Omphaloskeptical Belated Musings

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Sunday 26 August 2007

Hull '06: they did it!

After what was an amazing year in Hull followed by a year of waiting, we got to wear the robes!

Thank you Olivier and Guillaume for that!

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Wednesday 22 August 2007

"Are we there yet?"

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Ostrava's blazon.

Ostrava is a reasonably old city and the capital of the Moravian-Silesian region ('Moravskoslezský'). It is located at the extreme east of the country. From there, one can reach Poland and Slovakia very quickly. It is also the third biggest city of Czech Republic, just after Brno and Prague. But more importantly, it is Jan's and Karolina's hometown!

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A hug for the sick girl.

Wikipedia tells us that during the communist era Ostrava was the steel heart of the republic. According to Jan, a few years ago while the black coal mining was still active, black snow would fall. Nowadays, the main remainings of these activities are the nearby still burning mountains where the excavations were carried out.

I let your eyes savour some of the nice places of Ostrava.

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Ostrava's main square: always nice to watch people caught by the fountains :)

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Antonín Dvořák Theatre: nothing to do with the famous Mr Dvorak...

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Ostrava's townhall: odd statue!

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Ostrava from the townhall's tower.

These three days were a breeze. Jan, as a perfect host, took us to all the good public and confidential places. Thanks for that! We will have to show you around and you will get to taste all the wine, cheese and gourmet meals of our country :)

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Hull's twins fighting the wind.

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Olivier loves Czech Republic!

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And we sure love Jan's friends :)

Stodolni street is the rendez-vous for all those who want to enjoy the night in Ostrava. It is really famous and has even got its own website.

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Stodolni street: we'll be back!

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Jan's family is just ...

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... awesome!

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It's so realistic!

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They even put some bogeys!

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All you need to remember on one photo!

Back to work now! Na shledanou a měj se hezky!

"Would you mind closing the door for me?"

A night in the UK.

After 18 hours of waiting at Gatwick airport, we finally take off to the great city of Prague, leaving behind us Una and our beloved England. It has been a long awaited moment not only because of the sleeping in the airport but more importantly because we have been looking forward to visiting Jan and Karolina for quite a long time. Two hours and a few naps later, Prague is here right before our eyes. Well, actually, mainly from the sky... Anyway, the airport is nice, and even nicer, Jan is waiting for us in the main hall with a "small" surprise behind his back: Mischa! That makes a day and also makes you forget all these stupid floodings in London... It has been such a long time! In no time, we reach the city centre and soon after the dormitory where a warm shower is welcoming us. Next step to start off this week of holidays: a small pub next to the dorms with nice drinks and crazy marinated cheese! Yummy!

First day: the biggest in the world!

9 o'clock: alarm's ringing!

- Muuh? Wanna sleep, niarf.

9h30: bathroom!

- bath-what?
- bathroom!
- what-room?
- bathroom!!
- what-what?
- oh, nevermind.

Everybody thinks that holidays are meant to rest. Actually, it is quite the opposite. Who would want to miss all the touristy places that make you a real west european traveler? First ingredient: money, coins, bank notes, lots of them. Here, the currency has been the "koruna česká" (czech crown) for 14 years since the split of Czechoslovakia and will be so for at least 5 more years. The value of things (apart from beer of course) is not obvious at first when you are used to Euros or Pounds: you can get bank notes worth as high as 5000 czech crowns (roughly worth 180 euros). Thanks to Mischa exchanging is not too much of an issue: if we keep our mouths shut, she can pass ourselves off as natives and get us the exchange rate for Czech in a "Smĕnárna pro Čechy" (a bureau de change exclusively for Czech people).

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A bureau de change exclusively for Czech people.

First order of business once we have the painfully earned money, visiting the "Pražský orloj" (astronomical clock tower), with a french speaking guide of course which is just perfectly fitted for our "language freak", Jan :) The clock is called astronomical because it displays the position of the Sun and the Moon in the sky and several other astronomical states. It also features a show every hour made of a few figurines of apostles coming out and back in.

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Prague's astronomical clock tower.

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Jan, myself and Olivier at the top of the tower.

