Blog #25 - Czech with your Friends Wien Ordering the Schnitzel!

When we last left off we were on a seven hour train from Budapest to Prague, where we were scheduled to meet up with one of Steph's best friends Safiya, and her roommate Katie.  

Also, we were looking to celebrate a few birthdays while we were there: both Vince and Katie were going to add a candle to birthday cake.

We arrived just a day before Safiya and Katie, so we got a hotel for the night.  We checked into quite friendly but wacky Hotel Taurus in a not so touristy area of Prague and immediately ventured out to replace the power adapter we left behind in Prague (power is everything), and, with our noses in the air, to look for a meal.  Using what has now become a finely-tuned intuition for finding value restaurants, we chose a restaurant halfway called "The Three Little Pigs".  Vegetarian options were scarce, as were vegetarians.  And not only was the food plentiful, it was great.

The following morning we became tourists again and we made our way into the city centre to find our apartment.  Once again, it would be Airbnb, but courtesy of Safiya (thanks Saf!). 

On our way we could quickly tell Prague was going to exceed our expectations.  It is a beautiful city filled with statues, beautiful buildings, medieval bridges, the smell of rotating ham and the sound of chefs pounding meat in the kitchens (to make schnitzel). 

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If that wasn’t enough, from time to time we caught a whiff of a bakery dealing in sweet dough.  At that point, Prague begins to feel like an amusement park.  Yes, it was so real it actually felt fake (must be too many Dracula movies). 

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The check-in with the landlord went well, and again we were in a good spot in the city centre!  After an hour of so of unpacking, it was time to meet Saf at her Metro stop after her flight, and get the party started.  Big hugs!  Also, Vince was turning 28 ;), and that called for a celebration.

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The three of us caught up over a few bottles of wine and treated Vince to a medieval dungeon restaurant that was supposed to feature fire throwers and sword swallowers, but alas, it was the circus freaks’ night off, so we ended up entertaining ourselves.  What a great and silly night.

The next day we met up with Katie, who is a teacher, and she decided to spend some of her summer vacation with us.  Now we were feeling privileged!  It’s always great to see our Toronto friends on the road, both old and new.  Partly due to Katie's jetlag and partly due to our headaches induced by the earlier night, we took it easy and just sauntered through the old city streets.

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The next day, coincidentally, Katie was celebrating her 22nd ;) birthday so we threw her a party which included a beer-filled ride through the city on a six-person hexagonal bike (think of a picnic table you can drive…), followed by a few hours at a “vintage” Prague casino.  

This casino was smoke-filled, with narrow tall rooms, decorated ceilings, worn carpet, and get this: a balcony!  In North America, you can’t even find window in a casino, but this place let you actually look at the sun!  And, there was also all-you-can-eat schnitzel.  There were platters of pork and chicken schnitzel in the blackjack / roulette room.  But alas, drinks were extra. 

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We would post pictures of this place, however, NO CAMERAS ALLOWED!  And rules you think might be bendable at home, just aren’t in other places.  We quickly found out when Saf tried to snap a shot of a guy at the roulette table who looked like Jágr's son....hahaha...not really, just a kid that was the spitting image of Jaromír Jágr.  He is Czech, so you never really know.

For our last day in Prague we signed up for a proper guided bike tour of Prague to learn about the city, its history, and its architecture.  

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Our tour guide took us everywhere.  Steph's favourite building was the “Dancing House” which was built on the site of one of the (only) two buildings to be damaged during WWII.  The building looks like a couple dancing, and cleverly, it is nicknamed the ‘Fred and Ginger’ building ... super cool!  

We also saw the John Lennon Wall, which was immensely impressive.  The day after Lennon was shot in 1980, someone walked up to this wall and painted a portrait of the man (this was a very rebellious act, since the Czech Republic was at the time in fact Czechezlovakia and under communist control).  The next day it was painted over.  However the day following it had returned, but, it was painted over again.  This went on and on from 1980 onward, and now the “Lennon Wall” has become a wonderful hundred-foot plus span of graffiti and messages of peace.  It is very powerful to see.

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With the extra context courtesy of our excellent tour guide Francesco (he was from Italy!) by the end of the bike tour we had fallen in love with the old and new quirky aspects of the city.  

