Rokkon-sai – Fukushima City

I had promised myself that the first opportunity to attend a Japanese festival that presented itself, I would go. Thankfully a fellow ALT in Soma City, Fukushima-ken posted a note about the Rokkon-sai festival in Fukushima City.

Rokkon-sai is a celebration of the 6 different prefectures that make up the Tōhokū region of Japan; Aomori, Yamagata, Iwate, Fukushima, Akita and Miyagi where I currently reside. Rokkon-sai acts a preview for each of the 6 prefectures own festivals. For instance, the Aomori prefecture has a festival called, Aomori Nebuta, with lots of cool floats in a parade, great food and special costumes for the occasion.

Panorama of the parade

Panorama of the parade

Getting to Fukushima city was a bit difficult. Because of the long distance from Iwanuma to Fukushima city we didn’t want to be held hostage to a train deadline. We enlisted a different ALT (Chris) who has a car to see if he wanted to go. Lucky for Shana and I he is an awesome dude and said he would drive down there.

A CoCo's in rural Japan. That is all.

A CoCo’s in rural Japan. That is all.

After a brief stop at 7/11 for cash, the best corn dogs in the world and some snacks for later, we hit the road at about 8:30 AM. While the weather in Miyagi was pretty crappy, we headed south, made decent time and got to the simply overcast but not rainy Fukushima prefecture in good time. Once we got to the outskirts of Fukushima city we ran into a bit of a problem. There were volunteers posted a long the highway in bright orange shirts directing traffic for the festival. They just happened to be directing it in a completely different way than Chris’ previous map research had told him. Then there was the equally frustrating fact that the Rokkon-sai Orange Shirts were incredibly far apart. They would have a sign that said turn right here and then another orange shirt wouldn’t be seen for several kilometers. By following the orange be-shirted fellows we became severely “lost.” I don’t mean that we didn’t know how to get home or that we couldn’t find our way back but I mean that we had no idea where the festival was being held in relation to where the men with orange shirts were directing us.

Finally in Fukushima city proper, Chris decided to just look for city hall signs and we found a parking lot near the train station. If we had taken our original route I’m sure we would have arrived a solid 40 to 60 minutes earlier than we did. Either way the arrival time was spilled milk and we still had the better part of the day to explore the festival and see what all the fuss was about.

Joey & Tori, the intrepid reporters!

Joey & Tori, the intrepid reporters!

We were able to meet up our friend Joey who as luck would have it had a “press” pass that got us through a barricade to the far side of the parade route without having to walk all the way around. Although where we ended up standing was not ideal in a “wow these are really comfortable seats to watch the parade from” kind of way; we did get to see the parade from up close and I doubt we would have been able to see much if we hadn’t have had Joey’s help. Part of the problem was that there was a small army of elderly Japanese women who can kneel on concrete comfortably for several hours at a time and I can’t. Not to mention only some of the people at the front wanted to squat or kneel and the ones who didn’t weren’t in front of the old ladies like I was. Shana and I eventually gave up our spots to the elderly folks behind us and felt like standing in the back was a better solution. I found a ledge with which I could climb on every now and then to take pictures as long as the parade steward wasn’t looking directly at me.

The parade was a short and an interesting mix of traditional Japanese and popular culture elements. There was traditional fan dancing and floats as well as hip hop dancers and beauty queens. It was a short parade because (and this is only my assumption) parades stop being fun after about 30 min especially after you have waited for about 2 hours squatting or standing in the same spot. We were excited to let the real fun start with food and beverage consumption.

Momo-Rin and I

Momo-Rin and I

We started walking towards the Fukushima City horse racing track to see what sort of event stuff was set up there but alas there was not much but some food tents and Momo-rin the Fukushima-City mascot. Momo-rin and his?/hers? mascot brethren will be the subject of a different post. Momo-rin is a reference to the peaches that ripen while there is still snow on the ground in the mountains that surround Fukushima City. However, a person with a terrible understanding of idiomatic Japanese could interpret Momo-rin as “phosphorous thigh,” “peach thigh,” and “sexually appealing phosphorous.” Momo-rin is a large bunny in a red vest with a yellow bow-tie and none of those things.

