Praha - city of many tales
Where I went to high school, it was normal that the 3rd grade went to Prague in the autumn of their last year (Norwegian high schools only have three grades). My class was no exception. After voting (very close, but in the end St. Petersburg lost), fifty of us, plus three teachers and a bus driver started packing for Prague. We have all heard many tales about this city; tales about night clubs and strip clubs, cheep booze and cheep chicks. Those were the most common tales from fellow students, but we all knew there were more to find - much more.
"DAY 1 Friday 27.9"
We left Stryn where I went to school at 4:15am. After waiting for the bus, then loading all our stuff in, and then waiting for a girl who overslept, we were finally on the road. After eight hours on the bus, we arrived in Oslo. It was 12:30, we were handed our tickets and let lose. Should be mentioned that we were fifty 17- and 18 year olds, and 'letting us lose' might be a bigger deal than you would think. Especially with a tax free shop in the nearby...
We checked out our cabins, the ship and the shop. We were schedualed to arrive in Kiel, Germany, early next morning. Not that the knowledge of an early morning would stop anyone from having a good time. Sometime during the afternoon, our teacher was called up through the ship's radio system. We don't really know why since he didn't bother go check... Yep, we're in good hands!
The evening was spent in our cabins, frequently visited by a bunch of 10-12 year old boys who appeared to be our neighbours on the ship, "Kronprins Harald". After a while we moved on to the lounge, or whatever one might call such a thing... We watched a show, and generally had a good time. Someone had too much of a good time, the already mentioned teacher had to be escorted to his room by one of the security guards. Next morning was the first time I've ever seen anyone wear sunglasses to breakfast...
"DAY 2 Saturday 28.9"
Early morning, breakfast and then we got off the ship. We waited for the bus for what seemed like an eternity, but when it got there, we didn't really feel like getting in. 12 hours in a bus through Germany did not appeal to us at that moment. Anyway, we got in and not long after we reached the Autobahn. Cars speeding by recieved all the comments they deserved, and many of them were even videotaped, as a proof of...erm...whatever it was those guys wanted to prove...
Now, it needs to be said that our bus was the biggest thing I have ever seen. It was probably the size of at least three regular buses (counting height, length and width). Speeding along the autobahn, a bus full of kids went by us, the roof of that bus reaching low on our windows. Of course we didn't just let them pass us like that, our driver took up the chase...
Sometime during the afternoon we left the autobahn and went searching for the border with the Czech Rebublic. As it turned out, the border was closed...what could we possibly do? Stay in Germany all night? Nah. We came to Dresden. The city was damaged due to the big floods that went crazy round Europe August that year. We stopped in the middle of a residential area in rather bad shape, quite a sight, a huge green bus among all those small, stone houses.
It got darker and darker while driving through Dresden. Somehow we found out where to go, and started going there. I'm not really too sure about how these decisions were made, I had my seat in the back of the bus and we were all rather occupied with different quizes and dares of different kinds.
Finally we were at the border. Stories of scary guards with guns coming into the bus, checking everything and generally being mean, is something we've all heard of, and that was one of the things we were expecting. As it turned out, this border station (what do you call these places anyway?) was very laid back, and we didn't even have to show our passports. Teachers said it was weird. We drove for a while longer, got to Prague without any more serious incidents. The driver managed to manouver the huge bus under a small bridge and then we arrived at our hotel! We had to fill out names, numbers and even the licence plate on the bus before we could get inside the hotel, but then finally we were there! The rooms weren't very...great...but we didn't expect luxery. It's all a part of the experience. This was the start of the very tense relationship we formed with the staff of the Hotel Dum.
"DAY 3 Sunday 29.9"
After waking up, after having our first Czech meal, we were introduced to Aleksander, Czech guide, speaking Norwegian and everything! For between an hour, an hour and a half, he talked about Prague. Watching the video tape shows 50 tired faces struggling to keep awake. Nothing wrong about Aleksander, he knew his stuff, the day would prove this.
We all got in the bus to drive to the centre of Prague, and up the hill where the castle is. We walked for a while, saw towers, over bridges and through a gate. Anyone who has ever walked through this gate knows what it feels like - there in front of us was the St. Vitus cathedral, it seemed like it rose out of nothing, no way of knowing that such a magnificent building would show itself when you walked through the 'hole in the wall'. Aleksander talked some more, then we got to explore the area a little bit. We saw the building where the president at the time, Vaclav Havel, had his office. Whenever he is in the country, there is a flag above that building.
Leaving the castle and walking down the hill, we had a great view over Prague. When we reached the river, we could see what the flood had done to the houses. Many restaurants and shops that were on ground level were closed down, signs in the windows saying things none of us understood. We stopped on a sort of 'island' under the Karl's Bridge. We saw how high the water had been, in the Moldau it had gone up 7 meters!
We saw the statues on the bridge, and we found the statue our religion teacher had told us to touch, because that would bring us luck, or something like that. A lot of others seemed to have the same idea...
