Dinner in Czech, Sleep in Poland
Come to Prague. See the castle. Drink Pilsner by the Vlatava.
A stereotypical trip to the Czech Republic. It's akin to going to Cairo, seeing the Pyramids, and smoking shisha on the Nile. While it is important that these things be done, such tourism offers little insight into a country. Prague gets all the tourist dollars, so why not take your act to the middle of nowhere?
After a suprisingly short Cair0-Prague red eye flight and a chilly reception at 7am, Emily and I took off to Moravia of all places; to a small town on the Polish border offering the chance to walk into Poland by crossing a bridge. By Czech standards, it's in the middle of nowhere.
Now that I'm back in Prague, here are some of the highlights:
Crossing the Border - as cool as getting new stamps in your passport is, there are limits. The first crossing from the Czech Republic into Poland garnered us a 10 minute wait while the customs officials examined our passports full of Czech, Russian, Egyptian, Mongolian, Chinese, and Indian visas. I always wonder what officials think of my passport...especially in a place where very, very few tourists go. Finally we were stamped on officially in Poland. After a quick check of where the stamp was, I remarked, "Oh, the Egyptians aren't going to be happy about this." Instead of stamping a logical page, both the Airport customs official and the Moravian official stamped the page with my Egyptian re-entry visa.
The Hostel - after a short walk through the beautiful Polish version of the town, we stumbled upon an international youth hostel. First of all, do tourists even come to this town in enough numbers to warrant a youth hostel? Apparently. It was a quaint little place, equipped with a gymnasium, a gym, a ping pong room, and a kitchen. Turns out that the Polish are obsessed with ping pong. On the morning that we left, I was watching kids no older than 7 training to become professionals. One little girl was barely as tall as the table, but could hit a wicked forehand. Remarkable.
Dinner - due to the Thursday holiday, nothing was open. We walked and walked through the entire Polish side, but couldn't find anything cheap. We didn't want to go back into Czech, due to the impending border fiasco, but we realized that we weren't going to be eating unless we did. At the border, it took about 15 minutes, a Polish exit stamp, and another Czech entry stamp before we could continue our search for food. Ridiculous. Four stamps in 24 hours. And we still had to get back into Poland after dinner (which involved a rack of ribs and plenty of beer). On our way back, we had even more fun at the border. Emily attempted to charm her way into getting into Poland without a stamp. The Czech guy seemed content with this, but the Polish guy wasn't having any of it. After much cajoling, we finally made it sans stamp.
Train hopping - the beauty of the Czech Republic is that the trains run pretty much all the time. You buy your ticket from one location to another and then can get off as you please. The ticket is good for a day, so you have some freedom. First, we went to a town with a wooden church, then we went back to the original town we were in, then on to Ostrava, where we went downtown and had a wonderful gulash lunch inside a traditional-looking restaurant. We then learned that the train to Prague was a lot later, so we got on one train to another place, got on another train to somewhere else, then had a three hour wait in that place for the train to Prague.
Mongolians - while in the waiting room, we were sitting across from a northeast Asian-looking couple. Emily and I were talking about Mongolia, among other things, and the girl would look at us everytime the word was mentioned. I then noticed the name of the country on her passport as she pulled it out. It said "Mongolia." I was amazed. As I told Emily about this, I could sense that they understood what I was saying. We kept making eye contact everytime something about Mongolia was mentioned, and we even shared a bit of a laugh after some Mongolia-related comment. It was rather odd. At one point, I was describing the Mongolian hat to Emily. I then looked over and saw the Mongolians snickering to each other.
All in all, a true Czech experience.