Making several stops along the way at different food stands We tried some fried chicken, a hot dog in an egg roll, a Korean spicy beef on rice (yakiniku gohan) and some micro brewed beer from Fukushima-ken aptly named, “We Love Beer.” They had a dunkel, a weisse and a peach beer. There was a cool Taikō drumming presentation that we watched for a bit. Mostly we just soaked up a happy crowd. Along the street  there were many people taking advantage of the crowds and setting up popsicle stands, fried rice stalls and street performers shilling for an audience. One such street act was a sad robot that was doing “the robot” to slow and sad music. One of the more odd things I’ve come across. Despite its oddness the robot had drawn quite a crowd.

We also crossed off the list another city in which Shana and I have been accosted by elderly drunk Japanese people. Confrontation is definitely a rarity in Japanese culture but our non-Japaneseyness seems to encourage the inquisitively wasted. In this particular encounter an old man asked us where we were from and told Shana she was beautiful. Then he proceeded to a demand answers on what life was really about…in Japanese. The only reason I know this is because Chris speaks Japanese and was very weirded out by how deep the man getting during a random street festival encounter. Unsatisfied with our answers the man politely wandered in the other direction in search of the meaning of life or maybe an unoccupied restaurant booth to sleep in.

Taiko drumming

Taiko drumming

Back at the train station we needed to get to the other side of tracks to get to the parking lot but due to festival traffic we had to basically cover the entire distance of the train station and then double back to where the car was. Not the most convenient route ever but it did give us an opportunity to tease Chris about Mister Donuts, his one weakness. Back at the car and filled with food and drink we settled in for an uneventful ride back to Iwanuma. We did spot a CoCo’s. That was kind of an event… Until the next festival.

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Happy Anniversary at 40,000ft

Happy Anniversary at 40,000ft

This will be a short post. Today we spent no time visiting anything other than the Gatwick Airport in London. We left from the hotel and caught our flight at 11:00AM and back to San Francisco we go.

However today is special because it is actually our first anniversary of our legal wedding. We went to the courthouse in Laguna Hills, CA and were wed by a Justice of the Peace with our witnesses Brian Hall and Joe Haller.

Today our anniversary will be extra long because we are flying back from London to San Francisco. That’s like an extra nine hours or so of celebration. Its really too bad we’ll likely be so exhausted from jet lag by the time we get home that we wont be able to do anything other than go to sleep.

Instead we ordered some very expensive champagne on the plane and had our selves a little toast.

A toast to our marriage.

A toast to our friends and family.

A toast to a successful honeymoon.

A toast to those who were able to read about some of our adventures.

A toast to our future.

A toast to Brian and Julie who are getting married as soon as we get back!

A toast to not being on a plane very soon.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Andrew & Shana

How to do see a million things in one day – London edition

Buckingham Palace – St. Paul’s Cathedral – British National Library – The British Museum – The Tower of London – London Bridge – The Globe – Picadilly Circus – Top Hat:The Musical

Off into the crisp early morning of air of London town we went. A short walk from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace and God Save the Queen! Buckingham is not what I expected it to be. Maybe the British are more frugal. The Hofburg, Versailles, and Prague Castle are all substantially larger than Buckingham. Buckingham is still beautiful. It would have reminded me of Luxembourg gardens in Paris if there had been a gravel path and French people laying in the sun while having a picnic. Alas it was far too cold in the early morning autumn of London for a picnic.

Buckingham

Buckingham

After snapping a couple pictures of Buckingham Palace because it wasn’t open that early in the morning we went off for a walk through Hyde Park. Or at least, that was our intention. As it turns out that was a bit of a hike and we hopped on the Underground to St. Paul’s Cathedral instead.

