Final Notes

I made it back. Walk to tram, tram to bus, bus to airport, long check-in line, walk to gate, fly to Heathrow, go through seemingly endless labyrinthine hellscape at Heathrow, fly to Seattle, go through Customs, walk to shuttle, shuttle to car, drive home. Roughly 21 hours. I think 19 of that was in Heathrow, although BA upgraded me and let me pre-board for no apparent reason. Maybe they liked the cut of my jib, although honestly my jib was looking pretty rumpled at that point.

Some final notes:

  • I learned to say seven things in Czech: Dobrý den (good day), prosím (please), pivo (beer), káva (coffee), pokladna (cash register),papriková klobása (paprika kielbasa), and trdelník (trdelník).
  • Danish trucks don’t make a beeping noise when they back up.
  • On all the local transportation I rode (trams, subways, buses, etc.) in Copenhagen, Berlin, and Prague, I don’t think anyone ever checked my ticket. I’ve read that Prague spot-checks riders and will fine you 700 Kč if you don’t have a valid ticket. But a three-day ticket is 310 Kč, so if they check less than once per week, you’d come out ahead by paying the fine.
  • Thai massage seems to be a thing in Prague. They’re all over the place. One aspect of Thai massage involves putting your feet in a fish tank so that fish can nibble them. This takes place in the front window so that you, the idiot tourist, are on display to passersby while fish nibble your toes. I did not do this.
  • I now understand the line from the 2013 David Bowie song “Where Are We Now”.
         Had to get the train
         From Potsdamer Platz
         You never knew that
         That I could do that
    Meistersaal studio, near Potsdamer Platz, was where Bowie and Iggy Pop recorded in 1977. Potsdamer Platz was one of the ghost stations of the U-Bahn. It was in the east, but the stations on either side were in the west. Trains were not allowed to stop there and guards were posted in the station to make sure they didn’t. West Berlin had to pay the DDR for the privilege of passing through.
  • I walked a total of 118.44 miles over 18 days, for an average of 6.58 miles per day.
  • I really need to bring less luggage.

Final Evening in Prague

I went back to the apartment to rest and pack, and when I went out again, it had snowed, turning all of Prague into a magical slushscape.

Slushy Wonderland

Near the tram stop is an artwork that I kept meaning to go look at, and this afternoon I finally did. It’s a Memorial to the Victims of Communism. I had to wait to take this picture because there were people taking selfies with the statue in the front. I guess they didn’t read the plaque.

Memorial to the Victims of Communism

Then I took the tram to Wenceslas Square and had a nutritious meal of chicken skewer and trdelník while wandering around the square.

Wenceslas Square

There are three really large bookstores on the square. I went in all of them. I don’t really know why, since I don’t speak Czech. They were just really nice bookstores.

Now I’m going to finish packing and go to bed early.

Wandering

Nearing the end of my trip, I’m starting to wind down. I’m getting torpid and sluggardly. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get a five-shot latte and a trdelník at the Christmas market in the Old Town Square, and then go wandering.

Trdelník

Whilst wandering, I found these statues.

This Exists

The powder tower is the only remaining portion of the old city walls, dating from the 1400s.

Powder Tower

The Museum of Communism is somewhat critical of 40 years of oppression.

At the Museum of Communism

Commie Selfie

Franz Kafka was born near this church. Nothing to do with the picture, really. I just thought I’d mention it.

Church of St. Nicholas

This is the oldest synagogue in eastern Europe, built in 1270.

Staronová Synogoga

On Sunday morning, I thought I’d had enough of wandering by foot, and decided to wander by tram. The individual routes go back and forth, so I would take a route until the sights became uninteresting, then get off and take a different tram in the other direction. This worked until I got off the #17 tram in front of a junky-looking dollar store (actually 50 Kč, or about $2.30) to wait for the #24.

I waited for about 20 minutes until I figured out that the notice “V sobotu a neděli linka nejede” means that the line doesn’t run on the weekend.

Thinking quickly, I got on a different tram and returned to town.

Junky Dollar Store

Waiting for a Tram on an Uninteresting Street

Castles, Cathedrals, and Towers

Today I went to the Prague Castle complex. The guidebook recommended arriving early to buy a ticket as soon as they opened at 9:00, which would provide 15 minutes or so in the St. Vitus Cathedral without crowds. It probably would have worked out, were it not for the large Japanese tour group that apparently already had tickets and were ready to go in at the stroke of 9:00.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert

Thronging Throngs at the St. Vitus Cathedral

Saint Vitus, according to legend, was boiled in oil along with a chicken. Probably with some onions, too, and maybe a little dill, although the legend doesn’t mention that specifically.

St. Vitus and His Chicken

The bell tower required a separate admission, but if there’s a bell tower to go up, you can’t not go up it. So I did. 287 steps.

The Bell Tower, What I Went Up

View from the Bell Tower

This gargoyle is dribbling water from its mouth, although, sadly, it does not show up in this photo.

Dribbling Gargoyle

Afterward, I bought some mead in the adjacent Christmas market, and walked down the old village street adjacent to the palace. There was a guy playing Christmas songs on the recorder and flatting the same notes over and over.

