Week Three: 8/15 – 8/21

Phew, it a was a busy week. We spent the first two days in Vienna, then headed to Prague for 2 days before going across Europe to Belgium. In Belguim, we will be in Brussels for 3 days and Bruges for one day.

On Monday, Natasha invited me to a meeting she set up with two members of Sustainable Energy for All, a UN initiative that is helping provide electricity and clean cook-stoves for all people by 2030. It was a good meeting and was fun to see their offices.

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Government buildings from the Habsburg empire in Vienna
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A view at night.
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What a cute sign.
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Yummy…  dessert in Vienna.

The train to Prague was straightforward, but we had a bit of trouble getting from the station to our Airbnb. The ticketing on the transport network in Prague seems like it hasn’t changed much since the fall of the iron curtain.

The only way to buy a ticket is through coins – no bills, no cards. A ticket was 24 krona and the biggest coins available were 50 krona.  As someone who withdrew as little Krona as possible, my 200 Krona bills were no help on those machines. You either had to be lucky enough to have sufficient coins, or find a ticket agent.

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The metro ticketing machines. No credit card access, no bills, just small coins.

The metro is run on an honor system, which means there isn’t anything preventing you from getting on the metro, you just need to be sure to validate your ticket before boarding. The validation machines are not marked, but there is an English sentence on the back of the ticket that says you must validate your ticket before boarding. From witnessing firsthand and reading on forums, many a tourist misses this fine print and doesn’t validate their ticket. On several occassions, we saw conductors board the train and ask to see tickets. Those who didn’t validate their tickets had to pay a 700 krona fine, which is about $28 USD. An hour-long ticket costs only $1 USD, so the fine is pretty steep.

The metro system could be designed better to limit the number of accidental unvalidated tickets, so either they don’t care enough to put the effort in or fining unsuspecting tourists is part of their system.

Anyway, enough about the mtero. Prague was a really fun city to visit. It was very inexpensive. A nice three-course meal for the two of us was $32, which is a steal compared to Switzerland. The low cost is part of the appeal as a tourist destination.

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Views of the castle and river.
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The same view at sunset.
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More view of the river
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Inside the senate gardens
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No garden is complete without a peacock
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Castle selfie
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Prague skiline viewed from the castle
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Forests to the south.

The Prague Castle is the main tourist attraction. It is the largest enclosed castle in central europe. Much of Old Town Prague survived WW II and other previous wars. The city is surprisingly intact considering the parts of the castle were first build the 700’s.

Despite the beauty and attractive prices, Prague was kind of a drag due to the large number of tourists. Tasha and I work well together as travelers since we are both low-key tourists. We have generally avoided the main tourists traps, or walked around them without fighting through the mob to catch a sweaty glance of some old statue. We did venture to walk up to the caste and stand in line to get into the castle walls. Feeling very proud of ourselves for finally doing something touristy, our hopes were dashed by the long lines of people leading up to each major building within the castle. Not only did we need to stand in more lines to get into the many cathedrals within the castle, but we also had to buy tickets. Ugh. So we just walked around the castle and admire the buildings from the outside.

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The main catherdral
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The back side
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The griffin almost got in the way of my picture of an English tourist.
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The astrological clock; or rather, the crowd gathered on the hour to see the clock chime.

This clock was honestly one of the best parts of Prague. It is in the main squares of the city and every hour, the astrological clock rings. It’s in all the tourist materials as something to see. We hurriedly went to the clock at 3 pm, and we weren’t the only people. I don’t even remember what happened when it rang, but some little figured moved around for like 15 seconds and that was it. I just found it hilarious that hundreds of people assembled at this point to watch…. basically nothing. It emphasized how the heard mentality can take over. I found it particularly humorous.

After Prague, we heded to Brussels for a few days. Brussels was pretty bland, honestly. It had some cool looking buildings, but not much else. I’m sure living there is a different thing; there isn’t much to see as a tourist, though.

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The buildings in the main square were too tall for my panorama.
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It is pretty, but not much else.
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This was a nice view of the city.

Brussels did have a large variety of beer. I didn’t fall in love with any, but there was alot to choose from.

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Found a cute portait of colonel “woof”.
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So refined.

After the two meetings Tasha had in Brussels, we headed north to the medeaval town of Bruges for a day. It was only a few hours train ride there. A few weeks earlier we had watched the dark comedy “In Bruges”. I really liked the show, and that made our trip all the more fun. :)

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Our first view of Bruges
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