I would like to take a moment to talk about London and my sense of direction. There are very few places in the world where I feel lost. In Prague, Vienna, Athens, and Venice I knew exactly where I was going at all times with only a few glances at the map and my excellent sense of direction. London was a different story. The Tube stations are so large that even though there are maps in English I would find myself walking out of the station and being completely turned around. Luckily it was Shana’s third visit to London and she mostly knew where she was going.

I bring this up because despite St. Paul’s immense size it is rather hard to locate (if you’re not from England). Eventually we found the main entrance and looked at the price sheet. It was 30GBS to enter St. Paul’s or in real money, that is $60ish dollars US. We felt that was a bit exorbitant so we passed on yet another church and hopped back on the Tube to The British National Library.

British National Library

British National Library

Why visit a library? Isn’t it just a bunch of books? Why yes, that’s exactly what it is but these are not just any books. The British National Library houses one of the world’s greatest exhibitions on books of antiquity. There are original hand penned copies of Shakespeare, an original Guttenberg bible, ancient Muslim texts, scrolls of Japanese calligraphy from feudal Japan, Jane Austen’s writing desk and even hand written Beatles’ lyrics on the back of an envelope. It is an awesome collection. There are really old science books, maps, hand-written music by famous composers and notable books from British history. This was also Shana’s third visit to the British National Library so she spent the entire time in front of Jane Austen’s desk.

All those illuminated manuscripts really whet my appetite for some archaeology exhibits. You could say I was… Jones’n… Tip your waitress folks. The good Doctor Jones and the beautiful female lead dashed off to the British Museum (WHICH IS FREE). The audio guide is rather expensive though. I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine; which was to see the Rosetta Stone. Ever since I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and studied ancient Egypt in 6th grade I have been deeply fascinated by Egyptian stuff and had wanted to see the British Museum’s collection of Egyptian artifacts. Seeing the Rosetta Stone helped bring out that child like wonder like when I had visited the Field Museum in Chicago, The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. or the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the first time. Despite being pressed for time I made a desperate push to see everything in the museum. I failed. It’s too big. Ba baba BAAAAA ba babaaaaa. Maybe there will be a sequel visit. We stopped for a short take away lunch and hopped back on the London Underground on our way to the Tower of London!

Billy Beefeater

Billy Beefeater

The Tower of London is a bit expensive so to get the most out of your visit make sure you take the guided tour from one of the Beefeaters that “guard” the castle grounds. These are former military men that now actually live at the castle and guide the crowds through with stories and insight. The tour takes off about every 30 min. The tour lasts about 45 min and then you are free to roam the castle on your own time. Trust me on this. You will want to get the tour. First of all there is a lot insight and great stories they tell about the castle to help clear up common misconceptions about its history. Second of all, they are absolutely hilarious. It was an international roast of epic proportions. Here’s a little taste courtesy of youtube. You can even follow them on twitter where they often post the dumbest question they were asked that day.

After the tour we wandered through the main castle to see the torture exhibits, the famous suits of armor, collections of swords and other knight paraphernalia. Henry VII thought very highly of himself judging by the codpiece on his armor.

One of the main reasons people come to the Tower of London is that they house the crown jewels of the United Kingdom. To see the crown jewels you have to walk into a very large safe and then get on a moving sidewalk where you cannot linger to really stare at the jewels as they are incredibly valuable. One of them is called, “The Mountain of Light,” it is a diamond about the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s fist. The guide earlier mentioned to all the women, “If you want your men to feel inadequate, go see King Henry’s Armor, if you want to feel bad about your wedding ring, go see the crown jewels.” Good thing Shana doesn’t like diamonds.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

We wrapped up our visit to the Tower of London and headed across the Thames to the Globe. The only building in London with a thatched roof. It also just happens to be a complete replica of the original Globe where Shakespeare was performed in the mid to late 16th century. Alas, woe hath fallen upon mine eyes, forsooth we were’t able to peer into the performers’ hallowed ground, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet O’er n’ out. It was closed when we got there. However, we did get a picture of the outside and Shana had already been inside during a previous trip to London.

