Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Disneyland Shmizbeeland - Gimme Prague, Any Day

Ooooooooh, that title may get me into some boiling hot water. But I'll say it again: Disneyland wishes it was Prague.

But you wouldn’t know it from the path out of the airport. Foggy plains surround the airport, cut up by tall concrete walls lined with barbed wire. Ry and I both agreed, as we struggled to stay standing on the very much packed, and very much jolty, public bus, that it just looked communist. Drab, bunker style buildings and shipping containers, in varying hues of sidewalk and stone, peppered the landscape – some buried in thistly weeds and brush. Even though Prague hasn’t been ruled by Communists since the late 80’s, some of the d├ęcor on the edges of the city didn’t quite get the memo.

The city morphs so rapidly as you enter it, that I was dizzy with craning my neck around  to absorb everything. The wide, straight, four lane streets funnel into tight one ways and questionably slim two-way streets – kinking up into curvy, crimped alleys and dead ends and pedestrian zones. Like a pop-up fairytale book, the rusty red roofed buildings huddle in on each other – playing with my mind as they seem to get larger in the distance and mock the laws of perspective. Instead of the long, gridded streets of cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, where you can see so far in the distance that the buildings get blurred into the smog, streets in Prague will end abruptly with medieval churches and brightly colored buildings with facades so unique and considered, that they look like a film set.

I shit you not, As soon as we stepped out of the bus, we heard a woman belting opera music from a 3rd story window. In the distance, on a hill overlooking the city, was the multi-spired cathedral of the largest ancient castle in the world. As we rounded another corner, a man played clarinet out of his window above a marionette shop, down the street from the picturesque bridge lined with larger than life sculptures. REALLY?? This is some straight up, fairytale kingdom shenanigans. 

I like the little walrus drawing on the left

The Lennon wall. Before I saw it, I heard it. This guy was totally jamming to The Beatles as we walked up to the note and graffiti covered wall. Honestly, I didn’t know about the wall or what it stood for when we visited, so I eavesdropped on a tour group that shuffled quickly past it. The wall, as I gather, stood for freedom, rebellion, and expression around the end of communism in the 80’s. Some of the graffiti was all hippy dippy and optimistic, while other scrawlings were raw and brutal. People would post love notes to Prague and grievances to politicians. It has been painted over before by authorities, only to be filled up within days. It turns out that a bunch of art students actually completely painted the wall white and wrote “Wall is over” on it only a couple of weeks after I took these photos. I’ll admit, I got a little bit farklempt listening to the music and reading the wall. I don’t even like The Beatles all too much (sorry again, two offensive opinions in one post), but it was a beautiful moment.

Ten points for a creative use of band-aids

 Ok. This guy. He is the one ever so joyously playing the Beatle tunes. He looks so eerily like a friend of mine that we have coined him as CzechChris, our friend Chris's doppleganger. Let me show you a couple pictures for comparison. I'll let you come to your own conclusions, but I think I make a fair argument. Here, below, is our friend Chris.

Exhibit A:

There are so many things right in this picture. Uplifting Settlers of Catan T-shirt, Unicorn mask...But back to the point.

 Exhibit B with a side by side comparison:

I rest my case.

Around the corner from the Lennon Wall is the love lock bridge. Some argue vandalism, but I am, and always will be, a romantic. I thought it was beautiful. All those rusty old locks with names scrawled in sharpy or etched on with paperclip tips. I'm a sap.

Ryan surprised me with an engraved lock that we spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to lock onto the bridge. Not only were we trying to wait for a nice, private moment in between the occasional tour group horde, but you wouldn't believe how hard it is to find a spot of real estate on this thing. If you lock it onto one of the dangling lock strings, it will eventually get bolt cutted off to make room. The key is to find a spot that is inconvenient to cut. After much too much hullaballoo, we finally found a spot and tossed our keys into the river below the bridge. Awwwwww. Cue the sighs.

I may have said that Prague reminds me of disneyland, and it does, but it also has a grittiness to it that I adore, and which was missing from my very brief visit to Stockholm. Prague has been on my radar since I started becoming obsessed with puppet making and stop-motion animation over a decade ago. Marionette and puppetry shops are everywhere. Puppetry is serious business. Shop windows are filled with pop culture, Harry Potter and Michael Jackson puppets strung next to traditional hags and hobos. Some are made of cheap plastic, others are hand widdled from wood. They even have a National Marionette Theater.

