Thursday, 28 February 2013

Bohemian Banter

Well it hasn't exactly been long since the last post, but I thought that updates of my amazing weekend in Prague, as well as some Czech Republic related puns were needed. After a very last minute decision on my part to go on the trip, I used most of Friday to get ready, sort out some prague-ticalities and czech that everything was in order. We arrived at the meeting place just before 6pm where we met up with everyone and after a bit of a delay, we embarked at around 6.30pm on the longest bus journey I have ever made in my entire life.

19 hours on the same bus, travelling the best part of 1000km across France, Germany and la République Tchèque itself. Considering that some of the French lads in the group had brought plenty to quench their thirst, and that a lot of them were completely bourré by the time we got to Lyon, it made for some interesting times. I, however was luckily at the very front, away from the shenanigans with my legs squished under a table, thinking that I would never walk again. Chats were had, snacks were eaten and films were watched (including Star Wars V and a very violent Colombian film, among others) while the hours ticked away, and despite road accident delays, random food breaks in dodgy German service stations and some heavy snow, we made it finally to Prague at around 1.30pm on Saturday. Despite snow being quite a common occurrence in the Czech Republic, I, like some others, had forgotten to pack any decent snow shoes, which made for a weekend of cold and wet feet, but it didn't manage to dampen our spirits. We arrived at the hostel and czeched in with a very grumpy lady, before a few of us went on our way to discover what this Bohemian capital had to offer.

The first while was taken up with our extreme difficulty to read the map we were given, because not many of us were very competent in Czech, and en route we spent a lot of the time pointing at funny Czech words, taking pictures and pronouncing them in ridiculous accents (mine seemed to come out as my Soviet Russian accent most of the time. Aaah casual racism..). Luckily most peope seemed to have a decent grasp of English so we weren't in too much trouble. I did prague-tice some Czech that I learned, mainly "děkuji", the word for thank you, which some of us remembered solely due to its similarity to the word "Take-Away"... English speaking ignorance at its finest.

We decided to try out a very Czech looking restaurant that had a mouthwatering and quite frankly hilarious menu outside. Without saying a word, the waiter greeted us in English (must have been the look of utter confusion on our faces) and we sat down and ordered some Bohemian specialities. The beef with creamy sauce and bread dumplings was one of the most amazing things I've ever tasted, and we all got some classic Czech Pilsner to go with it, which turned out to be cheaper than any other drink, such is their fondness for their beer. After the lovely meal, a brief lesson in Czech from our waiter, and some difficulty working out the Czech Koruna /Euro price difference, we went on our way to discover a bit more of the town. One of our friends had arranged to meet his friend that was on Erasmus in Prague, and after visiting the old town with its astronomical clock and generally amazing architecture, we were then shown the Jewish quarter and a very good bar where we all warmed up, after most of the afternoon spent outside in the freezing, snowy, slushy city that Prague had become. We returned to the hostel and took a small nap, which we all agreed was the most prague-tical decision at the time, before meeting a good friend who had left us in Gcchuuunooblhh after Christmas to return to her native Bohemia, so a great catch up was in order.

We then went to this amazingly Czech bar, which was dark, smoky (no smoking ban here which was different from what we were used to) and full of atmosphere with pianos and fireplaces creating a very old-school feel, made all the more interesting by a couple of dogs running around and the two pigs playing with haybales in the corner. Standard apparently. I wonder what the reaction would be if we brought pigs into the local pub back home.. 
After feeling very cultural altogether, we then took a little tour of some historical buildings before making our way to Karlovy Lazne, which let us know from quite far away thanks to bright fluorescent lights that it was the BIGGEST MUSIC CLUB IN CENTRAL EUROPE. Despite being told that a concession had been organised, no such arrangement had been heard of by those at the door, so we had to pay the full 180Kc *problem with Blogger, if you highlight the white bit you can read it, not sure what the problem is, needs to be czeched out* to get in. 5 floors of the Czech Republic's finest Dance, Hip-Hop, Electro, Pop and 80s music awaited us, with a similar atmosphere to the previous bar, the smoky haze this time being accompanied by strobe lights and speakers to replace the pigs and pianos. A fun night was had, and we returned to the hostel in a flurry of 4am snow.

