Sunday, July 24, 2016

Day 14: Prague - Zurich - E-ville, Observations

Day 14:  Prague to Zurich to E-ville, Observations
David Cerny Babies

Weather:  In the 80s in Prague (as always), Zurich airport very pleasant, E-ville in the mid 60s

Department of Corrections: 
At Sansho, there was also a Pork Belly in Pepper Sauce dish; so good THB forgot to take a pic. 

It's the Naked Tour, not the Naked Guy Tour (though given how much sun tan lotion Marcus applied, maybe it is the same thing)

QOTD:  From Bob Dylan’s Highlands (hopefully you knew that earlier every-other-day lyrics were from The Sound of Music, The Hills Are Alive (or the prelude)

I'm listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound
Someone's always yellin', "Turn him down"
Feel like I'm driftin', driftin' from scene to scene
I'm wondering what in the devil could it all possibly mean.

We’re the only ones in the dining room this morning at the (expansive) breakfast buffet; it’s 6:45 and we’re packed for our 8am departure to the airport. The four nights at the Hotel Josef, including breakfasts, comes to a bit less than $800; $200/night is a great bargain for a very nice inner city hotel, one with a terrific buffet (plus hot entrees). The transfers to and from the airport were $35 each and the ride to the Villa Muller was $20. If THB had kept the hotel-supplied adapter, that would have been another $1.60 (where in the world can you buy an adapter from a hotel for $1.60? Prague).

Delivered smoothly to the airport, checked our bags, eased through security and in the airport lounge by 8:40, plenty of time to relax and catch up on e-mail and start drafting the final posting for the trip. The flight to Zurich leaves a few minutes late, we hit the ground in Zurich right on time.

That leaves 1 hour 20 minutes to make our connection. Unlike Chuck duh Gaul, it’s doable here: no bus to the terminal, we walk through a jetway; a 5 minute walk and escalator down to passport control #1 where the staff is doing a good job distributing the crowd among the 15 passport stations. Now we’re on a train between terminals and a short wait and a 2 minute ride, out and up another tall escalator and of course our flight is at the far end of the concourse.

Walk around 10 minutes, feeling pretty good, and run into a US passport control and one more search of our passports. Great, done in around 35 minutes and the flight is on time. Nope, the flight is not on time. Maybe 20 minutes late boarding, then another 40 minutes sitting in the plane that does not pull back from terminal.

Almost 45 minutes to escape SFO after a pretty much on time delivery. Long wait for bags. Another 45 minutes in a cab ride home in heavy traffic through the city (yep, 5:30 on a Saturday night and everyone's trying to get to the East Bay). $100 which included a generous tip. 

Book Review: The Adventurist, J. Bradford Hipps (novel): Gosh, a good book written by a former programmer, and a novel at that. Four months in the life of a software manager (hmmmm, THB was one of those; this guy is way more technically competent than THB ever was), dealing with the company’s struggles, the recent death of his mother, the failing health of his father, a close sister taking care of dad, and intra-company infatuations and machinations. Real life on all fronts. Recommended


1.     #TrumpisnotlikedinEurope Story 1: Jan, our tour guide on the Taste of Prague tour, very smoothly cut short any group discussion of US politics at our last spot (a sit-down mini-dinner in an empty restaurant) by saying that we didn’t have the space to discuss it (meaning: there are 7 US citizens sitting at the table and he has no idea if they are in agreement on something as simple as voting for president) and made a statement to the effect that xenophobia has become a world-wide phenomenon and that what is going on in the US is a part of the Brexit and everywhere 3rd party isolationists growing in membership. Maybe this wasn’t an anti-Trump moment, THB sure thought so at the time. (Jan left out the impact of the Great Recession on this world-wide vocalization; THB thinks it is huge part of what is going on now). 

2.     #TrumpisnotlikedinEurope Story 2: On the Naked tour lunch break, after much discussion of 600 years of history affecting Prague (at the “national” level more than the “city” level), from monarchy and church to nationalism to fascism to democracy to local communism to Soviet communism and finally back to democracy, Marcus stated (unsolicited) to his only two tour members: somebody should shoot him. Who, we asked? Trump. Really? Yes; if you (or someone) had a chance to shoot Hitler in the early 30s and put an end to brown shirts and Kristallnacht (let alone WWII and the holocaust), wouldn’t we all be better off. THB and DB are pretty much speechless. Really? Marcus is (dead) serious (refresher: college educated, young, gay, knows his history well). He also thought the Brits didn’t understand the Brexit and that the new government will negotiate, find out the EU is driving a very hard bargain (they don’t want any other defections) and get back to the Brits that the deal is too onerous, we did our best, and we recommend we stay in (after all, it was only 52-48, what’s a few percentage points?). THB normally wouldn’t feel he had to go on the record about this: he does not think anyone should be shot, let alone presidential candidates. Having said that, THB thinks the Manchurian Candidate is one great film.

