A nap was in order at the hostel. Despite the cacophonous sounds of my neighbor's nostril orchestra, I was able to get one hour of sleep and felt refreshed enough to pull a late-nighter and get fully inebriated in my new weekend home of Krakow. It's not a proper vacation nor a proper time spent sans wife if not a bit under the medicinal influences of Dr. Pivo. After the nap, coffee was in order. We had our pick-me-up at a cute little bookstore coffee shop on the corner of the street called the Tender Barbarian, or Czuły Barbarzyńca (Brzozowa 15) in Polish. They had English language books and a nice courtyard for outdoor coffee drinking. By the time I'm writing this, I'm convinced that Krakow is overflowing with cute bookstore/coffee shops. The only thing that might rival that in number is the amount of strip clubs that Krakow is also full of - thus, a tough city to stereotype! Equal parts intellectual and equal parts bromantic!
On May 15 of every year thousands of Czechs gather to make the descent from St. Vitus in the castle, across Charles Bridge, to the opposite bank of the Vltava, where there’s an orchestra on a barge waiting to play. The event, called the Navalis, celebrates the life and martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk. Before the procession, there’s a festival at the castle, where many Czechs are dressed in traditional, medieval looking clothes, and sing traditional Czech songs, along with church music. What seems to be all the priests of Prague then rally the folk together, pass out palm branches and head down through Mala Strana, a brass band playing solemn religious music as a background to the procession. Watching the parade, I couldn’t quite tell if it was a celebration or a day of mourning - much like viewing the average sober Czech man, it’s hard to read the emotions. But after seeing one priest with a peasant kick back a couple of shots of what appeared to be Slivovitz - or plum vodka - I decided that it must be a celebration.
My wife had decided to leave me for a weekend to have girl time with her bestie over in Vienna which meant I had to come up with something to do for three days. Result: meet up with a friend in Krakow. I had met my friend James - who keeps up this blog about Warsaw - years ago in Tbilisi doing a volunteer stint with Teach and Learn in Georgia. We kept up through the years and now he's living the teaching life in Warsaw while I'm in Prague. Having been to Warsaw already, I wanted to see something new, and daresay, something more authentically old Polish. Krakow then was the best choice for that, being that it was the old capital of the Kingdom of Poland and survived WWII nearly completely intact, with only a few Nazi bombs going off when the Germans retreated.
For my inaugural blog on the Czech Republic - which has been admittedly late in the coming - I've decided to cover a particular event about something close to my heart which takes place in one of my favorite beer halls of the city. The bar in question is the Lucerna, where I have brought many a guest to scarf down the deliciously bodied Plzensky Prazdroj beer while taking in the ambiance of an Art Nouveau cafe - or as referred to in the local marketing parlance, which sounds more mysterious and almost Star Wars-like, "in the style of the First Republic" - complete with brass beer taps, marble floors, modernist light fixtures, and green curtains. Perhaps, there's no better way to describe the place than borrow the words of the bar itself from the corporate webpage: "Lantern cafe is an architectural gem, comfortable stylish cafe which offers a peaceful release of the film and after seeing the film and is a very pleasant place for friendly or small workshops." Now, I don’t really want to know what kind of “peaceful release” they’re talking about, but I’ll settle for that nice tap beer. READ MORE
I've traveled all across Europe on a budget, and even when I travel now, I'm still highly budget minded. With every restaurant outing, museum, train ticket or whatever, I'm constantly thinking, "Do we need that? Is there another way? Is this particular experience worth forgoing a future one?" But now that I have a bit of expendable income, I feel it's good to pamper myself now and then, because really, every experience you get while traveling is a unique, one-of-a-kind one thing; one where you'll likely never be in the same position to do that activity again. Regarding Barcelona - it's a great city, but I'm probably never going to visit again without an explicit reason; I've seen it now, and now there's so much more remaining in the world. I'm of course, quite understanding the fact that I will never see the entire world, just as I will never be able to experience the entirety of any city that I visit. American domestic beer is fine if that's all you've got, and our poor bodies on this Earth are but Coors factories of utilization. We pump out a lot, but rarely do we have those gems of a microbrew, but those gems are the moments to hold on to, to let glitter and catch the sun, to split the light in a thousand fragments and bask in their beauty.
As impressed as we were with the Sagrada de Familia and as impressed as we were with Parc Guell, we decided that it would be best to visit the Casa Batllo. The last we were in Barcelona, before our trip onward to Morocco, we were standing outside the house with our friend, having seen the outsides of all the Art Nouveau houses on the Block of Discord. We had wanted to go inside one of them, but most of them you're only allowed in one or two rooms and it seemed somewhat of a waste. The only one with a full tour of the original construction - I say original, even though Batllo was a renovation by Gaudi and not his construction - was Casa Batllo and that cost an absurd 15 euro just for a walkaround. Since we had seen Sagrada, all of us were content with our Gaudi gambit and decided to move on to the next touristic site. Barcelona has no shortage of overpriced touristic sites, after all, and the outside is an impressive enough view. Many compare the building to a dragon, with the colorful scales of his spine forming the roof and large shaft chimney coming out with a cross at the top, said to resemble St. George's spear, thrust downward into the dragon's back.
Back in Barcelona. After Morocco, the Gothic Quarters weren't that interesting. Narrow they were, but in their straightness and levelness, they seemed rather quaint - and in the off-season - so quiet and empty and forlorn. All of my Minotaur comparisons that I had used for Morocco seemed more adequate to the tall, graffiti strewn walls of inner-Barcelona, with all the garage doors closed, shops waiting for periods of better traffic. Or maybe they were only open for two hours of the day - it was impossible to tell as Spaniards do like their siestas. And by siestas, I mean, their long periods of not working. The Spanish clock seems to start at 11 am, lunch at 2, resume work at 6 and off at 8 pm. Then they sleep, have dinner at 11 pm and are out until 6 or 7 in the morning. It's amazing that they even have time for anything with such a rigorous schedule.