Prague is a very popular stag/stagette destination for blokes and birds from the UK, and this should come as little surprise.  Cool backdrop with amazing beer, and importantly, it is very walkable.

It was sad to leave, but our time in Prague had finished and the four of us moved on to our next goal.  Vienna...the land of Wiener Schnizel and classical music.

Same drill, different city.  This time Saf and Katie led the way as they arrived by noon while we were still on the bus (cheaper tickets, and hey, Wi-Fi!).  Once again Saf's choice in apartments was spot on.  Large, trendy and cutely decorated.  We dropped off our bags.  Our first stop – one of the more famous Schnitzel houses, Figlmüller!

On the way there it became apparent that Vienna was not as much a backpackers destination as Prague, as it was more refined.  There were no drunks in the streets of Vienna, and people were elegantly dressed.  Our days of drinking dollar beers were over! 

But fine culture was all around us.  It was a nice feeling.  We lined up at Figlmüller for about an hour while enjoying wine from a bar across the lane.  In line we met a bunch of Canadians with the same visions of Schnitzel, and we debated the usual rivalry between Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs ... haha ... it felt like home.  Great food, conversation and über schnitzel.  We could now die and go to heaven.  With our bellies full and the day of travel wearing on us, we decided to retire to our apartment and rest up for a big day of touring.

We decided to see Vienna by bike, our seven days with the ladies definitely have a tri-theme to it ... beer, meat and bikes!  So fun!  We rode on our last day and did a self-guided tour (Saf and Vince took turns being navigator).  Our bike ride took us about 35 - 45 kilometers up and down the Danube, and it was awesome.  Good exercise and great tanning day.

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However, a word of warning, Austrians take their cycling VERY SERIOUSLY.  There is not such thing as a “bike lane” … bikes get their own roads, and walking on one will get you a strongly executed bell to the ear.  Bikes even have their own on- and off-ramps from bridges!  Take a look for yourself:  http://youtu.be/UCY5aGygkww

Special thanks to Safiya and Katie for coming along for our Eastern European adventure and celebrating with us!  We are super excited to get home and pick up where we left off.  Such a great time!

Once we said goodbye to Saf, we had a few more hours in Vienna with Katie so we ended up dragging her though Mozart’s house (poor girl ;).  That place may have been rockin’ in the 1780’s, but it isn’t so much today.  

Afterward we headed to the State Opera House.  On the way we walked past what must have been Rihanna’s hotel (she was playing in Vienna the next night), and did a few minutes of stalking.  Who are these people that stand around waiting for celebrities to go into or come out of buildings?  Well, for ten minutes that day, we were those people!

The Mozart concert was cool.  It was touristy, but what the heck.  It was Vince’s classical day!

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 The next day – well the next day is simply embarrassing.

 You see, in an effort to save money on a hotel room, we booked an overnight bus to our next destination, Munich.  But it left at 11:15 p.m., and in order to enjoy the day we went early to the bus station and placed three of our four bags into a locker, so that they wouldn’t be weighing us down while we wandered Museum Quarter, parks, and other assorted places.  The keen ones among you may already know how this ends, but to make a long story short, when we returned at reasonable hour to take our bags from the lockers and hop on our overnight bus to Munich, it was closed! 

 The office area that had the lockers was closed, lights out at 9 p.m.

 Apparently, we didn’t get the memo (maybe because it was in German??), that even if you have an 11 p.m. bus you have to get your bags before 9pm ... ARRGH! 

 So with our bags stuck in jail, we were forced to miss our bus, and we had find a room ASAP.  We got a room at the nearby budget Ibis, which was seriously budget, but clean and the next morning we grabbed our bags at 6:40 a.m., and got our sorry butts to the train station to get an early train to Munich.  

 So instead of rolling into Munich at 6 a.m. on a bus we are heading to Munich on a high-speed train, a few hundred dollars poorer.  That is the fee for our idiocy.

 If we learned anything, it’s that when you travel, especially when you try to travel on the cheap, you have to stay vigilant.  You can search for hours for the cheapest way to get somewhere or do something, but if along the way you make the kind of mistake that could get you kicked out of clown college, you will quickly wipe away all the ‘little picture’ savings. 

Oh well...c’est la vie...Vienna 1, Team Luciani 0.

 Munich, here we come.  And we could use a beer!

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