Monday, 18 February 2013

Day 285 – Barbies and Bones. (Czech Republic)

After a bit of a hoo-ha with our accommodation on arrival we ended up having quite a good few days in Prague. We met a young Dutch fellow by the name of Sven in Belgrade, and as we had a spare bed in our already-booked accommodation in Prague, when we found out that he was planning to have New Year’s in Prague but didn’t have any accommodation sorted, we invited him to join our plans. Peculiarly though one night while we were in Budapest (over Christmas, between meeting Sven in Belgrade and seeing him again in Prague) we were sitting in a bar when we suddenly saw his face pressing up on the other side of the window! I guess it’s not as unlikely as the time we bumped into the German girl from our hostel in Tashkent, at a Couch Surfer’s in Belgrade (Blog Day 271 – An awkward evening and a confusingwake-up call), but still – it’s a pretty small world. And now I think of it, if it hadn’t been for the disaster that was Alexander (Couch Surfer from Belgrade) we wouldn’t have met Sven who has since become a very good friend.

Even throughout the Balkans things were becoming a bit more pricey compared to the places we’ve been to on the majority of the trip, but Czech Republic was the first place we’d been to where everything really was European priced. And devastating it was. All the things that we have become used to easily affording – whether we decide to or not – were suddenly real considerations that needed to be made. Not only that, but the type of pricing: in most of the world there seems to be very little difference between prices of the same item sold in different locations. For example in Cambodia a can of coke was worth between 2,000 Rial and 2,500 Rial ($0.50-$0.60), regardless of whether that was from an ice chest at the side of the road, a supermarket in Phnom Penh or the convenience store at the beach resort. There was no longer any option of eating for less than $1, we couldn’t just buy a soft drink at a convenience store in the centre of town, and staying in accommodation for a few nights shredded our budget.

On the other hand though Prague really is a beautiful city – it’s not flocked by tourists at all times of year for nothing. We arrived the day before New Year’s Eve and the Christmas market in the central square was buzzing with an excited mass of gluhwein drinkers, wurst lovers and Christmas tree spectators. New Year’s Eve itself though was hectic. We decided to go on a New Europe Free Walking Tour that day (an activity I would recommend in any city where they run, ie. most European cities) and it was madness. There were so many tourists trying to go on the tour that they had to split us up into several groups and we were continuously stuck in people traffic as we moved around the city. Crossing Charles’ Bridge was neigh on impossible as millions of other tourists crammed themselves into any gap they could find.

Along with the Lennon Wall, the Castle, the Clock Tower, the old town and all the other usual things to see in Prague, we visited the very centrally located, but surprisingly unheard-of Toy Museum. As we were walking down the hill from the Castle back to the centre of town we passed a fairly non-descript sign pointing left to “Toy Museum” and decided to have a quick look. And we were very glad we did. With thousands of examples of toys from all over Europe, spanning well into history, there was enough to keep each of us entertained for hours: working mechanical tradesmen, porcelain dolls dressed in white lace, figures depicting grotesque war scenes, detailed dolls houses, talking teddies, animated medieval castles, dolls participating in all sorts of activities, and so much more filled the cabinets and tables of the museum. And on top of that a Barbie display happened to be in town and we got to see everything from Lady Gaga Barbie to C-section Barbie.

Another must-see for anyone visiting Prague is the Bone Chapel in Kutna Hora, about 80km East of Prague. The story goes that at some point in the 13th Century, some holy soil was sprinkled on the grounds of this chapel making it a greatly sought after place to bury loved ones. During years of war and disease the burial grounds became overcrowded and some remains were excavated and stored inside the church. It wasn’t until much later that the bones inside the church were arranged artistically and it has since become a very interesting tourist attraction. Huge piles of skulls and bones stand in the corners, strings of skulls and bones adorn the archways and walls and even a coat of arms is suspended impressively at one end of the chamber. The highlight of the Bone Church though is surely the impressive chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling, made entirely from bones and containing at least one of each type of human bone. A creepy, but very unique sight to witness.


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