Prague Castle

Charles Bridge 

The following morning, despite sleeping in beyond our ambitious 9am wake up plans, we got up at a decent hour and a group of us from the room set off into town. Souvenir shops were the order of the day, as was another visit to the Old Town Square, the odd snowball fight, and then the magnificent Prague Castle and cathedral. We found the John Lennon wall too, where we left our own little message and then met up with some others to go to a very traditional restaurant to czech out some more national specialities. After a glass of some warm mead, which was surprisingly tasty and warmed me up immediately, I had a pork dish, again with bread dumplings and a delicious sauce which I can't even describe. 

Afterwards, a brief snowy walk through the town we headed to a very cool underground bar in the heart of Prague which was highly recommended by our token Czechs in the group. Everything about this place screamed awesome. Following a maze of Hobbit-like tunnels down deep into Prague, we found a table and much merriment and banter ensued all night. Goodbyes unfortunately had to be said, for the second time for our Czech friend who we'll hopefully see again really soon, and to her lovely friends who helped us a great deal over the weekend and were generally great to have around.

Unfortunately the following morning heralded the end of our stay, and so with heavy hearts, and a slightly lighter bus, seeing as one of the guys had gone missing during the night, we headed for home - a 15 hour journey this time which was to provide similar antics to the previous journey. We did watch a few more films, including Carjacked (pronounced so wonderfully as Caarhh jack-hedd by some of our French colleagues), Mean Creek and the extended edition of Lord of the Rings The Return of the King, which single-handedly gave us a good 4 and a half hours of relative peace and quiet. At one of our German stop-off points I decided to crack out some German. However only then did I realise how limited my German really was. Long story short, it went quite badly, and I ended up ordering the wrong thing, while speaking what sounded to me in retrospect like a mixture of French, Italian and Irish (somewhat confusing as to how exactly the latter made an appearance). Considering that making fun of German accents is a past-time of mine I assumed everything would go quite well. Evidently this was not the case, and I have since decided to make some prague-ress in learning some real German to prevent similar mix-ups in the future.

So it was with drained and exhausted faces and bodies that we bundled off the bus in Gcchuuunooblhh at approx 2.30am and made the short walk home. 

Moral of the story - Prague is amazing, and I'd highly recommend a visit. Beautiful buildings, nice people, and a very nice atmosphere in general. However I would also strongly recommend not getting a bus, because despite the conviviality, the films and German language experience during the stop offs, it was 35 looong hours of my life that I'm never getting back. So what started as an extremely spontaneous decision the night before turned into a fantastic weekend and a definite highlight of the year, also another great European capital czeched off the list!

Promluvíme si později !!

PS: More pictures coming right up

Prague Cathedral

A view of the Vltava from the Charles Bridge

A hilarious hostel notice which made our day

The entrance to the Charles Bridge, built in the 14th Century

The Jewish Quarter

The man himself, Franz Kafka 

The Astronomical Clock

Old Town Square

The bullet trams which went crazily fast

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Even more alpine adventures...

So after my incredibly prestigious and impressive encounter with François a few weeks ago ( yes, we're totally on first name terms at this point.. If only...) normal life seemed quite difficult to settle back into again. However, a weekend away with the Erasmus group IntEGre provided an excellent opportunity to dive right back into the Erasmus spirit of meeting people, doing new things and generally having fun.

My first experience of cross country skiing was followed by an amazing tobogganning session, which turned out to be quite experimental.. but luckily we all survived. After being shown our home for the night, much food and merriment ensued, before the fancy dress theme "rêves d'enfants" had all the lads form a mad pirate crew, complete with tattoos, eyepatches, scarily creepy facial hair, scurvy and a hook that I may or may not have destroyed a perfectly good hanger to obtain.
After a great soirée, we had a chilled out Sunday before returning home to Gcchuunooblhh after a fantastic weekend full of nouvelles expériences and connaissances.

The next week or two went relatively smoothly, despite some pesky exposés to do and general work which occupied my time, however once they were done, life returned to it's normal tranquil, spontaneous, easy going pace. I drastically improved in snowboarding actually, and my Tuesday sessions soon had me move up a group and try some blue slopes, which I can safely say I was comfortable with. I did fall off a slope and down a 15 foot cliff at one point, however I now have enough confidence in my ability to say that it was a mixture of fog and snow-filled goggles that was mostly at fault and not my extremely dire spatial awareness. But it still hurt. It would be fine if the accidents had stopped there, but alas, no... 

