Our vacation in Prague

2010-08-29

So we went to Prague in the Czech Republic (that's Europe, damnit) this week. We spent our vacation on and around a camping in Třebonice, which is a suburb to Prague (I guess).

Okay so this will be a post about my vacation which is probably boring to most. And covers a few topics at hand :)

Let me start by a friendly warning. If you're like me, a cultural barbarian that prefers to sit around and do very little during the holidays, and are still in the vicinity of Prague. GTFO. Now. I'm sorry, I had a great vacation, but Prague had very little of interest to offer me. Even the Sex Machines Museum, which really sounded promising, was more exciting before the entrance than after. No pun intended. Having said that...

We drove the whole way, about 950 kilometers, from The Netherlands to The Czech Republic. We drove in turns, which was okay. I hadn't driven that much on one day before so it was an interesting experience. I also hadn't driven abroad yet so that too was something to get used to.

Driving in Germany was okay. You can go faster there then in Holland (130 vs 120 kmph). Although the car we have doesn't really go much faster than 120 kmph anyways, so it doesn't change much. But at a 6% decline you can get decent speeds, unless limited by road signs. Meh, lots of those there now. We drove there on Friday so the road was packed with trucks. Driving back on a Saturday I really noticed the difference. I guess there wasn't much to report in Germany, other than the dozens of road constructions and the (for us) unusual mountainy roads. Oh and they have really short ramps (to get on or off the freeway).

At the Czech border we had to buy a vignet (sticker) to drive there. Only costs like 8 euro. The border area looked completely desolated. Little did we know that wasn't the last time we'd encounter such an area. The offices to sell the vignets did not look very official but we knew these were required and there was no reason not to trust border operated offices. I say offices because we could literally choose between at least five of them. None seemed to be "the official" one. Anyways, we bought the damned sticker, put it on our windshield and moved on. "Almost" there!

So a few kilometers into Czech, experiencing the great quality of their roads (well, they weren't much worse after some of the German roads) there was a car behind us that began signaling (us, I presumed). It flashed the head lights and turn signals, probably asking us to stop. It moved from the left-most lane to the breakdown lane (shoulder) on the right. At first I wanted to comply but then I remembered this wasn't quite home. We were in the middle of nowhere and if the car spelled trouble we had no chance at all. So I floored it and left the car signaling us in the far distance. Apart from that there were little issues and we arrived safely at our destination.


We stayed at Camp Drusus in Třebonice (map). Drusus is a great camp site. Apart from the mosquitoes (which isn't their fault), the bad roads for bicycles or pedestrians (not their fault either) and the road constructions on the freeway next to it (...)... Yeah I guess there's very little to complain about. It's a small site, space for about 50 tents (?) and has a few cabins. It has free wifi, a guard that watches the site at night, great sanitary (including toilet paper and soap), you get to pick where you want to stand on arrival, there's a "restaurant" with decent food (ignoring the hippy-ish guy that serves your food, which was kind of cool anyways), a public fridge and small kitchen, a safe and friendly people (apart from the owner and the guard, there seemed to be a new girl every day :p). It's very cheap and when we left we even got a glass statue.

Shower tokens cost uh, I don't know. Relatively expensive (but still cheap) and allow you to shower for 3 minutes each. However, while showering you can press a button to have the shower stop but time delayed by 5x, so you can wash your hair or whatever. I've never seen that feature before. There is a bus leaving to the metro every hour (at 5 minute walking distance) and you can be in the centre of Prague in about half an hour. The city (a suburb of Prague) is very nearby and you can be in a Lidl/Aldi (simple cheap supermarket) within five minutes by car (from the camp site take three lefts, cross the big road, take another left and in the center of that "mini mall" will be your store). So yes, I'd recommend that camp site very much. Just bring your anti-mosquito lotion :)

So after setting up our tent and everything we took a bite in that restaurant. I was surprised that a restaurant for a small site like that stayed open till 22:00 (in fact, I was surprised they had a restaurant at all :)). Like I said, the waiter looked like a hippy from the 60's, but was a nice guy. Food was fair, as were the prices.

The next day, after sleeping surprisingly well, we went to the store. We first picked the route as advised by the camp site. This led to strange back roads, the wrong way once or twice and then a general "ok and now where's the store?" kinds of situations, but we managed to find one. The way back was far easier, so we decided to take that road from there on out whenever we needed to go to Stodŭlky (the name of the suburb).