From the top of the tower, we discover a great overview of the city starring all the places we would later visit starting with the "Karlův most" (Charles bridge). This is for sure the most beautiful bridge crossing the Vltava in Prague and also the oldest with an announced age of 650 years! It is flanked by many imposing statues and, by any means, swarming with tourists and local artists.

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The Charles bridge in the middle of Prague.

After a nice meal (Czech food is tasty!) on a Prague's terrasse, direction Malá Strana to one of the three St. Nicholas church of Prague and certainly not the least. Miguel Alonso describes it as [...] algo grandioso, diferente, lo nunca visto. En el interior de la iglesia hay colosales estatuas de santos, y en el techo un fresco de 1500 metros cuadrados sobre la vida de San Nicolás.

See for yourself:

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St. Nicholas church from the inside: impressive.

Right after, still keeping a good holiday rythm, we take the tram to the Petřín hill in order to enjoy Prague from above. On our way to the top, a couple of obstacles need to be got through. First, five hideous creatures, vaguely humanoid but mainly made of metal, are trying to scare us to death by disappearing. Secondly and more importantly, 300 steps have to be climbed to make it to the top! Thankfully, our incredible courage helped by a 5 minutes journey on board of a funicular do the trick.

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Are you an idiot? No sir, I'm a dreamer.

Following a little nap badly needed to recover from the hard trip to the top, we make our way to the Petřín tower. As a french person, the easiest way to describe it is comparing it with the Eiffel tower. It got built 2 years after the latter and can be considered as its little sister since the styles are pretty much alike, apart of course from the 264 metres that the Petřín tower is lacking.

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Petřín tower: a baby Eiffel tower.

From the top of the tower the view on Prague is plainly amazing. Many outstanding monuments are visible and particularly, thanks to Mischa's deep interest in the subject, the "Velký strahovský stadion", the Strahov stadium, meant to be (hold tight) the biggest stadium on the planet or something close.

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The "Great Strahov Stadium": the second biggest sports facility in the world.

If you go there, do not forget on your way down to grab a drink from this really well located bar where Olivier and Mischa are savouring czech beers. The view on the city from this middle spot is absolutely gorgeous.

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Piva!

Finally, a well deserved pre-sleep meal is waiting for us next to the dormitories. It is worth mentioning that it is only during these hard times that you get to learn crucial vocabulary of the local language.

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Upiček! Sleep's needed...

Second day: slow down! It's tough being a tourist...

11h30: the "Pražský hrad".

Litterally "château praguois", is erected on the west shore of the city and is (again!) one of the biggest castle in the world. It hems in the saint Vitus cathedral and serves as a residence for the Czech Republic president. Here, one of our main discoveries is the most boring job ever (yes, even including counting pigeons in plaza Catalunya): guard at the Prague castle.

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Prague château and St Vitus cathedral: unique!

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Are you able to count those people?

15h00: the jewish district.

Unfortunately, no photos of this guided tour of these many jewish culture related sites are available. The french speaking guide is nice, knows a lot about the subject and plans on telling everything in only a few hours: she has to speak fast! Synagogue after synagogue, we discover many things that none of us three knew about Judaism and the history of the jewish people. Highly interesting! Also, it is worth noting that Prague hosts the world's oldest synagogue still in activity. Its name: the Old New Synanogue.

This adventure also allows us to safely say: czech old counter women are definitely fluent in english! Lístek prosím!

19h00: relax night before leaving Prague.

Photographs are worth a thousand lines:

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Tomaš enjoying a beer and Jan pretending that he never drinks.

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Photography is an art, you know...

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After the first pub and before the second one :)

Last day in Prague...

Our last visit is for the Vyšehrad cemetery where many famous czech people got buried. This includes composers, artists, sculptors, writers but not the czech genius Cimerman (the guy who invented everything including flying balloons and electricity, freed the czech nation and so on...).

On the way to the cemetery, we cannot help but notice this metro+cars bridge famous for its every-3-days-suicide.

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The suicide --booth--, erhm, bridge.

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Vltava river crossing Prague.

It is finally time to say goodbye to this wonderful city that Prague is (and to rest for a while :)).

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Working hard...

See you on the other side of the country: next stop, Ostrava.