Even When You Encounter Something Unpleasant, Enjoy Yourself

27/12/14 First Full Day In Prague

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(On our way to the next hostel, the sun was shining)

I had written a couple more posts from winter break that I have not gotten around to posting, so now I am going to try.

In the morning we had breakfast with the Indian girls, who would be staying in this hostel for a few nights, and parted ways (this was the first breakfast we had eaten that had anything hot. There were scrambled eggs and beans here).

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(Also on the way to the next hostel, you can see a few stands of Christmas Markets here)

Our hostel bookings in a few locations, such as Prague, got a little mixed up causing us to have one night booked in one hostel and the rest booked in another. Walking down the hill in the morning to catch the tram at the bottom, we realized how close it was to come from this direction to get to the hostel, but that wouldn’t matter anymore because we did not have any reason to return to this hostel. Instead we went across town to another, larger hostel, and immediately wished our stay in Prague had all been in the first hostel that we stayed in. This hostel was called A and O Hostel Hotel, or something of the sort, and apparently has about six different locations. We did not feel the need to check in yet, we just wanted to drop our stuff off in their luggage storage rooms so that we would not have to carry it around as we spent the day out in the city.

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(A picture of Czech money)

The first thing we did in Prague out in the city was withdraw money of course. For some reason I decided it would be ideal if one person withdrew all of the Czech crowns so that the other two of us could pay them back in Euros. I don’t remember my reasoning at the time, but it made sense then and seemed to work out at the end of Prague. Kenzy decided she would withdraw money, and we headed into the main square, where all of the tourists go. Even though Munich had already started cleaning up their Christmas markets when we were there, Prague’s were up, and they were in full swing. It was okay with us that Munich had already shut their markets down because we had spent so many days wandering the markets of Nuremberg, but it was nice that Prague still had markets open because it offered a different selection of food and other items to look at then the ones that had been available in Nuremberg. Whereas Nuremberg has many markets seemingly all over the city, Prague only had a few concentrated in one square, which was a nice contrast to the overwhelming amount available in Nuremberg.

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(The first treat we ate from the markets. It was very good)

The day was beautiful, cloudy and a bit chilly, but no precipitation to get in our way. Old cars took tourists on rides around the city, and the smell of food wafted from nearby stands. We had no particular plan for the day as we walked up to the square. We immediately found a dessert a friend who had been to Prague described to us and suggested we try. It was dough that was wrapped around a thick metal rod and turned over coals. After it came off of the metal rod, it was rolled in cinnamon and sugar and handed to the waiting customer. It was good to eat on a cold day as the cold froze our fingers while we held them out of our pockets or our gloves while consuming the treat in front of us. Kenzy and I felt almost at home, we were back in Eastern Europe, things were cheaper again and not run on the Euro, and the language had some similar words to what we had spent our last semester studying.

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(A church in the square that we saw as we were eating our cinnamon-sugar covered treats)

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(A picture of a street in Prague, in the bottom right you can see one of the cars that one drive people on tours around the city)

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(An important church that we would be told about on our walking tour)

Eventually the dessert came to an end and we had to keep moving to stay warm, so we moved further out in the square and saw what we could and bought real lunch food from the market. Kenzy and I got chicken kebabs on a baguette while Ali opted for a bratwurst on a bun. It is sad that the mustard they have at these markets out on the square is better than the majority of the mustard people in the United States choose to spread over their food, but there is something to be said for quality over quantity and vice versa in the United States.

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(One side of the Astronomical Clock Tower)

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(In the middle of the Christmas Markets was a huge Christmas Tree)

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(Also in the square, a monument we would be told about on the walking tour as well)

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(The Astronomical Clock)

Most of our day was spent wandering around and enjoying the sites (and occasionally stepping inside where we could to warm up again). We saw an important church (which I will picture, but discuss in a later post), an important astronomical clock tower, and an important bridge. We wouldn’t know the complete importance of these places we had seen until we went on our guided tour a few days later.