Later that afternoon we walked to a site that was supposed to show some medieval housing and people demonstrating the way of life back then. It's positioned between Třebonice and Stodŭlky. Well, we found it. Complete waste of time. When we arrived there were two people doing something with sticks (presumably "fighting") and a girl walked up asking us for money. We left, that really didn't look worth it.

When we walked through Stodŭlky there were clear signs of decay. Houses, roads, signs, busses, everything seemed to be decaying and poverty hit hard there. Then we walked through a new part of town and this was really a bit creepy. There were new buildings, a new metro entrance and everything.. but it was completely desolated. I was really just waiting for the attack of the zombies. It was that kind of scene. No zombies though.


On Sunday we went to Prague. And, well, that's just Prague. What can I say. We walked a bit around and ended up on the water bicycles (burnt my knees in the sun, so badly). After that we went up with a small train-like vehicle to the castle in the mountains. We didn't enter the castle itself but we did enjoy the view and the park there. Later we went back down and had dinner in the city. We ended up in a small theatre for a blacklight show, "Cats in Prague", which was nice. Had some original methodology (for me anyways) but I missed the story line a little.

Monday, first sign of the rain. We stayed at the camp site and played a few games. I got slaughtered at "Jeu de boules" by my girlfriend and the 25ct badminton game was well worth it's money (it constantly broke down). I started on a JavaScript course I'm going to be giving later this fall.


On Tuesday we went to Kutná Hora. It's a small city about 75km from our location. Took us about 1.5 hours to get there, which was a bit longer than we had anticipated. Kutná Hora (which seems to translate to "Kuttenberg", which in Dutch translates to "Cunt mountain"... yes, really) is a small village with a few churches. A long time ago some guy took some soil from some mountain far far away, which was deemed holy, and spread it around a hill. Ever since a lot of people wanted to get buried there. Because it became so popular there was wasn't enough room and in the end they ended with a lot of human bones stored in a small chapel. So at some point (1700ish) some guy figured you could create some cool things with these bones. And that's basically what it is now :) An art comprised of the bones of an estimated 40k ~ 70k humans. I wonder what people would think if somebody would try to do something like that in the today, even there. But it's been done and it looks cool, albeit macabre. After a small bite we went back. It turns out roads around Prague are a big giant hell. Seriously, what's wrong with those people. Apparently they've been working on a big freeway around the city for over three years. Seemed to me like they should get their priorities straight and put some hurry into it. Combined with more road constructions (barring us from leaving the freeway where we needed to) it took us three frigin hours to get home. Including a (nice) touristic route. Serves us right for following road signs. Well, the trip wasn't as bad as I may make it sound right now, but had I known this up front I'm not sure we would have went there.

Wednesday afternoon we went back to Prague. We visited the Prager Burg. On the way up we actually encountered a co-worker of mine, Elaine, and her husband. I didn't even know she was spending her holidays there as well. What are the odds... The Burg itself was nice (note that being a cultural barbarian allows me to denote these things as "nice", I don't care much about these things). We strolled around. Watched the formal change of the palace guards and walked to the old Jewish Quarter. We visited the memorial listing all the Prague Jews that died during the war, the Jewish cemetery (really just a big collection of old tombstones who's inscriptions are hardly legible) and a few synagogues. I guess I finally learned what kosher meat actually means; Too much work. We walked to the old town square to watch the spectacular clock hit five 'o clock. The sheer number of people waiting there was far far more impressive than the event itself, which was really just another example of the crap that's supposed to pass as great tourist attractions. We saw an advertisement for a glass of cola for only 3 euro. At that time we were baffled, why the hell would you be proud of such idiotic prices? We later discovered that the going rate for a glass of cola on that square is about 5 euro. Wtf. On that note, cola seems to be twice to triple as expensive as other soda's in all of touristic Prague.

