by Berck

So, here I am. In Prague. That’s in the Czech republic for those of you like my sister who never learned geography, for which she should be beaten severely. I keep wanting to say Czechoslovakia even though it hasn’t been so for over ten years. It’s what I get for learning geography too young, which, I suppose is still better than Sydney:)

Budapest (that’s Hungary, Sydney) was much nicer than I expected. Chris and I went to the baths. I fear we went to the touristy one because it had signs in English, though that did little to allay our confusion. We went at 5pm because it was cheaper (for a grand total of something like $2 instead of $4.) [Hmm.. the girl working here asked me if I wanted something to drink, I said sure, I’ll have a beer. This typically results in the cheapest beer available which, aside from some places in Italy, has always been quite drinkable. This stuff is VERY bitter yet somewhat puny. I’m paying $3/hr for this net cafe. Eastern Europe is awesome that way.] Back to the baths. We walked in and payed the woman for a ticket to get in, and proceeded down the holiday, and followed the signs for men. Luckily, I’d been warned by my classmates that the Turkish baths in eastern Europe are awesome, but bring your own swimsuit otherwise you’re stuck with a rented Speedo… So, I had my bathing suit, and we walked into this room with a sign reading, “Pre showers are obligatory” We were confronted with about 100 numbered doors, did they have showers behind them? We were confused. Did we need a number? So we asked the guy standing there what we needed to do. He held out his hand, “400 forints.” “What for?” we ask. “400 forints.” “Yes, but why?” “Go upstairs,” he finally said shrugging and waved us up some stairs. We were in a locker room, so we changed and a guy came buy and wrote a number on the inside of the locker on a slate, and handed us a metal tag with the number on it. (When in a bathing suit we weren’t sure what to do with the tags, luckily I discovered I had a zipper pocket in my swimming trunks.) We wandered up stairs and down corridors and found a pool with waves in it, and a warm looking pool a bunch of people were sitting in. We got in that for awhile, then the wave pool, then wandered around some more. I noticed a sign for “Men’s thermal baths” and followed it down some steps. There was a locked door with a button next to it that said “Bell”. I wasn’t sure what to do. A man walked in front of me, pushed the button, and a man let him in. I followed suit a few moments later after showing Chris where we were. There were some changing areas and stuff, but we just walked out to these large pools. One was marked 38, the other 36. Lounging in the various pools, swimming etc were a bunch of very old men, with a young one or two thrown in. Only, we were the only ones in swimsuits. Well, a few people had speedos, but all the other men were wearing these aprons. And nothing else. Just about a square foot of light material which they tied around their waists. Chris and I were trying not to laugh, it was so funny looking. We saw enough naked old men to leave us scarred for quite a while, I think. Some where so overweight that they couldn’t get an apron around them… Despite the company, the baths were very relaxing. It was like taking a bath, but only a swimming pool sized bath, and all HOT water. We started getting exhausted, lounged in the cooler water for awhile, then took a shower and lounged in the sun to dry off since we were too cheap to get towels and didn’t remember to take ours with us.

The hostel we were staying in was full of Japanese, and we had to take our shoes off before we were allowed in. It was run buy an old Hungarian woman that spoke almost no English named Tereza. She was supposed to cook us goulash, but we forgot to be there on time. We payed $2 a night to sleep on the floor. This would have been okay, but the Japanese are just loud and obnoxious and talk all night long. Justin, the canadian, was the guy who told us about it, and besides us, there was only one other guy that wasn’t Japanese. His name was Pierre. He grew up as a French Canadian, worked in Hawaii for awhile where he managed to acquire a daughter and now lives in Stockholm where his daughter is. Pierre had an amazing sense of humor, us three English speakers were rolling around the floor laughing at his stories. He works tending bar at a huge bar/club in Stockholm where he’s been fired twice for such acts such as breaking a chair over a customer’s head, throwing water on a customer, and exposing himself to a customer. His boss keeps rehiring him because he’s his best worker. I can see why, the guy has not only a sense of humor, but he’s got an enormous amount of energy. He looks a bit like Woody Allen, though taller, and sounds just like him. He learned to speak English with a New York accent, and he’s not sure why. He swears he’s not at all Jewish, but that he’s often thought that perhaps he was a Jew in another life, or that someone in his family was lying. There’s something about meeting random Europeans, they’re invariably more interesting than Americans I’ve met.

A rather strange thing happened while Chris and I were walking down a busy street in Budapest. I heard someone say “Berck!” I looked up, and saw three girls, Robin, Meagan, and Amanda pointing at me. Chris was confused as ever, didn’t know WHAT was going on. We explained that we’d gone to school together in Rome, and we stood there and talked for about 15 minutes, and told them a good place to get a cheap steak for dinner, and went our separate ways. It was an awfully strange meeting. “I thought you were in Sicily,” I told them. “Yeah, and I thought you were in Scandinavia,” they told me.