We walked toward the biggest street in Prague, saw a lot of shops where they sold crystal, we saw the Astronomical Clock and I took a picture of this door, this really big door just sort of standing on its own on the left side of the clock. It was beautiful, but seemed so lonely... We ran into a bike race of some kind, and then we all split up to have lunch.
After a while we went back to the hotel. After dinner (hey, they have McDonalds in Prague!) we got in a cab to go to the Music Club, a club with three different floors, a different kind of music on each. It was fun, but boring after a while. Some of us girls decided we wanted to see the famous Goldfinger, the strip club at the Hotel Ambassador. It was Sunday night, so there wasn't a lot of people, but the girls on the stage danced nonetheless...among other things... Sitting at a table in there was none other then our three dear teacher and the bus driver. They seemed to be having a good time... I expect all of the guys in my class, and most of the girls, too, took the trip to Goldfinger during our stay. I still don't understand what the big deal was supposed to be, but I guess the guys were happy just to be in a strip club...boys!
"DAY 4 Monday 30.9"
On the bus to a town called Kutna Hora, about 65 km to the south east of Prague, we met Marie, our guide for the day. Kutna Hora used to be an important town because of it's silver mines. Our first stop was at a chapel (a cemetary at Sedlec?) which was partly over, partly under ground. All the 'decorations' inside were made out of the real human skulls and bones of some 40,000 people... freaky! It was amazing being there, walking down the huge stairs, and being surrounded by death. Everywhere. Hanging from the ceiling was a chandelier made of bones. On the walls, on shelves - everywhere, death. Where did all these people come from?
After our share of death for the day, we drove to a big cathedral, and we went to a coin museum. Now that is two hours of my life I'll never get back... first of all: coins? what could we possibly get out of two hours of coin-stories? Second, the guide didn't speak English very well, and the only thing we really understood was the names of old Kings or emperors, and when she said coins (she said cooooooiiiins, very long, and with a very nasal voice....).
Another thing I remember about this day, was that it was the first time in my life I saw real poverty. Driving towards Kutna Hora, we saw houses I couldn't believe anyone could live in. Leaving the town, I also saw a big house that looked like it must have been bombed or something. One of it's corners was in a 40 degree angle, built that way. On one side it looked completely...well, bombed. Nothing left, just cement and debris. Then we drove around the building, and it was beautiful, you would have imagined really wealthy people must have lived there, it was simply astonishing. It must have been like that for years, just standing there. One part symbolizing poverty, the other wealth.
That night some people went out, some stayed at the hotel. The toilet in the room I shared with another four girls went nuts, and we had to get someone to help us fix it. We met some people who stayed on the 15th floor (we were on the 10th, the hotel seemed to give an entire floor to each school travelling), and we spent the evening with them. They had very strict teachers though, and we couldn't talk loud. Us talking loud would probably have been the last thing our teachers worried about. Some people in my class bought a guitar, and our neighbours on the lower floors kept sending the security guard up to us...
"DAY 5 Tuesday"
Aleksander the guide came and brought us to this school close to our hotel. We spent the morning being shown around, and we were told a lot about what the school is like in the Czech Republic. They had bars and metal and locked doors everywhere, not quite what we were used to. They even had bars in front of the stairs leading up to the next floor! This wasn't a school in the center of Prague either, but I guess they have found it necessary with that kind of security.
The school system seemed to be good in some ways, bad in others. It is very strict, but they do learn a lot. 12 year olds were learning the same thing in chemistry as one does at 18 in Norway! Another thing we found odd was that at home, most people love physical education, but here, you could go to the doctor, get a piece of paper with something on it, and then you don't have to do PE anymore. It seems strange that someone wants to do that, but I guess it means that they have a lot more dicipline in their school system. PE doesn't mean playing around for two hours...
Later we went back to the hotel, and then we were off to Terezin, a concentration camp. Our guide there was probably the best one we had, his way of telling the stories made us all listen, careful not to miss a word. Unfortunately, the flood had destroyed a lot of the buildings, so we didn't get to see what it was really like. We saw the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' gate, I thought they only had that at Auschwitz. We also saw a movie about the concentration camp. Outside the gates there were graves by the hundreds. It's strange seeing something you've only heard about during history class...
Back at the hotel, we got ready for the evening when we were all supposed to go to the same place, since it was our last night in Prague. A lot of us went to a restaurant, but when we wanted to order, we were told to show our passports. We left. Who brings their passports to a restaurant anyway?
We found other places to go, then we had to get back to pack! Last day in Prague tomorrow...
"DAY 6 Wednesday"
Wednesday was day off. Time for shopping and having a last look at the city. I went with another girl, and we walked across the Karl's Bridge again, and went up in the tower on the side away from the castle. There was also a 'terror museum' for those who were interested in that (or just in case you didn't have anything else to do). Everybody bought crystal glasses for their parents, and after that many of us went to a restaurant. I was really happy about seeing the slimmest hotel in Prague (picture); it was light green and really pretty - would have been a nice place to stay.
At 10:15pm we were back at the hotel, back in the bus ready to leave. Around midnight we were at the border, but most of us were asleep. No scary guards this time either. The rest of the night was spent driving through Germany.