Guy Playing Jingle Bells and Greensleeves Off Key

Not far from where I’m staying is a funicular, and a funicular is another thing that must be gone up, so I went straight from the palace area to the funicular, via the #22 tram (310 Kč for three days of unlimited use). At the top of the funicular line is…a completely bogus Eiffel Tower! Petřín Tower was built in 1891 and it looks exactly like the Eiffel Tower as long as you’re not looking very closely. But it is generally Eiffely, and bogus Eiffel Towers are near the top of the list of things that you have to go up, especially if, as in this case, you can pay an extra 60 Kč to take the elevator.

Petřín Tower

The Palace from Petřín Tower

Charles Bridge from Petřín Tower

After the tower, I took the tram downtown, intending to go to the Museum of Communism, but instead I just wandered around looking at things and getting food from Christmas markets along the way.

More Thronging Throngs

Eventually I walked back over the Charles Bridge and caught the #22 tram back to the apartment.

Statue with a Seagull on Its Head

Today in Prague

Charles Bridge in the Morning

15th Century Clock

Trabants are everywhere!

Al? Is that you?

“The St. Vitus Cathedral is over there.”

After 103 beers, you have to start a new tab

Prototype for Pirates of the Caribbean

Al would ring like crazy fool, and then want discount.

Charles Bridge in the Evening

Görlitz & Zgorzelec

These are two towns on opposite sides of the Neisse river. Before the river was set as the border in 1945, they were the same town, and they’re now effectively twin cities. You can walk across a foot bridge between them.

The Border Between Germany and Poland

I remembered all of this from an earlier version of the Rick Steves guidebook on Germany, but it isn’t in the current edition. Still, I remembered that it was supposed to be a picturesque little town.

Parts of the German side are, but not any more than you would see elsewhere in Germany. The Polish side probably has a center of town somewhere, but I certainly wasn’t able to find it. The tourist map they give out in Görlitz cuts off most of Zgorzelec.

To make matters worse, I was on my way from Berlin to Prague, so I had all my luggage with me, and there’s a steep hill down to the river, and a steep hill up the other side. Google Maps drained my battery again, so I couldn’t use that, which left me just picking a likely-looking direction.

All I found was a residential area with Soviet architecture. I made a big loop and walked back to the bridge.

Picturesque Poland

Back on the German side of the bridge, I stopped to look at the map and collect my thoughts before trudging back up the hill with my luggage. As I started to cross the street, I was approached (in fact, surrounded) by three polizei who wanted to see my passport. As I started to hand it over, I remembered that I had tucked some Swiss and Danish currency in it, so I quickly pulled that out, lest he think I was trying to bribe him with roughly $15 worth of foreign currency.

Poland and Germany are both in the Schengen area, so crossing that border shouldn’t require a passport, but I guess someone crossing on foot with a lot of luggage might look a little suspicious. Fortunately, he saw my entry stamp from Copenhagen and concluded that I was legal.

Having thus made it past the polizei, I trudged up the hill to the center of town.

My phone battery was dead, but I knew I would need it to contact the Airbnb people once I got to Prague, so I found a place with a plug and bought pastries and cappuccinos until my phone was about 2/3 charged. I would have stayed longer, but the plug was right by the door, so I was partially blocking the entrance by standing there.

The train trip from Görlitz to Prague was uneventful. For the final leg from Dresden, I had a first-class ticket and had a nice dinner in the dining car shortly before arriving. This included a Czech beer that is seemingly popular with goats.

Goat Beer

When I arrived in Prague, in a freakish twist of fate, everything went smoothly. I found an ATM and withdrew 3000 koruna, bought a three-day tram ticket from a machine, figured out the location of the tram stop right away, and got to the stop just as my tram was arriving. I got to the Airbnb apartment in about 15 minutes, and the owner showed up a few minutes later to let me in.

Not wanting to press my luck further, I think I’ll turn in for the night.

Potsdamer Platz

After the Reichstag, I came back to the hotel and lounged around for a while. I didn’t really plan to go anywhere except KaDeWe in the late afternoon, but I got tired of lounging, so I went to Potsdamer Platz, which is on the way to KaDeWe.

Potsdamer Platz was right on the junction of the American, British, and Russian sectors, so the Wall ran right through it. There were some apartments and businesses overlooking the Wall (such as the studio where David Bowie and Iggy Pop recorded), but much of the area had been destroyed in the war and not rebuilt, or cleared away to form the no-man’s land between east and west. Most of what’s there now is less than 20 years old.

The location of the Wall is marked by a double row of bricks in the pavement.

The Wall: Much Shorter Now

I didn’t realize this until I got there, but down a side street is the last remaining BT 6 Watchtower of the DDR, just standing there on the sidewalk.

And this being December, it has a Santa hat.

Festive Tower of Death

The tower is a city monument, but it doesn’t receive any money. It’s run entirely by volunteers. Today it was staffed by a friendly woman named Susi who had worked in the Potsdamer Platz area in the mid-’80s and could see this tower from where she worked.

I climbed up in and looked around. Visibility is good, but there’s not a lot of space up there.

Window Office for Two

View Down the Base of the Tower

After the tower, I took the train to Wittenbergplatz and walked down Tauentzienstraße until I got too cold. By then it was time for an early dinner at the Wintergarten buffet on the top floor of KaDeWe. This is the most spectacular buffet I’ve ever seen. I recommend the Apfelstrudel.

Wintergarten

Now I need to pack. My train leaves Berlin tomorrow at 0630.