Thursday, 31 October 2013

prelude to the lauf.

The prolonged interim in posts has been brought about by an amalgamation of factors, the most dominant of which is inherent languidness, coupled to a degree with not enough time to write, what with the ten days in Germany being very full with activity, explorations and some interesting culinary experiences.

I've been in Europe a month now; I can't keep track of the days and it's not really important to me what happened on precisely which day so the numbering's gone to the dogs. Posts will follow depending on which experience most readily jumped out at me and I felt like writing about at the time.

I had to traverse the distance between Prague to Munich by train for the 10K run (lauf in German), one of the events at the Munich Marathon. As I packed my running apparel, I thought gleefully of the trolley bag we'd be wheeling around as opposed the odious monstrosity I had to struggle with and lug all over the Czech Republic. I pulled the bag's handle to wheel it to the elevator.

It refused to budge.

With just thirty minutes left to catch the train to the beautiful Bavarian city, there was no time to repack. I seem to be cursed to carry malfunctioning luggage if I'm travelling within Europe...

(post on the 10km lauf to follow)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Europa Day 5 and 6: Prague - Embarking upon a Quest

The days are beginning to blur. I'm having a hard time keeping track of what happened when. Guess that calls for more discipline in maintaining this record of my trip.

Moving on to Day 5. For those of you inquiring what became of Day 2 and 4 know that the days that aren't mentioned weren't worth writing about. No epiphanies, glorious discoveries, awesome happenings, explorations or the like, just me being more lazy than usual.

Day 5:

Finally went for a run! While traversing by tram I scout out areas suitable for running. What with the cobbled streets and uphill paths, it took a bit of time (even the parks I'd come across were on hills). Finally, I took to running on a path by the riverside. The view was quite appealing, and the blood congealed in my legs due to the cold finally got moving.

The glistening Vltava

I spotted a dirt trail and followed it.

Gosh it's so pretty. And clean.

To my surprise, I ran 7 km. I hadn't had a decent run in over a week and I still haven't run more than 10 km (which was just once, last month). While running in Kuwait I always stop by one of the four water coolers that lie on my usual route for a sip of that cool liquid; this run was a bit momentous as it was my first without any water breaks, simple because there was no water fountain on the way. And it didn't deter me at all. Just goes to show how you can subject yourself to limits without even realizing your true potential.

I suppose it also helps that the temperature here is thirty degrees less than in Kuwait.

Runners are sparse in Prague (or maybe I haven't come across that many); cyclists on the other hand, are all over the place. So when I see runners, my heart warms to them. Especially when they wave and smile in encouragement in passing just when the aching legs decide it's time to take a breather. Perfect timing!

After the run, I walked to the Old Town Square—MAJOR tourist attraction, also one of the reasons I disliked Prague when we first visited 2 years ago, the zillions of tourists and tons of tourist traps—to meet up with the mother and the sister. While walking past the infinite overpriced, cheap souvenir shops, I discovered a stall where a young man was baking and selling 'trdelnik', a traditional sweet pastry home to this part of Europe. It smelled divine. The board hanging outside the shop stated there were different kinds, and Nutella was one of them!

That did it. I had to have one.

And here we digress for a little background information on my history with the hazelnut chocolate spread:
Nutella is my weakness (one of them anyway, I'm only human). The mother would often buy us a big jar when on the monthly romp to the supermarket and I would clean out the jar straight out with a spoon, having little patience spreading it out on bread for a sandwich which was how the sister preferred to have it. Fed up of the sister's complaints of me wiping out all trace of the delectable delight, my mother bought us a smaller jar each. There was no evidence of the contents of mine in a couple of days. The sister however, is the kind that takes pleasure in every bite over a period of time. She'd taken the pains to hide her jar, but it wasn't hard to find. I then proceeded to serve myself generous dollops of the sweet stuff and soon there was nothing left of it.

As a result of my feeding frenzy, relations with the sister were strained and that was the last time the mother got us Nutella.

*End of flashback*

I stood in queue, feeling a tinge of guilt for the transgression I was about to commit. All the benefits that came from the run were about to be smothered and drowned in the gooey goodness that is Nutella.

The mother called then and I had to leave much to my sorrow, as she was waiting for me to join her for lunch. I left, determined to return and gorge on the Nutella lathered trdelnik. After losing my way a few times, I finally found her and proceeded to feast on the best tuna salad I've ever had (can't recall the restaurant's name but it was opposite the University Bookstore on Ciletna 13).

(Author's note: I am really annoyed right now as I had another 3 paras typed which somehow due to the Blogger app's retardation are currently on a boundless journey through cyberspace, never to return to my blog.) 

I described the heavenly sight I had witnessed to the sister which got her mouth watering as well. We set off to find the stall. There were several baking and selling the pastry but none of them offered the Nutella option and we deemed them all a waste of space. Try as I might in retracing my steps back to the alley containing the original stall, I couldn't find my way. It was like the alley itself never existed, like Platform 9 and 3/4 to a muggle. Disappointed but also secretly glad that my run hadn't been wasted, we gave up the search and went home. But I hadn't conceded defeat.

