nails, wore the latest fashions, and wore heels even to ride bikes. In the Czech republic they are more utilitarian. Simple print dresses, Reeboks instead of heels. The men in Vienna were all well dressed.....while the men getting on the train in the Czech republic were more casual. This could also be a city/rural thing and not Austrian/Czech. At time wears on, I'll be able to figure out which.
Trams are from all different time periods. This one is old.
I've been chatting with a Czech that sat down across from me. His name is Frank and he lives in Prague. He says he has the best job in the world. I discover that this means he is retired. Frank is quite friendly and he told me a bit about Brno (about 300k people), and that at present it's 37 degrees centigrade outside. Otherwise known as hot as hell. At present, Frank has drifted off to sleep and I'm sure at some point he'll wake up and we'll continue our conversations.
Sheree, Laurie, and David on the Charles Bridge.
When I travel, as with anyone else, I do like to see things and sites. But the thing I enjoy the most is encountering people who live where I am traveling. I truly appreciate when they share little things about their culture and lives with me. Yes, I like learning about the places I go and the things I see, but I like meeting and interacting with the people the most. I will remember the woman in Salzburg that took me behind the counter and taught me the German names for condiments, the old man in the bakery, eating lunch from a trailer last year with the locals in Scotland, and simple broken language chats with Frank on the train long after the details of the 23rd church I've visited fade from my memory.
The Charles Bridge, Prague.
I also enjoy watching people, no matter where we are. I like to watch them interact with each other, learn about what their customs are, their work, and how they live. By simply sitting and observing, I tend to learn MUCH more than I could about the people than I could ever learn by reading........even though I only understand a few words of their languages.
Laurie at the John Lennon wall, Prague.
A word of advice when you travel.....keep your eyes open. Pay attention. Never be so busy that you don't take a good hard look around. Study what you see. Think about what you see. And later, look up what you didn't understand. Yes, it serves to keep you safe, but it also serves to teach you about the people around you. Oh yeah......and don't be afraid to try and talk with people. They'll usually try their best to understand you. If you get mugged while doing this, however, I accept no responsibility.
Prague girls trying to beat the heat like the rest of us.
So far, my observations are from the window of a train (go Blue Highway!). I've seen a mix of older ways of life....eastern european/old communist.....mixed with satellite dishes, German cars, and billboards for stuff we all want and/or need. Some of the towns have Soviet style apartment block housing interspersed with old and new houses. There are a lot of old abandoned buildings and then are new factories. It's a lot like everyplace else.....then again....it's not. We pass older Czech trains with rusty roofs, something never seen in the countries we've been to before. This is my first journey to an eastern bloc country, and I am acutely aware of the differences.
Trabant race car. That's scary!
As we get closer to Prague, I notice differences in what I see from my window. Things are more modern. We just passed through a town called Pardubice. Frank tells me it is mostly chemical factories and manufacturing. You notice the suburbs to town as we leave. In that aspect, it's a bit more American. The tracks have quieted a bit as well. A look out the window and you see cross ties made of concrete, something I observed in Germany. Apparently some sections of tracks have been brought up to higher standards and some have yet to be. I'm sure it's like that in the states as well.
Famous architect Frank Gehry's "Dancing House"
We just passed a scrap yard full of old T-34 tanks....they're cutting them up for parts and scrap. They're not a bad tank, just terribly outdated. Some of the Czech trains we pass look like they came out of a 1970 documentary about the Soviet block and their glorious transport system! Others look no different than the trains used elsewhere in Europe. I have yet to see a tractor factory, but plan on visiting a museum on Prague that has tractors.
The Vietnamese Embassy is in our hotel!
The Czech kids on our train seem to dress like the kids everywhere else. Some things, it seems are universal. At the stops, I hear the conductors blow whistles for the all aboard. Then we're off back into the countryside for our last leg to Prague. We plan to get to our hotel, get checked in, and then we'll see what Prague holds for us.
Now a word from Laurie!
View from our apartment balcony
We're checked in, and it's pretty nice. It has, by European standards, an air conditioner. While not super cool...it's cooler than we've been. We hang out a while just to recover from 7 straight days of oppressive heat. Our apartment is massive, even larger than the last one if that's possible! David and Sheree gave us the nice bedroom in Vienna, so we gave them the nice bedroom in Prague. They get the balcony, but I'm sure they'll share.
Hanging out in the air condition in our living room!
We have a balcony, a full kitchen with a dishwasher, a full bath with bidet and towel warmer, AIR CONDITIONING, a central foyer, a living room, and two bedrooms. One of the bedrooms has a balcony and the balcony and the living room look out over the river. It's a very European style flat. We also saw a plaque by the door that noted that the building was or is the Vietnamese embassy! They may have an apartment here that's part of the embassy. Honestly, I was a bit surprised!
I've stayed in hotel rooms smaller than our entry vestibule.
We wandered through town, checking out our new city and getting a feel for things. We walked across the Charles Bridge, and saw the John Lennon wall, a famous landmark here in Prague. Dinner was at a restaurant near old town but a block or two off the beaten path. I've heard the advice to get a few blocks away from the tourist places and things get much cheaper. It's very true. Czech republic is cheaper than the places we've been as well. Meals are cheaper, souvenirs are cheaper, etc. And the city is pretty cool.
More tomorrow once we get a handle on this place!
I'm Bill. My wife Laurie and I love to travel and share our stories. We especially love it when we have been able to motivate our readers to start traveling on their own, and making their own stories.
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