3.      #TrumpisnotlikedinEurope Story 3: We’re at the first passport control point in the Zurich airport on our way back to the US and the Swiss Immigration Control guy is just about to stamp our passports (literally holding the stamp above DB’s passport) when he gets a grin on his face and asks: who are you voting for? DB responds quickly and forcibly: Clinton! His grin gets larger: STAMP! STAMP! and we’re on our way to catch our flight. As DB said afterward:  when’s the last time an official at an airport made a joke of any type? THB thought: #Bushsucks has been replaced big time with #Trumpsucks (and unlike Bush, Trump hasn’t invaded another country or two yet or forgot to regulate the economy as the credit crises exploded).

4.     If you can hit it just right, the hiking in the Swiss Alps is spectacular: a great combo of unbeatable vistas and gorgeous wildflowers, plus many options of hikes and relative ease of getting to the trailheads via public transportation.

5.     No matter where we were, there was a lot of integration: groups of travelers of different ethnicities and nations, mixed couples, local service people from all over the place (our waiter the last night in Prague was Fijian).

6.     English continues to dominate as the common language; we did hear about the increasing number of Chinese travelers. To our eyes Japanese and then Korean seem to be the majority of Asian travelers, and in the Alps there were many East Asians (though they could just as easily have been from the US than India or Pakistan).

7.     Smokers were fairly rare in the Alps, somewhat rare in Zurich, and very common in Prague. THB didn’t notice the woman next to him at the outdoor table at Sansho was smoking. DB was facing her, and definitely noticed.
This man must be on drugs

8.     Going drug-free for three days in Prague did seem to have some impact on THB: he produced longgggggg screeds and posted them to the internet (oh, wait, those were the normal travel postings); his hands did start shaking worse than normal, so the Propanolol (even in very small doses) does work; and he slept through the night all four nights, so something in the Propanolol (blood pressure and essential tremors), Levoxyl (thyroid) or Brilinta (cholesterol) must be doing something to disrupt his sleep patterns. The only drug THB stayed on was the baby aspirin: wait, he slept like a baby!

9.     Prague is worth a visit! Plenty to do in three full days (though we did take some sort of lengthy tour every day), eating is actually better than in Switzerland (well, that’s a low bar to get over), and easy to cover via foot or public transportation.

10. Zurich if fine if you are a Dada fan, otherwise THB found it pretty bland. DB liked it a lot.

11.  If you think that leaving your home for long extended periods will expedite your kitchen remodel, give THB a shout out. THB is now hoping for end of August (and that his partner doesn’t mind having to reassemble everything while he’s gone).

12. THB’s waterproof shoes (unnecessary on the Kumano Kodo, essential in Swiss Alps) were fabulous: sloshing in snow, dunking in streams, dunking waterfalls, dunking in mountain lakes…didn’t matter, socks always dry! Salomon low tops, Ortholife model, purchases at REI

Friday, July 22, 2016

Day 13: Prague

Day 13:  Prague

Orange is the new Czech black

Weather:  In the 80s, stay thirsty my friends (and rehydrate)

A trifecta: Marcus, extra dark chocolate ice cream cone and Cerny's King Wenceslas on a dead horse


Well, my heart's in the highlands with the horses and hounds
Way up in the border country far from the towns
With the twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow
My heart's in the highlands, I can't see any other way to go.

Breakfast: same as it ever was.

THB takes these pics of the statue in the main square and then it turns out Marcus explains all as part of the tour

We see several groups and couples dressed up and holding flowers; who are they, where are they going?
DB runs a shopping errand, THB works on his posts. THB and DB head our around 10, hoping (well, one of us is hoping) to do a little shopping before our 11am meet-up with The Naked Guy city tour (“we go where tourists normally are never taken").  Shopping results in visiting stores that aren’t open and the ones that are open don’t have what we’re looking for…or we can find at home (wherever that is; someone remind me, where do I normally sleep?).
Soon to be banned

The tour meet-up spot...where's the Naked Guy?

There was a statue on this spot...will it be put back?