Back onto the subway we went and headed back to the Leicester Square and the TKTS booth to buy tickets for Top Hat: The Musical. We grabbed some dinner at a local pub near the theatre in the West End, aptly named, “The Globe,” and then enjoyed a wonderful performance of the adapted film. They sang, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and of course, “Top Hat, White Tie & Tails.” The main part was played by Fred Astaire in the movie and the man who played him on stage was fantastic. He had Astaire’s mannerisms and singing style down. He even kind of looked like Astaire. A great way to cap off our time in London Town.

Sadly this was our final night on the road. Tomorrow we head home.

 

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V-Day in Trafalgar Square

Prague to London Gatwick – Trafalgar Square – V-Day Celebration – National Gallery – Big Ben – Westminster Abbey – Julius Caesar

Early to bed and early to rise we headed out to the Prague airport to catch our flight to London. Getting to the airport is typically pretty easy in most places but I found getting to airport in Prague from the Old Town to a bit of hassle. At the minimum you have to walk from old town to the nearest subway station which is at the Powder Gate. No big deal if you have an overnight bag but if you have a lot of luggage or anything heavy this is kind of a pain.

There are supposed to be special busses that leave early in the morning from around the Powder Gate to the Airport. We never found out. When we got to the place there was no signage, no staff and no other people waiting for the bus. I chalked it up to the unlikely event that I read the directions wrong and decided we should take the subway instead and then catch the transfer bus to the airport at the end of the subway line. This is a whole different kind of pain because it simply takes forever to get to the airport if this method is used. However, we had got up very early and had time.

The Big Eye

The Big Eye

Normally I leave the airport gripes out of these posts but I have to say Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport is on my list with Orlando, Philidelphia and Newark as one of the worst places in the world to catch a flight. My complaint mainly has to do with the location of the security check. They have a security check at each gate, which means you can’t wander around the terminal or relax. As soon as you get to your gate you stand in line for security. Once you get through security you are in the boarding area and say if you were hungry you would have to go back through security to get something to eat. This is stupid. The worst part is I went and bought two sandwiches and one drink for Shana and I to share on the plane. I bought them in the terminal and I had the receipt. Since the screening processes is at the gate they made me ditch the 3 euro drink I had bought even though it was on the same receipt as the sandwiches and was UNOPENED. “No liquids over 3 oz.” As childish as it may seem the desire to pitch an epic fit over this minor injustice was quite strong. That desire was also met with the gravity that airport security pretty much anywhere can detain you for the slightest grievance in the name of airline security. I did not want to test the waters with the Czech TSA. Moral of the story: Prague airpot is terrible. Take a train to leave Prague instead.

The short flight from Prague to London was easy and I eventually got a drink on the plane anyway. We landed in Gatwick and made our way to the Gatwick express which is a non-stop train from Gatwick airport to Victoria station. The train is rather pricey in my opinion but it is very convenient despite the roughly 300 km 15 min walk from the terminal to the platform. For those that have visited Union Station or any major train hub Victoria station is right up there with the busiest of them. We found our train with a little help from an officer on duty and made our way to Charing Cross.

Throng

Throng

As we exited the station near our destination in Trafalgar Square we noticed an incredibly elevated police presence. Also pedestrian traffic was being routed to a different street. We figured there was a construction site or something underway which was causing the slight detour. Then it began it sink in a little. There were a lot of people getting off at Charing Cross. I had no idea if that was normal but all the people getting off were waving small Union Jack’s around. As we made the turn on The Strand to walk across Trafalgar Square to our hotel we were met with a throng of thousands of Brits gathered along the sidewalks. Holy Hell this was a lot of people.

