Why Walk in a Straight Line? Prague and Vienna

The Queen cried ‘Faster! Faster! and dragged her along, ‘Are we nearly there?’ Alice managed to pant out at last.
‘Nearly there!’ the Queen repeated, ‘Why we passed it ten minutes ago! Faster!
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Some places you fall in love with straight away.  Prague is one of the cities for me.  And based on Facebook comments, I am just about one of the last people in the world to visit this city.  Of every place I visited, more people commented they had been there as well and loved it than anywhere else.  Good thing I put this one on my list!  I flew here from Oslo, landed, took the train to my hotel and headed out to get groceries.  Just to get groceries.  I then proceeded to look like a dog in a part full of squirrels as every corner had something that caught my eye and led me down that street, including mulled wine available on the street for the equivalent of $1.00.  After over two hours, I said “Shoot- groceries.  Are we there yet?”  We passed it two hours ago!
The next day continued much as the first had.  I put together a list of places I wanted to see.  Ten minutes into the walk, I had so far strayed from the plan that I ditched it altogether and just walked. It wasn’t efficient, but it was much more fun.  Many times, I was close to something I wanted to see, but distractions forced me to pass it and return to it later.  First distraction was Hamley’s.  I love Hamley’s and this one is fantastic.  I passed on the carousel, but I did go down the snake slide that nearly dropped me in Iron Man’s arms.  One of the benefits of random walking is the surprises you find.  The first was the head of Franz Kafka.  Not literally his head, but a massive silver statue of his head that spins.  Crazy, but likely appropriate.  The second benefit occurred while I was hanging out in the Old Town Square, waiting for the Astrological Clock to toll.  Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych walked up, in town to help promote the new Czech Tennis Tournament.  Random.  I had to turn down their offer for dinner as I had a list. Wait, nope.  I had tossed the list.  I had detours and random streets to explore.

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The next day in Prague was Day Trip day. I made my way to the Main Train Station, which wasn’t the first train station I found, and bought a ticket to Kutna Hora, a small town about an hour ride from Prague.  Kutna Hora is an old silver mining town and not quite as beautiful as Prague.  This turned out to be a good thing as I had a lot of ground to cover.  Here, I found the Bone Church, also called Sedlec Ossuary by those that favor a more formal naming convention. This slightly disturbing church contains the bones of 40,000 people arranged as decoration by a monk who was blind in one eye.  These decorations included chandeliers and coats of arms.   Down the street was Assumption of Our Lady Cathedral, a pretty church in which I was the sole visitor.  Just as I left, the sky opened and Mother Nature decided it was a good day to wash cars and clean streets.  And I had 2.5 miles to walk.  And the wind was strong. Nevertheless, I persevered and was rewarded with a turn of the corner to see St. Barbara’s Church, a truly breathtaking church on the top of a hill overlooking the town.  It was very Gaudi on the outside, but not at all on the inside.  I took my photos between waves of tour groups (okay, three groups) and headed back to the train to Prague.

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The last day in Prague was reserved for the hike up the hill to Prague Castle.  I crossed the famed Charles Bridge (meh- mostly a tourist trap) and climbed and climbed.  Most of the climbing was due to the fact that I kept getting distracted and turning down random streets  (squirrel!) passing my prearranged iPhone route.  When I finally made it to the top, I saw…..Starbucks.  Really?  Starbucks?  Around the corner I came across the Palace just in time for the Changing of the Guard.  This was quite possibly the most boring thing I have ever seen.  I say that I sit on a bus through miles and miles of farms.  The line for the palace and church was so long that I decided to pass it.  I was far more entertained with my randomness.  I did manage to find the Lenin Wall and the Lock Bridge which were visually appealing.  But enough is enough.  I had an Opera to see that night and it was my favorite, La Boheme.  And I knew my 15 minute walk back would take at least two hours!

Knowing I would one day return, I said farewell to Prague and boarded a bus to Vienna.

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I only had two days in Vienna so I needed a plan.  And we all saw how well that worked in Prague.  Needless to say, it was even less effective in Vienna.  These towns that don’t have straight streets are my nemesis!  I just can’t stick to a path.  Squirrel.  In two days, I walked  over 22 miles, many of which were backtracking as I kept passing my intended destination.

I headed out to the Old Town/Historic Center first.  I knew I had arrived when I saw the hordes of tourists and men dressed in traditional garb selling concert tickets.  I popped first into St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  The church is pretty, although their statues all look like they are wearing warming blankets and they have an interesting business model. You could walk down one side without a fee.  But, you had no less than seven opportunities to pay money to see additional items, such as the catacombs or “the Treasure!”  You could also drop 1 Euro into the audio guide station and listen to information about the church.  I swung by Hofburg Imperial Palace, which was a bit confusing.  It appears to be the home of some museums and the horse stables but also a hotel and maybe people live there too?   Just behind it, though, was a bunch of museums around some parks.  I seriously considered pitching a tent and living in these parks for a few weeks so I could visit all of the museums.  Since I could only choose one, I chose the Art Museum.  But do I walk straight ahead to the museum?  Nope.  I turn right and spend 60 minutes making my way to the building a few hundred yards away.  I stopped first at City Hall which was hosting a super cool Winter Fest. There were five ice skating rinks, some of which were connected by mazes.  There were also food stands and gluhwein (the price now increased to $4.00).  As I entered the park, “Rockin’ All Over the World” by Status Quo was playing over the loudspeaker.  I felt that was a shout out just to me!  (Trivia- this was the first song played at LiveAid)

I finally made it to the Kunsthistoriches Museum, probably the most beautiful interior I have ever seen in a museum. They had a nice collection of Titian and Caravaggio but not much of my Impressionist Art.  Next stop was the Naschmarkt, and outdoor market that is just big enough to be entertaining and just small enough that you don’t get annoyed at the merchants yelling to you until the very end.  From here, I was headed to the Opera House, two hundred yards away and a good 60 minute walk as I was distracted by a church and a bunch of musicians playing accordions while wearing horse heads.  Enough for the day.  I crawled down my not so direct route back to my apartment.

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Second and last day in Vienna began with a long, long walk to Schoenbrunn Palace.  I was going to take the train, but I woke early and figured a 4 mile walk to start the day was a good idea.  Nope. It wasn’t.  This palace was the summer home of the Hopsburg family.  The staff ran around 1500 people.  It was interesting to walk the rooms, knowing Marie Antionette was once there.  It was also the site of the Kennedy/Kruschev Meeting.  While the palace was lovely, it was the grounds I really dug.  After the Palace, I headed to Prater Park.  I knew this park had a ferris wheel but that was the extent of my knowledge.  What a surprise to find a full amusement park. Walking down the Midway, which I will admit was not a straight walk as I kept diverting to side streets when distracted, I looked up and saw their Swings- that rose 385 feet into the air.  I literally stopped and said “shut up”out loud.  And then I paid for a ticket.  It was absolutely terrifying.  I loved it.  The wind was strong to begin with and when you put a body in a swing and spin them around a pole, you get some movement.  And you are higher than most of the buildings in Vienna. Would I do it again?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Ok. Absolutely.  The day was turning dark so I started back to the hotel. Along the way, I found a movie theater showing an Oscar Nominated Film and detoured, ending my time in Vienna and Prague just as it had began.

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Off to Budapest I go.

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