August 15, 2004
I arrived in Prague at about 6 pm, I was exhausted but I was lucky. Just before entering to the city I found a camping site and I could have a shower after three long days without the possibility of doing this. In the less important routes of this country, there are not gas stations with showers as in other places.
At once I had an accident. I went to a restaurant and after ordering my food I sat down. After a while, the waiter came and he told me that I could not drink water from the faucet, as I had asked for and that in that restaurant I had do get some drink. It was useless to explain that I didn’t have too much money to spend, the waiter, who was totally under his manager’s pressure, insisted on that I should order a drink.
Then I became furious; I got up and I left. But the boy that was more than 20 years old, left the place behind me, quite nervous, to tell me not to leave because my food was ready and that if I left, I should pay for it all the same.
As I was really hungry, I stayed and I told the waiter that I would stay but the condition was to give some water as I had requested before. He brought the food, but not the water and although I went on waiting for it, more furious, I preferred not to discuss. I was convinced that I was right, but I was tired and I didn’t want to continue with such an stupid situation; so I went outside towards my bike and I brought one of my thermal bottles with water, I put it on the table and I felt delighted with my food and with my water, as I hoped before. The manager didn’t like it at all. I wished he had told me something about it.
Going for a walk, a true tiredness
In the low Half Age, during Charles IV reign, the position of Prague like crossroad of Europe favoured that it became a majestic, bigger city than Paris or London. In the XVI century, the power belonged to the Austrian Habsburgo and they built many palaces and Baroque gardens, today, some of those palaces put up important museums and galleries. And as I haven’t still visited any castle in Europe, I went to know the Castle of Prague.
I left my bike in the camping site and I went to on an excursion as a simple tourist. I took the tram towards downtown, I crossed Charles IV bridge and I went in ascent among hundred of visitors towards the palace. Before entering my foot have already hurt from walking, it was too hot and I had to stop to rest under a shadow to drink a bottle of water.
When I came into the palace and I went to buy the ticket I had some doubts, there were four different types of them, four different prices and undoubtedly four types for sightseeing, and I didn’t like it at all. But before some doubts I bought the most expensive one; it was my first castle to visit, and I already imagined that maybe it could be the only one in Europe. And I wasn’t wrong; it will be difficult to enter in another one again.
The first part of the journey takes me to the Cathedral of San Vito, one more among the so many ones I have already visited in Europe.
And for being the most expensive ticket, I was allowed to ascend to its tower to see the view of the city, and although I didn’t want to go, because it was really crowded, I ascended.
And what complicated it was! At that moment it reminded me, several times that being a boy I descended by the stairways of the “Havanna Building” in Mar del Plata, Argentina. It seems a lie …… but being growing-up; we enjoy doing the so called children’s games.
The stairs of the Cathedral was a spiral staircase, very narrow and only for two people for every step. For the most closed part (the most difficult one), a line ascended; for the most open one, the other line descended.
We were dozens of people that ascended and descended at the same time. The stairway had a ventilation every 50 steps and the body odour there was sometimes unbearable. We sometimes went as elder people’s speed, because there was a woman that had cheered up, and trying to pass her through such an amount of people was nearly impossible. I wonder, how can she be allowed to do this? How nobody informs you about the 285 steps there? I felt a fool, I had paid the most expensive ticket and I could ascend. But having the missing information, did I want to do it, indeed?
When I arrived at the top of it, I took some pictures…… a lot of pictures; so much sacrifice had to be useful in a way, and I descended counting the steps, laughing at myself, and at every single person I crossed, telling them; 100 steps are missing, 150…, 200!!! When I reached to the bottom of it, I could breathe pure air, what a pleasure! and like an ant in its course, I went on with the circuit.
I went to the Old Royal Palace, an amazing construction that combines Gothic, Renaissance and Romans Saloons. If I wouldn’t read it, I didn’t realize about it. Then, I arrived at another door, where they wanted to charge me with another ticket. But “why? Didn’t I buy the most expensive one? The one that included the whole complete circuit?” “Nooooooo”, was their answer “this is a collection of jewels. How we were deceived! What a shame!!!
I was allowed to continue towards Saint George’s Basilica, thanks to my all inclusive ticket, where another art collection was exposed to reflect the emperor’s like Habsburgo Rudolf II, no words….
Then I went to the so called back street of gold, a small street with tiny stores so that visitors are invited to spend more money purchasing whatever kind of souvenirs.
And as if this hasn’t been enough, I could enter to the Tower of The Gunpowder, a small space with very little to see. Something flat to justify the most complete journey………….. What a nerve!!!!