You see the Special Olympics had just closed and the Mayor of London was throwing the city a victory parade to celebrate the athletic successes of the olympics for the Commonwealth and London. Between us and our hotel was the parade route and about six to ten thousand people hanging out in Trafalgar infront of the National Gallery. There was a guy trying to walk his bike through the crowd and we used him to create a wedge so we could start working our way to the hotel. After about 30 minutes or so for what should have been a 5 min walk we arrived. Sweaty, tired and desperately needing a shower of some sort and our room wasn’t ready. To be fair to the hotel we were very early for check in.

They let us leave our bags at the front desk and we wandered off to the National Gallery (WHICH IS FREE) and has some amazing works of art. We got lost in the National Gallery looking at Da Vinci’s, Titian’s, Albrecht Durer and many, many, many more for several hours before hopping on the train and heading to Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Tours of Parliament have to be scheduled in advance and since we only had about a day and a half in London we opted for a tour of Westminster Abbey before we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up and go out and enjoy London at night.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is a magnificent place. A truly stunning beauty and filled with Anglican history that is quite apropos to our ancestry as former British colonies. There is a free audio guide that comes with the steep entrance fee about 16 GBP. Despite the price I would not pass this place up if you are visiting London. Shana had been there before so she let me wander and point in child like wonder for the next hour or so. Then we reached, “Poets’ Corner,” which is not limited to poets but more of gathering of memorials for great thinkers. Everyone from Oscar Wilde to Chaucer and Kipling, Shakespeare, Olivier, Tennyson, Austen, Blake, the Bronte sisters in between. At the exit to Westminster Abbey is the coronation chair or King Edward’s Chair. This throne has been used for every coronation since 1308. It’s a good thing Henry VIII was crowned when we was skinny.

We headed back to the hotel, cleaned up and grabbed a quick bite to eat in Leicester Square before heading to the West End to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Julius Caesar. If you are in London and are not super picky about your seat selection for some shows the TKTS booth in Leicester Square is your best friend. Most of the time the tickets will be about 40% off face value for last minute seats. We wandered off to the theatre to watch a fantastically directed and acted rendition of Julius Caesar set in sub-Saharan Africa. The actors all used African dialect accents in the performance and the costumes, set design and the inclusion of African rhythms and instruments were fantastic.

We were exhausted and wanted to get up early to venture out on London town the next day so it was off to bed after our night with the RSC.

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Czech’d off the list- Prague Castle

Charles Bridge – Train to Prague Castle – Jesuit Library – Prague Castle grounds – St. Vitus – A good nights rest.

After staying out pretty late the night before we decided we would take it easy and spend most of the day all in one area of Prague. The Castle. After a light breakfast we walked through the Old Quarter to the Charles Bridge and immersed our selves with the throngs of tourists that assemble on the bridge.

Shana with St. Vitus & Prague Castle

Shana with St. Vitus & Prague Castle

There isn’t anything particularly special about the Charles Bridge; in fact it was named after Charles IV posthumously. It was originally called the Stone Bridge or Prague Bridge and did not earn the Charles moniker until 1870. Most of the history associated with the bridge has to do with it becoming damaged during floods. Prague apparently floods. A lot. Mostly time spent on the Charles Bridge is dodging the dodgey little vendor stands and picking your way through the crowds on the way to the Castle. We decided to skip the steep walk up hill to the castle and opted to walk the bank of the Vltava to the next bridge town where there is a trolley car station.

We found the ticket purchasing system in Prague to be a bit of a hassle but once we were on the tram its pretty obvious when you want to get off for the Castle. The castle grounds are massive. Using a Rick Steve’s walking tour we actually took the tram past the castle to a Jesuit library a little further up the hill. There is also a brewery and a beer garden of sorts near by but we skipped that in favor of some lighter fare. The library was definitely not worth the price of admission since the main rooms were just roped off and you could only look at them form a distance. There were some interesting bugs, sea creatures and other small preserved animals on display cases but if that is what you want to see head to a natural history museum.