It's not far way, hiding in plain sight around the corner 

We’re in the main meeting spot for most city tours, in front of the Cartier store, when DB notices a guy in orange lathering himself with suntan lotion. Yep, it’s Marcus, our tour guide for the day. Bonus round: we’re the only two that signed up today. Marcus is around 26, Irish, has degrees in English Literature and History, has been in the Czech Republic three out of the last four years, is learning Czech, has a Czech boyfriend, and rowed crew in college. Most of this we find our very early in the tour.
City Hall used to be an extension to the church, it was blown up in 1945 by the Allies or Czech resistance very very late in the war (it held a lot of explosives)

The balcony on the square where in 1948 the Communists basically announced a coup (with 3K armed troops watching from below) and Havel made his own acceptance speech as the elected President after the fall of the Wall 

Black Madonna

He spends the next almost 4 hours living up to the motto; we definitely are not on the normal city tour, though the vast majority of the time we are within 500 meters of the starting point just off the main square. And, because we had been to the last part of the tour on our own, we do even more near the square than normal.
The forecourt of what is now a Franciscan church. The forecourt was supposed to be the actual church, never completed

Cobblestones indicating where the main structural elements were to be laid

Very tall and very thin inside

Some of the highlights:
·      A lot of information on the impact on the Czech citizens as Czech politics moved from being next to Hitler, taken over by the Fascists, replaced by a democratically elected Communist government, then controlled by a Soviet controlled Communist government, to the fall of the Wall and democracy re-arriving
Note the damage to the statues

Taliban not the only group to knock heads off inanimate objects

·      The impact of religion, starting from around 550 years ago and the equivalent of the Protestant Reformation, and how as each new type of government came to power they adapted the intent and meaning of religious icons for their own purposes
The sign is saying: natural A/C

The beer garden is next to the tall and thin church

Marcus has the big beer, THB and DB the small ones

Lots of bread

What we're drinking

Good listener, soft speaker

·      A tour of some little seen public art installations, including explaining the one we sought out last night: Cerny’s King Wenceslas riding an upside down dead horse (see pic below); in fact, Marcus should have been our art tour guide, he was way more knowledgeable than Cristina… well, that’s not saying much…he is plenty knowledgeable enough to be leading art tours


Back (more ape-like features)

One more time: in the middle of a major block (owned by Havel's family)

Where it was supposed to go: the main post office

And the statue it was based on: King Wenceslas on a live horse

·     A lunch in a beer garden that was an oasis right next to the tall/thin unusual church. Place was practically empty and the food was very good (okay, hot dogs again); Marcus took us in the back way; if you came in through the front it was a normal looking indoor pub type place

Marcus and DB obey the sign
 ·      Marcus explained the reason some people thought Hitler was "creating a museum" of Judaica in Prague. Prague already had a Jewish museum (run by Jews), as of 1906, and as Hitler exterminated the Jews and obliterated the temples, the material was sent to Prague for "safe-keeping". Eventually, the Jews of Prague were eliminated as well and Hitler lost the war. The Nazi intent was always about theft, not preservation.
Another "Spanish" Synagogue (more Morrocan?)

Good looking cobblestones outside the synagogue

Along the way, THB bought water for Marcus and us ($1 for two bottles) and Marcus bought ice cream cones for the three of us ($3). Lunch was $20. The tour cost $35pp, and Marcus got a $35 tip (well earned).

Near or in the main train station:

This pic is copied off another site: it's at the Liverpool Station in London (see note below next pic)

Nicholas Winton arranged for the funding and transport of 800 Jewish children to England on several trains just before Germany declared war on France (the last train unfortunately got stuck in France); the "sister" statue is in the London Liverpool train station (see above)

Back to the hotel to rest up, watch the end the daily stage of the TdF (nearing it’s end), and walk to nearby Sansho for dinner.

Dinner was excellent and, per Marcus, so not Czech. So true! This was a great meal no matter where you fine dine. Think Slanted Door (for those of you who live in the Bay Area) in the original location in the Mission, not the overcrowded hyper-version in the Ferry Building. Careful, attentive service, and a set menu (except the people next to us also had a huge mound of what looked like steak tartare, maybe instead of some of the fish dishes). Highly recommended...sooooooooooo not Czech!

We're dining outside; it's very warm, no breeze at all, good people watching

The meal: house water (yep, tap water with some mint and cucumber, 80 cents), bottle of Gruner Veltliner, no dessert (we're stuffed), with tip $140. The rest of the meal in pics:

Sansho version of  Rum & Ginger, Tom Collins 

Salmon Sashimi
Clams and tendons (accurate)

Smoked trout and green mango salad

Soft shell crab in bao

Side veggies

Seafood curry

Fish curry

More pics of interest:

The start of the Taste of Prague tour

A store we finally found; not open even though it is past the time posted on their door

Marcus explains: it's graduation day and flowers are given to the graduates

Marcus explains: it is easier to dig up the streets if something needs to be repaired underneath that if everything is covered in asphalt. True? Hmmmm...