Some of the best puppet makers and stop-motion animators are from Prague (Jan Svankmajer, Jiri Barta, Jiri Trnka), and they aren't necessarily making children's stories. Some of the films are quite disturbing and creepy. Eerie. Think taxidermy and porcelain dolls come to life. It's this juxtaposition of fairytale fantasy and creepy that makes me love eastern european stop-motion animation. Original fairytales used to be dark, people, and I liked them that way.

In places like Prague, Ukraine, and Russia. Puppetry grew into a safe and subtle way to criticize a government that didn't allow free speech in a way that more "proper" theater and media couldn't get away with.

I couldn't stop laughing at the Segway stampedes. I mean, come on. There's just something funny looking about it, right? They just look so out of place in front of the medieval churches, clunking down the cobblestones. Not that it doesn't look fun. The helmets add to the comedy. It kills me. Look at the serious lady near the front. And the jolly looking dude with the elbow patches (he isn't taking himself too seriously, good chap), and that very skeptical looking gentleman in the back... he seems embarrassed.  

Churches next to Absinthe Shops next to gingerbread museums.

Delicious, cinnamon and almond rolled, pastry goodness.


Gargoyles don't just perch on the ledges of the castle cathedral, they are leaping off of it, precariously frozen into a position that doesn't seem to make sense with the laws of gravity and physics. I don't know how they haven't fallen off under so much weight supported by so little. 

Some of the village houses surrounding the castle are so tiny that we had to bend to walk through the doorways. We shot some crossbows, looked at a bunch of armory, and engaged in general touristyness. There was some very fancy stone with engravings in the Basilica that everyone was swooning over... but honestly I had no idea what it was about. I am a really bad tourist with all of the important, historical business. It just doesn't interest me, what can I say? I've been to New York twice and was not interested in seeing the Statue of Liberty. I've been to Washington D.C. twice and have never seen the White House. To each their own.

8 Hours of walking on cobblestone, 3 cinnamon pastries, a bowl of Goulash, and several hills later, we were about ready to pass out. But with no time to waste, we decided on a classic refresher, a cheap thai foot massage. On the massage price menu was a not so discreet logo of a cartoony silhouette of a set of frank n' beans with an X over it, surrounded by "NO SEX, NO EROTIC" in big, bold, english, lettering. Just in case there were any questions. Someone had to design that logo. Someone got paid to design that logo. I had to refrain from giggling while I paid.

No, that's not a creepy thing to put in a window at all.

We ate so much delicious meat covered in so much delicious gravy type stuff decorated in so much tasty lingonberry sauce at the Medieval Tavern. Supposedly the place is super historical, and so old that the stone on the front stoop is worn down into a deep slope(this part I can confirm), and that Mozart once drank there, and that it has been open since 1375. All of that could be true... but most importantly, it made me feel like I was in Game of Thrones - and that is friggin fantastic. The fire shows, belly dancing, and uber creepy, taxidermyesque, statue dude were pretty entertaining as well. 

Seriously, try eating with this guy behind you. He's got a side mullet.

When we got out of the tavern, all of the day tourists had gone to sleep and the alleys and streets were nearly empty. The street-lamps washed all of the colorful buildings in a sepia tone. 

In front of our hotel, a relaxed looking gentleman stood behind a table filled with glasses of varying sizes filled with varying levels of water. Port glasses, wine glasses, champagne glasses, crystal glasses... Slightly slouched, he lit a cigarette, played a couple practice notes,took one long last puff, set it behind him, and then dipped his hands into one of the glasses of water. What he did next, is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been lucky enough to witness, and I only wish my video below could do it even a shred of justice. The sound was haunting. It surrounds you, and echoes inside of your head in a way that can't be felt in video. Kind of like how when your ears are ringing it feels like it is inside of your head, but way more pleasant. I really really recommend watching the whole thing, but if you don't watch the whole thing, start at 3min 50 sec.... that's where it goes down. This captures what I love about Prague. Painfully beautiful. 


  1. That was AWESOME! So rich, descriptive and enchanting. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I really enjoyed the journey. Beautifully described and photographed, enchanting and engaging!