Prague from the castle walls

Prague from the castle walls

After the disappointing library we walked down the hill aways to the castle grounds proper. The castle grounds are massive and listed by the Guiness Book of World Records to be largest in the world at about 70,000 sq/m. There are a couple different art museums, several churches of historical importance and the main castle itself most of which can all be visited on one rather pricey ticket. If you have all day and the inclination there are worse things to do with your time in Prague. However we found the castle proper to be rather underwhelming. A large portion of the castle had been destroyed by fire and the castle itself is rather barren. They fixed it all up but what remains is mostly empty rooms. The tour is very small considering the size of the castle.

The Basilica of St. George and Zlatá ulička (Golden Lane) come with the castle ticket. These are nice little diversions again if you are spending all day hanging out in the castle grounds. I didn’t find them particularly interesting but if Bohemian history is your sweet spot than this will be interesting. There is also a torture chamber with some original equipment at the far end of the castle grounds just before the exit. There was no one checking tickets there so you can go there without paying any entrance fees to the castle buildings themselves.

Stained glass at St. Vitus

Stained glass at St. Vitus

After poking around at all the little sights we could see without paying extra we cashed in our final ticket of the day St. Vitus. This place alone is worth the visit. St. Vitus is at the very least a tribute to dedication. It was started in 925 and wasn’t finished until 1929. Interestingly enough this major delay in finishing the cathedral means that the stained glass is brighter than the typical cathedral found in Europe. Also the stained glass is in an Art Deco style. There are examples of many types of architectural styles throughout the cathedral because of its lengthy build.

After spending a long time in the cathedral we meandered down through the neighborhood south east of the castle grounds towards the Charles Bridge and made our way back to the hotel. We had an early flight to catch to London!

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A bone to pick…

Prague Day 3 – Ham Chips – Kutna Hora Day Trip – Sedlec Ossuary – Lunch in Kutna Hora – Cathedral Santa Barbara – Wine Tasting – Italian Square – Old Town – Missed Connection – Prague Ballet Festival (Swan Lake)

A guided day trip from Prague to Kutna Hora

We had been enjoying our tours with the company in Prague so far, so we decided to take yet another one of their guided adventures, this time as a day trip to a small city east of Prague named Kutna Hora. The main tourist attraction that brings people here is the Sedlec Ossuary, which is a small church started by Cistercian monks which has since been decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. Sounds interesting right? So we signed up and met our guide David, originally from Budapest, and got on the train.

Sedlec Ossuary

Sedlec Ossuary

On our way there we made friends with a couple from Canada also on their honeymoon, Matt and Caroline. Andrew even shared the snack he had purchased at the train station, ham chips. Think Lays with a picture of a sliced ham steak on the bag. Apparently they tasted exactly like ham, I did not have the courage to find out. After another train and a bus ride, we arrived at the church and headed inside where all the bone decoration is located.

Since we had been prepared for the rather morbid decor, the actual site was not as creepy as one might have expected. This was also probably because it was filled with tourists taking pictures. Believe me, if you had been strolling down the small lane and wandered in unknowingly to this church when empty, you would immediately remember “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and run out screaming. The church is very small, so we did not spend a lot of time in the church outside of snapping a few photos and admiring the chandelier made from every bone in the human body, the several display cases of mortal head wounds and the coat of arms made entirely out of bones.

Seriously.

Seriously.

Obviously this experience had worked up everyone’s appetite, so we headed to lunch next, where we had the best Czech food of our trip: roasted pork (Maso), beef goulash and fried cheese. We managed to scarf all this down in about fifteen minutes since we were on a schedule, then grabbed our bus to the Santa Barbara Cathedral. The Cathedral, while gothic, looked much more pristine than most we had seen. The outside was clean and not under scaffolding!

After touring the interior of the church Andrew bought some wine from a stand outside we sipped wine as we walked through the small old town of Kutna Hora to catch our train. Which we just missed. We had an older woman who seemed to be in bad health on the walking tour, so things took longer than the guide was allotted time for. The next train didn’t leave for another hour, so we headed to a pub of course, where David bought us a round “on the tour.”