Another dirty trick
When I left the palace I went to change some more money and what a new surprise it was! A poster on the door of the Currency Exchange House said:”1 euro: 31.94 Korun, non commission” and I didn´t doubt about it, it was one of the best changes, but to check this, I asked to the cashier with my 70 Euros in the window,” Are you paying 31.94 per euro?”, and the man, who was quicker than me, took my money, changed it and he told me some words in Czech. Obviously that I didn’t understand anything and with some notes in my hand I began to suspect that I had been deceived once again. At that moment the man spoke to me in English and he told me: “we pay 31.94 if you change 500 euros, otherwise it is 26. That poster says it”, and he pointed at the small paper on the wall, which wasn’t very clear enough: “31.94 / 15.000 Korum”
Automatically, I felt insulted, as an idiot and as a boy at the same time; in the heat of the moment. I told him that he had deceived me that he had to give my money back but the man stayed inside a hermetic booth, and he replied that he had already billed the change and that he couldn’t do anything.
During the following 15 minutes, I stayed in the shop telling him that I was not going to leave that place until he returned my money and shouting about this to every possible client that came in, and insulting the man in the booth, his partner too and challenging him as well. The guy, who would be a couple of years older than me, was a bastard because of all this unbearable situation. The security man that was working in this House didn´t stop repeating that I have to leave, but he was afraid of me and he couldn’t control me.
I was absolutely furious, I wanted to break the whole shop but I knew that everything could finish in a bad way. And, how much for? People that went passing the shop stopped to see that free show, some advised me to go to the police, and other ones told me: “I was also deceived here”.
After a while, in a really tense situation and without giving our way easily, the man told me with hate in his eyes: “If you stay in here 10 minutes more, you are going to have a huge problem”. At that moment I thought the worst thing that could happen, and I chose to look for the police, instead of waiting for him to do the same, as he had threatened me.
I went straightaway to a patrol car near the place and the officials guessed my problem immediately: “any problem with the change?”, they asked me.
Therefore, I realized that I was another idiot. Anyway we went to the shop; I believe that the policemen made it to make me feel better. But the cashier said that I have misunderstood, because it had been totally clarified from the very beginning how it worked, and that he had a witness: his partner; he ordered us to leave the place immediately.
The policemen took me out and one of them, who spoke some Spanish, told me:”it is not the first time that this happens, they have already had many complaints, but we cannot do anything, they always win; you should always change you money in a bank”. Then I breathed deeply, I swallowed my feelings, and I thought: ”I have to tolerate this situation…., this is also part of my trip”.
Another wan situation, but this time I was out of it
Later, I witnessed another odd situation; between a policeman and a visitor, and at once I understood how tourists are treated in this city. A woman, who was by her 50s, tried to snatch her passport to the policeman because he didn’t want to give it back.
She had committed an offence: “to cross the street with the traffic light in green” “who has never made it?” The policeman called her and he asked her for her passport and then he didn’t give it back, forcing her to go to the police station to look for it …surely, a step that the woman in her vacations didn’t want to.
Prague is an immense city, comparing it with Europe, it has a little more than a million inhabitants; and in summer the tourism overpasses it, you can realize about it in people’s mood, when you ask somebody for a tram, it would seem that they are fed up with giving information. I also saw the way people were mistreated by shop assistants because they were looking at their windows but not buying.
Finally, that same afternoon, I visited the Jewish Cemetery, something more interesting than the Palace. During more than 300 years, it was the place where the Jews were allowed to bury their people. The lack of space make them to bury the bodies one on another one, with tombs of up to 12 levels in depth. Today it can be seen more than 12.000 gravestones, but it is thought that there were about 100.000 people buried here.
I returned to the camping site almost at night and it was not easy, indeed. The streets that led there, were roadwork’s, and find a bus to come back almost took me an hour, they are sporadic services and people didn´t have any idea about it.
Because of all the situations, I promised myself not to leave my bike again. I had had a long and upset day.
One more day, one more discussion
The following day I went to sell my pictures and my dolls to the bridge Charles IV, where there was a lot of tourists. But suddenly two control officials said to me to leave the place. But I preferred to seem a fool and I stayed there. They want that I move to other side of the bridge, where there are not too much people.
But few minutes later they came back, and by other person they ordered to me to leave the place again, they didn’t like that I spoke English, but if I don’t speak English, what do I speak, Spanish? It was not the first time that it happens to me, the English language and their people in many sides they are not welcome.
So I had to move to the other side of the bridge, but 20 minutes later, the same guys came back and they said to me, that I have to move again.
And I irritated, and I didn’t move and I challenged them. But then they called to the police who gave 5 minutes to leave that place, and I thought that the best thing that I could to do, was to leave the city. And although I didn’t have the enough money, I left the city and I promised to myself never more to come back to Prague.
In the exit of the city, when stopping in a traffic light a man came to me and he started to ask me about my trip. I was very nervous and I told him about all that happened. And it was comic, he justifies the bad mood of the Czech for the heat that in those days was.