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(The view from the bridge of the castle)

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(Another view from the bridge)

When it came time for dinner, we headed back to the hostel. Instead of immediately eating dinner, Ali and I took a nap while Kenzy headed to a nearby store to by dinner for herself and Ali.

In the half hour to an hour that Kenzy was gone and Ali and I were napping, two more people arrived in our room. They were two Indian guys who looked to be about our age, but dislike was almost immediately established from Ali’s and my point of view because even though we were obviously lying in bed with our eyes closed, they decided it was acceptable to try to strike up a conversation with us. Relations did not improve because they continued to be inconsiderate from then on. I remember them saying that first night that they liked to see European cities better at night because they look better. This I don’t understand in any circumstance because a European city will look like any other city at night. They all have lights, and will create a picture of a dark landscape with twinkling spots of light, The light may be in differing configurations, but this is not unique. Maybe going up to a particular building at night that is lit up is a unique experience, but in those cases I like to see the building in the day and at night.

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(Walking off of the other side of the bridge)

After Kenzy had returned with food and the two Indian guys had left to go see the city at night, we decided it was time to eat dinner. We knew the hostel had a guest kitchen, but we didn’t realize how poorly thought out much of what the hostel had to offer, was.

We went down to the guest kitchen and found it was locked, so Kenzy went up to reception to ask them to unlock it. She received a very unprofessional and rude reply that there was only one key to the guest kitchen and someone had taken it so they could not possibly open the kitchen for us because you need the key. Of course they had a master key that opened all of the doors in the hostel, the lady was “busy” flirting with some guys who had come to the bar (they had a bar at the reception desk) and couldn’t possibly spare a second to come down and open the kitchen for us. She also refused to lend us the key even if we promised to bring it right back because we are hooligans of course and would probably use it to go where we shouldn’t. When Kenzy came back and recounted her dealings with the woman at the desk, Ali, who hadn’t been feeling well, had had enough. She went up to reception too, and I don’t know exactly what happened between the lady at reception and her, but words were traded (some cursing that the person working at the desk unprofessionally brought into the conversation) with some indication that the kitchen would be unlocked once reception stopped being so busy.

With this information, we decided to all go up to the reception area and sit looking expectantly in their direction so that they could not forget us. Once reception was clear we finally got the hostel workers to agree to open the door. Here I ask, what is the point of having a guest kitchen if you keep it locked? All proper hostels have a kitchen for the people staying there to use, with dishes provided. People who stay in hostels need and want those dishes and that kitchen available. Usually hostel goers are traveling and want to have the option of making their own food , but are not going to steal anything because that’s not hostel culture and it is too heavy to carry dishes around.

Obviously this was not a proper hostel.

After dinner, we went back up to our room to get ready for bed. Eventually the Indian guys came back and were equally as irritating as they had been before. (I think that along with some of us not feeling well and being tired from traveling, there was a bit of culture clash in the manners and etiquette department. Usually I am okay adjusting to a new culture, but the new culture I was adjusting to here was the Czech culture since I was in the Czech Republic).

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A Russian Morning to You too

21/12/14

(I am sorry for the delay in posting. The combination of me being under the weather and choosing to sleep instead of write at times, combined with the “free wifi” at previous hostels that my computer won’t actually connect to, I seem to have fallen behind. I hope to start posting twice a day, or 3 times every 2 days to try to catch up, but I don’t think these extra posts will be regular, only when I have time to write something extra).

The next morning we woke up and packed up since we had to check out by 10:00 a.m. When we finally made it downstairs to check out, we decided it would be ideal to ask about the two bags that were supposed to come into the airport that day. Kenzy and I talked to the man at the desk in Russian while Ali waited nearby. Another man showed up who also spoke Russian and, although the bags had not yet arrived, we ended up having a very friendly conversation with them about Kenzy and me studying Russian in St. Petersburg, which prompted one of the men to pull out his phone with the comment that St. Petersburg was very beautiful and look, he had pictures.

This conversation led to the exchange of numbers and other needed information in case the bags did show up, but in such a way that these men were willing to work with us and call us if anything did arrive.