On Thursday we visited the Sex Machines Museum in Prague. We skipped it on Wednesday but decided to go there on Thursday anyways. It was interesting, but in my opinion the machine before the entrance was more impressive than most of what was inside it. To be honest, I think the museum is missing a heckuvalot interesting pieces. They had a few interesting patent submissions hanging on the wall though :p But overall it wasn't quite as remarkable or shocking as I had expected. All in all the museum was nice to visit but take the "250 items" with a grain of salt... :)





After the museum we continued our way to find the Křižíkova fontána. And here is where I have to blow some steam. WHAT A FUCKING WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY. No, seriously. We went there with a great show in mind in the vicinity of a fountain. Okay, at least I did. When we got there we faced a big rusty desolated crummy entrance to what had undoubtfully at some point been something awesome. Not so awesome now. The entrance was open and we eventually just went through. I really wonder what that area was like when they first built it. I can only say it's complete trash now. From the outside at least. Do those people not care about finishing stuff? Or do they break it apart and not care about whether they want to use it or not. Seriously, there are so many things wrong there. After a long time we finally discovered the actual fountain area was at the far end of this terrain. No idea how we were supposed to just know this from the front-end. The sign to say this was only half way in. Let me put it this way, in the Netherlands we would probably have the police up our ass for trespassing at that point. Anyways, the fountain area was completely empty. Nobody or nothing in sight, at all. It seemed kind of strange at the time (I would at least expect a sound check and set up if people are going to put up a show the entire evening). I would later discover an error in my assumptions. We ate at a pizza place nearby (not on the terrain! but a little up the road) to spend some time till the first show. When we got back to the fountain there were actually lots of people there. We were so amazed. How did so many people figure this out on their own? Happy to at least be on the right place at the right time and not the only ones to visit the show, we bought two tickets. We entered, I gather there were about 500 people there for that specific (and early) show. It began. It was supposed to be a show with Andrea Bocelli. We understood it was quite unlikely that he'd actually be there himself, so we expected some guy trying to do what he did. No matter, that would have been okay. But the show started, water rose and fell and ... nothing. That was it. We spent three fucking quarters and 200 krones watching a complete uninspired series of repetitive mainly monochrome colored array of water splashes. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was nice to look at. For like five minutes. But 45 minutes of that shit? We paid for? Come on!! When the show was over and we walked past a boot to sell merchandise, we saw a video with some live performance. So I guess it's not always this much of crap. But seriously, this was simply a rip off. I'm still angry for it now. There were four shows an evening, seven evenings a week. If these shows drag in 500 people on average like this show, all paying 200 krones (about 8 euro) each it amounts to about a million euro's a week just for opening. I doubt the five people that run the whole show (security, technicians, etc) will get paid a whole lot. I can only conclude that it's a serious gold mine. Fuck that.

On a side note, if anyone wants to introduce me to the owners of that piece of shit, I could really turn that thing into a serious event. And you can do some really amazing shit with water. With the weekly turnover alone you could refit all of the sprinklers and lights, attach them to individually programmable elements and... damn there could be an amazing show right there. I'm almost tempted to put such an idea out here.

On Friday we went to Karlštejn, a small village below a castle from 1348. When we got there it turned out we had to pay 100 krones each (4 euro) to take a taxi to the castle (over a 22% inclined road) and another 250 krones (10 euro) to get in the castle. That's on top of the 80 krones for parking the car (ok, that turned out to be 50). But that was a really steep price. As we were about to find a taxi to take us to the top it started to rain heavily for a while. After that we didn't really want to take a taxi van up (and down) a 22% road (mud slides anyone?). I'm not sure whether they were driving at all after the rain. We drove off with the intention to head home. We stopped at a restaurant to have a drink and some pancakes. The road leading to the restaurant would lead into the river next to the restaurant, without warning. Weird. After that we drove the touristic route and stopped in a village built around some cave and the origin of a small river. A chapel was built around that. I wonder what life is like in those villages. I don't really see myself living in such a remote desolate area and be happy. Even if I'd have full access to internet and everything... (And I guess that's saying much). We went home, taking another touristic route and the correct way home since we now knew about the road blocks ahead. We ended playing more games.

We cleaned up, packed our stuff and drove home on Saturday. Apart from a strange van at the Czech-German border there was very little unusual to report. The trip was a lot better without all the vans though (Saturday!). And being the end of August, traffic wasn't all that bad as predicted. Good for us :)

All in all, I guess Prague has some nice things to show you. But if you're like me, there's little to keep you occupied longer than one or two days. Instead, go out of your way and into the Czech land. Visit the little villages accessible through (rather dangerous) mountain roads. It'll be much more interesting to see! And you won't be bothered with the greedy tourist prices you have to pay in the center of Prague. It seems they annoy the heck out of me. It's not so much about the money, but just the principle.

Oh and bring a decent car... You'll need it :)