Day 6:

The sister was busy so I went back the exact same route I'd taken to enter Old Town Square alone, determined to find the stall. Past Charles Bridge, through the tourist trap market (the souvenir shops), past the Museum of Torture and then T.G.I. Friday's and then.. wonder of wonders! There it was!

I stood in queue once again, drinking in the aroma wafting in the air.

The baking of the trdelnik

Life is so much better with a spoonful—or six—of Nutella. 
I had it with cinnamon sprinkled over it. The first bite was bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. That right there, ladies and gentlemen, is what good things are made of.

The fifth bite wasn't as appealing. My enthusiasm began to wane.

The eighth bite just made me want to throw up.

I couldn't finish it. I couldn't even look at it. I tossed the last piece (there wasn't really much left) and decided I couldn't have it again anytime soon and definitely not without sharing it. It's weird, maybe the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility is finally beginning to apply to me where Nutella is concerned.

One of the really great things about Prague are the concerts. If you're a classical music aficionado, you'll never be wanting for entertainment in Europe. I bought a ticket for a string orchestra concert and the guard insisted on selling it to me at the student price (half the adult price) despite me telling him I wasn't a student. "Well, if you insist..."
The programme included Vivaldi's La Folia which now tops my list as one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. It was an enchanting evening. Live music evokes such strong sentiments in one; there is absolutely no comparison when listening to the same tracks through a device.

That reminds me, I should hit the opera soon. *blissful smile*

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Europa Day 3: Prague - A Walk to Remember

Zooming by the Vltava this afternoon.

Post a core strengthening class at the gym I discovered close to the hotel, I decided to check out the antiquarian bookshop I'd spotted earlier. 

You will NEVER guess the content of a book I saw there. 

Uncanny. Very Uncanny.

What are the odds that I'd find a book on Kuwait in a second hand bookstore in Prague?! Of all places.. I've never even seen this one in Kuwait.
Having made a decision in the morning not to get carried away while shopping, I'd left with just about 500 crowns. 200 went to the gym. Of course I couldn't leave a bookstore empty-handed...

My loot.

With just 50 crowns jingling in my pocket, I debated whether to go back to the room, pick up some more cash and have a meal or risk going out into the unknown in search of adventure, somehow making the money count. 

I'd been cozying up in my comfort zone for far too long. I picked the latter. And then I saw this:

Great advice :)

But what does one eat besides junk with just 50 crowns (about 750 Kuwaiti fils)? The answer lay into two ginormous peaches and a large bottle of mineral water (neperlivá!) bought at a fruit vendor's. Fruit is unbelievably cheap here; I even had some change left over. I set off, munching my juicy peach.

The roads all seemed to be going uphill into a residential area. My legs didn't bother me at all. What might have been an arduous task a few months ago is now just a walk in the park. Guess all the running has paid off! 

Twilight set in and I gleefully stomped the leaves that had been cast aside by the boughs above. It was a lovely area to live in, except for the cars that kept whizzing by. It wasn't even cold. Here's the funny thing about Prague. It isn't as chilly after the sun sets. The wind dies down. It's odd, but I'm not complaining.

I came across a park that seemed to be laid out upon a hill. I climbed up the track, a little nervous now that it was dusk. Since I was a child, the mother would stop me from walking from under the branches of a tree around maghrib (evening prayer) time, warning me that the djinn residing amongst its trunk would possess me. After I read a story by Ruskin Bond in which one of the characteristics of a djinn was that it liked long black hair falling loosely over a girl's shoulders, I started taking this a little more seriously. Call it superstition or whatever you will, but I took extra precautionary measures by putting my hood up, running whenever the track had branches overhead, and praying the ayat from the Quran that wards off evil. No djinn was gonna take over my mind, no siree. 

I left the park, continuing my ambulation and taking turns that led uphill, thinking I'd get a great view of the city from the top. But it never came. As soon as my feet reached the 'top', the paths just went downhill or straight past more houses. There was no view to speak of, just picturesque homes. Unless I trespassed into a private garden and climbed up to a rooftop, I wasn't gonna get a view.

So I took another path that led downhill in the direction of whence I came (or so I thought) to go back to the hotel. Trouble was it didn't lead anywhere to familiar territory. I was well and truly lost, with no 3G—and therefore no Google Maps—and not a soul in sight. Another funny thing about this city? The residents all vanish soon after sunset, as though there are vicious vampires on the loose or some such fantastical creature that has the place terrorized. Even the cars had stopped whizzing by. I like silence as much as the next person, but it wasn't very comforting then. Think more on the lines of unnerving.