Kutna Hora from the Cathedral

Kutna Hora from the Cathedral

Finally on our train, we made it back to Prague about thirty minutes before the ballet show we had bought tickets for (excerpts from Swan Lake). It was excellent and Andrew stayed awake! We then headed to an Irish bar next to our hotel where we had decided to meet up with Matt and Caroline. We talked so long we closed the place down, and headed back to the hotel around 2am to rest before our final day in the Czech Republic.

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Prague on foot

Astronomical Clock – Walking Tour/History Lesson Old Town & Jewish Quarter to Wenceslas Square – Climbing the Clock Tower – Failed attempt to attend a hockey game – Beer tasting

After a long night we slept in and ventured into Old Town Square just before 11 to catch up with a free walking tour.

Prague is probably the most walkable city in Europe. Most everything that a tourist would want to see is very close together and in pedestrian friendly zones. There is an underground train system as well as a complex network of trams but for the most part the next thing on the list is probably within a few hundred feet.

Astro Clock

Astro Clock

Lots of small tour companies offer free walking tours of the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter so we took advantage of a free tour from the same company that sold us our beer tasting and pub crawl the previous night. Our tour guide was an irishman named Luke who was going to be married soon to a Czech woman and had moved to Prague permanently. We arrived several minutes before eleven in the morning to a very large crowd of people gathered around the “Astronomical Clock” which is at the center of the Old Town Square.  Every hour the clock puts on a little show. By show I mean its a giant cuckoo clock but instead of a bird its all 12 of the apostles come out and wave at you as you watch the clock strike the hour. Pretty underwhelming.

After that we started our tour and followed our guide around the Old Town Square out to a world renown concert house then through the old Jewish quarter. The Jewish Quarter was once a ghetto and the least desirable place in Prague to live. After a great flood much of the architecture was rebuilt and is now one of the nicest places in Prague. Narrow streets and pristine art nouveau architecture surround the tourists as they walk in between the shops and the tourist sites in the area. After the Jewish quarter we headed to Republic Square where the Hybernia Theatre, Powder Gate and the Municipal House are all located. The Powder gate is the ceremonial entrance to the old city where the King of Bohemia would start his coronation procession through the city.

From there we went to the border of the Old Town (Stare Mesto) and Nove Mesto (New Town).  Stopping briefly at a memorial statue for Franz Kafka who despite being Czech had only had his work translated in to Czech language in the early nineties.  We stopped in Wenceslas Square which was the sight of many events of the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution.  Five hundred thousand Czech’s filled the square and began waving their keys in peaceful protest.  No blood was shed as the Czech’s were allowed to freely elect a new government.

Kafka

Kafka

We walked on to Mozart’s favorite concert house which was the sight of many of his premiers and ended the tour. I had planned after this tour to look into heading out in the Prague suburbs to one of their three hockey arenas (hockey is the national sport of the Czech republic). However there is not a singular source for tickets like there are for NHL games and no one could seem to give me a straight answer as to which arena was actually hosting the game since it was a preseason game. We scrapped that idea and climbed the clock tower in Old Town Square to get some nice views of Prague before we wandered back towards our hotel for the afternoon.

On our way back we stopped at the only place we encountered in either Austria or the Czech Republic that has developed the “beer flight.” This restuarant was called The Beer “Museum” of Prague. I put the word museum in sarcastic-quotes because it was really just a restaurant that had roughly 30 Czech beers on tap which was about 30 times more than any other restaurant in Prague. Typically most restaurants carry one or two Czech style beers and some bottled imports. Corona is a luxury beer in Prague. The Beer Museum for about ten dollars gave us two flights of totally different microbrews from around the Czech Republic. Several of them were fantastic and I kept the receipts so I would be able to say what they were when I got back!

Tomorrow we would set out for another day trip to a small Czech mining community called Kutna Hora with another tour guide…

 

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