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(First glimpse walking into the Christmas Markets)

It was not a particularly cold day, especially when carrying luggage around, but gray clouds covered the whole sky making pictures difficult. The first thing we did was make our way across town to the next hostel. We had to stop at a central metro station for a while in order to orient ourselves, but moved on to the hostel after that. This hostel Kenzy had mentioned that she and Ali had been planning to stay in it for a while. It was located in part of a castle (what was once the location of the Imperial Stables, but had been turned into an international hostel) that was central to Nuremberg in what used to be a militarily strategic location, which meant it was on top of a hill. Since Kenzy was the only one who had her bag at the time, she experienced the full impact of the hill. Ali and I only carried what we had used as carry-ons on the plane. Even without the bags to carry up the hill, it was not a small hill. Once we made it inside, a snappy German man immediately informed us that we could not check in until 3:00 p.m., which we did not care about, we just wanted a luggage storage room so that we could set our stuff down and actually enjoy our first day in Nuremberg.

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(First glimpse of the castle)

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(There were horse drawn carriages giving people tours of Nuremberg, pulled by some of the biggest horses I have ever seen).

After we were granted a storage room, Ali called the airport where her luggage was supposed to come from and I tried to call the number I had been given by Aeroflot representatives. Throughout the day we tried this number quite a few times and never had any luck with someone picking up the phone. I tried that and other airport numbers enough times that I ran through the money that Kenzy had put on her Russian phone should something like this occur. I used her phone because I did not have mine with me.

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(We came back down to the markets to find them more crowded, but not as crowded as they would become).

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(Different parts of the market had different names, this was the children’s section, but good food belongs to everyone, so we visited it).

We spent our day wandering around the markets and trying some food here and there, but since we couldn’t try everything in one day we spent some time scoping out what we might want to try in the following days. I had woken up feeling a little under the weather and with that on top of the worry of not having my luggage returned to me I just felt like the day was dragging by despite how much I tried to enjoy it. At one point we stopped by Starbucks to ask for free water and take a break from walking around, but we were on our feet for the majority of the day. Even when eating, we would buy street food and eat it wherever we happened to be.

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(In the children’s area)

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(There were lots of children)

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(and things for them to do)

Although we spent most of our time in the markets there was the occasional wandering into non-market areas. One that I remember particularly well was a bridge over a small river. I seem to like scenes with water, tree branches and birds or ducks on gray days; I think they are rather picturesque, as cliché as that term is. What was before me in that river was exactly that type of scene.

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(The ducks in the river were either black or white, no in-between)

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At the end of the day we had potato soup served to us in a bread bowl on a napkin, that we also ate standing up. It was very good, but, although I enjoy bread bowls, I always wish there was less bread and more soup because I never eat all of the bread anyway. Regardless, the soup was very good on a cool night, even though it had pieces of bacon in it which I don’t like.

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(As the day got darker, the markets started lighting up)

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(The light shining through reflective objects)

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(You could better see the Christmas decorations)

After eating dinner we walked back up the long hill to the hostel to check in. When we checked in we asked if we could barrow their phone to make a local phone call and they said yes, but once it was past 8:00. When we got up to the room, there were six beds, two of which had already been taken. There were two Asian girls who had basically taken over the room. They had done laundry and hung their clothes on hangers in any available area in addition to taking a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom for their own personal use. It was a little bit odd, but not the end of the world.

We headed back down to the front desk at 8:00 and made the necessary calls to the airport again, which was, again, useless. This time we also called the men at Hotel Moldova, which required me to talk on the phone in Russian.

