Monday, August 18, 2008

Everyone says you have to visit Prague

But not me. In fact, I don't think I'll ever come back.

This city couldn't be unfriendlier. Finding the metro takes a good archaeological sense of direction. The train station is hidden underground, with signs in German directing you where to go. And the complete dearth of taxis is perhaps explained by the thievery of which most guidebooks warn you. All of which make for one of the longest and most difficult arrivals of my life.

Granted, a day and a half later, I've now seen some taxis, and I think the city is really easy to get around my metro and tram.

But that's not to mention the restaurants. We paid, for example, $12 for three diminutive rolls and two pats of butter that we didn't order. Thing was, the city had tired us out so much by the time we made it to the restaurant that we didn't have the wits to argue the bill. To make it worse, the food was terrible. I chewed my way through the toughest lamb-leg fat I've ever encountered (and the lamb was, apparently, all fat), and the potato coins were just vomitable.

And there's nothing more classless than when the waitress tells you that you should pay a 10 percent tip.

If you want to know, I'm doing my vindictive best to spread the nasty truth about Prague to everyone I can. I just read a magazine article about the declining tourist industry. Is it, perhaps, maybe, just maybe, high prices for abysmal service? The city says, "No! Tourism is booming," despite government statistics to the contrary. But a smooth-talking PR spokesperson shouldn't be able to cover the truth, so I want to stick it back to Prague. May they rot in their own corruption. (I am venomous, aren't I?)

Architecturally, the city is quite charming. It's really nice to wander down narrow cobbled streets between old, well-restored houses. The churches and palaces are gorgeous, the parks and gardens are well-tended and colorful, and the museums are well-organized and informative.

My real remaining rub is all the tourists (yes, I was aware that Prague is big on tourists before I came here). There are so many, speaking so many languages, that it doesn't feel like you're in the Czech Republic at all. It feels like you're in an amusement park. Today we took the metro away from the old city, trying to find the highrises we'd seen from a distance, and it was so metropolitanly peaceful. There were Czech people strolling, sitting on walls, listening to their iPods. I actually felt like I was someplace, not a weird nowhere of broken English.

You may call me picky, or you may say I'm losing my insufferable optimism, or that I'm a whiner, but I don't care. All I care about is that you don't visit Prague until it cleans up its act. It really doesn't deserve the attention.

But Poland! Poland is a different story.

Wroclaw was a mixed bag. Bad hotel, bad lunch, cool panorama and beautiful town square. I got to see an old friend, Grażyna, and meet her year-old daughter, Amelia, and it was really enjoyable to catch up with her. I don't really want to go into it, but there was a little episode where we'd thought Amelia had broken her finger, and Dad felt responsible, so we left Grażyna to take a screaming toddler to the hospital. That was a bit of a downer.

However, dinner was good. But we were tired, as we'd woken up about 5:00 AM.

(Amelia's finger was fine, it turned out. She was just tired and teething.)

Our car tour of Silesia was really enjoyable. I got to visit two more of my old areas (I visited all four this trip), and the drive was easy and comfortable.

Friday night we headed down into the Beskid mountains and enjoyed dinner on a lake, just before the storm sallied down. Saturday, we did some more exploring in the rainy Beskids, and lost a hub cap to a pot hole. Luckily, I noticed and adventured off the road to recover it, from among several other hub caps. (Roads were never Poland's forte.)

Speaking of roads, we met a bit of construction, and about two hours worth of traffic, on our way to Kraków. Then we had the adventure of driving in the city (not worth it, don't try it), and then an evening concert of overplayed classical music in a grand cathedral.

Then it was the night train to this Jewel of the Bohemian Crown.

Then, then, then. I'm sorry it turned into a beaten out travelogue, but all that latter information was more for my memories than for you. All I want you to remember is not to visit Prague: it's not worth it. Poland is cheaper and just as worth seeing.

We'll see how Vienna survives my nitpicking.

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