A different path went past ramshackle houses and a howling dog. Wary now, I ventured on into uncharted land, hoping to get out of what gave King Minos's labyrinth a run for its money. I walked for about a kilometer and sighed.

The path went uphill again. 

I walked on, finally catching a glimpse of the city from between two houses. No sooner did I have my iPhone positioned and ready to click, a dog started barking furiously from behind the gate, giving me a minor heart attack. View be damned. I fled. It wasn't that great a shot anyway. I walked in the middle of the road keeping well and truly away from the gates, lest I disturbed any more overprotective hounds.

When I reached this point (pic below) I got slightly desperate. Where the hell was I going and would I ever find my way back to the hotel?

Kolonial Charlie. Like Charlie Chaplin.
I've no idea what this is.

And then, hallejulah! I saw a middle aged lady walking in my direction. I darted towards her keeping her well in sight, half afraid she was an apparition that would disappear. I asked her where the mall in the area I was residing in was. She didn't speak English. Another apparition appeared, a man in his early thirties perhaps. He didn't speak English either. I thought of walking back, but then one of them mentioned 'tram' (thankfully most terms of transportation are the same in Czech) and I asked where the stop was (I had a valid day pass). The man asked me to follow him and I thought well, what's the worst that could happen?

Don't answer that.

He led me to an eerie looking flight of stairs going down and instructed to follow the route to the tram stop. I skipped down them, calling upon God to protect me again.

From the top..

..and from the bottom.

It was freaking creepy.

Finally, I was back in civilization. There was a drunk old hobo at the tram stop who started calling out in Czech as soon as he saw me. Suspecting he was passing racist slurs and afraid again, I paid him no attention and hurried on. I passed a restaurant and debated going in. "You stupid fool," I said kicking myself, "you only have 10 crowns!!" I had to cross the road to get to the tram stop. Trouble was the hobo was there too. And he was still going on.. Thinking I'd be safe around the two women that were waiting there, I crossed the road. If he was being racist I wasn't offended as much as I was scared. I didn't give a damn about what a sloshed vagrant was saying, having seen a lot worse in the desert from Arabs and my own countrymen (Indians.. most racist people in the world!). I couldn't understand it anyway. Thankfully, the tram came a minute later and I drowned the unpleasantness by listening to the Man of Steel OST.

There were a couple of street musicians on the way to the hotel. I love the street performers in Europe. Dropped the rest of the miserable amount of change I had for them.

I entered my room a few minutes later with my mind well and truly under my own control, unpossessed by the supernatural, and unhurt.

Lesson learnt: Stay off the streets of creepy residential areas after dusk when alone.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Europa Day 1 - Prague

Yes, I'm in Praha. 

Lord forgive me if I sound ungrateful, but I'm so happy to be out of the desert for a while. The status 'Unemployed in Kuwait' doesn't suit me very well. 

The day was pretty uneventful except for when the sister accidentally took the cab driver's jacket believing it to be mine. We realized the mix up only when the cab had whizzed off.

We hadn't been in the city for more than an hour and had already committed a theft. Is it any wonder that Indians don't get visas on arrival in European nations? And a host of other countries but who's keeping track..

Fortunately, the sister had reminded me to take the receipt from the cabbie to keep track of expenses. Wise move; the receipt had his cell number on it. The sister made the call, mortified. The cabbie returned and claimed what was his and all was forgiven. The sister breathed deep sighs of relief on having been absolved of her sin. 

Later, I headed to Tesco to buy fruit, some perishables and mineral water. It took a while; the text on every product and aisle sign was in Czech and I forgot the water in the process of interpretation and misinterpretation so had to go back for it. 

What had also slipped my mind was the European fascination for sparkling water. Having gone off carbonated drinks a few years ago, I was damned if I was going to drink gassy H2O. I despise the stuff and curse the blasted man/woman that came up with the crap. 

I gazed down the aisle. There were several different brands of water staring back at me. Perlivá (sparkling), perlivá, perlivá.. I couldn't find 'neperlivá' (still) anywhere. I shook a few bottles to try to discern whether there was gas in them but couldn't really make out.  Finally after a few more rounds of intense cross examination of about a dozen brands, I came across the store's own brand of drinking water. It didn't say 'neperlivá' but then again 'perlivá' wasn't mentioned either. I'd finally found normal mineral water!

Having accomplished my mission, I carried the bottles in my backpack (after purchasing them obviously) and scourged the mall for a decent windbreaker that didn't cost the earth to no avail.

After a relaxing meal in a cafe reading Further Travellers' Tales from Heaven and Hell (apt isn't it?) and indulging in a delicious smoothie, I returned to my room. 

Dehydrated from the smoothie, I opened the bottle of water with a mighty heave and then groaned inwardly. The bottle cap had released a *fizzzzz* as I turned it. 

Dammit. This place is more of a desert than Kuwait is. 

Lesson learnt: Never buy a brand of water that has 'sycená' (carbonated)  on its label.