When a friend came to visit the following weekend, we decided to try skiing, a decision which was welcomed by sharp intakes of breath,  winces and long, sleepless nights by those familiar with my accident prone history. While managing well on the bunny slopes, we foolishly decided to advance to a more difficult level, where suddenly all competence I had acquired disappeared and I found myself unable to prevent myself from hurtling down the slope at ridiculous kilometres per hour. My first bad fall was quite spectacular. Having not quite come to terms with the fact that my feet were now a metre longer than usual, and having not been instructed in correct falling techniques, I subsequently had a quite bad but quite hilarious (for those watching) fall, where my right wrist came out as the weakest link. Having already been quite familiar with X-ray departments at home over the years, I feared the worst, but after nursing my wrist with some ice (not that hard to come by up there surprisingly), I was back on my metre long feet... Until the next difficult bit. My braking once again failed me and then as I fell, my reflexes, not quite remembering that my wrist already hurt, planted me straight down on the same wrist again, banishing all doubt that I needed a hospital visit, and fast. 

After a restful period at the bottom (yes, I managed to ski down), we went to the medical centre and despite not having time to get an Xray there due to bus departure times, the attending doctor seemed to think that the massive scary lump on my wrist corresponded to a breakage. With a heavy heart, and a scary looking arm, I got the bus back with the others, and went straightaway to the local hospital in Gcchuunooblhh. They however, after a thorough and very French medical exam, declared that in fact it was not broken, but just some bad ligament damage. Happy days. The following morning we managed to find a pharmacy that was open (difficult on a Sunday morning, cheers France) and I got a support cast thing which I now have to wear for the next few weeks. The Winter Olympics unfortunately may have to wait.

Despite my injury, Sunday was a very good day, as myself and my friend decided to go to the lovely mountainous village of Autrans. Having managed to get the bus there and look around this lovely place, we were desperate to get home in time for the Ireland V England rugby match, as the bus times had messed us around. We eventually asked this lovely young family if they were heading that direction, and they obliged by squeezing us into their car in between their children and ski equipment for the journey back to Gcchuunooblhh. After a quick lunch, we hit one of the Irish bars in town, however the result of the match was less than impressive. Despite the result, banter was still very much had, but too soon it was time to say goodbye to my friend as she embarked upon a 15 hour bus journey back to the Netherlands.

The next week was full of fun, some work and college related stuff too but mostly just fun. An enjoyable Valentine's day soirée in one of our favourite haunts was followed by Gcchhuunooblhh's very own Masquerade party, where we all wore Venice's finest Carnevale masks, (which we soon discovered were actually made in China. Gasp) imported by some travelling friends the weekend before. After another hitch-hiking experience, we got home in the early hours, before a very eventful Saturday.

The IntEGre group were holding a Photo treasure hunt type event, which required lots of trekking around Gcchhuunooblhh, embarrassing photos and some very strange but enjoyable shenanigans. 
I then went to the south-west of the city to the Stade Lesdiguières, where I met some friends to go watch a rugby match between Gcchhuunooblhh (who were surprisingly good I had discovered) and Agen (who were not). Some of my friends from non-rugby countries required lengthy explanations as to what exactly was going on and why these big men were grabbing each other and chasing after a weirdly shaped ball. The home team won by a considerable 27-13 which was great for the atmosphere and general good humour in the stadium, and we all got the chance to run onto the pitch at the end to meet the players, something I haven't been used to since inter-school GAA back in the day.

A lovely Italian dinner followed the match, and then an interesting soirée in the form of my very first Toga Party, taken quite seriously by a lot of those attending, which made for some very Roman banterful times. My toga was quite historically innacurate, the good old last minute bedsheet routine, not exactly my finest Roman tunic unfortunately. 
This last week has been interesting, with a night of Japanese and Korean food dominating my diet, as well as some general group social sessions that tend to make my evenings here great. 
I have also spontaneously taken a place on a trip to Prague with the University, which leaves tomorrow evening (last minute or what!) and I cannot wait . I've always wanted to go there ! So no doubt, there shall be some epic pictures etc, which you should all Czech out. I'm also trying to find a perfect opportunity to use the word Prague-matic, but no luck as of yet, I'll keep you posted.

à bientôt mes amis !

PS: Voilà more images from recent days and weeks.

Agen penalty. They did lose so the least I could do was show their best bits.

And again, the view from just outside the door. Unreal.