In the end I had to call the man at Hotel Moldova about 3 or 4 times because the baggage hadn’t come in. During one of these calls it sounded like he had called the airport for me and had inquired about when my luggage would arrive. Either that or the airport called him so that he knew what to tell me. Finally he told me to call him back at ten and the luggage was in. At the time when I went down to make the ten o’clock phone call, Ali came down as well in order to call the airport again to see where her bag was. Her bag had already arrived at the hostel, which we found when we got down to the front desk. Kenzy was kind enough to venture all the way across Nuremberg with me to keep me company while I collected it, which I appreciated very much since it was dark and Hotel Moldova is not located in the best area. It took about 24 hours for the people who work for the Frankfurt airport to make the 3 or 4 hour trip that Kenzy and I made the night before to drop off my bag. I was just glad I got it back all in one piece and that the Russian men had been so accommodating and helpful throughout the process.

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(On the way back up the hill, we stopped to take pictures)

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(Really only as an excuse to take a break though, although the lit-up buildings were pretty)

On the way back I got to experience what it was like to travel with the luggage and later climb the hill with it. On the way up the hill I started singing Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne. Specifically the part that goes, So far away, I wish you were here… in direct reference to the location of the hostel at the top of the hill and me at the bottom of the hill with a heavy bag. At this point Kenzy joined in and, although we didn’t realize we knew so many of the lyrics, we sang a good portion of the song as we climbed up the hill.

A New Journey (02/11/14)

My new journey was spent in the company of my friend Christina. We left the hotel in Moscow at about 5:30 p.m. because our train was supposed to leave at 7:05 p.m. We knew we would have extra time to wait at the train station when we got there, but it was good that we did because we spent at least 15 minutes trying to figure out where our platform was and what we were supposed to do with our electronic tickets. We were lucky the workers at the train station were so willing to help us out, but as it was, we had to ask multiple people what to do and where to go since the directions were all in Russian and we didn’t always understand everything they were trying to tell us. In the end it worked out, and we knew we were on the right train because the train left at exactly 7:05 p.m. Russian trains are never late.

This train ride was only a few hours, so we arrived in Yaroslavl’ (our first destination) at 10:21 p.m. We had looked up options for transportation online prior to making the journey. Yaroslavl’ public transportation is supposed to stop running at 10:00 p.m., so we decided our best option was to take a taxi. Usually at train stations or airports in Russia, there are men standing around outside asking if anyone needs a taxi ride. It was no different in Yaroslavl’, but when we gave the address for the hostel we had made reservations at, none of the taxi drivers seemed to know where it was. This was very odd to me because it is a taxi-driver’s job to know where hostels and hotels are, or at least to have a gps to find it, but I guess this is Russia. Eventually one man did show up who seemed to know where our hostel was located, and he took as straight there.

The hostel seemed very nice and well put-together, but there seemed to be a few discrepancies. Usually at hostels they provide towels to accompany the sheets, but here they only gave us a small hand towel. When I went to the bathroom, I saw no hint of a shower, so I wondered if they hadn’t given us real towels because they had no showers. Later Christina found that I hadn’t been observant enough and that half of the stalls in the bathroom were bigger and did indeed have showers in them; we just didn’t get towels to go with the showers.

The second problem for me was the beds. As I mentioned in my last post, I had thrown my back out that morning. The beds at the hostel were a thin mattress place on top of wire. My back did not like it, but eventually I was able to fall asleep despite this and one other inconvenience. My friend and I stayed in a 10 bed, gender neutral room because it was the only room left open when we booked it. On this first night there was a man already sleeping in the corner. Throughout the whole night, he snored and coughed very loudly. I kept wondering why his coughing didn’t wake him up, but it definitely woke the rest of us up. Another guy who stayed in the same room, on a bed near me got mad at the guy in the middle of the night. He said these in Russian so I didn’t understand them completely, but he kept making comments to the man about why he was there, and how rude he was being. I understand that one cannot control themselves if they snore, or if they are sick and have a cough, but I also think that one should not stay in a hostel in close proximity with other people if they are sick and risk infecting other people.

Since Yaroslavl’ is not as large of a city as St. Petersburg or Moscow, it seems that every other person in our hostel except Christina and I, were Russian. I didn’t mind it, I had a good time practicing my Russian with the staff, and the other people in the hostel basically ignored us.

Thankfully, our first full day in Yaroslavl’ held a much more rewarding experience than a room with a coughing and snoring man.