Trip to the Western Edge of Eastern Europe: Chapter 2 – Are you Hinduist?

We reached Prague at around 11 am and headed to our hostel. After that we immediately changed and headed out to catch a walking tour[1]. Our tour guide, Adam, was this super jumpy Half Czech – Half Brit kid who made Enthu look sober and sedentary. The tour itself was fantastic – informative, inclusive, well planned and entertaining.  Prague is an extremely beautiful city with processions of baroque and rococo masterpieces lining the roads. Particularly beautiful is the Jewish quarter – which began life as a swamp and is now one of the most attractive and exclusive parts of the city. On the tour we also saw two of the oldest synagogues in continental Europe. Our tour guide explained that despite Hitler’s forces being in possession of Czechoslovakia for 7 years, they were ordered to not destroy its rich Jewish heritage – because of an odd reason that Hitler wanted the Jewish quarter to serve as “a museum for the extinct Jewish race” once he was done cementing his supremacy over the world. Chilling thought, but glad the madman had it – for the Jewish quarter owes its existence to it. Adam ended the tour with an explanation of Prague’s long and glorious (well okay, mostly KLPD but sometimes glorious) history right from the Celtic tribes that founded civilisation in Bohemia to the struggle between the Communists and the independence movement (the Velvet Revolution) led by Vaclav Havel.

We then walked across the Charles bridge to the other side of the Vltava river and were treated to some more beautiful, albeit modern architecture in the Malastrana region of Prague.

After all this serious history and art and culture inculcation, we were then treated to some surrealism. On the way back to the Hostel after dinner, we were randomly accosted by a guy whose questions were as follows:

“Does your phone have internet?”

“Can I use your phone?”

“Are you hinduist?”

“Oh ok, do you worship the blue guy Shiva or the Monkey man Hanuman?”

Before we got around figuring out whether it is a good idea to go into why neither of us are believers and more importantly, that “hinduist” is not a real word, the chap just ran into a bar when he saw some friend of his.

At the time, we really didn’t know what to say, but we saluted the guy for knowing more about Indian worship systems than we knew about Czech traditions and went on. Just a small incident, but “Are you Hinduist?” is something that has remained with me with quite some clarity. (Digression – in terms of most surreal conversations I’ve ever had – this ranks just ahead of  my “Why my washing machine is my best friend” conversation with Hari .)

Next day we headed to a village called Kutna Hora, about 2 hours from Prague. On the way we met two Americans who lived in Prague and taught english. At this point we had another major cultural learning – Americans for some reason never introduce themselves as “Americans”. We introduced ourselves as from India; they said they were from Maryland and ‘Mass’. (The same thing was repeated throughout our trip and also my later travels to the UK.) Much sniggering was done.[2]

Anyway, we reached Kutna Hora on a strict timeline. We had to see the Sedlec Ossuary (the famous church where all the interiors are made of human bones), the St Mary’s Church (only because we had paid for it[3]) and St Barbary’s cathedral, and then we had to go back to Prague and go on a pub crawl. As it happened, we saw the first two churches and missed the bus to the city to take us to the third. So we walked 3.7km to the city. We stopped for lunch at an Italian place and had a local beer – and after a few sips – we came to the conclusion that we are incapable of making any major decisions without alcohol as we simply do not have the clarity of thought without it – plans just align by themselves after a drink. This was the point where we questioned ourselves “Do we REALLY need to go on the Pub crawl today?” and our minds immediately came back with a “nah, not really. Let’s take the later train and go straight for dinner”. Then we just soaked in the atmosphere for an hour, went to the third church leisurely and spent a good hour and a half there. This was an excellent move as St Barbary’s is a stunning piece of architecture with intricate towers and facades. Multiple chapels line the interior and the central chamber’s ceiling is painted with crests of the neighbouring kingdoms which supported the building of the Cathedral.

We really enjoyed our time in Kutna Hora as it was the “idyllic European experience” that we went looking for – cobbled roads all over lined with small independent houses on either side of the street, the little cafes on the roads serving excellent food and beer and people walking their dogs without leashes.

Next big item on the agenda was to watch the World Cup 3rd place match – turns out the Czechs don’t care much for football unless their team is playing. So we went to a Brit bar hoping for the Brits to have some sense. Sadly, karaoke night was going on. We grumbled and exchanged disgusted looks and resigned curses with the waiters and waitresses who wanted to watch the match as well.

The final item on the agenda in Prague was seeing the castle – one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. While the castle is very impressive and loaded with history, what makes it really worth it are the phenomenal views of the city across the Vltava river from a height.

The last 30 minutes in Prague was what we came to refer to as “Flame Rouge”[4], a Tour De France term for the last 1km of the race where all the frantic action takes place. European weather is not like Indian weather with designated seasons at times of the year for rain and dry weather. The funda in Europe is simple – it gets hot, water from rivers and lakes evaporates and it rains a couple of days later. After a couple days of sunny weather in Prague – it decided to pour cats and dogs just as we were about to leave for the station. We had split up – so there was the added complication of picking up bags from the hostel. Thankfully, we had gotten used to Prague’s ridiculously complicated railway stations[5] and could make it to the station a good 5 minutes before our train was to leave[6] for Dresden.

[1] “Apanich wo chutiye hain jo dupari bina lunch khaye 4 ghante ki walking tour ke liye bhaag ke jate”

[2] Temptations to introduce myself as “from the Islamic Bolivarian Jamuriat of Golibar” were controlled

[3] lulz, paisa wasooli

[4] Happened far too many times for my liking

[5] They seem to have designed them specifically to troll tourists – multiple signs pointing in opposite directions for supposedly the same location (one is the scenic route perhaps?) across multiple levels under the ground

[6] I was shitting bricks but apparently all Europeans run on this model of reaching mere minutes before the train leaves

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