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In the fall of 1998, I went to a conference on radon mapping in Prague, Czech Republic. The conference lasted a few days, and after the conference I spent a few more days sightseeing in Prague (and environs), then took the train to Budapest, Hungary. After several days in Budapest, I moved on to Vienna, Austria for a couple of days, before heading to Zurich, Switzerland.
Here are some of my thoughts about the trip:
It's standard to say that Prague is the most beautiful city in Europe...given my modest travels on the continent, I can't swear to that definitively, but I can't argue against it either. The old downtown area straddles the Vltava river (which we call the Moldau), and is, indeed, beautiful. There's a compact old town area, with narrow winding streets, and a castle overlooking the river. Of course it's all crowded with tourists, though (at least when I was there) it wasn't utterly packed.
Outside the tourist-dominated city center, there are sprawling suburbs. I played a couple of Ultimate games in Prague, and one of the players there (Martin) took me home for dinner at their very pleasant suburban home. My impression is that Prague and its environs are doing fairly well economically---this middle-class Czech family had a nice house, a car, and enough income to take a vacation to Italy. Martin plans to visit the U.S. in June, 1999.
The radon conference was at a hotel on the outskirts of Prague. Fortunately, it was right on the subway line, so getting around was no problem. An english-language pamphlet about the Prague subway, signed by the subway director, was apologetic about its limited hours of service and occasional failure to follow schedules...I can only assume that this gentleman has never visited a U.S. subway system, since the Prague subway is in fact inexpensive and efficient, runs quite late, and has very good coverage of the city. The government now faces the need to balance how much to subsidize the roads and how much to subsidize the subway...I hope they will continue to devote considerable resources to the subway.
On the afternoon after the conference ended, some other participants and I went out for food, drinks, and a ride on the river on one of those pedal-paddle boats. Here's a photo of some of them, in the (modern) historic square (actually a long plaza) that has been the site of many dramatic events in Prague's recent history.
. Note the sausage stand in the background. The simplest offering is just a sausage...no bread, no garnish, no nuthin', just a sausage on a plate.
After the conference, I went on a "field trip" with many of the other conference participants. On this field trip, we visited an old silver mining area where we saw some intersting exhibits on old mining practices, and a remarkable collection of minerals, crystals, and rocks taken from the mines. We had lunch at a miner's pub decorated with old mining helmets and tools, some dating back to the early 1800s.
We also stopped by a house that formerly had extremely high radon levels, and examined the radon mitigation system that was installed.
From there, we went to a castle on a scenic bend over the confluence of two rivers. The former location of the crown jewels (in the 1500s), the castle (whose name escapes me at the moment) has some interesting paintings and artifacts.
Finally, we went to a sort of recreation center in a small town. A couple of us took a horseback ride through the countryside (led by two no-nonsense female Czech stablehands) while others played tennis...finally, we had a dinner that turned into an alcohol-fueled party that went on late into the night, with people telling jokes or singing songs from their home countries. I told a joke that went over big, about some explorers captured by cannibals...you can read the joke, if you like.
That field trip marked the end of the conference, but I spent several more days in Prague. A conference participant, Ryoko, and I did several things together, including: a train trip to a town southeast of Prague, where we hiked up to a castle on the hill and took a walk along the river; went to a conference at a beautiful chamber music hall on the river; and walked up a 1/4-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower on a hill overlooking the city.
I did some other stuff too, like going to a few bars populated by a mix of young Czechs and expats from other countries. I also went to a bar with a sort of Czech torch song singer, who was very good.
Also, as I mentioned, I played in a couple of Ultimate games.
Budapest shares some surface characteristics with Prague---it straddles a river (the Danube, much bigger than the Vltava), and it has both historic old buildings and modern areas with sprawling suburbs. It's much more a modern city, though---the downtown core has big, modern office buildings. Less charming than Prague, it still had plenty to offer.
I spent a part of a day with a few English guys I met on the train from Prague.
I spent a day riding my bike around (and played a bad, but winning, game of chess against a guy I met at a cafe..."check" sounds like "chock" in Magyar), then played Ultimate on a big island in the middle of the river.
I spent another good day with an Argentine guy, Cali, who is on an epic round-the-world trip---we visited a nice but over-touristy town north of Budapest, and went to the opera (Cosi Fan Tutti, sung in Magyar) in a gorgeous old opera house. As of February, Cali and I are still exchanging occasional emails and he's in North Africa.
Finally, not long before catching the train to Vienna, I took a hot bath in a bath-house built by the Turks in the early 1500's, fed from natural hot springs. The heart of the structure, a domed room with sections at different temperatures, looks exactly like you would expect a bath-house built by the Turks in the early 1500's to look.
I spent a very pleasant day in Vienna with Gernot Oberlercher and his family.