Speaking of which, I finally got an e-mail from Anne. she’s off in Scandinavia having a blast without me. I’m glad she’s safe anyway. She had trouble getting her bag out of storage in Termini, was late, and just figured I’d gotten on the train without her. Oh well.

Chris and I were going to go to Krakow (Poland–where Auschwitz is) but we missed the train. Actually, the woman wouldn’t give us a ticket because the train was leaving in just a few minutes, and she didn’t think she could write the ticket fast enough. Budapest is so backwards they actually WRITE OUT tickets. She could have, because our ticket to Prague was done before the train left. We bought ourselves huge loaves of bread with the remainder of our forints, or at least, most of them. I always end up with little change that’s too small to spend on anything. Not to mention a forint is worth 1/300 of a dollar. I had a pocketful of 1 and 2 forint coins.

The train to Prague was 8 hours, hot, and mostly empty. They didn’t stamp our passports which was annoying. They never check, much less stamp, passports when you travel within the EU, so we were looking forward to stamps. But no, they check our passports on leaving Hungry, entering Slovakia, leaving Slovakia, and entering the Czech republic and don’t stamp them once. I suppose we could have asked, but guys with big guns who don’t speak English are not the kind of people I want to try to communicate with when I don’t have a clue how to speak whatever it is they do speak.

We’re staying in a fairly cheap hostel in Prague, the cheapest we could find anyway.

“250 krowns for a bed in a 36 bed dorm,” said the guy who looks remarkably like Howard Stern at the counter in the Clown and Bard Hostel. “Do you guys have lights out times, noise restrictions, and/or curfews?” I asked. “Nope, none of the above.” “Are people generally loud and obnoxious?” I asked. “Frequently. It IS 36 people. They have been known to yell, snore, fart, and even have sex.” We took the beds anyway. We could have taken a double, or a 6 bed room but they were a bit more expensive. We slept just fine last night.

The guy wanted our passports, etc, to fill out the immigration crap they always have to do. He made us fill it out though, and it asked what our point of entry was. Seeing as how they didn’t stamp our passport, we didn’t know. The guy made one up. As he wrote his name down on the sign-in sheet (So the staff knows who checked us in), I started laughing. “Is your name really Guy?” “Yes, and lets not talk about it.” He gave us sheets and keys, and said “Go through those doors, and go all the way up the stairs until you can’t go up anymore because there’s a door in your way, open the door with this key, and then keep going up until you can’t go up anymore, open the door at the top of the stairs with this key and Bob’s your uncle, though its about a 30 minute walk.”
“Bob’s my uncle?”
“Yeah, it’s an English expression, you never heard it?”
“No, what’s it mean?”
“Sort of like ‘and everything’s okay.'”

I think I’ll try to use it is much as possible.

We started climbing the stairs, and after I don’t know how many flights, more than 4 or so, I lost count, I started paying attention to the signs pointing up the stairs “DORMS >” it said. Someone had written under it and infinity symbol and a cube. The next flight had an infinity symbol and a square. How comforting. The next one had an infinity symbol + 1. I tried not to laugh because I was far too out of breath. The place is an old, old building that seems to be falling apart and covered in graffiti, much of which is in English and is hilarious.

I told Chris I’d meet him downstairs, and walked into the bar area of the hostel (every good hostel has a bar) where they were playing Pink Floyd. I ordered a beer, and she poured me a Budweiser, only the ORIGINAL Budweiser that’s actually a good Czech beer whose name was stolen by an annoying American company.

“18 thousand,” I thought I heard her say.

I tried hard to do the mental math, and decided that was about $40. Hmm.. Uhh. No. I have trouble paying $4 for a beer.

“How much?” I asked again.

“18 crowns,” she said much more clearly. Whew, I guess I was just used to lire prices where everything is thousands. I computed that and liked the answer much better. Less than 50 cents. For a beer. Not just an American sized beer, a whole .5 Liter glass. (I know, because over here the glasses always have the amount printed on them with a fill line. Mine was filled past the line with a nice head)

I still can’t get over 50 cents for a beer. I payed about 33 cents later that night at a pub. I hear that if you buy it at a grocery store it’s more like 15 cents.

Its nice feeling wealthy. On the train I was so thirsty and didn’t have enough forints left for anything, and just a few US dollars. I never buy anything on trains, it’s so expensive, but I was so thirsty. I walked up to the dining car, and asked if they had water. They had some really good bottles of mineral water. I asked for two, and gave the guy a dollar. He was happy with it. It’s amazing what green money will do, the price he had posted was about a dollar for one once you do the conversion.

I think I’m going to go find steak for dinner, I hear you can get a good steak for a few dollars. I haven’t had steak since I left the states.

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