Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Arrival in Zurich

ZURICH-- We arrived in Zurich this morning, and are just now getting into our room at the hotel here. It's about 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday-- about 7 a.m in Boston.

The train ride was uneventful, though I must say the Prague train station is pretty confusing if you can't read English. Only after two trips to the International help desk was I confident that we were ok. The problem was the train number on my ticket registered for a train going to Salzburg, even though the car we ultimately went to was marked for Zurich. Our train traveled southwest out of Prague, crossing the border into Austria. We then traveled west to Salzburg, where we met with a train coming out of Vienna.

Luckily for us, we were in a car that could sleep six, but no one else showed up. We had the entire car to ourselves, and therefore conveniently moved to the bottom bunk on each side.

Anyway, we must go back and chat about Prague for a bit. It's a beautiful city-- the most beautiful city I have ever been too. We remarked so many times that you just can't take enough pictures, and you really have to go to understand. On the second morning in Prague, we went to the Castle on a large bluff overlooking downtown Prague, and invested in a tour that was well worth the price.

Prague depends quite a bit on tourism. Apparently a lot of Brits come here for bachelor parties. For that reason, many of the shops are cheesy in their attempt to appeal to visitors, everyone can speak English and pretty much everything is written or translated in English, and you have to be careful not to get ripped off. Case in point, on our first day, we went to a place called Cafe Grand Praha, right in Old Town Square and next to the Astronomical clock. We ended up spending a fortune.

Unfortunately, the tourists put a pall on the feel of the place. In Munich, there were tourists, but you never got the sense that the locals catered to those from out of town-- or perhaps better put, they took care of us, but you never got the sense it was out of desperation. In Prague, you can tell that the tourists are very important to the economy.

Anyway, on our one night in Prague, we went to a place on Wenceslas Square called "The Beer Factory" (see what I mean about the cheese? The name was even in English!) and met a local bartender Kate (her nickname for Americans). She directed us to an area off the beaten path, where we had dinner (at about 15-percent of what we paid at the Cafe Grand Praha).

On the morning of our departure for Zurich, we went to the Castle (as noted earlier) and then walked past the American Embassy.

Some random facts about Prague:

-- Everyone speaks English (at least everyone we, as tourists, ran into), and in general, the English is better than in Munich. Pretty much everyone learns English by interacting with tourists (I took an informal poll. A few learned in high school when they traveled to the U.S.). Everyone we spoke to on the tourist path had been to the U.S., which means either everyone goes to the U.S., or we were speaking to some fairly privileged kids.

-- They have Budweiser beer in Prague. No kidding. Apparently Anheiser-Bush got the name Budweiser from the beer in the Czech Republic. Like in America, Budweiser's parent in Prague is equally watered down and cheap. You have to work to find it though. We found it at a very local pub off the tourist march that was occupied by what looked to be local college students listening to techno music.

-- The smog in Prague is really, really bad, which is ironic, give how pretty the city is. It was tough to take a picture of the city from the Castle vista because of the smog.

-- While in Munich girls can't stay away from Schmuck (German for Jewelry), in Prague if you want perfume, you gotta go to the "Rossman" (name of a Prague chain of perfume stores).

Here in Zurich, I finished off my Christmas list this morning and bought myself a Swiss watch. Scott noted a preliminary summary of the three cities: Prague (prettiest), Munich (most fun), Zurich (best for shopping). Then again, we still have to go out in Zurich tonight.

Funny story about the train ride. We were woken up about 10:30 to get our passports stamped on the way out of the Czech Republic. About five minutes later a new border guard knocked on our door (from the country we were entering). Having no idea what the route was to Zurich, I quipped: "What country are we entering now?" The guard, after giving me an incredulous look, responded: "Austria." His intonation showed he was disappointed I had no clue where I was.

Scott is out cold. Time for me to take a nap. We're headed to old town Zurich tonight.

P.S. No snow on the ground in any of the cities we've been to. Can't wait to get back to Boston : )

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